Archive for August, 2011

1

Ron Paul is a Nutter, and He Won’t Be the Presidential Nominee, No Matter How Many Neckbeards and Stoners His Garden Gnome Physique Attracts

God almighty, I hate Ron Paul. Like, sure, dude wants to end the drug war, which is good, but pretty much everything else he stands for? Batshit crazy. Matt Yglesias decided to visit his website in response to criticisms that Paul wasn’t getting a fair shake in the media. How’d that turn out, young Matt?

After looking at his positions and statements, the most remarkable thing is that if it weren’t for his loud fanbase of self-proclaimed libertarians you wouldn’t really think this is the platform of a libertarian. He’s loudly trumpeting his plan to impose criminal penalties on women who terminate their pregnancies and he makes it clear that his interest in freedom doesn’t extend to the freedom of anyone unfortunate enough to have been born in a foreign country. His campaign slogan of “RESTORE AMERICA NOW” is strongly suggestive of conservative impulses and nostalgia for the much-less-free America John Boehner grew up in. The mainstay of his economic thinking is the ridiculous proposition that “[t]here is no greater threat to the security and prosperity of the United States today than the out-of-control, secretive Federal Reserve.” Not only is Paul’s goldbuggery nutty on the merits, like his affection for forced pregnancy and severe restrictions on human freedom of movement it’s difficult to see what it has to do with freedom. The freedom of the government to set a fixed dollar price of gold? America’s current monetary policy—a fiat currency that’s freely exchangeable for other currencies and commodities—is the free market position.

Plus, as Kevin Drum mentioned the other day (sorry, not gonna go looking for the link), Paul’s already been through this once… and got crushed. He’s not electable. There’s no reason to pretend that he is this year. He might look good painted red and blue and placed on your front lawn in the summertime, but that’s about the only use anyone outside of his district has for him.

I said this once at my old spot, but I had friends — friends, goddamnit! — in the last election cycle who happily aligned themselves with the Paultards. And half of Reddit is just dying to smoke their “trees” after they get Paul into the White House (that they won’t be able to afford any because they’ll be forced to sell off their worldly possessions in order to eat catfood seems to escape them, however). So let me say it loud and clear, and then let us never speak of this again:

Ron Paul is an idiot, the people who support him are idiots, and he deserves to be taken with about as much seriousness among the general population as your typical idiot does, i.e., with none at all.

As you were.

0

Decisions, decisions

Do you like Malcom Galdwell-y psycho-social-science writing? Me too! Here’s a somewhat long but totally intriguing NYT article in that vein about Decision Fatigue.

Now, I’m not very good at tl;dr summations, but I think the crux of the article is that will power is neither an ephemeral nor an immutable human quality, but rather a very real and measurable attribute that not only fluctuates from person to person but also fluctuates within every person based on such factors as how much will power you’ve already expended that day (i.e., have you made a lot of decisions already) and your current glucose levels (i.e., have you eaten recently).

Sort of mundane and commonsensical on the surface, but even though it’s not an exact science, the results of numerous studies on the subject have been both consistent and compelling. As the article details, decision fatigue seems to contribute in small or large part to everything from relative leniency when reviewing prison sentences:

Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.

to pain tolerance:

A nearby department store was holding a going-out-of-business sale, so researchers from the lab went off to fill their car trunks with simple products… When they came to the lab, the students were told they would get to keep one item at the end of the experiment, but first they had to make a series of choices. Would they prefer a pen or a candle? A vanilla-scented candle or an almond-scented one? A candle or a T-shirt? A black T-shirt or a red T-shirt? A control group, meanwhile — let’s call them the nondeciders — spent an equally long period contemplating all these same products without having to make any choices…

Afterward, all the participants were given one of the classic tests of self-control: holding your hand in ice water for as long as you can. The impulse is to pull your hand out, so self-discipline is needed to keep the hand underwater. The deciders gave up much faster; they lasted 28 seconds, less than half the 67-second average of the nondeciders. Making all those choices had apparently sapped their willpower, and it wasn’t an isolated effect.

to marketing manipulation:

[One experiment] was conducted at German car dealerships, where customers ordered options for their new sedans. The car buyers — and these were real customers spending their own money — had to choose, for instance, among 4 styles of gearshift knobs, 13 kinds of wheel rims, 25 configurations of the engine and gearbox and a palette of 56 colors for the interior.

As they started picking features, customers would carefully weigh the choices, but as decision fatigue set in, they would start settling for whatever the default option was. And the more tough choices they encountered early in the process — like going through those 56 colors to choose the precise shade of gray or brown — the quicker people became fatigued and settled for the path of least resistance by taking the default option. By manipulating the order of the car buyers’ choices, the researchers found that the customers would end up settling for different kinds of options, and the average difference totaled more than 1,500 euros per car (about $2,000 at the time). Whether the customers paid a little extra for fancy wheel rims or a lot extra for a more powerful engine depended on when the choice was offered and how much willpower was left in the customer.

all the way down to class immobility:

Shopping can be especially tiring for the poor, who have to struggle continually with trade-offs. Most of us in America won’t spend a lot of time agonizing over whether we can afford to buy soap, but it can be a depleting choice in rural India. Dean Spears, an economist at Princeton, offered people in 20 villages in Rajasthan in northwestern India the chance to buy a couple of bars of brand-name soap for the equivalent of less than 20 cents. It was a steep discount off the regular price, yet even that sum was a strain for the people in the 10 poorest villages. Whether or not they bought the soap, the act of making the decision left them with less willpower, as measured afterward in a test of how long they could squeeze a hand grip. In the slightly more affluent villages, people’s willpower wasn’t affected significantly. Because they had more money, they didn’t have to spend as much effort weighing the merits of the soap versus, say, food or medicine.

Spears and other researchers argue that this sort of decision fatigue is a major — and hitherto ignored — factor in trapping people in poverty. Because their financial situation forces them to make so many trade-offs, they have less willpower to devote to school, work and other activities that might get them into the middle class. It’s hard to know exactly how important this factor is, but there’s no doubt that willpower is a special problem for poor people. Study after study has shown that low self-control correlates with low income as well as with a host of other problems, including poor achievement in school, divorce, crime, alcoholism and poor health.

Provocative, no?

0

Daily Me

I’ve never been a Cass Sunstein fan, but his argument that the Internet has opened up space for those who are so disposed to create totally closed circles of information that reflect only what they want to see/hear/read is completely fair. See it in action on r/libertarian where something Paul Krugman apparently said on Google+ — “we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage” — is being smacked around with relish (not substantively, just ridiculed, really).

Problem: The Google+ account is a fake.

Bigger problem: No comment pointing this out on the thread has (as of now) received a single up-boat. They’re just languishing in the rarely visited depths of the page, unlikely to be seen by anyone without the presence of mind to ctrl+f the word “fake” (most people).

Consequence: The denizens of r/libertarian get to live in a world where Paul Krugman’s insensitive assholeness is once again comfortably reaffirmed.

Not that the claim fake Krugman is making isn’t economically sound, or couldn’t be read as being an ironic expression of someone despairing at the absurdity of a world that demands disaster and war before it consents to taking the steps necessary to unfuck its own economy.

Let’s break the mirrors, eh? Bruce Lee style?

Update: Libertarians love to copypasta the following (I think originating on Mises.org) to every thread pertaining to Paul Krugman:

Great, another one for the list!

  • So the direct economic impact of the (911)attacks will probably not be that bad. And there will, potentially, be two favorable effects. First, the driving force behind the economic slowdown has been a plunge in business investment. Now, all of a sudden, we need some new office buildings. Paul Krugman, 2001
  • However, let’s give credit where credit is due: Mr. Greenspan has cut rates since then. And while some of us may have been urging him to move even faster, the Fed’s four interest-rate cuts since the slowdown became apparent represent an unusually aggressive response by historical standards. It’s still not clear that Mr. Greenspan has caught up with the curve — let’s have at least one more rate cut, please — but the interest-rate cuts do, cross your fingers, seem to be having an effect. Paul Krugman,2001
  • During phases of weak growth there are always those who say that lower interest rates will not help. They overlook the fact that low interest rates act through several channels. For instance, more housing is built, which expands the building sector. You must ask the opposite question: why in the world shouldn’t you lower interest rates? Paul Krugman, 2001
  • Consumers, who already have low savings and high debt, probably can’t contribute much. But housing, which is highly sensitive to interest rates, could help lead a recovery…. But there has been a peculiar disconnect between Fed policy and the financial variables that affect housing and trade. Housing demand depends on long-term rather than short-term interest rates — and though the Fed has cut short rates from 6.5 to 3.75 percent since the beginning of the year, the 10-year rate is slightly higher than it was on Jan. 1…. Sooner or later, of course, investors will realize that 2001 isn’t 1998. When they do, mortgage rates and the dollar will come way down, and the conditions for a recovery led by housing and exports will be in place. Paul Krugman, 2001
  • To fight this recession the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble. Paul Krugman, 2002
  • Oh, and on a nonpolitical note: even before Friday’s grim report on jobs, I was puzzled by Mr. Greenspan’s eagerness to start raising interest rates. Now I don’t understand his policy at all. Paul Krugman, 2004
  • As Mr. McCulley predicted, interest rate cuts led to soaring home prices, which led in turn not just to a construction boom but to high consumer spending, because homeowners used mortgage refinancing to go deeper into debt. All of this created jobs to make up for those lost when the stock bubble burst. Now the question is what can replace the housing bubble. Paul Krugman, 2005
  • To be honest, a new bubble now would help us out a lot even if we paid for it later. This is a really good time for a bubble… There was a headline in a satirical newspaper in the US last summer that said: “The nation demands a new bubble to invest in” And that’s pretty much right. Paul Krugman, 2009
  • If we discovered that space aliens were planning to attack, and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat, and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months. Paul Krugman, 2011
  • People on twitter might be joking, but in all seriousness, we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage. Paul Krugman, 2011
Each instance is either a decontextualized cherry pick or surface level ridicule that doesn’t actually hold water if you think about it for a second. Odds that the last point will be excised from future posts now that it’s been confirmed as a fake? Poor.
Anyway, jjrs has put together a counter post to be used whenever you see this bullshit list:

I see this claim every time a Krugman column is on reddit, so I’m going to post a generic reply.

He said the fed needs to create a housing bubble to keep the economy going!

Prediction, not request.

Question: if Krugman wanted a “bubble”, using and meaning those exact words, then why did he call for action in 2005 when it was clear that the housing market was in, and I quote the exact term he used, a “bubble”?

Actually, it was McCulley that first called Greenspans’ bubble; Krugman merely paraphrased him. Here is the original quote Krugman referred to:

There is room for the Fed to create a bubble in housing prices, if necessary, to sustain American hedonism. And I think the Fed has the will to do so, even though political correctness would demand that Mr. Greenspan deny any such thing.”

Question: is the above speaker genuinely hoping that Greenspan will create a bubble to sustain “American hedonism”(yay hedonism!), or making a prediction about what he’ll probably do?

He said there should be a new bubble to replace the old one on Spanish TV!

Now this is getting really dishonest…Krugman was quoting the Onion headline about people looking for a new bubble. The quote on Mises is hacked up with ellipses, and they refuse to provide the entire thing unedited. But you can read what Krugman thought of the Onion article on his blog. He sees it as a statement of the market’s frenzy to find something new to throw their money at. Here’s Krugman referencing the Onion in his blog around the same time, very obviously referring to absurdity of it and not, as Mises claims, using it as a guiding economic policy. As the person he linked to said, “If it wasn’t so sad, it would be hysterical.”

He called for interest rate cuts in 2001! That proves it!

They say he “must” have meant it because he called for interest rate cuts in 2001, when the economy was in a slump. They seem ignorant of the fact that both the fed and the economists that offer advice for them re-assess interest rates every 6 months or so.

Ok then, but he DID want the housing boom to drive the economy

If you take that to mean Krugman wanted a bubble, it appears to be based on a confusion between what a speculative bubble is and what an economic driver is. While they can go hand in hand, the two are different things.

In layman’s terms, a “bubble” seems to have become synonymous with “any big boom in the economy, which will inevitably come to an end with a backlash”. If you believe in Business Cycle theory, you’re very inclined to think that, since that concept is fundamental to the theory’s model of how the economy works (Boom-Bust).

But a “bubble” is not defined as “bad shit that happens after seemingly good stuff happened”. A speculative bubble is defined as “trade in high volumes at prices that are considerably at variance with intrinsic values”.

In other words: Investors drive up the price of a good. Others, seeing the price rise, assume it must be a great investment, driving the price up even further. This cycle continues, until someone tries to sell the good at the (ridiculously overvalued) price. When people are unable to sell, the price drops to realistic levels, and all the money people had on paper vanishes. And worse, if they bought the good at the overvalued price, they’re in debt with no way to recoup. (I’d like to point out that as much as Austrians worship gold, it’s perfectly possible for the above scenario to happen with that good, too).

However, bubbles do not have to go hand in hand with economic drivers. It’s perfectly valid for a housing boom to stimulate the economy…if houses are actually needed, and of benefit to people who genuinely need to buy them and are willing and capable of getting them at the market price. The problem is when prices move out of sync with what the market can bear. And that is where the fed can step in.

You might disagree with that, and believe that any manipulation in interest rates will inevitably lead to a bubble, and that therefore anyone that believes in the power of the fed wants one. But keep in mind, when you say that, you go against 100 years of mainstream economic thought, not just this guy specifically.


The response to this generic reply will typically be to ignore all this, and just re-paste the above quotes all over again.

Another thing to mention is that the claim that 9/11 wouldn’t drive us into recession (the first point being ridiculed) was totally true:

It was initially thought that aggregate demand was seriously affected, for while the existing data showed that GDP growth was low in the first half of 2001, data published in October showed that GDP had contracted during the 3rd quarter. This led to the claim that “The terrorist attacks pushed a weak economy over the edge into an outright recession.” We now know, based on revised data, this is not so. At the time of 9/11 the economy was in its third consecutive quarter of contraction; positive growth resumed in the 4th quarter. This would suggest that any effects from 9/11 on demand were short lived. While this may be true, several events took place before, on, and shortly after 9/11, that made recovery either more rapid than it might have been or made it possible to take place. First, the Federal Reserve had eased credit during the first half of 2001 to stimulate aggregate demand. The economy responds to policy changes with a lag in time. Thus, the public response may have been felt in the 4th quarter giving the appearance that 9/11 had only a limited effect. Second, the Federal Reserve on and immediately after 9/11 took appropriate action to avert a financial panic and liquidity shortage. This was supplemented by support from foreign central banks to shore up the dollar in world markets and limited the contagion of 9/11 from spreading to other national economies. Nevertheless, U.S. trade with other countries, especially Canada, was disrupted. While oil prices spiked briefly, they quickly returned to their pre-9/11 levels.

0

White People Problems

This sentence from DougJ, referring to demographic shifts that may give the President a second term despite the fact that the economic situation says he’d probably be otherwise doomed (which would, by extension, ensure our own doom)… well, it puts things into perspective, anyway:

Thank Bieber that in addition to being destructive sociopaths, Republicans are also politically suicidal xenophobes. We’d be in a world of hurt if they weren’t.

Which kind of makes my night. “Ahh, yes. They are crazy in addition to being stupid. I can hold that notion close to my bosom in times of deep despair.” But then he goes ahead and adds this:

There are many white Balloon-Juice readers who are offended when I say that we would certainly be well on our way to a Franco/Mussolini-style dictatorship (or worse) if only white people could vote. Well, it’s a fact, deal with it.

And I just have to kind of nod and say, “Fucking white people.”

It’s the truth. I’m a white person. We all got issues.

0

The Pythagorean Theorem, as Proven by President James Garfield

I had no idea. Dude came up with a unique proof. I guess he was dissatisfied with the original?

Area of trapezoid = Area of 3 triangles
$ \frac{1}{2}(a + b)(a + b) = \frac{1}{2}ab + \frac{1}{2}c^2 + \frac{1}{2}ab $
$ (a + b)^2 = ab + c^2 + ab $
$ a^2 + 2ab + b^2 = 2ab + c^2 $

[ERGO -- ed]
$ a^2 + b^2 = c^2 $
Reading the news today is depressing me. So ephemera will have to do.
(via)
1

The Decemberists Make An Infinite Jest Video…

I’m about a third of the way into the book and haven’t watched the below for fear of both tweeness and spoilers, but in case you’re interested …

2

We just had an earthquake

In case you missed it, this happened less than an hour ago:

A 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered northwest of Richmond, Va., shook much of Washington, D.C., and was felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City.

I can personally confirm that the earthquake was felt at least as far as Eastern Connecticut, since I thought I was having a minor stroke for a minute during lunch until I came back to my desk and saw the various emails on the subject from our facilities chief, including the information that:

In the large cities such as New York, people are evacuating buildings but that is not necessary here. Also, the 3rd and 4th floors here at the site are built to earthquake standards as required by building code.

And:

Cell and Phone Service – Cell and Phone service is sporadic at this time in some areas from Virginia to Massachusetts. This can be expected for some time.

Once last point of information. You may have heard that the Pentagon was evacuated. That does appear to be the case but it was because they thought that they were under attack again.

Shake, rattle, and roll.

2

Best. Roomate. Ever.

That’s the title of what may be my favorite Craigslist post ever (they disappear fast, so clickadalink if you want to read the whole thing):

Konichiwa bitches. Are you looking for the most kick-ass fucking roommate that ever lived? If so, look no further. You fucking found him. I’m a 25-year-old professional marketing agent with experience at bad-ass companies in New York Fucking City. That’s right! What you know about experience? I graduated from Auburn University in Alabama, and moved to NYC at the ripe, tender age of 22. After deciding that New York was a stinky shit-hole, I moved back to Alabama to cultivate more professional experience. Why? So I can make millions of dollars and not have to post shit like this on Craigslist.

Anyway, so I landed this job with a marketing firm in San Francisco, and I have no fucking clue where to live. Honestly, I’m moving there in 3 weeks, so I don’t give a shit if I have to sleep in your bathtub.

A bit about me: I’m respectful, quiet, clean and I won’t bother any of your shit. If you leave shit out, I’m just like, “Oh fuck I better not mess with this shit, because it’s not mine.” I turn off lights. I clean toilets. Fuck it. I’ll even cook for you. That’s right! My dad is a chef and taught me everything there is to know about cooking southern cajun cuisine. I’ll fry green tomatoes, cover them with marinated crab meat and smother that shit in bearnaise. EVERY. GODDAMN. NIGHT. Don’t eat meat? That’s fucking FANTASTIC! I’ll make a zucchini and yellow squash carpaccio that will knock your fucking socks off.

The rest is equally bombastic.

(h/t Big Where It Counts)

0

The new nap-ster

If you’ve ever been caught nodding off in a meeting or napping at your desk, here’s a little ammo for you. In the Inc. article, Eric Markowitz tells how

Craig Yarde, founder of Yarde Metals in Bristol, CT, noticed his employees—who work in three manufacturing shifts, 24-hours a day—napping on the job. So when he built a new office space in 1995, he threw in a nap room, with couches.

…Fifteen years later, Yarde Metals has grown to nearly 700 employees, with $500 million in annual revenue and locations up and down the east coast—each with its own dedicated napping room.

“Without a question, [naps] improve productivity,” Yarde says. “It’s funny how these things go. It went from being totally ridiculous to being cutting edge now.”

Okay, Craig Yarde from Bristol, CT, is in favor of napping on the job, but you know that no trend is legit until it has been endorsed by a stuffy scientist with an Ivy League pedigree.

Enter,

James Maas, a sleep expert and Cornell social psychologist who coined the term “power nap” 36 years ago, [and who] recommends employees nap for 15-minutes when they feel sluggish to restore a sense of vitality to the workday.

“If we operated machinery like we operate the human body, we’d be accused of reckless endangerment. Just like machinery gets oiled, the human body needs to be nurtured and fed,” Maas says.

Maas says there’s a neurological reason power naps work. Though an EEG pattern—which measures the flow of electricity in the head—shows wakefulness while a person is excessively tired, the neurons involved in memory can be turned off, he says. So although a person is technically “awake” in this state of sleepiness, his or her memory neurons can go offline. Simply put, even though you’re awake, your brain isn’t. (A longer 30-minute or 60-minute nap, on the other hand, puts a person in Delta—or deep—sleep, he explains, which leaves the person groggy upon waking up.)

BEHOLD the power of ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz……..

20

To Christie Blatchford: A Rebuttal

[Editor's note: This post is a copy of an email written by our own Sam Cheuk in response to Christie Blatchford's August 22 column in the National Post about the death and life of Canadian social democrat and former Leader of the Opposition, John "Jack" Layton. No changes have been made from the original.]

***

Good try, CHRISTINE, to inauthenticate my sense of loss, as many other Canadians have felt, friends or foes alike, as merely some boorish spectacle; to belittle the passing of Jack (yes I’ll call him by his first name despite having never met him) through political muckraking.

Throughout human history, it is customary to mourn the death of a person, you see, especially the death of those who matter. Here we have a man, who many of us feel represent the version of Canada we can be most proud of, die, as you have so astutely observed. Kudos too for noticing that a lot of us are saddened by Jack’s passing, though I wouldn’t call it a spectacle. Words sometimes insinuate things that are connotatively inaccurate, you see. For me, the word “spectacle” conjures up a scene of a colosseum, where you’ve framed me as one of many spectators mindlessly– well, mourning in this case. It is true, sometimes people can be persuaded to feel a certain feeling through collective osmosis, though it is true too that sometimes we collectively feel something because it is the summation of individuals feeling the same thing. Were I to hazard a guess, it’d be the latter in this case; from experience I can say that it’s never been too trendy to mourn for a political figure, unlike Princess Di whose death is purely the makings of the tabloid, literally! (literally is the opposite of connotatively.)

I apologize, I don’t mean to talk to you in the same tone as I do with children, when you’re obviously not a child given you griping about the “modern world,”but sometimes when I’m mad and talking to a buffoon I resort to this brand of sarcasm, blame my Gen Y upbringing.

As for your positioning of Jack’s deathbed letter, did you REALLY just go there? I mean, you were gracious enough to empathize with Jack in his last hours of his failing health, from there is it that big a stretch for your imagination that he be assisted in the composition of his letter? You write as though those things he said in the letter were completely fabricated in service of some clandestine politicking, something that Jack wouldn’t in a million years say! Sometimes a person is too ill to hold a pen and requires dictation, or in need to polish up what he means to say; the letter is meant for public consumption after all, as you’ve again so astutely noted. We have here as you’ve described Brian Topp and Anne McGrath, colleagues and friends, and Olivia Chow, wife and beloved, at his bedside in his last hour recording the last words of a man who’s given his life (also not a stretch) in service of the country, can you at least give it a grace period longer than a day before you shit all over it? I think that’s what people meant when they started a Facebook page titled “Christie Blatchford is a Fucking Tactless Hack.”

Lastly, your portrait of Jack as “a sliver of the man who happily lived virtually his entire adult life in the public eye” is what others might call “transparency.” You know, putting the money where the mouth is, leading a virtuous life, etc.

Loss, like love, is a generosity that demands nothing back, I do hope you give it a go some time in your life, it’s absolutely positively humanizing!

Sincerely,

Sam Cheuk

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