Monday, August 29, 2011

Not an Alternate History Map

That's China's actual territorial waters claim. From this article. Much better and more thorough analysis of Chinese naval ambitions here.

(For actual alternate history go here.)

PSA: Bow Ties

A colleague was kind enough to volunteer for his friends' bow-tie instructional video:

How to Tie a Bow Tie from Keith Paugh on Vimeo.

I think this guy missed his calling.

Apparition, Peter Louis Bonfitto

Apparition, Peter Louis Bonfitto. More here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two Conspiracy Theories About Two Internet Companies

1) Is surrepetitious plausible deniability built into Facebook? Facebook is notoriously buggy. In particular sometimes users inexplicably can't see friends, or get error messages when they try to send friend requests to other users (this particular problem is affecting me right now). Of course, actual bugginess in a massive network is the simplest explanation. But Facebook isn't run by morons, and it's interesting that those errors which occur most seem to be exactly those which facilitate the kind of social "plausible deniability" that can lubricate complex group relationships. "Oh, I didn't know that you had dated X..." (when you did) or "I would have sent you a friend invite, but for some reason the system wouldn't let me" (when you had no intention of sending one). For this to work most effectively, it would have to be on the down low, or everyone would suspsect that this is what was going on, because they would be able to more effectively use the trick themselves.

2) Is Bitcoin bolstering its bubble by encouraging negative press? There's no shortage of (probably reasonable) scare stories comparing Bitcoin to various extraordinary popular delusions. The question at this point is: after this deluge of negative predictions from some very heavy hitters, what would it take to convince Bitcoin investors that there will eventually be a collapse? It seems that the Bitcoin bubble has already endured worse pricks than the 1920s stock market or the aughts housing market, and still the craze continues. (I retrodict that there are far more negative bitcoin articles for July 2011 than for the U.S. housing market in July 2006, and the Bitcoin market is much smaller.) Is it possible that right from the start, Bitcoin's most interested parties were good students of history in the sense that they actively pumped the internet with negative publicity? That way the bubble will build for much longer, because buyers-in will have been hearing panicked shouts to sell the whole time.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Why Is Romney Living in San Diego?

Mitt Romney bought a beachside house in San Diego last year. It's about 5 miles from where I'm sitting right now. I figured out which one was his based on a HuffPo article and 5 minutes with Google Maps.

Of course the Romney team must know that during the primaries, any connection to godless gay hippie elitist California is points off, especially for someone who already has enough trouble attracting social conservatives. But they're not stupid. What are they trading those votes for?

Imagine it's January 2012, and you're a reporter in Washington D.C., and you're going to get on a plane and fly either to Minneapolis, or to San Diego. In January. Where are you happier to go? And which candidate is going to get a more favorable write-up? The one you write after your run on the beach and your phone call to tell your relatives you're in La Jolla, or your dash from the airport to the rental car to the conference room and hope your eyelashes don't freeze from breath-condensation?

Rick Perry and the Confederacy

In a discussion which included Rick Perry's enthusiasm for the Confederacy:

The Confederacy was not a bunch of generally well-meaning dudes who went a little too far, it was a gang of racist traitors who launched a bloody war to defend a monstrously unjust institution [and tried to destroy the Union in the process - MC]. Having neo-Confederate sympathies in America should be equivalent to supporting the reconstituted Fascist party in Italy, or worse.

It's hard to think of an argument that could square keeping goverment out of our lives on one side, and the government encouraging ownership of human beings on the other. When you think "small government" I bet you don't next think "hellz yeah, slavery!"

Quote of the Day

"How about a [holi]day named after a generic old person? They vote too, and this could be done while limiting the "doc fix" to trick them into submission before preparing the ice floes. But how to make it polite? "Oldies Day" won't cut it..."

-Tyler Cowen on who will get the next U.S. national holiday

See? No one's using any of those.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ridiculous Moral Arguments in Business

Sometimes, a business with a government-backed monopoly on an activity thought to be morally dubious will make funny arguments against the start-up of similar businesses. Here you can read about American states with state-controlled liquor distribution, and the state stores saying as vaguely as possible that we shouldn't have more liquor stores, because they're evil.

The same silliness occurs with casinos and gambling, and especially lotteries. (This particular story reminds me of the hypocrisy around injuries in high school sports, vs. other high school activities). If we're going to rule that there are goods and services too dangerous for the free market, or dangerous enough that they should only exist as government-backed monopolies, we should have a transparent, automated rule for determining which goods and services those are. Otherwise, these decisions will always be made by exactly those parties that have conflicts of interest, and shouldn't be involved in the process.

El Niño and Wars

El Niño events increase the tendency to go to war. Compare with other work on the rainfall theory of democracy, and the tendency of centralized states to first emerge in marginal rainfall environments.

Ur, in the "Fertile" Crescent. It was a little greener 10,000 years ago, but certainly even then there were better places to start civilization. The relationship between city-states and soil fertility is inverted-U-shaped.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Expansion of Administration vs. Faculty at UCSD

A topic of immediate local relevance. The graphic speaks for itself. (Updated from earlier today; click here for the full size version. Suffice it to say the dotted line on top is senior management expanding.)

You like? Upvote at Reddit.

Source and explanation: "student fee" is full student fee. State Funding is CA funding to the UC General Fund. Both are adjusted for inflation to CPI-U. Student Fee and State Funding to the General Fund from UC Budget Operations. Number of faculty is full-time-hours equivalent of regular ladder-based faculty (most common type of faculty). Number of senior management is full SMG (Senior Management Group) & MSP (Manager and Senior Professional) count. Headcounts from stats summary data. Credit to James Wu of UCSD Young Americans for Liberty for putting together.

City Journal also ran an article about UC recently, Heather Macdonald: Less Academics, More Narcissism.