Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

From a student:
I got a nice solar-powered watch. It died two months after I moved to Rochester.

Monday, June 29, 2009

This Study Was Done By A Woman, It Can't Be Correct

Harvard-bound econ student Emily Sands did a discrimination study for her senior project at Princeton. The NYTimes reports on her methods and results: like resume studies, she found that by sending the same script to a sampling of directors for their ratings, she could show gender bias in the recipients. Directors systematically rated a script with a female name at the top lower than they did when a male name appeared above the same script.

So directors are sexist. But wait: only female directors showed sexism. Male directors rated scripts attributed to men and women equally. Sands attempts to explain this as women directors passing along what they perceive the opinions of the men around them to be.

This leads James Taranto at BOTWT to argue that, to him, 'the study suggests that sex discrimination and the "awareness" thereof are one and the same thing.'

Plausible, perhaps. However, I'd criticize Sands' original interpretation: given that she has evidence that male directors do not discriminate, it would behoove her not to blame men here. Being generally ignorant of the field, I won't suggest an alternative explanation for Sands' data, but I would be interested to hear others' ideas for why women-against-women discrimination exists.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Miracle on Grass

A banged-up U.S. soccer team yesterday defeated Spain, the best team in the world, in the semifinal of the Confederations Cup.
Spain had set an international record with 15 straight victories and tied Brazil’s record unbeaten streak of 35 games from December 1993 to January 1996.

[American Jozy] Altidore scored in the 27th minute and [Clint] Dempsey added a goal in the 74th as the Americans became the first team to defeat Spain since Romania in November 2006.
The U.S. will now play the winner of Brazil v. South Africa in the Confed Cup final - America's first FIFA final ever.

2010, here we come!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Custer's Last Stand

With the puns and government allusions splashing thickly across the Boston sports pages this week (the Red Sox are playing in Washington, DC, for the first time since 1971), Soxaholix has the best lines out there:
"Wow. Is Ellsbury on fiah lately or what?"

"Seriously. Washington hasn't taken such a beating by an Indian since the late 19th Century."
Tonight the Sox will look to continue the torching of Washington at 7:05.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This Was Delicious

Cranberry-apple pie, with raisins. I left out most of the sugar so it tasted more savory than sweet - perfect.

Hat tip to Gukka for the cranberries.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It Worked

Whatever we did to remake the German military into a non-threat after World War II appears to have worked.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Finisher

Tony Massarotti runs down five possible scenarios for the call-up of future Hall-of-Famer John Smoltz to the Red Sox active roster. None of them is perfect, and the one that makes the most baseball sense (demoting Matsuzaka) would be hard to get past Dice-K himself. Mazz considers a six-man rotation, or a bullpen role for Smoltz, but frowns on both.

But how about a different approach altogether: make Matsuzaka and Smoltz "co-starters". Or to phrase the idea better, give Smoltz the role of "finisher" for Matsuzaka. Dice-K hasn't been getting past the 5th inning. Smoltz is 42 and coming off shoulder surgery: neither one is going to be throwing a lot of complete games. The argument against sending Smoltz to the bullpen is that he'd lack the every-five-games routine of a starter and the slow prep toward each start. But as Matsuzaka's "finisher", he could have that routine. Every five days he'd prepare, knowing he'd be brought in sometime during the game - the 2nd inning would be a good time in most Dice-K starts this year, but the 5th or 6th is what the Sox would hope for.

So Dice-K starts the game. He nibbles and throws 95 pitches through 4 innings, and Tito lifts him before the heart of the opponent's order gets their third look at him. Then Smoltz comes on and throws his 70 or 80 pitches and finishes the game or hands it over to the true bullpen in the 8th or 9th.

Now the bullpen won't be heavily taxed every five games to clean up Dice-K's mess, and both pitchers will be kept active, healthy, and fresh in case an injury occurs somewhere in the rotation, at which point the Sox can go back to a conventional rotation... or call up Clay Buchholz.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Imaginative Economics

One of my colleagues had posted the question, "Is Imagination more important than knowledge?" He's a good friend, so I asked him about it. He expressed an interesting answer to his own question, which is that the two are complementary, and (at least for research purposes) you need a minimum of both to get anywhere.

He expressed this mathematically, and I corrected a minor error in his math to get:
result = (maximum{imagination - minimum1, 0})^alpha * (maximum{knowledge - minimum2, 0})^beta
That is, if either the imagination or knowledge falls short of its minimum, the net result is zero. If both are above the minimum, then they work together in some proportions, and can partially - but not fully - substitute for one another. Within some constraint, the result will be highest when imagination and knowledge exist in the proportions (alpha, beta) respectively.


America likes big. So kudos to a mayor who can find value in shrinking his domain: Flint's is apparently on board, following the lead of country treasurer Dan Kildee. With much of the city falling vacant, Flint and possibly Detroit will be returning some land to nature. Writing of Flint:
The local authority has restored the city's attractive but formerly deserted centre but has pulled down 1,100 abandoned homes in outlying areas. Mr Kildee estimated another 3,000 needed to be demolished, although the city boundaries will remain the same. Already, some streets peter out into woods or meadows, no trace remaining of the homes that once stood there.
This is at least a partial answer to the suburban sprawl caused by former Flintians moving to Las Vegas and Orlando, and it could also make Flint a pleasant place to live again.

Hat tip to Drudge.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hassaan, hassaan! Mumlukati b'hassaan!

Check the NYTimes theatre review of an Arabic-language adaptation of Richard III. It seems more interesting as an analysis of Arab governments than of Shakespeare. This is precisely the type of self-critical art of which the Arab world needs more.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cluster Sick

My friends aren't doing well. This morning I learned that S. has Lyme Disease, J. has a cold, and E. broke his ankle. Be careful out there, kids, and wash your hands before eating.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hint: It's Not A Car

For those who want to fix the economy, here's a clue:

It's not a car.

You can't rev it up (34,300). You can't jump-start it either (1 million). Nor is it a motorcycle, so you can't "kick-start the economy", as 73,600 have attempted.

The poor analogies for "economic management" go beyond vehicles: 430,000 want to reboot the economy. These analogies fail because they are analogous to nothing. Economies are not 'rebooted', 'kick-started', or 'revved'. Tim Geithner isn't in the driver's seat, pushing levers and steering around chicanes. He's in a big office chair, squinting at tables of figures that reflect the agglomerated decisions of millions of car drivers, computer users, construction workers, soccer players, insurance estimators, and pantyhose salesmen.

So how should we talk about the economy? We can't expostulate theory every time we speak, so we need some shorthand. Here are a few analogies that could mean something:
  • Tying the hands of taxpayers/local gov'ts/businesses. Regulations or endogenous constraints can narrow the number of choices available to economic agents, worsening their well-being.
  • Herding cats. Timmy G. can relate to this one, I'm sure.
  • Mending wall. Externalities can create perverse incentives; good fences make good neighbors.
  • Losing the milk money. People in positions of trust can abuse their power with carelessness or malice.
  • Pushing a car up a hill. For those of you who love car analogies: the fact that GM is dead as a Chevy Vega hasn't stopped the government from trying to huff and puff it back to life.

Lebanon Election Wrap-Up

The March 14 Forces won yesterday's elections in Lebanon decisively but not overwhelmingly. They'll remain a slim majority in Parliament, but be obliged to form another national unity government with their opponents.

The Daily Star notes that Christians were the swing vote in this elections, while Sunnis and Druze stayed with March 14 and Shi'ites anchored the pro-Syrian coalition. Less than 30 of the 128 seats were really contested, and the most hotly contested of these were in the Metn and Zahle, where I have family. The Metn's seats ended up splitting, while Zahle's seven seats went to the March 14 Forces.

Al-Jazeera editorializes its 'news' report with a photo of "March 14 supporters celebrat[ing]", which shows a scantily clad Lebanese brunette draining a large beer. The Arab media frames Lebanese politics as a contest between supporters of Hezbollah and the "Western-backed" March 14 coalition. The Western media is more likely to call the opposition "Syrian-backed" or "Iranian-backed" and note that the March 14 Forces rallied around the assassinated Rafiq Hariri.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lebanese Elections

A Lebanese Shi'ite wrote this prayer ahead of Sunday's national elections.

A Prayer Supplication Translated into English from the original Arabic

O Lord who is worshipped by all Lebanese, we have stood in this place with broken hearts before your glory and mercy, and souls repenting to you.

We are mistaken sinners.

We confess to you that we have not been faithful to our country.

We have surrendered to divisions, and have been pleased with our hostilities, so have mercy on us. O Lord, have mercy on us. Forgive us our sins.

God, purify our memories and make us able to stand at the far and near past to learn a lesson from the many disasters, and meditate on the sweet reconciliations and the rich areas of agreement.

God, we ask you to join our hearts and cause friendship among our souls.

God, help us to accept one another as citizens and strengthen the spirit of good citizenship among us.

God rescue us from double-tongued speech and actions, and make our secret just like our known facts.

God, show us the thin dividing thread between religion and politics so that religion can be safe and politics can be straight and the nation can live.

God, teach us to teach our generations how to form their present and build their future, not with words only but with the pattern of life, mutual giving, respect, and promoting tranquility and peace.

God, beautify us with mutual respect and free us by obeying the law and caring for rights and doing our duty and make equality - based on justice - our goal and freedom our salvation.

God, teach us how to dialogue, and how to understand differences and how to solve our problems, however many they are, without resorting to violence.

God, we promise you that we will forbid violence and work to avoid it and work to promote tranquility among us so that Lebanon may stand. Amen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Check, check

Rodney Harrison ended his active football career last season with a wave to the Razor crowd from the stretcher on which he lay. Today he's announcing the beginning of his broadcasting career, with NBC.

Harrison's ready for the microphone. How do I know? He used literally correctly in a sentence:
Harrison told reporters on a conference call that he wanted to leave on his terms with his health intact.

"A major goal despite the last couple of injuries was to be able to literally walk away from the game. I’m very excited to walk off the field and very much at a peaceful place in my life."
It's a point of Patriot pride that an athlete fresh from the field has a better grasp of English than the average broadcaster, who might be heard today saying that "Rodney literally played his heart out for the fans". Nope, but he did literally play his quadriceps out, and we'll take that as a measure of his heart.

For more on literality, see Literally, A Web Log.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Barbarian Treasury Secretary Fails to Convince Middle Kingdom Scions

My friend and I were wondering aloud yesterday about whether East Asian cultures have a different sense of humor. Here's one American funnyman who got a chuckle:
"Chinese financial assets are very safe," Geithner said [in a question-and-answer session after a speech to students at Peking University]. His response drew laughter from the audience.
Tim Geithner is the Secretary of the Treasury.

Monday, June 1, 2009


A friend sent me a link to this blog, saying its author a dead ringer for yours truly, from the Boston cap to the "dissertative conversational tone". Agree or disagree?