March 2010


Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State is a tour de force. It’s a cliche to say that in book reviews, but just because it’s a cliche doesn’t make it wrong. There are so many people pontificating on the subject matter laid out clearly here, mostly without any real examination of much data. Andrew Gelman clears up the misconceptions spread by such people and does so in a readable manner. Really, anyone interested in political demography has already been reading Gelman (or maybe Bartels and some others) or has no business opining. Each graph in a book may halve its ultimate sales, but Red State is packed with them. There’s one on nearly every other page. I said in my review of the Bell Curve that it’s just the sort of book I would want for such a subject, but Red State takes it to an even further extreme albeit at less length. (with many such pages actually containing multiple graphs). The graphs make it easy to see relationships that you wouldn’t grok with just a number. They also led me to see what appeared to be a couple inconsistencies, the only mar I can think of in the book (even the frequent repetition is justified).

On p. 106 we find the quote “For example, religious attendance in Britain is only weakly related to voting for the conservatives, but in other northern European democracies such as Norway and Sweden the correlation is stronger, reflecting a stronger link between political parties and controversies over moral and lifestyle issues”. But right on the previous page we find “In Mexico, Brazil, Norway, Russia, and several other countries, there is essentially no difference between how the religious and nonreligious vote”. The graphs support the later statement on Norway, not the former. On p. 104 a graph for Mexico has very slight incline for income-conservative correlation. On p. 103, Mexico more visibly has a difference in poor vs rich vote for conservatives, just above that of the U.K. But on p. 104 the U.K shows a higher income-conservative correlation! They are measuring slightly different things, but I’d like to hear what the deal is there.

Tyler Cowen started a real bandwagon of listing your top ten most influential books (Caplan, Wilkinson and Kieran all listed The Bell Curve, though not for the same reasons). I’m not going to jump on because I’m too young for that sort of retrospective. Instead I’ll just list some stuff I’ve read recently but haven’t blogged about. Taking the train means I have more time to read (and access to more books) but less time to blog. Give your own examples (if you haven’t done so already), comment on the ones listed, or suggest some more.

Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
The Culture of Defeat by Wolfgang Schivelbusch
Hystories by Elaine Showalter
Violence and Social Orders by Douglass North and two other less important people (at the repeated recommendations of agnostic and as a contrast to “A Farewell to Alms”)
The Death and Life of American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Today I went to pick up The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, but it wasn’t where the catalog said it would be, so instead I’ve got Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State. Fortunately, Goffman’s work (or at least one edition of it) appears to be available online. In the future, I plan on reading Paul Collier to (balance out William Easterly) and Mancur Olson (to balance out North, Wallis & Weingast).

UPDATE: A while back I gave up fiction for the sake of my epistemic hygiene (and also because non-fiction seemed more interesting). If that just sounds bizarre to you, you may be interested in First Things’ Tournament of Novels.

UPDATE 2: Check out Austin Bramwell, who judges some involuntary contestants in a signalling-through-booklists competition and then applies the same criteria to himself. His The Right to Remain Silent from a few years back inspired a number of good and not so good reads on my part. Still have to get to Schumpeter.

Frances Wooley has a guest-post at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative titled Human capital: literal truth, fairy tale or myth?
It reminded me of Steve Sailer’s post Flynn Anti-Effect.

Previously in synergy.

A couple years back Chip Smith asked me to share my thoughts on antinatalism, in the vein of my Stirner-flavored intro to “The Myth of Natural Rights“. At the time he was considering the more black-nail-polish title “Against Life, Against Death”. I cranked up the snark factor and sent it off, then forgot about it for a while. I was reminded of it again when Jim Crawford highlighted Feminist X’s egoist justification for having children and asked if he would like to read the essay. He said sure, so I sent it off and now he’s got it up over there. The comments aren’t open there until he posts a rebuttal, but they are open here.

VERY BELATED UPDATE: Jim’s rebuttal. Chip linked to it in the comments, but not everybody reads those.

I was perusing Borders yesterday and came across the book The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe are Alike. It’s packed with graphs, rivaling Andrew Gelman’s Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State on that score.

Some factoids, drawn from my own reading and this blog post by ParaPundit: US employment of civil servants is equal to about the median for European countries; The US is less prudish than any European country save for Iceland (gleaned from surveys on kinky activities in the bedroom); and Americans have better cancer survival rates than their European counterparts.

I’m a little surprised by the Iceland bit, as I was under the impression that the culture there was very similar to that of Scandinavia. I’ve got anecdotal evidence, drawn from the observations of a Danish woman I once knew, that northern European males are withdrawn and not very assertive on the sexual front. And as Conan O’Brien once joked, Sweden’s coin currency boasts that it is the home of the world’s most melancholy orgy. Maybe it’s hard for people of the ice to get hot and bothered.

It’s been some time since I’ve been in a mainstream bookstore with popular new releases, as University and used book stores have become my usual literary haunts in the last couple of years, living in the bay area. I even spotted John Derbyshire’s We Are Doomed, which for some reason I assumed had very limited distribution.

Frank Knight is one of those economists you hear referenced now and then but whose actual ideas aren’t discussed that often, partly because he failed to spawn any disciples. “Risk, Uncertainty and Profit” is widely available, but anyone familiar with Bayes-by-way-of-Jaynes will dismiss it. Knight’s Newschool page linked to “The Ethics of Competition”, (which was also the title of a book containing that essay), hosted by Ross Emmett at Augustana, but Emmett is no longer there and the essay did not move with him. Irritated that I couldn’t find it there or even at the Internet Archive, and figuring it had to exist somewhere where I wouldn’t have to pay for it, I spent months off-an-on searching for it. Lucky for me, some Mexican uploaded pdfs of Ross’ pages to a file hosting site, Google cached an automatically-generated html version of the pdfs and I was able copy that and clean up the html. I am now hosting them on my tripod site.
The Ethics of Competition
Ethics and the Economic Interpretation
I haven’t actually read either of these yet.

On an only slightly related note, the War Nerd interview mp3 takes up a lot of space, so I plan on deleting it. If you really want to have a copy, get while the getting is good.

Via Scott Sumner comes the question “What took the ‘con’ out of econometrics?“. I bet many people question whether that actually occurred, usually those ignorant of math and/or economics. Other ignorant people also question the application of quantitative social science to the study of violent conflict. The answer to the aforementioned question is better identification through mechanisms like randomized experiments or “natural experiments”. I mentioned some heretics who fail to pay homage to randomized trials here. Among the party-poopers is a recent commenter here, Thorfinn, in “When Numbers Fail“. My view is that people are apt to fool themselves, and numbers can provide a constraint, though given sufficient ingenuity and lack of countervailing incentives they will tend to be undermined.

On a completely different note for people more interested in medieval history & philosophy of science than numbo-jumbo, check out this.

The title of this post courtesy of Penn Jillette.
UPDATE: Most of the trackbacks I get are spam, but I don’t bother turning them off anyway. This post got an amazing 130 of them, and actually took a good deal of processing time to clear them all out. They are now off for this post.

What Will Wilkinson calls the “United Nations fallacy” sometimes distracts us from the variation within nations. One of the largest nations is India, and you may be surprised to know that one of its states has often been ruled by democratically elected Communists. That state is Kerala, which as Steve Sailer notes has all the characteristics which appeal to modern liberals, though the lack of money certainly doesn’t seem to appeal to Keralans themselves, who migrate outward to other states. Even second-class status as guest-workers in the Persian Gulf is better, and the state is to a substantially supported by remittances from that reason. As I have mentioned before, I am familiar with evidence that communism is associated with more healthcare and education, but I believe that is trounced by the “foot vote”. The people themselves don’t appreciate such gifts of communism, and would rather live under even corrupt, backward crony-capitalism.

There have been a number of interesting articles on psychiatry and the bogosity surrounding it recently, many of which are helpfully rounded up by Sailer here. The Rosenhan experiment gets a worthwhile mention in one article, but none of them see fit to mention Thomas Szasz (or Robyn Dawes or even R. D. Laing). Though not discussing psychiatry (and thus not actually meriting Szasz a mention) “Bayes” at GNXP states something like Caplan‘s economic framing of Szasz here.

This reminds me: it’s been a while since Sister Y had a new post. Did she finally attain negative bliss?
UPDATE: This morning I checked out Elain Showalter’s “Hysories” and none of the folks mentioned above are listed in the index. Also, a commenter with a silly pseudonym claims Sister Y is still afflicted with persistent vitality syndrome, which I take as authoritative.
UPDATE 2: I was sure I remembered Derbyshire mentioning Theodore Dalrymple in his linked article. But when I rechecked, I was wrong. Awful surprising, since they’re both conservative irreligious Englishmen published in the New English Review, and Dalrymple has written a number of books based on his experience as a mental-health professional as well as writing specifically on the pathologizing of unhappiness.

A while back I highlighted a Google Tech Talk on fusion power using polywells from the late Dr. Brussard. Now via John Robb I found a compilation of tech talks on using liquid thorium as a fission powersource. In the only one of three I’ve watched in full, Dr. Joe Bonometti claims it will give the main advantages of fusion and was originally proposed as a mobile fuel-source for airplanes (analogous to nuclear submarines).
The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor: What Fusion Wanted To Be
Energy From Thorium: A Nuclear Waste Burning Liquid Salt
Aim High: Using Thorium Energy to Address Environmental Prob[lems?]
I presume that Liquid Fluoride Reactors: A New Beginning for an Old Idea is also about thorium, but haven’t watched it.

There are so many distractions on this wondrous internet I sometimes forget to check out blogs I know have reliably good content. I blame The Money Illusion for changing its url to be more similar. Jason Lyall argues that democracies aren’t actually that bad at counter-insurgency. Joshua Keating doesn’t merely jump on the complaining-about-contrarian-punditry bandwagon but actually defends the conventional wisdom. You may complain that both of those aren’t original content, but just links, in which case you’re a square who just doesn’t “get” blogging. To appease your outdated norms, an original at the site is Silja Haeusermann explaining what is politically necessary to retrench existing social policy programs.

After returning Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s “The Culture of Defeat” (along with McCabe & Mrs Miller) yesterday, I picked up Richard Wrangham’s “Catching Fire”. I reviewed Wrangham’s “Demonic Males” here. The section on people who choose diets of raw foods reminded me of myself. I avoid cooked vegetables, particularly disliking their softness. I occasionally eat potatoes raw, which most people find weird. I actually prefer them baked, but even raw is better than mashed. Usually I’m too impatient to mike them thoroughly, so they’re merely warm when I eat them. I can’t say I eat raw meat very often (I was born in Minnesota, not Wisconsin!), but it’s the type of weird thing I’d do. I guess I’m just a philistine who doesn’t appreciate properly prepared food. On the other hand, I’m cuckoo for chicken, which Wrangham notes is fairly tender (not so much for fish, it tastes & smells like fish). I’ve eaten leftover chicken unheated a few times, though far more often I’d warm it up. Apples are noted for being one of the kinds of foods normally unheated, but it also occurred to me that I particularly dislike soft apples and don’t eat applesauce (juice is A-OK though). It can’t be simply the case that I dislike mush, because I’m fine with oatmeal. Refusing to give my digestive system a hand-up has done the trick of making me skinny, but honestly I’d prefer more insulation.

On a completely unrelated note, Publius Quinctilius Varus has put me on his blogroll and seems a smart sort with a good blog, so check it out.

I was watching part of a history channel show on ancient earth. They mentioned that there were very large increases in the amount of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere in the time of the dinosaurs. This led to a lot of plant-growth and also a climate suitable for such “lukewarm-blooded” creatures. Carbon-dioxide must be great for life! But there was no mention of the acidification of the ocean, which is a major problem cited for using geo-engineering to create “global cooling” without getting a handle on carbon emissions. Anyone familiar with the issue want to enlighten me? Mitchell Porter?

Paul Hewitt and I had an unproductive conversation a while back on the subject of labor productivity differentials (or the question of their existence, to be more precise). He referenced it at Overcoming Bias more recently and mentioned that he had posed a riddle for me at Unqualified Reservations. I found his comment here, but it was for an old post, so I will respond at my own blog. (more…)

Eh, it was alright I guess. Don’t see why some people rave about it. Certainly can’t justify its length.

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