Month: July 2006

Energy security vs. energy independence

Energy interdependence can actually be good for energy security: Just
look at natural gas markets. Right now nearly all the natural gas that
Americans consume comes from U.S. and Canadian fields; only 3 percent
comes into the country by tanker in the form of liquefied natural gas.
This renders the United States highly vulnerable to disruptions on its
home continent. If terrorists or a hurricane took out a key pipeline,
it would be hard to bring in alternative supplies from outside North
America, and prices would spike upward. By buying more liquefied
natural gas from a diverse range of foreigners, the United States would
reduce its energy independence but enhance its energy security.

Here is more by Sebastian Mallaby.

Random Links for the Day

Gene Expression interviews Steven Pinker.

Support for vaccine markets from two former officials in the Clinton and Bush administrations.

A real life Numbers guy, Stanford mathematician Lawrence Wein scares us with calculations, "a few grams of
botulinum could contaminate a tanker and potentially poison 100,000 gallons of

Thanks to Carl Close and Razib Khan for pointers.

Why I find soccer boring

Do I have a theory for all of my idiosyncratic preferences?  Well, with soccer it is simple.  There is too much apparent noise in the data.  Too many salleys and thrusts lead to immediate reversals.  Moving the ball down the field generates information about the relative strength of the teams, and in theory that is interesting, but I am poorly equipped for interpreting this information.  (I recall reading, with bewilderment, the claim that the French 1-0 victory over Brazil "wasn’t even close.")  To me all that back and forth looks random.  In this regard soccer is like baseball, hockey, or perhaps even chess and Go.  Only the cognoscenti know what is going on.  In particular, the meaning of the drama is clearer when you grow up with it.

Basketball, my favorite sport, generates ongoing data but those results are marked by numbers, most notably points scored, but also rebounds, turnovers, steals, etc.  It is far easier to approach a basketball game "cold" and figure it out on the fly.  If you tune in during halftime, a few stats will indicate what is going on.  It is the perfect sport for people who, like myself, don’t have much time for sports.

Here is a good essay on whether soccer is boring.  Read this too, it compares soccer and hockey.

The Devil Wears Prada — a Straussian interpretation

Imagine a beautiful, pseudo-nerdy and ultimately devious Anne Hathaway [Andy] receiving a job at a top fashion magazine, more or less by accident.  At first she is baffled and fails but soon she is dressing up to fit the role and climbing the ladder of social success, ruthlessly at times.  Her model and mentor is Miranda, the magazine’s editor, an empire-builder played by a commanding and sexier-than-ever Meryl Streep.  Andy is transformed by a taste of success and she abandons her boyfriend, friends, and father in her Hegelian quest to command the obedience of others.

Of course Andy is troubled along the way.  After all, but a few months ago she was editing the school newspaper at Northwestern and wearing frumpy (but oh so cute, to my eyes) sweaters.  I much prefer her size six to her later size four, and yes women really do look better without make-up.

The key moment and emotional center of the movie comes when Miranda [Meryl Streep] tells Andy [Anne Hathaway] that, contrary to her initial expectations, Andy reminds her very much of herself.  Andy runs out of the cab, supposedly rejecting the life of obsessive careerism, for [get this] a [low stress?] career of journalism. 

But does she reject the life of the Uebermensch?  Andy had distanced herself from her hot but low-status boyfriend.  She never gets back together with him, and we learn that they will live in separate cities.  We never see her boring loser friends again.  She had been rude to her dull dad [from Ohio] and is never seen making amends.  Wouldn’t a cornier movie have closed with a fading shot of Andy on the phone, smiling and saying "Hi, Dad, Happy Birthday!  I Love You!"  But this never happens.  She is too hard at work on her next feature story. 

In fact Andy is an irresistible She-Demon, every bit as powerful as the mentor she turned her back on.  Andy didn’t so much scorn Miranda as mimic her and pay homage to her.  Miranda [Meryl Streep] was right (is she ever wrong?): Andy is strong enough to be her own leader and build her own world.  That is why Andy had to leave the realm of Miranda; it was not big enough to fit two such ravenous and yes extremely sexy women.  If Camille Paglia reviewed this movie, she would find occasion to use the words "Gorgon" and "autochthonous."

Andy even rejects the famous free-lance writer ("Christian") whom she sleeps with for kicks ("I’ve run out of excuses" she says) and then unceremoniously abandons — "I’m not your baby!"  Having sniffed out her own capabilities, she is no longer content to play second fiddle in a relationship, no matter how handsome or successful the man.  She also tells this guy just how much she admires Miranda — Andy is quite sincere — and notes that Miranda’s behavior would be found totally acceptable and indeed admirable in a man.

And the poor little British girl Andy screwed over (and caused to be run over by a car, I might add, check the movie’s title) during her rise at the magazine?  She buys her off with a set of new clothes from Paris.  How Kantian of her.

Make no mistake about it, this is a movie about sheer power lust.  It is a movie of how that lust can be cloaked or shifted to another sphere but never denied.  Never bottled up.  Never stopped.  It is a delicious tale of social intrigue, ambition, class, and how much clothes really do matter.  And to take sweet Anne Hathaway — remember the wonderful but underrated Ella Enchanted?– and have her play Max Stirner — that is a mark of genius.

The movie has many other fine points, most of which were neglected by the film’s intended demographic.  Here is Michael Blowhard on Anne Hathaway.  Here is Wikipedia on the movie.

Here is my earlier post, a Straussian reading of Star Wars.  What will be next?

Random rants about books

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.  I am a big fan of what Acemoglu is trying to do, namely integrating history with an economic account of the rise of the West.  But this doesn’t work as a book.  There is too much thicket and they should have been forced to cut the equations.

George Lodge and Craig Wilson, A Corporate Solution to Global Poverty: How Multinationals can Help the Poor and Invigorate Their Own Legitimacy.  The title is wonderful, but this boils down to a call for a World Development Corporation, a’ la Felix Rohatyn but on a global scale.  Underargued.

Leonard Susskind, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design.  He makes bold claims: for instance Everett’s Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics might be identical to the multiverse of some versions of inflation theory.  He seems to be making all this up, but I applaud the boldness.  I wouldn’t have understood the truth anyway.

Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena.  What is left to be said?  Our beliefs are endogenous, so how can we trust our beliefs?  We can’t.

Kyle Gann, Music Downtown, Writings from the Village Voice.  I loved this book, but you won’t.  For people who think Philip Glass and Robert Ashley are geniuses.

Tom Wolfe, I am Charlotte Simmons.  His first mega-novel to fail.  None of the dialogue rings true and the author comes across as a dirty old man.

Jose Saramago, BlindnessThe Death of Ricardo Reis may be his deepest book, but this is the one most guaranteed to impress.  To appreciate him, you have to get over the fact that most of his novels are boring stinkers.

Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None.  Does anyone find this suspenseful?  I didn’t.  But I loved the film when I was ten.

John Banville, The Sea.  No way did this dirge deserve the Booker Prize.  That pick was strictly a lifetime achievement award.

Stephen King, Song of Susannah.  I adore I-IV of The Dark Tower series, but by this point the plot has fallen apart. 

Robert Wuthnow, American Mythos: Why Our Best Efforts to Be a Better Nation Fall Short.  He is a remarkably powerful mind, but in this book he is spinning his wheels.

Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point.  I reread this one, just to remind myself how beautifully constructed it is.

Toni Morrison, Beloved.  I used to hate this book, but now I see the appeal.  Read Part Three first and work backwards.

Isaac Asimov, The Naked Sun.  Excellent.  I had never read this one, and don’t forget that his robot stories are commentary on Judaic theology and law.

JSTOR for People not at a University

One of the great pleasures of being a professor in recent years is that I no longer have to go the library.  Trudging to the stacks, finding an article, and photocopying it are things of the past.  Almost everything is available online especially at the great JSTOR in the sky, a vast repository of electronic journals some dating back more than 100 years.

Not every university has access to JSTOR, however, and individual subscriptions are costly and limited in scope.  But Kevin Kelly points out that in many places you can get a digital library card which will get you access to many online databases. 

In most states, you can get a library card from a public library
outside of your county of residence — as long as you can prove state
residence (true for the San Francisco Public Library). Often you will
have to go the actual state library in person to pick up your card, but
once in hand, you can access the library from the web. Fanatical
researchers are known to have a wallet full of library cards from
numerous public library systems within their respective states. Some
states, Ohio and Michigan being two of the better known, have statewide
consortiums of private, corporate and public libraries, which allows
you access to the combined services and databases licensing power of
them all.

Wrong On All Three Counts

From an angry editorial in FrontPageMag.Com:

The New York Times claims “500 economists have signed an open letter to Mr. Bush
arguing that immigration is a net plus for the nation’s economy.”
Doubtless, the same 500 economists believe that tax hikes are a net
plus for the economy, increases in the minimum wage are a net plus for
the economy and signing the Kyoto Treaty on so-called global warming
would be a big boost for the nation’s economy.

Obviously the author didn’t do much research, at least in regards to the author of the letter.