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Archive for the ‘thinking’ Category

Math in Economics

September 5th, 2013 No comments

I just posted this over at Volokh Conspiracy as a comment on Professor Coase’s dismay at the road economics has taken:

Coase could be nonmathematical because he was a genius. Ordinary economists aren’t smart enough; they need calculus. Ordinary people are still less intelligent, and they can’t do economic research at all. It’s like building a bridge. A genius can wing it; ordinary engineers need to use some physics; ordinary people will end up swimming.

Categories: Economics, thinking Tags:

Boring Predictions Are the Important Ones

August 27th, 2013 No comments

Steve Sailer in “The world’s most boring insight, again,” on complaints that economics doesn’t make useful predictions (my boldface):

On August 15, 1971, President Richard Nixon announced a freeze on all wages and prices in America for three months. From the perspective of 2013, this sounds like I’m making it up. But it really happened and was popular at the time. Milton Friedman was the loudest voice predicting it would turn out to be a bad idea (which it did).

Read more…

Categories: Economics, Sailer, thinking Tags:

Conservatives typically define their groups concentrically

August 21st, 2013 No comments
Categories: conservatives, liberals, Sailer, thinking, writing Tags:

I Want Comment Triage Software

July 23rd, 2013 No comments

Nobody comments here, so it’s not a personal need, but I want to see comments on blogs and articles organized differently. First I’ll say what I want to see, and then I’ll explain why.

Each comment will be directed to one of four triage categories. These will not be the traditional “Doesn’t need treatment now”, “Needs help”, and “Too hard to help–let him die” categories. Rather, they will be: Read more…

Murray’s Cops and Progressives

July 15th, 2013 No comments

Charles Murray has an excellent long essay, “Simple Justice” from about 2005 that is useful for thinking about attitudes towards the Zimmerman case and to self-defense and threat and intimidation statutes generally. He distinguishes between Progressives and Cops. Progressives dislike self-defense, retribution, and punishment generally and who do not like to differentiate people into those who follow rules and those who break them. Read more…

Numerology, Global Warming, Moral Relativists, Truth Relativists, and Leo Strauss

December 14th, 2009 No comments

From Bryan Caplan:

If you think Rothbard was harsh on Hayek in Rothbard vs. the Philosophers, here’s what he has to say about Leo Strauss’s Thoughts on Machiavelli:

First, something should be said about the manner, the texture, the methodology of this book, which is really so absurd as to be almost incredible. It is based on the assumption, explicitly made at some points, that Machiavelli was a true Devil-figure, i.e., that he was evil, and that within this framework, he was all-wise, all-seeing, omniscient, etc… Taking his two books The Prince and The Discourses together, the result is that whenever Machiavelli contradicts himself in any way or omits something of note or puts in a particularly weak (to Strauss) argument or makes an error, Strauss immediately and persistently assumes that this simply couldn’t be and that there must be some deep, twisted, hidden meaning to all this.

Rothbard then savages the famed Straussian method of interpretation:…

First, Strauss’s flight into numerology. On page 48, he remarks on what is to him the strange and wondrous fact that Machiavelli’s Discourses have 142 chapters, the same number of chapters of Livy’s History. To me, this is not at all surprising, since the Discourses are proclaimed to be a commentary on Livy’s History. But this is enough for Strauss. This “strange fact” he says, “makes one wonder whether the number of chapters in The Prince is not also significant.”… On and on we go, until finally, on page 52, Strauss makes his crazy numerology explicit: “This is not the place to give further examples of Machiavelli’s use of the number 26, or more precisely, of 13 and multiples of 13…” And off we go further expecting at any moment to be introduced solemnly to the Mysteries of the Great Pyramid and the manacle of Dr. Fu Manchu.

A commentor says

I’ll try and briefly say something about Strauss’s manner of interpretation. Strauss was informed by two traditions of interpretation–the Greek and the Talmudic. If he sometimes went overboard in his detective work (and I won’t deny he did), it is well to remember that he viewed himself as restoring to our historical and philosophical memory a “forgotten kind of writing” that had been forgotten because modern assumptions (or presumptions) had themselves been taken overboard.

My comment there is

Applying numerology to Machiavelli sounds wrong,but that he writes in units of 13 is an interesting point. What is his motive? Maybe just clarity (i.e., 13 is the optimal number of sections for any book), but that’s interesting too, and a sign that he was very careful about his writing.

I like the earlier commentor’s point about Strauss noting that there is an older way of writing that we have forgotten. After all, a lot of people *did* believe in numerology. Thus, with medieval Christian and Jewish writers, we ought to pay attention to their chapter numbers, something I otherwise would ignore. If a scholar says something is important in document A (the mystical signfiicance of numbers, the importance of stretching the truth to persuade the public about global warming, the subjective nature of all knowledge), we should use that in thinking about what he writes in document B.

Categories: reading, Strauss, thinking, writing Tags:

Death Threats

December 13th, 2009 No comments

I saw a Guardian article saying that climatologists had been receiving death threats after ClimateGate and that the FBI and British police are investigating. Megan McCardle’s post on this has a lot of good comments. The problem is that when people who have been exposed as cheats who refused to reveal the evidence they claimed to have for their strong scientific assertions say they are being sent death threats but refuse to reveal the evidence they claim to have for being threatened, we ought to be a little skeptical. McCardle comments said:

[1] "I doubt the FBI comments on pending investigations." 

And you'd be right. The don't comment on actual investigations that are under way. That's the point. There is no FBI investigation under way concerning email threats to US climate scientists because there haven't been any.

If you doubt it, I suggest you call the telephone number listed here:

(202) 278-3519

If you are credentialed journalist, the Public Affairs spokesman for the Washington Field Office of the FBI will gladly confirm for you that this Guardian story is a hoax.

Takes five minutes to do this simple legwork.

[2] Yep! If they really wanted people to see these things they could just post emails, with ALL the header info on the web. Everyone, including authorities, would know who sent them. Amazing how that never seems to happen. Instead, it's "trust us".

I googled and found an example of some earlier threats to Skeptics instead of Warmists. From
Scientists threatened for ‘climate denial’
The Telegraph, 11 Mar 2007:

Timothy Ball, a former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg in Canada, has received five deaths threats by email since raising concerns about the degree to which man was affecting climate change.

One of the emails warned that, if he continued to speak out, he would not live to see further global warming.

Compare with the 2009 situation.
“Climate scientists receive death threats,”
Eleanor Hall interview, Australia, December 9, 2009:

ELEANOR HALL:Now to those death threats against climate scientists at the centre of the East Anglia University email affair. The death threats are now being investigated by the FBI in the US and the British police.

Dr Tom Wigley is a former director of the Climatic Research Unit at the East Anglia University and has had several of his emails used by climate change sceptics to suggest that he and his fellow climate scientists have been distorting data and cooking the books to fabricate evidence of global warming….

TOM WIGLEY: Well there’ve been a number of abusive and threatening emails that have been sent to a number of the protagonists here, and I’m not going to mention the names of the individuals but it does include me, and those things are very worrying.

I’ve been asked not to say anything about the details of these threats but I can at least say that the FBI in the USA and the police in England are taking these things seriously and are investigating the sources of the threatening emails as well as they can….

ELEANOR HALL: I understand that you can’t go into detail about who you think might be behind this but can you tell me a little bit more about your reaction? I mean do you now feel frightened for your life?

TOM WIGLEY: You know, I’m in a rather fortunate position that I spend half my time in Australia and half my time in the United States. I mean one of the emails to me said: “we know where you live”. Well I’m not really sure whether they do know where I live.

In that sense I’m not particularly worried but the other emails that some people have received have been rather more pointed and detailed and, as I said, I mean I wish I could tell you more but I just can’t say any more at the moment so…

From my reading of the ClimateGate emails, I doubt that Dr. Wigley would send himself fake death threats, but other people might, and it’s interesting that the journalists just take his word for it, without even seeing copies of the threats. Note, too, the mention of police reaction. Do the police care about Skeptics being threatened too?

Categories: global warming, reputation, thinking Tags:

The Precautionary Principle

December 9th, 2009 No comments

Sensibly applied, the idea behind the Precautionary Principle could be useful for global warming. The idea is that we should worry a lot about catastrophic low-probability events. The standard warmist scenario is not at all catastrophic. Adjusting to even a rise of 10 degrees Farenheit over 100 years is just not that bad. It’s the difference between Philadelphia and San Diego, and people do find the heat bearable when they move to San Diego. (Or use Boston and Atlanta if you like. But one thing I wonder about is how much of global warming will just be to make winters milder. The Highs in the Tropics are not higher than in the Midwest— they just last longer.)

But there is a possible catastrophe. It would be because of runaway effects caused by, for example, methane being released from Siberian swamps.

Correct use of the precautionary principle would say that we should forget about little things like cap-and-trade and instead (a) study possible catastrophes very hard,and (b) work on geoengineering, since mere cutbacks don’t address the problem (we could well be heading to catastrophe just with our present warming, and maybe it’s too late to go back unless we can get rid of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere).

Thus, the precautionary principle really has the opposite implication of its standard use, which is to call for expensive CO2 cuts that won’t help with the small-probability, really-bad outcomes.

In fact, we could go a step further. Suppose we are limited to spending at most one trillion dollars dealing with climate change. Suppose, too, we think that(a) there is a 99% chance that if we do nothing, the temperature will rise and cause 3 trillion dollars in harm to the global economy , (b) there is a 0% chance that the temperature won’t rise, and (c) there is a 1% chance that the temperature will rise dramatically, killing off 90% of the world’s population. The standard global warming line is that we should spend the trillion dollars on substituting other inputs for energy, to reduce CO2 output and prevent the loss of the 3 trillion dollars. The precautionary principle says that we shouldn’t waste the trillion dollars on that— we should spend it on geoengineering research and technology to deal with the 1% probability of disaster, instead.

You may be tempted to reply that both the CO2 reduction and the geoengineering projects should be undertaken. Well, suppose we have 5 trillion dollars to spend. Why shouldn’t we spend all 5 trillion on dealing with the 1% probability of disaster? The more we spend, the higher probability we avoid the disaster, so why divert any of the funds to non-disaster scenarios?

Snowballs, Not Lines

December 9th, 2009 No comments

A good thought of Prof. Ribstein: (my boldface, as usual)

The best legal scholars, like the best lawyers, are those who bring a variety of tools together in responding to a legal problem. They are creative, insightful, and broad, making connections among different fields and with their other work. Their careers end up looking like snowballs rather than lines. They can use these skills to teach both lawyers and policymakers how to solve new problems.

Categories: academia, research, thinking Tags:

The Huckabee Pardons and Methodism

December 2nd, 2009 No comments

Joe Carter has an excellent article on the Huckabee pardons at First Things. He reviewed them as a researcher for the Huckabee campaign. His article is sympathetic, but it casts serious doubt on Huckabee’s judgement.

After reviewing hundreds of cases and interviewing numerous people involved in the process, I concluded to my own satisfaction that the governor’s actions and judgment were generally defensible. Yet there remained about a half-dozen situations in which even after reviewing all of the information I was unpersuaded that justice had been served. Although I was sympathetic with some of the justifications offered for making the decisions, I found them inadequate for a number of reasons….

For instance, the politically prudent tactic would have been to simply refuse to grant any leniency—ever. Other governors with their sights set on higher offices had learned that doing nothing—even to correct obvious instances of injustice—was unlikely to cause any long-term political damage. Keeping an innocent man in prison is less harmful to an ambitious politician than freeing someone who may commit other crimes.

Huckabee would certainly discover this political reality the hard way. Initially, I chalked it up solely to extraordinary political courage. Later, I tempered this view when I realized that this courage was mixed with a large dose of cluelessness. The governor seemed genuinely surprised that he was held responsible for the criminal acts committed by those whose sentences he had commuted as governor. It was as if he believed that simply having noble intentions and a willingness to make tough decisions would provide political cover. The notion that he should be accountable for future crimes committed by these men seemed as foreign to him as the idea that he should refuse all leniency. …

Judging from the records, the governor also seemed to put a lot of weight on conversion stories—a common trait among evangelicals, who believe the gospel is sufficient for restoration and redemption of character.

Carter quotes someone else as saying

What Huckabee misjudged is his ability to judge the character of a convicted murderer and rapists, a lapse out of a character for a pastor who believes in the sinful nature of an — or a lapse in character for a pastor who believes in redemption.

Here’s my comment

Very astute. We evangelicals are suckers for redemption stories. It is good that we believe in miracles. The problem is that the dominant belief in America is no longer the Puritan Total Depravity but the Methodist Moral Perfectibility, even though (or perhaps *because*) the pastors don’t teach theology to their flocks. Thus, we have the idea that church people don’t sin— at least not most church people— reinforced by nobody wanting to admit that they sin. Just one step further, and we have the idea that somebody who has converted will stop sinning.

And of course we’re rather gullible too, easily satisfied with words. We trust someone who says he’s changed and become a slave of Jesus even if he’s living with his girlfriend, shirking on child-support payments to his ex-wife, and selling pornography at the gas station where he works. It isn’t considered polite to question whether someone else’s faith is true.

Categories: Huckabee, law, pardons, religion, thinking Tags:

Sharing the Gospel

August 21st, 2009 1 comment

My wife made a good point to me tonight. Some people think that the way to show people that Christianity is good is to behave well, so they are impressed with Christians. There is something to that, but it goes off on a tangent. Christianity is good because it is true. Even as something we wish to be true, it is not so much that it will make me a better person as that it gives me hope even though I remain a bad person. Even if I don’t succeed in becoming pure— and nobody does, really— God forgives me, as a father forgives a naughty child.

One reason this is important is that Christians really cannot succeed in preaching the Gospel by showing off what good people they are. The World is not impressed by Christian virtue; only by worldly virtue. Often those things coincide— bravery is both a pagan and a Christian virtue— but not always. In fact, the World usually thinks that the more Christian you are, the more you are a duped fanatic. Just think of the extreme Moslems— we are not so much impressed by their bravery as appalled by their willingness to kill people. They do not convert by their example. At best, they make people take a look to see what makes them so brave.

Moreover, thinking that to convert people to Christianity means you must be exemplary in all ways makes us ashamed to admit our Christianity. I do not want people to see how deficient I am and decide that Christians are weak and thoughtless people. It is better if I forget about impressing them with my strength, and concentrate on letting God use me as he wills to convey information or whatever else I may do for Him.

Categories: religion, thinking Tags:

Proof from Intuition and Failed Attempts to Prove Formally

August 17th, 2009 1 comment

An insight from Prosblogion:

In fact, I think that sometimes repeated failure is evidence for the insight when it is repeated failure by multiple people. Think of the history of failure to prove Fermat’s last theorem. Personally, I never doubted the theorem for a second and I doubt I am alone in believing that the repeated failure to provide a proof did not provide much if any evidence that it was false. Or consider what a history to prove Goldbach’s conjecture would look like (I haven’t looked to see if there is an actual history of attempts to do so). The very fact that so many people have the insight that it is true is what is guiding all these (sadly failed) attempts, and the (partial) independence of the testimony can be surprisingly strong evidence when modeled probabilistically. And it helps when there is considerable conceptual similarity among the attempts, for the insights are often of the form “considerations pertaining to X support Y” (and we just can’t get the bridge in formal logic yet).

Categories: philosophy, religion, thinking Tags:

The American Teenager

August 7th, 2009 No comments

Ben Stein in TAS says of director John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; Home Alone):

The insight that will make him immortal… was that the modern American white middle class teen combines a Saudi Arabia-sized reservoir of self-obsession and self-pity with a startling gift for exultation and enjoyment of life. No one had ever thought to note that along with James Dean’s sulky self-obsession might also come a shriek of happiness at just being alive.

Categories: living, thinking Tags:

Saul Alinsky: Rules for Radicals

July 5th, 2009 No comments

Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, via a Canadian site: (I have boldfaced the most noteworthy)

Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people.
The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”

Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.

Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.

Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”

Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

According to Alinsky, the main job of the organizer is to bait an opponent into reacting. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”

Some quotes:

We had to construct experience for our students. Most people do not accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns, and synthesized. (p. 68)

That idea is important. It explains the rate at which people gain wisdom– or remain as foolish as they were in their youth. People who analyze when young will gain on their non-analytic friends, so we would expect ability and income gaps to rise with age.

Most people have gone to church and mouthed Christian doctrines, and yet this is really not part of their experience because they haven’t lived it. Their church experience has been purely a ritualistic decoration…

[Of someone who found God and tried giving away his money to bums.] Our friend attempting to emulate Christian life and emulate St. Francis of Assisi found that he could only do so forty minutes before being arrested by a Christian police officer, driven to Bellevue Hospital by a Christian ambulance doctor, and pronounced non compos mentis by a Christian psychiatrist. Christianity is beyond the experience of a Christian-professing-but-not-practicing population. …

I’ve been asked, for example, why I never talk to a Catholic priest or a Protestant minister or a rabbi in terms of the Judaeo-Christian ethic or the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. I never talk in those terms. Instead, I approach them on the basis of their own self-interest, the welfare of their Church, even its physical property.

If I approached them in a moralistic way it would be outside their experience, because Christianity and Judaeo-Christianity are outside of the experience of organized religion. … The moment I walked out they’d call their secretaries in and say, “If that screwball ever shows up again, tell him I’m out.”

Communication for persuasion, as in negotiation, is more than entering the area of another person’s experience. It is getting a fix on his main value or goal and holding your course on that target. (p. 89)

This last passage is a devastating criticism of Christianity in America. Alinsky would have applied his rule of making people play by their own rules if he thought it would work. He didn’t, with Christian pastors. He doubts they can even conceive of genuine Christianity.

Categories: game theory, living, teaching, thinking Tags:

"In God we trust. All others pay cash."

June 30th, 2009 No comments

“In God we trust. All others pay cash.” That’s a wise saying, useful to keep in mind when lending money and hearing excuses.

Categories: thinking, writing Tags:

Red Wine Temperature and the Half-Educated

June 11th, 2009 No comments

An example from PRof. Bainbridge of a not uncommon irony: the half-educated snobs sneer at the practice of the fully educated who know the exact principle, not just the rule of thumb. This comes up in writing style all the time.

In the US these days, of course, you’re far more likely to encounter a red wine served at 70+ degrees. At that temperature, the alcohol starts to volatilize and you experience a hot sensation on both the nose and palate. The solution is simple, but requires confidence. Ask for an ice bucket and stick the red wine in it for 10 minutes or so to knock the edge off. You will almost certainly face anything from condescension to non-cooperation. After all, you’re dealing with barbarians — if the staff and management knew anything about wine, they’d serve red wines at a proper temperature. But it’s your bottle and you can do what you like. And next time, go someplace where they treat wine with the respect it deserves

.

Categories: food, thinking Tags:

Joy and Song and John Ford

April 12th, 2009 1 comment

From a very very good essay on John Ford movies:

For an atheist, even those functional atheists who make a hobby out of churchgoing but who do not actually believe that any of the Creed is true, cannot sing, not in Ford’s sense. People may sing for diversion, or may listen to singing for entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you have no sense for the mysterious and transcendent — if you do not bow in humility before the mysteries of Man and Woman and Child, let alone God — then you have nothing that will unite you and your fellows in gratitude to sing about, and certainly no one beyond yourselves to sing to. The clodhopping farmers of Drums Along the Mohawk are happy to be together at the barn dance to celebrate a wedding, not just because a wedding is an excuse for drinking, but because any wedding is to them like a moment’s reentry into Eden, or a moment’s foreshadowing of heaven. The secular world is optimistic, sure, and can provide a lot of fun, sometimes of the harmless kind. But it knows neither hope nor joy.

This has some important relation to the 2007 Korean movie Le Grand Chef which we saw last night with the Wildenbeests, Buddhist/traditionalist though that movie is. Come to think of it, the protagonist of that movie may have to be Buddhist because it is about tradition and loyalty, but his attitude is highly Christian– that simple work is ennobling, that bodily pleasures and existence in this world are good, and that what is gained by sin is not worth having.

Categories: art, movies, religion, thinking Tags:

The NPR "All Things Considered" News Style

April 5th, 2009 No comments

From Pastor Wegener in Zambia on Baylyblog:

There used to be serious articles on core doctrines of the faith: progressive revelation, inerrancy, the Trinity, original sin, justification, sanctification, the Day of Judgment, hell, etc., all of them written by learned pastors and theologians.

Today, we’re taken on a journey as the free lance author recounts her confusion on some topic (like fashion or global warming or endangered species) and how she decided to investigate this topic and went to a conference put on by evangelicals on her topic.

She tells us how her plane was delayed and she had trouble checking in to the conference hotel, and missed her first session, but how it was okay, cause she ran into the seminar leader in the restaurant and ate lunch with him and how he was nice and funny and normal even though a great man.

Then she details all the difficulties in coming to any firm conclusions on this topic and tells us how nuance and humility are really important and necessary, but we can be sure of this, and then out comes some platitude worthy of a 7th grader in Sunday school.

My comment:

I like that description of the modern, PBS, style of article– the “one person’s experience” style. You should write it up further as a parody and post it on the web. Another good parody would be to do a math or science article in that style.

The style is pernicious not only because it displaces content but because it makes it easy to convey a point of view unfairly, without argument. You simply find or invent anecdotes that make your side look good and the other side bad without seriously engaging the issue. I recently saw Rob Bell’s “Bullhorn Man” (at CGS), a good example.

Categories: media, theology, thinking, writing Tags:

"The cruelest lies are often told in silence"

March 23rd, 2009 No comments

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “The cruelest lies are often told in silence,” the Baylyblog tells me.

Categories: thinking, words Tags:

Hardware Design

March 19th, 2009 No comments

Think about USB ports. My Dell, and most computers, have the USB port located in a really stupid place. It’s in front now, but in a dark corner under a cover and at a weird angle. The USB interface itself is stupidly designed. It isn’t clear which way is up and which is down. The shape should have been made asymmetric to make that obvious.

I think of these are really obvious mistakes, and I could have avoided them with ten minutes thought, max, if I were in charge. But Dell and the USB standards committee must not be composed entirely of morons. Engineers do need a certain minimal intelligence. They even need a very little bit of imagination. Apparently not much. But this shows why it is worth paying such enormous fees to CEO’s. Ordinary people simply can’t think. It’s worth having one person with brains and authority both, who can look at something for five minutes and see something that the engineers couldn’t find in a year of looking.

Categories: CEOs, Economics, thinking Tags:

Standing in the Gap

March 14th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a mixture of what I was taught in Sunday School last week and what I thought of myself.

Ezekiel 22: 23-31 is the key.I use the English Standard
Version
:

23 And the word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, say to her,
You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of
indignation. 25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is
like a
roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they
have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in
her midst. 26 Her priests have done violence to my law and have
profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the
holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between
the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so
that I am profaned among them.
27 Her princes in her midst are
like
wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get
dishonest gain. 28 And her prophets have smeared whitewash for
them,
seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says
the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken.
29 The people of the
land
have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed
the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without
justice.

These prophets include most Christian pastors in America and Europe
today. They profane the holy and care about Man, not God. They blur
the difference between Christian and non-Christian, between God and
Man, between truth and falsehood, and between right and wrong. They
flatter the leading citizens in their congregation and excuse their
misdeeds. They criticize, if anyone, only people outside their
congregations.

This is obviously true of liberal Christians, but is equally true of
evangelicals. The evangelical pastor whose concern is simply to get
people to go to church– or even to “save souls”— is blurring
distinctions to do so, and flattering his congregation.

30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up
the
wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not
destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore I have poured out my
indignation upon them.
I have consumed them with the fire of my
wrath.
I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.”

The “man in the breach” or “man in the gap” is what we should each
strive to be. Without him, the land is destroyed. Sodom did not have
twenty (was it?) righteous men, and so perished.

Ezekiel 13, entire chapter:

1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the
prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy
from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ 3 Thus says the
Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and
have seen nothing!
4 Your prophets have been like jackals among
ruins, O Israel. 5 You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up
a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the
day of the Lord.
6 They have seen false visions and lying
divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not
sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word.
7 Have
you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever
you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”

Again, the prophets are pastors (and members) who go to their own
hearts (which usually means their self-interest and their cultural
biases) rather than the Bible or natural law for truth. They say that
what God wants is what they want. This is blasphemy as well as bias.
It is, of course foolish. Much better would it be if they took
Nietzsche’s course and admitted outright that they were beyond good
and evil and wanted to create their own values. At least they would
not be blasphemously ascribing their desires to God.

8 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered
falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you,
declares the Lord God. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see
false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the
council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of
Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know
that I am the Lord God. 10 Precisely because they have misled my
people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the
people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash,
F57
11 say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There
will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and
a stormy wind break out. 12 And when the wall falls, will it not be
said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’
13
Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out
in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and
great hailstones in wrath to make a full end. 14 And I will break down
the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to
the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls,
you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the
Lord. 15 Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who
have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is
no more, nor those who smeared it, 16 the prophets of Israel who
prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when
there was no peace, declares the Lord God.

The culture builds a wall of prejudices to protect its self-
interest. The prophets put on the final touches, the paint. The paint
is a trivial part of the wall, really, and adds no strength, but it
makes it look nice.

The prophets also twist words. Confucius made a big deal of
“the rectification of names”, and he was right. The pastors and
other proclaimers of truth say that a situation is good when it is
not. Calling a war peaceful, a society virtuous, or a people happy
will not create peace, virtue, or happiness.

17 “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your
people, who prophesy out of their own minds. Prophesy against them 18
and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew magic
bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of
every stature, in the hunt for souls! Will you hunt down souls
belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive? 19 You have
profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of
bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive
souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to
lies.

20 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against your
magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear
them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free,
the souls like birds. 21 Your veils also I will tear off and deliver
my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as
prey,
and you shall know that I am the Lord. 22 Because you
have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved
him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from
his evil way to save his life,
23 therefore you shall no more see
false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of
your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord.”

There are people, including even women, who are out to destroy
your soul. They want to consume your soul to magnify their own, in
the same manner as the devils in C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape
Letters
, or Mephistopheles in Faust, or, I think, as Neitzsche’s
liberated man with his Will to Power.

“Soul” here is from a Hebrew word that I think (I could be wrong)
means “life” as well as “soul”. Some souls *should* be killed. The
false prophets keep some souls alive that they should kill, as well as
killing souls they should keep alive. Note that this passage makes it
clear that some people’s souls are detestable. Not everybody should be
encouraged. The evil should be disheartened by the prophets.

Keep in mind that “Baal” is the Canaanite word for “Lord”. When false
prophets were calling on “Baal”, they were calling on “the Lord”. It
was just the wrong Lord.

People use God as a way to solve problems. This is like magic– which
is why magic is so criticized in the Bible. It is treating God as a
Means, not an End.

Pagan gods are treated this way routinely. Nobody thinks of loving
Zeus or the ancestor spirit as anything but weird. Rather, those gods
are powerful spirits not all that different from humans or from
gravity who must be treated carefully in order to manipulate their
behavior.

Roman Catholic saints are the same kind of petty god. You pray to St.
Mary, and she cures your flu. Many people wouldn’t dare use the
Almighty God for such a trivial purpose, so they pray to St. Mary
instead.

Works Religion is the same way. Fast, and God will do things for
you. Abstain from wine, and God must keep his end of the deal by
making you rich.

Isaiah 58:

1 “Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.

We should condemn sins.

2 Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.
3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.

Sinful people often are religious, and act as if they are righteous.
This is works-religion. Christians live a righteous life, and expect
God to pay them for it. But their aim is to satisfy their earthly
desires, and while they may go to church weekly, tithe, and not swear,
they still take advantage of their employees.

4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Lots of people do good deeds so they can get away with doing more bad
deeds too.

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

We ought to look out for those in need. I don’t do that enough.

8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A good approach to reading the Bible: Ask of every passage: How would
I interpret this if my goal was to undermine it and defeat it and
reduce it to a “tame” meaning of complete blandness or something that
agrees with what I want to think anyway? Also ask how someone who
wanted to defend your culture would interpret it so as to defeat it.

The Christian life is a battle. Battles have real weapons and
casualties. The warrior hurts other people, and kills them. THey
wound him, and maybe even kill him, and kill his friends. Some people
are wounded and need medics. Some people are traitors. Ruses are used,
and ambushes, and cutting off of supplies.

I hear that boxers tend to think, unconsciously, “If I don’t hit the
other guy hard, he won’t hit me hard either”. Coaches know this, and
train it out of their boxers. Don’t think that if you hit a trained
enemy softly, he will hit you back softly. He won’t.

Categories: religion, thinking Tags:

Obama’s Favorite Rhetorical Fallacy?

February 26th, 2009 No comments

Karl Rove notes Obama’s love for straw men:

On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama told Congress and the nation, “I reject the view that . . . says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.” Who exactly has that view? …

Mr. Obama also said that America’s economic difficulties resulted when “regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market.” Who gutted which regulations?

Even in an ostensibly nonpartisan speech marking Lincoln’s 200th birthday, Mr. Obama used a straw-man argument, decrying “a philosophy that says every problem can be solved if only government would step out of the way; that if government were just dismantled, divvied up into tax breaks, and handed out to the wealthiest among us, it would somehow benefit us all. Such knee-jerk disdain for government — this constant rejection of any common endeavor — cannot rebuild our levees or our roads or our bridges.”

Whose philosophy is this? …

Categories: obama, thinking, writing Tags:

"Moderates" in the Senate

February 11th, 2009 No comments

From Jonah Goldberg at NR:

Led by Republican Arlen Specter, the centrists have boldly cut (perhaps temporarily) $100 billion or so from the stimulus package, in the name of fiscal discipline. But, as liberal critics such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman rightly point out, they’re cutting it to prove their “centrist mojo,” not because they have real concern for public policy. If the bill had started out at $1 trillion, then $900 billion in porcine outlays would be deemed the “responsible” amount to spend.


For certain Beltway centrists, the highest principle is to prove that you are attached to no p
rinciple. Rather, your duty is to split the difference between the “ideologues.” If one side says we need a 1,000-foot bridge to span a canyon, and the other side says we don’t need a bridge at all, the centrists will fight for a bridge that goes 500 feet and no farther, then pat themselves on the back.

Categories: bargaining, politics, stimulus, thinking Tags:

President Obama’s Inaugural Address

January 20th, 2009 No comments

Thoughts on President Obama’s Inaugural Address.

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

A good start. He says “our ancestors”, and that is correct to do, even if his father was an immigrant, and would be correct to say even if both his parents were. And he is gracious to President Bush.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

A gesture of respect to God, which is good.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

“Khe Sahn”: very good. That won’t make the Clintons happy.

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.

“Its rightful place”? That’s an odd thing to say.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

This sentence says a lot. Obama thinks that the purpose of government is to help you find a job and cheap health care and make you be dignified in your retirement (what he means, of course by, “a retirement that is dignified” is not a dignified retirement, free of internet porn, pant suits, and trips to Las Vegas, but a wealthy retirement). In the past, Americans would have thought that government was for things like crime prevention and national defense, and that a government worked if it just managed not to *prevent* your from finding a job or cheap health care. Of course, modern government makes it illegal for you to find a job if it would pay less than minimum wage, and it says you aren’t allowed to get health care from anybody cheaper than a graduate of a medical school.

Contrast with Jefferson’s First Inaugural:

[A] wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

It’s such a parallel, and that Jefferson speech is such a famous Inaugural Address, that I wonder if the opposition to it in Obama’s speech is intentional. Jefferson also said:

Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

Back to the present-day:

With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense,…

I hope he means that we won’t apologize for emitting lots of carbon dioxide or waver in defending our way of life, but I think this was probably just a mistake in editing.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.

Interesting. Will Jews mind being demoted to third place? Hindus will like being included.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

Again a gracious gesture. Did Bill Clinton say things like this? It’s hard to image him doing so, but maybe I’m just forgetful.

But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true.

I dislike the word “values” as implying lack of intrinsic worth, but the word is pervasive, and we can imagine Bush saying the same thing. I like “These things are true”, though. It doesn’t exactly make sense, but I think he means that these good things are truly good, not just his personal preference.

They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

That’s the best sentence of the speech. The second “the” is the key.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

Another good phrase. It’s nice, too, because it reminds us subtly that he’s biracial.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

A good section for a cold day, even if it’s not as effective in print.

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

A good ending.

"Your Bible"

January 19th, 2009 2 comments

Christian Book Distributors sent me some spam which illustrates modern gnosticism:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, it’s not “your Bible”. It’s God’s Word. The last four verses of the Bible are relevant:

22:18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

22:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

22:20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

22:21 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Categories: Bible, books, religion, thinking Tags:

The Words "Value" and "Ideology"

January 12th, 2009 No comments

Prof. Bainbridge, referring to Prof. Balkin has post on ideology that made me think of how misused that word is. Or, perhaps it is so misused as to have become useless.

As commonly used, an ideology is a system of beliefs. What I have always thought was the true meaning of ideology was a system of beliefs without any underlying beliefs. Thus, one might be an environmentalist because you like pretty and useful things, or you might be an environmentalist by ideology, where recycling and parks are good regardless of any instrumental motive. The term is useful then because it gives us a name for basic belief systems that are not religions. We sometimes say, “Environmentalism is a religion,”, but it really isn’t. It doesn’t have gods. But it is often like religion in that it is hard to argue against without upsetting its fundamental beliefs.

A term with similar flavor is “values”. People say that “Honesty is one of my values” without realizing how they are degrading honesty by that statement. It has the connotation that honesty is something that the person happens to value, even though it has no intrinsic worth. Values are basic, like ideology. If honesty is simply one of my values, that means I don’t base it on religion or utility or natural law. It is just like my valuing of pistachio ice cream. Wise people have principles and philosophies; unthinking people have values and ideologies.

The Scientific Ignorance of Obama, McCain, and Palin

December 27th, 2008 No comments

From the Independent via Drudge:

Mr Obama and John McCain blundered into the MMR vaccine row during their presidential campaigns. “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate,” said President-elect Obama. “Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it,” he said.

His words were echoed by Mr McCain. “It’s indisputable that [autism] is on the rise among children, the question is what’s causing it,” he said. “There’s strong evidence that indicates it’s got to do with a preservative in the vaccines.”

Exhaustive research has failed to substantiate any link to vaccines or any preservatives. The rise in autism is thought to be due to an increased awareness of the condition.

Sarah Palin, Mr McCain’s running mate, waded into the mire with her dismissal of some government research projects. “Sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not,” Ms Palin said.

Categories: elections, obama, palin, science, thinking Tags:

"Beyond the planet of the crazygirls"

December 6th, 2008 1 comment

Tom Smith’s “Beyond the planet of the crazygirls” has an odd beauty to it.

Categories: thinking, writing Tags:

Textbooks versus Packets

November 15th, 2008 No comments

I’m planning my courses for next semester. Textbooks cost a lot. Viscusi, Vernon and Harrington’s regulation text costs $88, which is typical. Are they worth it? Yes, probably. The cost of me, the professor, and the time cost of the students is much higher, and a good text is valuable. But there is one big problem. Students don’t keep their texts. They resell them. This loses them one of the most important parts of their education. If they realized this, they wouldn’t sell them, even at the current high prices, but they don’t. It might nonetheless be important. If I assign them a packet of readings instead, will they keep the packet? If they do, maybe that is enough of a teaching improvement that I should do it.

Categories: thinking, universities Tags:

When Does Human Life Begin?

November 11th, 2008 No comments

A hard puzzle in abortion policy is when “human life begins”. Is a one-celled embryo a human? Is an 8-month fetus a human? Is a 2-year-old a human?

How about if we approach the question from the other end. When does human life end? When is someone dead? It could be when his heart stops, but people do get revived often from that state and we don’t call it resurrection. It could be when his brain activity stops, and I think that is the common criterion.

If the criterion for lack of life is lack of brain activity, then the one-celled embryo is not alive. Rather, we need to ask when a brain begins, and when it becomes active. A pro-abortion blog that discusses the brain criterion says that brain activity starts much later than the brain itself is formed, at 21 weeks, which is 5 months. The same blog says anti-abortion people claim the time is 10 weeks (which sounds more plausible to me, and even rather late).

November 18. Another approach would be to ask when an embryo has blood. Blood has special significance in the Bible. This webpage doesn’t mention blood specifically, but it implies the embryo has blood somewhere in the 8 to 21 day range. There is a brain at 29-35 days, and brain waves at 40 days. In Arizona, at least, in 2007 of 10,486 abortions, 3,032 were at 6 weeks (42 days) or less. 102 were at 21 weeks or more.

Categories: abortion, science, thinking Tags:

Optical Illusions

October 20th, 2008 2 comments



U. of Washington has a good optical illusion-experiment site. It has the Muller-Lyon illusion below and lots more that[‘s harder to post in this blog.

Categories: science, thinking Tags:

Male and Female Majors at Yale

June 10th, 2008 1 comment

Dan Gelerntner at Yale has a weblog post listing the most male and the most female majors at Yale. It’s interesting that Music makes the male list, and history of science and cognitive science make the female list.

Categories: thinking, universities Tags:

February 13th, 2008 No comments

What to Do when Theory and Data Are in Conflict. Realclimate makes a good point:

It is salutary to keep in mind that in many past cases where data conflicted with robust modeling results, it turned out to be the models that were right and the data that was wrong. This was the case for the early satellite reconstructions of twentieth century lower tropospheric temperature, which showed a spurious cooling. It was also the case for early reconstructions of tropical climate during the Last Glacial Maximum, which failed to show the cooling we now know to prevail in that region during glacial times.

Categories: thinking Tags:

January 10th, 2008 No comments

Men and Women. My wife told me about a comparison she had heard. Women are like spaghetti on a plate; men are like waffles. A woman’s thoughts are in touch with lots of things at once, intricately coiled, and you never know where the end will be. A man’s thoughts are compartmentalized. Thus, a man is bothered when a woman starts off by talking about the plumbing and ends up talking about her niece’s wedding; he wants to separate things out and resolve one problem at a time.

Categories: thinking Tags:

January 2nd, 2008 No comments

Part-Whole Bias–The Embedding Effect. “Contingent valuation” is a survey technique used in cost-benefit analysis for public goods. These goods are not traded in the market, so market prices cannot be used to value them. Instead, the analyst asks a sample of people how much they are willing to pay for the public good, which is often some environmental good such as wildlife preservation. Surveys are notoriously bad at eliciting true valuations, and the contingent valuation method has been much criticized. Diamond \& Hausman (1994) survey some of these criticisms, including that of “part-whole bias”, or “the embedding effect”. The clearest example is from a study by Desvouges, Johnson, Dunford, Hudson, Wilson \& Boyle (1993) which asked some people how much they would pay to stop the killing of 2,000 birds, some people 20,000, and some people 200, 000. The answers were all roughly the same, even though presumably it is worth spending more to save 200,000 birds than to save 2,000. Diamond and Hausman suggest that respondents were not really saying how much they valued birds, but were giving themselves a good feeling by donating, even if only in the abstract, a sum towards wildlife preservation (the “warm glow effect” of Andreoni (1989)). People do not view saving 200,000 birds as the addition of one-hundred 2000-bird projects. Similarly, Kemp \& Maxwell (1993) asked one group of people how much they would pay to reduce the risk of oil spills off the coast of Alaska, and found an average valuation of \$85. They asked a different group how much they would pay for a broad range of government programs, and then asked that group to divide and subdivide their willingness to pay for the various items in the package. By the time they broke it down to reducing the risk of oil spills off the coast of Alaska, the value was down to \$0.29. Asking about the oil spills separately gives it a much higher value; the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. (For a a wide variety of other contingent valuation studies see Frederick \& Fischhoff (1998)).

Surveys have their own special problems, but the embedding effect can arise in real decisionmaking too, as Bateman, Munro, Rhodes, Starmer \& Sugden (1997) found in experiments in which subjects traded restaurant vouchers. This should not be surprising. Many people devote considerable effort to budgeting their spending, and such effort would be unnecessary if we were endowed with enough brainpower to costlessly link every consumption decision to every other actual and potential one. Naturally, if we are reminded of other items we could buy– or told of options that are entirely new to us– that affects our decisions.

Categories: Economics, thinking Tags:

November 18th, 2007 No comments

Making Big Choices under Uncertainty. I had a good talk about Christianity today during my visit to Warwick University. We talked about two fallacies of delayed decision. One is that of Buridan's Ass, who, halfway between two equally good mangers of hay, died of starvation because there was no way to choose between them. Lesson: To not choose is a choice in itself, and sometimes worse than not choosing the best alternative. The second fallacy is that of my webpost a few days ago: of choosing X because it is very uncertain which is better, X or Y. This seems silly until I bring in the application: choosing not to pray to God because it is very uncertain which is better, praying to God or (because he might not exist) not praying. It is quite possible to make your choice and pray heartily to a God you are not sure exists, just as you can write letters to someone who might never receive them or spend thousands of dollars on a medical treatment that might have no chance of
working. You may not be able to fix the degree of your belief, and without a strong belief you may find the discipline of following it hard, but you can make the decision.

Categories: decisionmaking, religion, thinking Tags:

November 14th, 2007 No comments

Logic and Rhetoric. David Hume writes in The Treatise that:

There is an inconvenience which attends all abstruse reasoning, that it may silence, without convincing an antagonist, and requires the same intense study to make us sensible of its force, that was at first requisite for its invention. When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, its conclusions seem to vanish, like the phantoms of the night on the appearance of the morning; and ’tis difficult for us to retain even that conviction, which we had attain’d with difficulty.

Categories: thinking, writing. mathematics Tags:

Bayesian vs. Frequentist Statistical Theory: George and Susan

October 2nd, 2007 No comments

Susan either likes George or dislikes him. His prior belief is that there is a 50% chance that she likes him. He also believes that if she does, there is an 80% chance she will smile at him, and if she does not, there is a 60% chance. She smiles at him. What should he think of that?

The Frequentist approach says that George should choose the answer which has the greatest likelihood given the data, and so he should believe that she likes him.Click here to read more

Categories: frequentist, statistics, thinking Tags: