Archive for October, 2011

Evangelicals – The Ghost of Abner E. Norman, or, The Halloween Song

October 31, 2011

The Halloween Song by Evangelicals

October 30, 2011

When a wolf pack kills a deer, the wolves get one of the weakest animals. When a human kills a deer, we kill one of the strongest animals.

Park Ranger Katy, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

October 29, 2011

October 28, 2011

Ain’t No Grave performed by Richard Buckner


My sister isn’t “irrational”, her utility function just has large interaction terms.

October 28, 2011

What happens if, instead of doing a linear regression with sums of monomial terms, you do the complete opposite? Instead of regressing the phenomenon against  , you regressed the phenomenon against an explanation like  ?

I first thought of this question several years ago whilst living with my sister. She’s a complex person. If I asked her how her day went, and wanted to predict her answer with an equation, I definitely couldn’t use linearly separable terms. That would mean that, if one aspect of her day went well and the other aspect went poorly, the two would even out. Not the case for her. One or two things could totally swing her day all-the-way-to-good or all-the-way-to-bad.

The pattern of her moods and emotional affect has nothing to do with irrationality or moodiness. She’s just an intricate person with a complex utility function.

If you don’t know my sister, you can pick up the point from this well-known stereotype about the difference between men and women:

a well-known stereotype: women are complex, men are simple

“Men are simple, women are complex.” Think about a stereotypical teenage girl describing what made her upset. “It’s not any one thing, it’s everything.”

I.e., nonseparable interaction terms.

I wonder if there’s a mapping that sensibly inverts strongly-interdependent polynomials with monomials — interchanging interdependent equations with separable ones. If so, that could invert our notions of a parsimonious model.

Who says that a model that’s short to write in one particular space or parameterisation is the best one? or the simplest? Some things are better understood when you consider everything at once.

October 27, 2011

Fair Trade cocoa price, 1996-2006

You can see from the above graph that fair trade certifiers aim not just to raise, but to raise and stabilise the price a farmer or cooperative receives for produce.

Fact: There are many fair trade certifying bodies, this data comes from Flo-CERT GmbH, a non-profit based in Bonn. Flo-CERT pays X employees to verify that cocoa, coffee, and other popular consumption products are farmed and sold according to Fair Trade standards.

How much extra are you willing to pay these people (their efforts are part of the extra cost of fair trade goods) so that the farmers are guaranteed predictable revenues?

Fact 2: The loathèd corporation Starbucks has been paying stable above-market rates for their coffee for years.

Fact 3: The charts above depict a one-dimensional price. Of course each coffee/cocoa bean is unique; so is every farm and every farmer. For a commodity to be traded from hand to hand to hand, it needs to be standardised. But a big buyer like Starbucks which deals through its own channels with farmers might pay a higher price simply because it’s also requiring a higher grade of beans — thus leaving the middle quality ones to be sold at the regular market rate.

Conclusion: Nothing is as simple or clear-cut as it at first seems.

October 26, 2011

Do [people] achieve the optimal allocation of [their] time…? My answer is no; people allocate a disproportionate amount of time to the pursuit of pecuniary rather than nonpecuniary objectives, as well as to “comfort” and positional goods, and shortchange goals that will have a more lasting effect on well-being[.]

This misallocation occurs because, in making decisions about how to use their time, individuals take their aspirations as fixed at their present levels,and fail to recognize that aspirations may change because of hedonic adaptation and social comparison. In particular, people make decisions assuming that more income, comfort, and positional goods will make them happier, failing to recognize that hedonic adaptation and social comparison will come into play, raise their aspirations to about the same extent as their actual gains, and leave them feeling no happier than before.

As a result, most individuals spend a disproportionate amount of their lives working to make money, and sacrifice family life and health, domains in which aspirations remain fairly constant as actual circumstances change, and where the attainment of one’s goals has a more lasting impact on happiness.

Hence, a reallocation of time in favor of family life and health would, on average, increase individual happiness.

Richard Easterlin, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

October 25, 2011

by Peter Saville, via planetaryfolklore,  s-s-shumanhand

October 24, 2011

  • “There’s always been an alliance between anarchy and anthropology, simply because anthropologists know that a society without a state is possible. There’s been plenty of them. They work fine.”
    —David Graeber
  • “Anthropology, I think, is the only discipline which really is about trying to understand the full range of what has been possible — politically, economically, socially, and so forth.”
    —David Graeber

(If I’ve botched the quotations, please correct me in the Disqus comments.)

So I come from a community with a lot of anarchists — and I never understood what they were about. I figured that

  • Libertarianism : Capitalism :: Anarchism :: Communism

but, communism is such a foreign and defunct idea to my experience. I understand anarchism a little better after watching this Charlie Rose interview with an ejected Yale professor.

However…this “The velocity of change is accelerating” grates on my ears. Is this Elliott Wave Theory? Are we worshiping the I Ching here? Give me a break (minute 15). By the way, this interview was in 2006, before the financial crisis and before tumblr — many students were using Facebook but I don’t think Charlie or David had heard of it at that point.

October 23, 2011

While the black and white populations of the United States have long differed in various social and economic variables — in income, years of schooling, life expectancy, unemployment rates, crime rates, and scores on a variety of tests — so have other groups differed widely from one another and from the national average in countries and around the world.

It has often been common to compare a given group, such as blacks in the United States, with the national average and regard the differences as showing a special peculiarity of the group being compared, or a special peculiarity of policies or attitudes toward that group. But either conclusion can be misleading when the national average itself is just an amalgamation of wide variations among ethnic, regional, and other groups.

One of the most overlooked, but important, differences among groups are their ages. The median age of black Americans is five years younger than the median age (35) of the American population as a whole, but blacks are by no means unique in having a median age different from the national average or from the ages of other groups.

Among Asian Americans, the median age ranges from 43 for Japanese Americans to 24 for Americans of Cambodian ancestry to 16 for those of Hmong ancestry.

Incomes are highly correlated with age, with young people usually … earning much less than older and more experienced workers.

Thomas Sowell, in Economic Facts and Fallacies