Monday, September 8, 2008

Posing a Question

I find this to be an effective campaign ad:

Obviously the American public doesn't buy this. The most recent polls put McCain either even with or slightly ahead of Obama. So obviously the American people are schizophrenic. On one hand they've fallen out of love with Bush, but on the other hand, they are in a fevered heat longing to elect McCain so they can get four more years of Bush. Nutty!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Yet More Bombast and Idiocy

The same ridiculous posing was done by Bush:

(1) Bush talked about an "Axis of Evil" and implied he was do everything to stop/defeat it. Here's Mini-Me Bush -- John McCain -- saying "defeat evil". This is a pose. There will always be bad things in the world. You work to limited, contain, or overcome bad things, but you will never "defeat evil". Nuts!

(2) Bush said he would "bring him in dead or alive" when talking about Saddam Hussein, but he never did. Here's McCain making the same bombastic claim of "go to the Gates of Hell to get him" when you know darn well this "me too" Bush won't do any more than his predecessor.

Why are people sucked in by lies and pompous words?

What I like about Obama is that he is calm, cool, rational, says what he means, and -- I believe -- will treat his word as his bond. He doesn't make a big show of claiming that he will "do" something. Obama is of the school of "walk softly and carry a big stick". Bush and McCain are of the Ringling Brothers and the Barnum and Bailey Circus school of politics, i.e. a sucker is born every minute and all you have to do is sell them hokum.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wrong Person asking the Right Question

When I watch the following I can't help but think that this is the "refreshing reformer" that the media says that Americans are demanding to put in Washington...

By the way, I don't like my pit bulls with or without lipstick. I don't think they should be restrained by a leash law. I think pit bulls are raised for skills that inappropriate for a modern society. They should be banned, not leashed.

The Madness of (Religious) Crowds

I always hated "social contract" theory. It was self evident that nobody I knew got to "sign" a social contract to establish social order. Instead you were born into a society and had to make your adjustments to what little room they left you.

Here's an economist from George Mason University, Peter Leeson, who has written a book about some real societies that formed from a written social contract. In this blog entry by Leeson presents an interesting argument. I find it most relevant in thinking about the Christian Right who want to dictate religious morals to the rest of society. Leeson's arugment shows why that is a bad idea.

Here is the argument:
... society works best where the need for policemen is least. Precisely because in self-regulating societies individuals regulate themselves, these societies can afford more freedom and the benefits that come with it. But self regulation is only possible where most citizens agree with the rules that govern them. The key, then, is to increase the extent of social agreement underlying the rules that govern society.

There are two ways to do this. The first way is to try and build greater agreement over the existing range of issues we decide socially (i.e., in the public sphere). That seems unlikely, though, if for no other reason than Americans are as diverse in their beliefs and preferences as they come.

The second way is to be more modest about the range of issues we seek social consensus on in the first place. Most of us agree that murder, for instance, should be prohibited. Making this decision through the political process is unlikely to undermine social agreement.

But there’s much greater variation in Americans’ thinking about, say, what schools should teach fifth graders about sex, whether trans-fats pose an unreasonable risk to one’s health, and whether Andres Serrano produces provocative art or sacrilegious smut.

By depoliticizing decisions — making more of them private choices instead of public ones — we can strengthen the consensual basis of American government, and hopefully enhance social agreement over the rules we have.

On Being Taught a New Trick by an Old Dog

Here's a 102 year old teaching you the intricacies of English spelling. It is well worth the three minutes of your time!

How the Screw Has Turned

I was raised in the rich ethos of there-will-always-be-a-better-tomorrow but am condemned to live out the tail end of my life in the Right Wing dream state of begger-your-neighbor in a war of all-against-all fighting over the scraps of the economic pie. What a cruel fate. I envy the kids of today. They are raised to expect nothing but misery, but will probably spend the better part of their adult lives in a near utopia of a growing economy with a wholesome State willing to improve their lives, their environment, and to endow them and their children with a future. Oh well...

One of my fondest memories of youth was a calculus teacher in high school wringing his hands at the golden future that the Sixties generation was inheriting. He would put on a "woe is me" expression and walk us through his youth in the Great Depression and how he struggled up his whole life. He, of course, expected us to continue the rocket trajectory higher and higher. The truth was that at just the time he was wringing his hands, the economic and social and political underpinnings that powered that trajectory flamed out and the Sixties generation headed into a perilous future. So... life turns in its great ambit. And I play the counter role. Looking back over a failed generation. But I refuse to do what that calculus teacher did -- project my own situation onto the future. Instead, I firmly believe the wheel has turned and the next generation will inherit a better world. The present is terrible. The Right has been rampant for nearly 40 years. But that is exactly why I think things will turn.

Here is an interesting blog by Ian Ayres, a lawyer and economist at Yale. He presents an interesting picture of how Paul Samuelson, the great Keynsian economist, wrote an excellent text that was torn down by William F. Buckley Jr. (and subsequently by the rise of the the Right with the Shock Doctrine "free" economics of the Milton Friedman school). Here is what Ayres thinks was its most dangerous idea:

If there is a single snippet that provoked Buckley to write God and Man at Yale, I’m guessing this was it. For Buckley, sensible, modern men could still embrace the minimalist state. Samuelson, in contrast, was willing to consider the contingent usefulness of government intervention:

[T]he remarkable fact is not how much the government does to control economic activity … but how much it does not do. (Buckley on Page 80 quoting Samuelson on Page 35)

This was a dangerous message that needed to be removed from our core curriculum.

The Ayres blog entry is well worth reading as well as this entry that points to a free version of Chapter One of the early edition of Samuelson's classic text. Reading that text is refreshing because it comes from a different era when hope and possibility still reigned.

Wall Street Selling Up as Down, Down as Up

I find this amusing. Here is the infamous Henry Blodget, the infamous "analyst" who talked people into buying the dot com bubble. He has now morphed into a financial "journalist". Across from him is a Yale professor, Robert Shiller, famous for his books on Irrational Exuberance. What is wrong with this picture?

How can any of this be trusted when the media recycles talking heads who give "free advice" that has cost people billions of dollars?

I guess the answer is: you get what you pay for. Here is a "free" video of talking heads giving you "free advice". What is it worth? Well, Blodget in the late 1990s gave you "free" advice that lost people billions. Is today's "free advice" worth more than this?

Personally I don't see much in this video. It is faily clear that Shiller is becoming a shill. That he is not the least bit uncomfortable being interviewed by a first class shill is evidence to me that he is now "in the business" and will be tailoring what he says to "what sells".

So what is Shiller selling? He is selling his new book The Subprime Solution. In reality he is selling fear:
  • Home price declines are already approaching those in the Great Depression, when they plunged 30% during the 1930s. With prices already down almost 20%, it's not a stretch to think we might exceed that drop this time around.
  • There are about 10 million homeowners whose debt is higher than their home value, which has broad implications for how Americans feel about their wealth and spending habits (read: more pressure on consumer spending).
  • The current hopeful consensus -- that house prices will bottom soon and then begin to recover -- is most likely a dream. Housing markets don't usually have "V-shaped" recoveries. And even if house prices stabilize in nominal terms, after adjusting for inflation, most homeowners will continue to lose money.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Here a Meter, There a Meter, Soon You are Talking Real Sea Level Rise

The global warming fanatics warn of cities drowned, islands drowned, countries drowned as sea levels rise over this century. Sounds alarming.

But the latest research out Colorado University says the rise will be close to one, maybe two meters, not the 6 or 7 meters the fanatics scream about:
Tad Pfeffer, a fellow of CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and his colleagues made calculations using conservative, medium and extreme glaciological assumptions for sea rise expected from Greenland, Antarctica and the world's smaller glaciers and ice caps -- the three primary contributors to sea rise. The team concluded the most plausible scenario, when factoring in thermal expansion due to warming waters, will lead to a total sea level rise of roughly 3 to 6 feet by 2100. ...

"In my opinion, some of the research out there calling for 20 or 30 feet of sea rise by the end of the century is not backed up by solid glaciological evidence," said Pfeffer.

Policymakers need to be able to predict sea level accurately if communities, cities and countries around the world are going to be able to plan effectively, Pfeffer said. "If we plan for 6 feet and only get 2 feet, for example, or visa versa, we could spend billions of dollars of resources solving the wrong problems."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bringing Book Burning to America

Here is a Time Magazine article on Sarah Palin. What I find "a-Palin" is that she wants to ban books. I get visions of NAZIs dancing around fires as "Jewish" books are heaved into the flames. Palin isn't a NAZI, but she is a religious nut who wants to ban books that she finds unpalatable to her conservative religious beliefs:
... Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.

Here is the real attitude of Republican insiders to Sarah Palin. These comments were captured off camera when the "talking heads" thought they were off mike:

Here's the transcript to help you following along to what is said:
Chuck Todd: Mike Murphy, lots of free advice, we'll see if Steve Schmidt and the boys were watching. We'll find out on your blackberry. Tonight voters will get their chance to hear from Sarah Palin and she will get the chance to show voters she's the right woman for the job Up next, one man who's already convinced and he'll us why Gov. Jon Huntsman. (cut away)

Peggy Noonan: Yeah.

Mike Murphy: You know, because I come out of the blue swing state governor world: Engler, Whitman, Tommy Thompson, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush. I mean, these guys -- this is how you win a Texas race, just run it up. And it's not gonna work. And --

PN: It's over.

MM: Still McCain can give a version of the Lieberman speech to do himself some good.

CT: I also think the Palin pick is insulting to Kay Bailey Hutchinson, too.

PN: Saw Kay this morning.

CT: Yeah, she's never looked comfortable about this --

MM: They're all bummed out.

CT: Yeah, I mean is she really the most qualified woman they could have turned to?

PN: The most qualified? No! I think they went for this -- excuse me-- political bullshit about narratives --

CT: Yeah they went to a narrative.

MM: I totally agree.

PN: Every time the Republicans do that, because that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it.

MM: You know what's really the worst thing about it? The greatness of McCain is no cynicism, and this is cynical.

CT: This is cynical, and as you called it, gimmicky.

MM: Yeah.

Here is Brad DeLong berating Peggy Noonan for writing one thing for mass consumption while -- as the above shows -- privately holding a completely different opinion as evidenced in this Wall Street Journal article:
Declarations - Because she jumbles up so many cultural categories, because she is a feminist not in the Yale Gender Studies sense but the How Do I Reload This Thang way, because she is a woman who in style, history, moxie and femininity is exactly like a normal American feminist and not an Abstract Theory feminist; because she wears makeup and heels and eats mooseburgers and is Alaska Tough, as Time magazine put it; because she is conservative, and pro-2nd Amendment and pro-life; and because conservatives can smell this sort of thing -- who is really one of them and who is not -- and will fight to the death for one of their beleaguered own; because of all of this she is a real and present danger to the American left, and to the Obama candidacy. She could become a transformative political presence. So they are going to have to kill her, and kill her quick. And it's going to be brutal. It's already getting there.

There are only two questions. 1. Can she take it? Will she be rattled? Can she sail through high seas? Can she roll with most punches and deliver some jabs herself? 2. And while she's taking it, rolling with it and sailing through, can she put herself forward convincingly as serious enough, grounded enough, weighty enough that the American people can imagine her as vice president of the United States? I suppose every candidate for vice president faces these questions to some degree, but because Palin is new, unknown, and a woman, it's all much more so.
It is exactly this example of the cynical manipulation of mass opinion by the pundit class -- the running dogs of the real elite in America -- that shows how corrupt politics truly are. You can buy opinion makers like Republicans Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphey to say one thing to sway the public while these very same pundits privately hold a completely different view. And this pundit class isn't the least bit embarrassed that they sell their skills to the rich in order for the rich to ride roughshod over the working population. These pundits are no better than the overseers of the old South who beat the slaves on behalf of their white masters to ensure that the money rolled in from the cotton crop. Think about it. These pundits are selling out the future of their country to people they despise just so they can earn money from the filthy rich. These people in effect are selling their mothers and their children in order to line their own pockets. They have no morals. They are perverts. And these are the very people put on national media -- in this case NBC -- and touted as "knowledgeable sources" whose job it is to shape opinion to ensure that the rich can quietly pull the strings that ensure that taxes on the rich (i.e corporations and the top 0.1% of the population) are reduced while taxes on the working majority (the bottom 90+%) are raised and raised again, all the while the pundits play along in the game of waving the flag and uttering patriotic words while knowing -- cynically knowing -- that they are selling the people of America off to the highest bidder.

And... here is Randi Rhodes on her radio show laying out the details of how Palin -- the supposed "reformer", the "outsider" fighting the "old boy network", the anti-pork barrel heroine -- in fact brought in the pork big time for her little down of Wasilla:

Part 1:

Part 2:

If you liked the above. Here are three more installments of Randi Rhodes detailing exactly why Sarah Palin is incompetent for the position of Vice President of the United States:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

American Education Rises to the Top

I want to say, that is, I speak and say that what I, you know, can tell you about what I'm saying is that Americans are, well, the U.S. Americans are tops, like, on the top and that's what I want to say about education and those U.S. Americans...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bush's Police State

The following video shows the arrest of Amy Goodman b. April 13, 1957, an American liberal broadcast journalist, syndicated columnist and author, at Minneapolis where she is attempting to play her role as a journalist at the Republican National Convention. But obviously in Bush's America the rights of a "free press" consist only of singing paeans to the glory of a strong national government, to freedom, and the correctness of the Dear Leader's vision for America...

Here is an interview with Amy Goodman on The Young Turks that explains how the journalist -- and her two staff -- were man handled and injured by thuggish cops. This is the full description of what happened in the above video. Listen very carefully to what Amy Goodman says. She makes some very, very important fundamental statements about law, police, Constitution, press, and rights:

The "Really" Real

Here is a fun discussion between a theoretical physicist (Sean Carroll, from Cal Tech) and a philosopher (David Albert, from Columbia) talking about the interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

I find this fascinating, but I want to reach into the screen and grab one or the other and rattle them to say "but you are missing the really essential point!". The two are engaged in dealing with the subtleties of interpretation. Albert even gives three fundamental interpretations of "quantum reality". But it sure seems to me they miss the point.

To puzzle over the Shroedinger wave function and the "collapse" of the wave function when we measure something like the location of an electron appears to me to turn things into a theoretical hocus-pocus. The problem isn't "how to interpret the tension between a theory that gives a statistical evolution of a wave function with the factualness of a measurement". That is a phoney philosophical "problem". The whole thing dissolves if we recognize that it is presumptuous of us to assume that our best physical theory is a complete and consistent account of the scientifically measureable world.

It appears to me that this is yet another point where modern understanding has come to the edge of the abyss. We know as much as we can know given our current approach:
  • In mathematics, Goedel showed that formalism as a "philosophy" of math came to its limits which his incompleteness theorem.
  • In science, Quantum Mechanics shows that a statistical theory of an evolving wave function comes to a limit as a "theory" of the world out there.
  • In discussions of free will and causation, a dicussion that tries to place free will into the context of a causal world comes to the limit of meaningfulness.
The "conundrum" is caused by our conceptual tools, not by the world. The world is what the world is, something that is and always will be ultimately "unknowable". Our theories are our best constructs. To expect them to "fit" the world is hubris. Any approach when pushed far enough will reach a limit. That doesn't mean I'm a pessimist and that I give up on rationality. You can get around Goedel incompeleteness by doing transfinite induction using Gerhard Gentzen's approach. But that's a different kind of math than the formalism of Goedel
envisioned. Can there be a physics that steps beyond the statistical predicitons of quantum mechanics? I don't know, but I would guess "yes". Is there a conceptualization that will allow us to move a bit beyond the limits of free will and causality? I would guess yes. I don't know what it is, but I believe with a new insight, new foundations, some advances can be made. But do I believe that there will be an "ultimate resolution" of these conundrums by some "final theory"? I seriously doubt it. I believe we can move the goal posts, but what the 20th century showed is that if we push our theories far enough we will come to puzzles and enigmas that block advance. They demonstrate the limits of our rationality. Ultimately the world is unknowable. It is the ultimate of human hubris to think that we can build systems to fully capture and lay open the dark heart of "what is out there".

OK... now back to the puzzle over a physics of a wave function that leads up to a measured fact. The physics is a tool. Is it really that surprising that the tool isn't the world it is measuring? Sure, classical physics blurred the line because the tool was just part of the classical system. But with sophistication we learned that in the ultra small world of particle physics deterministic equations didn't "fit". We discovered that by doing experiments over large numbers of "identical" particles we uncovered statistical regularities. So now we have a statistical tool that lets us "measure" the world. That the tool isn't the world is the puzzle we "discover" when we use quantum mechanics to identify probabilities. The fact that the world that we inhabit results in a specific fact resulting from a measurement simply tells us that the tool is separate from the world. The tool is statistical. The world is factual. It would be nice if the world weren't that way, but sadly it appears that our best understanding, our best tool, is ultimately a statistical tool. So talking of "many worlds" interpretations is silly. That is to confuse the tool with the world. Boehm's quantum interpretation "feels" better because it was a search for a theory that fits the world. Sadly, Boehm's approach failed. But if you want a tool that "fits" the world better, then an approach like Boehm's holds more promise than the current statistical approach of quantum mechanics. Is there a Boehmian theory out there to be discovered? Maybe, maybe not. But if you are disturbed by the misfit between your tool and the world, then instead of multiplying possible worlds, you would be better off multiplying theories in an effort to find one that gives a better "fit" to the world.

A Little Taste of Truth about Economic Models

People who work with models know how uncertain those crisp predictions produced by a model can be. Here is an interesting comment by an economist, Tyler Cowen, that I admire when asked about climate models in relation to economic models:
I don't have a lot of faith in the exact predictive powers of climate models, or for that matter economic models, but uncertainty about outcomes should make us worry more not less. Uncertainty usually has two tails, not just one.