Quotulatiousness

August 24, 2016

The Tragedy of the Commons

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 26 Jun 2015

In this video, we take a look at common goods. Common resources are nonexcludable but rival. For instance, no one can be excluded from fishing for tuna, but they are rival — for every tuna caught, there is one less for everyone else. Nonexcludable but rival resources often lead to what we call a “tragedy of the commons.” In the case of tuna, this means the collapse of the fishing stock. Under a tragedy of the commons, a resource is often overused and under-maintained. Why does this happen? And how can we solve this problem? Like we’ve done so many times throughout this course, let’s take a look at the incentives at play. We also discuss Nobel Prize Winner Elinor Ostrom’s contributions to this topic.

QotD: The Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

Looking back, I think my parents had more fun than I did.

That’s not how it was supposed to be. My parents belonged to the Greatest Generation; they grew up in hard times. My mom was born in Colorado in an actual sod hut, which is the kind of structure you see in old black-and-white photographs featuring poor, gaunt, prairie-dwelling people standing in front of what is either a small house or a large cow pie, staring grimly at the camera with the look of people who are thinking that their only hope of survival might be to eat the photographer. A sod hut is basically a house made out of compressed dirt. If you were to thoroughly vacuum one, it would cease to exist.

My mom, like my dad, and millions of other members of the Greatest Generation, had to contend with real adversity: the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, hunger, poverty, disease, World War II, extremely low-fi 78 r.p.m. records and telephones that — incredible as it sounds today — could not even shoot video.

They managed to overcome those hardships and take America to unprecedented levels of productivity and power, which is why they truly are a great generation. But they aren’t generally considered to be a fun generation. That was supposed to be their children — my generation, the baby boomers.

We grew up in a far easier time, a time when sod was strictly for lawns. We came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, the era of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. We were cool, we were hip, we were groovy, man. We mocked the suit-wearing Establishment squares grubbing for money in their 9-to-5 jobs. We lived in communes. We went to Woodstock. We wore bell-bottom trousers, and we did not wear them ironically.

Dave Barry, “The Greatest (Party) Generation”, Wall Street Journal, 2015-02-26.

August 23, 2016

Hey, EU! Two can play this silly medal total game!

Filed under: Europe, Media, Sports — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one variant of this bit of EU self-puffery going around:

EU fake 2016 Olympic medal ranking

As Guido Fawkes points out, under those rules the British Empire completely eclipses the medal total of all the EU states:

The former countries of the British Empire won 396 medals – 138 more medals than a post-Brexit EU. While the European Parliament invents an EU state to “win” the Olympics, the medal tally of a one-time actual supra-state leaves Brussels for dust. Former member countries of the British Empire accrued 76 more medals than the rest of the world (24%). In all, the Empire’s score of 137 gold medals trounces the EU’s, which after removing Great Britain sits at just 79.

Looking at other alliances NATO countries took a stunning 443 out of the 974 medals on offer (45%), while Anglosphere countries grabbed a whopping 288 – 30% of the world total. This is compared to Francophone states’ measly 87 (9%), even with Canada’s 22 (2%) generously included. Hoisting the colours appears to have been good luck; countries with Union Jacks in their flags took a massive 115 medals, of which 40 were gold!

A Crucial Test For Unity – Greece in WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 22 Aug 2016

Greece was officially neutral in World War 1. Surrounded by warring nations and under the influence of the great powers, Greek unity was tested during the war in a time of National Schism.

QotD: American Progressives

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The progressives have a lot of problems with America. That is the entire point of their politics: They don’t like what America is, and wish to change it.

This is what it means to be “progressive” — you want to move away from what actually exists.

Conservatives, by and large, defend the current order, because they like it, and do not wish to “fundamentally transform” America.

This is what it means to be “conservative” — one conserves, or keeps, what already exists.

Progressives play this game where they launch nothing but nasty Marxist Critiques upon America, agitating for the country to remake itself entirely, but want to claim simultaneously: We love America as much as anybody.

Oh you most certainly do not! Definitionally, you do not: One who “loves” with a long list of caveats and criticisms does not love as much as someone who loves completely (or with a much shorter list of caveats and criticisms).

Furthermore, progressives take patriotism itself to be the sanctimony of the unsophisticated. Or, as Oscar Wilde called it, “the virtue of the vicious.”

Progressives, when they’re speaking honestly (that is, when they’re not speaking in front of TV cameras), love to lampoon their fellow countrymen’s unsophisticated, stupid, and obese love of country.

They have in fact defined themselves as being Those who are too smart to buy into this “patriotism” nonsense.

Ace, “Rudy Is Right”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2015-02-20.

August 22, 2016

For newspapers, paywalls are (not) the answer

Filed under: Business, Football, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick uses small, easily understood words to explain why your local newspaper is cutting its own financial throat by implementing a paywall:

For many years, while some journalists (and newspaper execs) have been insisting that a paywall is “the answer” for the declining news business, we’ve been pointing out how fundamentally stupid paywalls are for the news. Without going into all of the arguments again, the short version is this: the business of newspapers has never really been “the news business” (no matter how much they insist otherwise). It’s always been the community and attention business. And in the past they were able to command such attention and build a community around news because they didn’t have much competition. But the competitive landscape for community and attention has changed (massively) thanks to the internet. And putting up a paywall makes it worse. In most cases, it’s limiting the ability of these newspapers to build communities or get attention, and actively pushing people away.

And, yes, sure, people will point to the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times as proof that “paywalls work.” But earth to basically every other publication: you’re not one of those publications. The paywalls there only work because of the unique content they have, and even then they don’t work as well as most people think.

Not surprisingly, more and more newspapers that bet on paywalls are discovering that they don’t really work that well and were a waste of time and effort — and may have driven away even more readers.

In my case, I look at various newspapers for links to share with my tiny audience of regular readers. Once upon a time, I’d frequently link to the two big Minnesota newspapers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, mostly because I was reading their sports pages for information about my favourite football team, but fairly often when they carried other news of interest, I’d share the link with my readers. When the Star Tribune implemented a paywall, I pretty much stopped going there (they allow 10 free articles per month, and even if I only read the odd Jim Souhan column, I’d already be beyond my limit). Given the thriving fan community for the Vikings, I barely miss the mainstream coverage (but I suspect they miss me and the thousands of other out-of-state visitors they used to get in the pre-paywall days).

Rona Ambrose reveals the secret to her AMAZING beer pong skillz

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Sarah Boesveld interviews interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose:

[…]

And how’s your beer-pong game?

Are you kidding me? My beer pong game is AMAZING. We had a huge beer-pong tournament at Stornoway [in May] for the university campus clubs, and they were all in their little suits and stuff. We were like, “Take off your ties! Relax!” We set up this huge beer-pong table in the kitchen and there must have been 60 people shoved in there. I kicked BUTT. I crushed them, those poor kids. They were like, “How are you so good at beer pong?”

How are you so good at beer pong?

I said to them, “Here’s the big secret: Don’t drink the beer.”

This interview has been condensed and edited.

H/T to Small Dead Animals for the link.

QotD: Terry Pratchett and the hacker mentality

Filed under: Books, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I learned something this weekend about the high cost of the subtle delusion that creative technical problem-solving is the preserve of a priesthood of experts, using powers and perceptions beyond the ken of ordinary human beings.

Terry Pratchett is the author of the Discworld series of satirical fantasies. He is — and I don’t say this lightly, or without having given the matter thought and study — quite probably the most consistently excellent writer of intelligent humor in the last century in English. One has to go back as far as P.G. Wodehouse or Mark Twain to find an obvious equal in consistent quality, volume, and sly wisdom.

I’ve been a fan of Terry’s since before his first Discworld novel; I’m one of the few people who remembers Strata, his 1981 first experiment with the disc-world concept. The man has been something like a long-term acquaintance of mine for ten years — one of those people you’d like to call a friend, and who you think would like to call you a friend, if the two of you ever arranged enough concentrated hang time to get that close. But we’re both damn busy people, and live five thousand miles apart.

This weekend, Terry and I were both guests of honor at a hybrid SF convention and Linux conference called Penguicon held in Warren, Michigan. We finally got our hang time. Among other things, I taught Terry how to shoot pistols. He loves shooter games, but as a British resident his opportunities to play with real firearms are strictly limited. (I can report that Terry handled my .45 semi with remarkable competence and steadiness for a first-timer. I can also report that this surprised me not at all.)

During Terry’s Guest-of-Honor speech, he revealed his past as (he thought) a failed hacker. It turns out that back in the 1970s Terry used to wire up elaborate computerized gadgets from Timex Sinclair computers. One of his projects used a primitive memory chip that had light-sensitive gates to build a sort of perceptron that could actually see the difference between a circle and a cross. His magnum opus was a weather station that would log readings of temperature and barometric pressure overnight and deliver weather reports through a voice synthesizer.

But the most astonishing part of the speech was the followup in which Terry told us that despite his keen interest and elaborate homebrewing, he didn’t become a programmer or a hardware tech because he thought techies had to know mathematics, which he thought he had no talent for. He then revealed that he thought of his projects as a sort of bad imitation of programming, because his hardware and software designs were total lash-ups and he never really knew what he was doing.

I couldn’t stand it. “And you think it was any different for us?” I called out. The audience laughed and Terry passed off the remark with a quip. But I was just boggled. Because I know that almost all really bright techies start out that way, as compulsive tinkerers who blundered around learning by experience before they acquired systematic knowledge. “Oh ye gods and little fishes”, I thought to myself, “Terry is a hacker!”

Yes, I thought ‘is’ — even if Terry hasn’t actually tinkered any computer software or hardware in a quarter-century. Being a hacker is expressed through skills and projects, but it’s really a kind of attitude or mental stance that, once acquired, is never really lost. It’s a kind of intense, omnivorous playfulness that tends to color everything a person does.

So it burst upon me that Terry Pratchett has the hacker nature. Which, actually, explains something that has mildly puzzled me for years. Terry has a huge following in the hacker community — knowing his books is something close to basic cultural literacy for Internet geeks. One is actually hard-put to think of any other writer for whom this is as true. The question this has always raised for me is: why Terry, rather than some hard-SF writer whose work explicitly celebrates the technologies we play with?

Eric S. Raymond, “The Delusion of Expertise”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-05-05.

August 21, 2016

Kurds in WW1 – The Swagger Stick I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 20 Aug 2016

It’s Chair of Wisdom Time again and this week we talk about the Kurds in World War 1 and the iconic Swagger Stick.

Why Trains Suck in America

Filed under: Railways, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 16 Aug 2016

Trains, well, just aren’t that great in America. Here’s why.

QotD: Price controls and other forms of rationing

Filed under: Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Of the numerous and occasionally contradictory techniques used to ration demand and supply [when monetary prices are not used], perhaps the most common is past behavior: persons already in apartments are given preference under rent control, or past acreage determines current allotments under agricultural price support programs. Another common technique is queuing or first come – first served: taxicabs, theater tickets, medical services, and many other goods and services are rationed in this way when their prices are controlled. Of course, discrimination and nepotism are also widely used; the best way to get a rent-controlled apartment is to have a (friendly) relative own a controlled building. Other criteria are productivity – the least productive workers are made unemployed by minimum wage laws;…. collateral – borrowers with little collateral cannot receive legal loans when effective ceilings are placed on interest rates.

Each rationing technique benefits certain groups at the expense of other groups relative to their situation in a free market. Price controls are almost always rationalized, at least in part, as a desire to help the poor, yet it is remarkable how frequently they harm the poor.

Gary Becker, Economic Theory, 1971.

August 20, 2016

Club Goods

Filed under: Economics — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 26 Jun 2015

In this video we discuss club goods. Club goods are nonrival and excludable. For instance, HBO is a club good, as you need to pay a monthly fee to access HBO (excludable) but more viewers does not add to costs (nonrival). Entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to turn public goods into club goods — cable TV and satellite radio being two examples. Some entrepreneurs have even figured out how to profit from providing public goods — for instance, radio and broadcast television are public goods, but, thanks to advertising, they are profitable.

“[S]tudio executives from the wage-gap capital of the world mansplain feminism”

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Bre Payton wants Hollywood to start treating women as people:

Here’s how I imagine the pitch meeting for Ocean’s 8 went down in a smoky executive boardroom somewhere in Warner Bros.’ studio office.

    Balding Male Executive #1: Gee, Colombia Pictures got loudly applauded for that lousy ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot. We could really use some nice tweets from Lena Dunham.

    Male Executive #2: You know she doesn’t tweet anything herself, right?

    Glasses-wearing Male Executive #3: We could just make another biopic about a queen. . .

    Male Executive #2: I’ve got it! We’ll pick a well-loved film and recast all the male leads with female actors.

    Balding Male Executive #1: Brilliant! And we can pay them all less because they’re ALL women.

    Executive #2: I’ll make some calls.

I’m not the only one who’s sick of having studio executives from the wage-gap capital of the world mansplain feminism. As Amy Roberts points out, Hollywood seems to only be interested in throwing “cinematic slops” to women.

“In 2016, why is it that the movie industry feels as though it can only entrust a blockbuster movie to women as long as the film’s story and characters are based on already successful male ones?” she writes.

She has a point — this is Hollywood — the place where women are consistently paid less than men, the town that forgets about women the second they turn 40, the place where it’s hard for women to get roles any deeper than the shallow end of a kiddie pool, the city that hides its actresses of color.

QotD: Violence in wartime – the great exception

Filed under: History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

War is the great exception, the great legitimizer of murder, the one arena in which ordinary humans routinely become killers. The special prevalence of the killer-ape myth in our time doubtless owes something to the horror and visibility of 20th-century war.

Campaigns of genocide and repressions such as the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s engineered famines, the Ankha massacres in Cambodia, and “ethnic cleansing” in Yugoslavia loom even larger in the popular mind than war as support for the myth of man the killer. But they should not; such atrocities are invariably conceived and planned by selected, tiny minorities far fewer than 0.5% of the population.

We have seen that in normal circumstances, human beings are not killers; and, in fact, most have instincts which make it extremely difficult for them to engage in lethal violence. How do we reconcile this with the continuing pattern of human violence in war? And, to restate to one of our original questions, what is belief in the myth of man the killer doing to us?

We shall soon see that the answers to these two questions are intimately related — because there is a crucial commonality between war and genocide, one not shared with the comparatively negligible lethalities of criminals and the individually insane. Both war and genocide depend, critically, on the habit of killing on orders. Pierson observes, tellingly, that atrocities “are generally initiated by overcontrolled personality types in second-in-command positions, not by undercontrolled personality types.” Terrorism, too, depends on the habit of obedience; it is not Osama bin Laden who died in the 9/11 attack but his minions.

This is part of what Hannah Arendt was describing when, after the Nuremberg trials, she penned her unforgettable phrase “the banality of evil”. The instinct that facilitated the atrocities at Belsen-Bergen and Treblinka and Dachau was not a red-handed delight in murder, but rather uncritical submission to the orders of alpha males — even when those orders were for horror and death.

Human beings are social primates with social instincts. One of those instincts is docility, a predisposition to obey the tribe leader and other dominant males. This was originally adaptive; fewer status fights meant more able bodies in the tribe or hunting band. It was especially important that bachelor males, unmarried 15-to-25 year-old men, obey orders even when those orders involved risk and killing. These bachelors were the tribe’s hunters, warriors, scouts, and risk-takers; a band would flourish best if they were both aggressive towards outsiders and amenable to social control.

Over most of human evolutionary history, the multiplier effect of docility was limited by the small size (250 or less, usually much less) of human social units. But when a single alpha male or cooperating group of alpha males could command the aggressive bachelor males of a large city or entire nation, the rules changed. Warfare and genocide became possible.

Actually, neither war nor genocide needs more than a comparative handful of murderers — not much larger a cohort than the half-percent to percent that commits lethal violence in peacetime. Both, however, require the obedience of a large supporting population. Factories must work overtime. Ammunition trucks must be driven where the bullets are needed. People must agree not to see, not to hear, not to notice certain things. Orders must be obeyed.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Myth of Man the Killer”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-07-15.

August 19, 2016

Vikings beat Seahawks 18-11 in second preseason game, without Teddy Bridgewater

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:41

Perhaps the oddest thing about watching last night’s Vikings-Seahawks matchup was seeing Shaun Hill take the start instead of Teddy Bridgewater. Teddy wasn’t hurt, but head coach Mike Zimmer “explained” it as being his decision not to play Teddy. No additional information was provided. Quite odd, but it did show what the backup and third string quarterbacks could do in real game situations. At 1500ESPN, Judd Zulgad describes the press conference exchange after the game:

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer surprised everyone on Thursday night by not starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and instead giving the assignment to veteran Shaun Hill.

Asked why Bridgewater did not start in the Vikings’ 18-11 preseason victory in Seattle, Zimmer said, “because I sat him.” Asked why he made the move, Zimmer responded, “because I wanted to.”

While Zimmer would not go into any detail, he did make it clear the move wasn’t for disciplinary reasons. “Teddy Bridgewater’s the nicest kid in the world,” Zimmer said, “there’s no disciplinary action ever with Teddy so it had nothing to do with discipline, it had to do with my decision.”

Zimmer became annoyed with follow up questions during his press conference. “It was my decision,” he said. “How many times are we going to go through this? It was my decision. Good enough?”

(more…)

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