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Friday assorted links

by on May 27, 2016 at 11:42 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Museum of the Flat Earth opens in Newfoundland.

2. Interview with Matt Gentzkow.

3. Can a Chinese “straddling bus” carry one thousand people?  And China’s scientific ambitions — scale, scale, scale!  The latter is an important piece, deserving its own post though it is too hard to excerpt and thus it ends up as a link.

4. Can you catch terrorists by using machine learning to analyze faces?

5. “The first rule of Friends of Abe,” members are told at their induction meeting, “is don’t talk about Friends of Abe.”  Link here.

6. Henry on vindictive billionaires (and me).  I worry more about vindictive non-billionaires.  More directly to Henry’s point, I think there is a pretty clear libertarian mode of discourse about excess legal damages.  And while libertarians may not have a good “public choice” solution to that problem, it is hardly the case that the bad outcomes there have been driven by billionaires, quite the contrary.  The net effect of billionaires is to keep down the size of legal awards, for obvious reasons, and that tendency is likely to continue.

7. Profile of Dani Rodrik (pdf).

Altruism toward others can inhibit cooperation by increasing the utility players expect to receive in a noncooperative equilibrium. To test this, we examine agricultural productivity in West African polygynous households. We find cooperation, as evidenced by more efficient production, is greater among co-wives than among husbands and wives. Using a game-theoretic model, we show that this outcome can arise because co-wives are less altruistic toward each other than toward their husbands. We present a variety of robustness checks, which suggest results are not driven by selection into polygyny, greater propensity for cooperation among women, or household heads enforcing others’ cooperative agreements.

That is a new paper by Akresh, Chen, and Moore, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Here are some ungated versions.

Changsha is the ugliest and most ungainly Chinese city I have seen, which is saying something.  Nonetheless for a food pilgrimage it is a serious rival for #1 spot in the world, perhaps surpassing Chengdu for the quality and novelty of its dishes.  Very little effort is required to do well, and some of my best courses I had at the Hunan restaurant in the Sheraton, also the only time I saw an English-language menu.

Even at major hotels, hardly anyone speaks passable English, much less good English.  But you can find many hanging portraits of Chairman Mao, who converted to communism in this city.

Carry an iPad, so you can look up and communicate the Chinese characters for “eggplant with orange chilies on top.”

There were plans to erect the world’s tallest building, and ground was broken, but the foundations were not extended and they have since been repurposed as a fish farm, hail Friedrich Hayek.

When they set their minds to it, they can build towers at the rate of three stories a day.

Changsha

The marginal value of entering a park here is high, as I stumbled upon card games, group exercise sessions, dance clubs, and performances of traditional music, all at higher rates than in most other Chinese cities I have visited.  At the entrance to one I read on the sign: “Don’t sneeze into the face of others,” and also I was ordered to reject “feudal superstitious practices.”

The people seem…different.  I feel the cab drivers often are on the verge of cackling, except when they are cackling.  Then the verge disappears.  The word “rollicking” frequently comes to mind, which of course is a sign you would not want to be governed by this province.

Kind of like New York.

Thursday assorted links

by on May 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

One strategy I sometimes recommend to people is that early in their career they live in the place where their industry is headquartered. Bay Area for tech, New York for finance and publishing, LA for movies, Michigan for furniture and cars, Nashville for country music, etc. Soak up everyone’s expertise. Study. Learn. Even if you don’t want to start the next Google, you’ll learn a lot by way of “network intelligence” from physically living in Silicon Valley. But feel free to leave and join a lower-cost-of-living secondary market if and when you begin to feel perpetually not-quite-good-enough. This doesn’t mean moving to the boonies, but to a place where there’s plenty of industry activity but less happiness-hurting status jostling.

Here is more from Ben Casnocha.  Here is an email I wrote to Ben about related themes:

Talk, though, I think is in this case deceiving.

Take non-billionaires.  They (like billionaires) gossip an enormous amount.  Yet it is still ultimately a self-centered activity.  It is a way of processing the self. I am not saying there is *no* concern for other people involved, but talking about other people is very often mainly a way of talking about the self.

Now, if one billionaire says “isn’t XXXX a bigger billionaire than I am?,” I think this is often somewhat similar.  It is still a way of consuming being a billionaire.

It’s a bit like how people enjoy complaining.  When people complain about events on their vacation, that is very often (not always!) their mode of enjoying.

It’s as if being a billionaire isn’t real until you complain about it, and compare yourself to the others.  Think of “manufacturing vividness” as what is going on here, in the ultimate anthropological sense, more than just mere status games.

Hi from Hunan!

I agree that status is addictive, but I do not in general think of it as zero-sum.

Hogan’s lawsuit was not “frivolous”—at least, not in the mind of the judge, who allowed the suit to proceed over Gawker’s many appeals, nor in the minds of members of the jury, who were so disgusted by Gawker’s conduct that they ordered the mischievous media mavens to pay Hogan tens of millions of dollars more than he asked for. And it is not at all clear that Thiel and Hogan did anything to menace to press freedom: As the legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky told the New York Times when the verdict came out: “I think this case establishes a very limited proposition: It is an invasion of privacy to make publicly available a tape of a person having sex without that person’s consent.”

It’s also not clear what policy response Gawker’s outraged defenders would recommend. Put caps on the amount of money people can contribute to legal efforts they sympathize with? That would put the ACLU and any number of advocacy groups out of business. It would also represent a far greater threat to free expression than a court-imposed legal liability for the non-consensual publication of what is essentially revenge porn. If Marshall and others are worried about the superrich harassing critics with genuinely frivolous lawsuits—as, yes, authoritarian characters like Donald Trump have attempted to do—they would have more success backing tort reform measures to limit litigiousness overall than attacking Thiel for contributing to a legitimate cause he has good reason to support.

Here is more.  Here are Thiel’s own words (NYT), here is one bit:

“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he said in his first interview since his identity was revealed. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”

Mr. Thiel said that Gawker published articles that were “very painful and paralyzing for people who were targeted.” He said, “I thought it was worth fighting back.”

Mr. Thiel added: “I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves. He said that “even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”

Jinan is the second largest city in Shandong province, and a good place to see “normal China”; it is much more in the “concrete and motorbikes” mode than is Qingdao.

Qufu is the birthplace of Confucius, and a longstanding home of the Chinese nobility and Chinese scholars, with monument-building visits by various emperors.  Reputedly the town is full of fine-featured individuals with very exact patterns of speech.  In any case downtown is pleasant to walk and shop in, and has relatively few environmental problems.

confucius

The tomb of Confucius was my favorite site.  There is a continuity of civilization (if not regime) for over 2500 years, and visiting the tomb drives this point home.  Even the Cultural Revolution did not much damage this area of homage, in part because of loyalty to Confucius, itself a form of Confucian behavior.

Many of the flowers on the tomb were left by the national television station, perhaps as advertising and also signaling loyalty to Confucian ideals.

But that is not China’s oldest heritage, far from it:

This research reveals a 5,000-y-old beer recipe in which broomcorn millet, barley, Job’s tears, and tubers were fermented together. To our knowledge, our data provide the earliest direct evidence of in situ beer production in China, showing that an advanced beer-brewing technique was established around 5,000 y ago.

One local functionary said to me: “We think Trump will win.  You always surprise us — he is the next surprise.”

Wednesday assorted links

by on May 25, 2016 at 11:51 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

For women, most of it, at least according to Wong and Penner:

This study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to (1) replicate research that documents a positive association between physical attractiveness and income; (2) examine whether the returns to attractiveness differ for women and men; and 3) explore the role that grooming plays in the attractiveness-income relationship. We find that attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness, but this gap is reduced when controlling for grooming, suggesting that the beauty premium can be actively cultivated. Further, while both conventional wisdom and previous research suggest the importance of attractiveness might vary by gender, we find no gender differences in the attractiveness gradient. However, we do find that grooming accounts for the entire attractiveness premium for women, and only half of the premium for men.

Those results are consistent with my intuition, and here is some Ana Swanson discussion of the results.  That is via Samir Varma, and here is Allison Schrager on whether female scientists should try to look frumpy.

Tuesday assorted links

by on May 24, 2016 at 12:05 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

The subtitle of that new paper is “Increase in the Proportion of Causal Language in English Texts,” here is the abstract:

The vast majority of the work on culture and cognition has focused on cross-cultural comparisons, largely ignoring the dynamic aspects of culture. In this article, we provide a diachronic analysis of causal cognition over time. We hypothesized that the increased role of education, science, and technology in Western societies should be accompanied by greater attention to causal connections. To test this hypothesis, we compared word frequencies in English texts from different time periods and found an increase in the use of causal language of about 40% over the past two centuries. The observed increase was not attributable to general language effects or to changing semantics of causal words. We also found that there was a consistent difference between the 19th and the 20th centuries, and that the increase happened mainly in the 20th century.

For all of its problems, there is much to be said for the twentieth century.  The authors — the people who caused that paper to happen (with apologies to David Hume)– are Iliev and Axelrod.

Monday assorted links

by on May 23, 2016 at 11:56 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Is Finnish youth culture turning sour?

2. Do philosophers actually think better?

3. Cross-linguistic onomatopoeias.

4. “The algae is trapped,” Knudsen explained. “It has a lot of tubes going into it. It’s controlled by chemical signals … The first time I saw it under the microscope, I wanted to join the Algae Liberation Front. I mean, it looked bad.”  Link here.

5. Drinking doesn’t make you happier for long, a result from British people.

6. Attending the 2016 Esperanto conference.

7. By Jim Tankersley: recovery average is over.

In the Empire of Amerigo there is heated debate about the priorities of the polity.

The Egalitarians push for much higher military spending, on the grounds that many poor people around the world require Empire protection from aggressors or at the very least from severe external pressure.  The Egalitarians have a subcult, called The Samanthas, who favor direct military intervention in very destructive civil wars.  They are willing to cut domestic spending on social services to achieve this end, even though their founder did not draw this exact same conclusion.

The opposing party The Three-Percenters favors much higher social spending to the nation’s less fortunate citizens, who are for the most part within the global top three percent.  The Three-Percenters are an openly elitist party, and they emphasize how place of birth determines an individual’s moral worth, Amerigo coming first of course with no prize for second place.

The Egalitarians have been pushing hard for affirmative action.  It turns out that no one on the country’s Supreme Council has a military background, and they believe this should be rectified by an explicit system of quota.  Furthermore only a few members of the legislature ever have killed another human being in service of their country.  So the military point of view, as would be required to implement true egalitarian social justice, is badly underrepresented in the upper tiers of government and society.

After the great wage equalization of 2104, it became the common view that willingness to die and more importantly the willingness to kill for one’s country — or not — was the most fundamental remaining difference among citizens of Amerigo.  The self-proclaimed Proud Killer Faction earns some of the lowest wages in the country, yet they continue to push for greater recognition at the federal level, realizing it is not enough to control several state governments.

So far the Three-Percenters have the more popular view, because after all humans are naturally elitist and clubbish, and so their coalition rule has remained unchallenged for several terms of government.  Yet virtually all philosophers and academics back The Egalitarians, with some radicals even endorsing the Proud Killer Faction.

Addendum: There is another, now-vanquished faction of The Egalitarians, called The Medicoors.  They argue the strange and indeed untenable view that those on the verge of death have almost infinitely less than anyone else, even the very poor, and so a true egalitarianism means everything should be redistributed their way to prolong their lives, even if only for a short period of time.  They ruled the government for almost a century.  At first they were mocked for the doctrine of being “Forward Lookers,” and then finally they were defeated by the success of their own efforts.  Medical technology raised life expectancy to three hundred years of age, thereby inducing voters to think of themselves as nearly eternal, at least for the time being.  Some seers have predicted that eventually the Medicoors will make a major political comeback…

Sunday assorted links

by on May 22, 2016 at 1:16 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

A 2011 Vanderbilt University survey found 22 percent of Dominican voters had been offered money or goods in exchange for their vote, the highest percentage in Latin America and the Caribbean.

After the 1996 election, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who led a monitoring delegation in the Dominican Republic, said he was concerned by reports of voter cards for sale; and in 2012, politician-turned-television host Taina Gautreau estimated more than 400,000 votes were bought, in an electorate of roughly 7 million.

Here is the story, via Dan Jackson.