Wednesday assorted links

1. Chess players’ fame versus their merit.

2. Haggis recipe could be tweaked to beat U.S. ban.

3. Who has the edge in getting organs for transplant? (guess)

4. Sumner on Bernanke, more here.  And it is scary that Bernanke feels the need to write a blog post opposing the notion that Congress raid the capital of the Fed.  It gets sent to the Treasury anyway.

5. NYT obituary of Rene Girard, with lots on Peter Thiel too.  It is also odd what this piece leaves out.

6. More from Gelman on mortality rates.


#3 "suggest an advantage for wealthier patients who have the money for travel, temporary housing and other costs of multiple listing"

Why would one need to apply in person. Easier to just apply once to the national database and allow all users the same access to all organs. Wealthy recipients are taking advantage of a poorly administered system.

My sister was a kidney transplant recipient two years ago. The process of applying to transplant centers is extremely difficult and time consuming and expensive. Financial aid is available; the process of applying for that is also difficult, time consuming and expensive. Once you have been through the process it is completely clear why people with more time, more money, and better skills dealing with complex organizations would have an edge. It also helps to have some family to back you up, because - surprise - people who heed an organ transplant do not tend to be full of energy.

BTW, each transplant center has its own policies and protocols for who they will accept into the program. While there is an organ sharing organization (UNOS) with an algorithm designed by economists, that only allocates organs among transplant centers and the patients who have already cleared the (substantial) hurdle of being accepted into the program.

Ironically, outlawing organ sales was supposed to have allowed more equal access but, instead, the wealthy still wound up with more access but without needing to pay (the donor) for it. We ended up with the worst of both worlds: unequal access without the higher supply that could have been enabled by allowing payments to donors. The article only, and perhaps unknowingly, hints at this second factor at the very end: "We really need more donate their organs. That would relieve a lot of the strain on these inequalities." Unintended consequences rears its ugly head again.

Is it really obvious that the present system is better than (1) allowing organ recipients to pay organ donors, (2) setting up charities and/or financial aid to help poor organ recipients afford to participate, and (3) continuing to allow organ donors, if they desire, to specify that their organs go to the recipient most in need rather than the highest bidder? It's not unreasonable to believe that many current donors would elect (3) while (1) would lead to more donors overall.

5. The downside of equality?

Really, Rayward, really?

Maybe the scapegoating of the 1% -- as vampiric blood suckers exploiting the innocent long-suffering masses -- confirms Girard?

I think he's referring to de Toqueville's idea that equality tended to increase competition, and that such constant competition made life exhausting:

"When all the privileges of birth and fortune are abolished, when all professions are accessible to all, and a man's own energies may place him at the top of any one of them, an easy and unbounded career seems open to his ambition and he will readily persuade himself that he is born to no common destinies. But this is an erroneous notion, which is corrected by daily experience. The same equality that allows every citizen to conceive these lofty hopes renders all the citizens less able to realize them; it circumscribes their powers on every side, while it gives freer scope to their desires. Not only are they themselves powerless, but they are met at every step by immense obstacles, which they did not at first perceive. They have swept away the privileges of some of their fellow creatures which stood in their way, but they have opened the door to universal competition; the barrier has changed its shape rather than its position. When men are nearly alike and all follow the same track, it is very difficult for any one individual to walk quickly and cleave a way through the dense throng that surrounds and presses on him. This constant strife between the inclination springing from the equality of condition and the means it supplies to satisfy them harasses and wearies the mind."

To be clear, Girard evidently took de Toqueville's idea and ran with it (at least according to Wikipedia.... not claiming to be a scholar here).

Cowen and the downside of equality? You think.

Ohhhh, I see, it's Straussian. *sneaky* ;-)

#1 - chess players fame vs merit - is a repeat of an earlier TC post. I know this since I saw this article earlier this year, and I'm pretty sure It was from TC's link.

Bonus trivia: as IM Ken Regan--the strongest Computer Scientist in chess and lifelong Tyler Cowen friend, as well as Creationist-- would agree, chess players have grown stronger over time, a sort of "Flynn Effect". Hence, as seen in, the former US world champion and arguably most famous chess player ever, Bobby Fischer, ranks a mere #16 in the all-time highest Elo list; the Philippines Wesley So has already surpassed Fisher at #13 (and I expect So will climb even higher, since he's so young). You see the same effect in sports: Olympian medalist and color barrier breaking track pioneer Jesse Owens ran the 100 meter dash in a record time back in the 1930s that has since been exceeded by several track & field high school.

Well you might wonder: why should I believe Ray? What does he know about chess? Just replay this game and see for yourself (I've not run this game through an engine yet, so there may be some bad moves). I'm pretty sure however the PC's queen grabbing the pawn 31...Qxc4 was a blunder. I played this game quickly this morning, blitzing out my moves. It's not by any stretch my best game, just a routine game I played today; I'm just showing you how strong I am when I wake up in the morning. The PC is playing at a very high level but not grandmaster mode. Cut and past the below moves and replay online here:

White = Ray Black = PC

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nc6 4. O-O Bd7 5. Re1 Nf6 6. Nc3 a6 7. Bc4 b5 8. Bd5 b4 9. Ne2 Nxd5 10. exd5 Ne5 11. Nxe5 dxe5 12. c4 e6 13. dxe6 Bxe6 14. b3 Bd6 15. Bb2 O-O 16. Ng3 f6 17. d4 cxd4 18. Bxd4 Bxc4 19. bxc4 exd4 20. Qg4 Be5 21. Nf5 Qc7 22. Rad1 Bxh2+ 23. Kh1 Be5 24. Rxd4 Kh8 25. Rd5 g6 26. Ne3 f5 27. Qh3 Bg7 28. Red1 f4 29. Rd7 Qc5 30. R1d5 Qc8 31. Ng4 Qxc4 32. Ne5 Qf1+ 33. Kh2 Qb1 34. Rd3 Qxd3 35. Nxd3 ...and White wins

Of course it is also said that the Elo ratings have become subject to inflation. It's too bad we don't have a set of scores of very strong IM-GM players against top programs from 20 years ago and then have a modern day sample of the same average ELO play the exact same older generation programs to see if they would score as well. Although if I were running a large scale program I would conduct such tournaments not only to gauge modern software strength but the relative strength of chessplayers vs. their official ELO. (E.g Have Rybka from 2008 or maybe better, Fritz from 2002 play a bunch of GMs of the same rating every year. After 10 years are their scores about the same?)

You might be able to do an approximate calibration by having a modern chess program play the older programs a large number of times and see if the results are consistent with their respective ELO ratings. If there has been inflation then the older programs would be stronger than their ratings would suggest.

Good points made by Wiki and Brett Dunbar, but in general if you consider "strong Elo" correlates to "fewer mistakes" then there has been no ratings inflation, in fact, Regan estimates (see his home page) on ratings *deflation* (today's Elo is actually underrating players). If you look at the number of mistakes made by earlier generations, compared to today, you see the old timers made more mistakes.

That said, I do have a 'conspiracy theory': above 2700 Elo, where starts listing players (and pro players wish to be seen), I notice once pro player make this list, they stop playing under 2700 Elo players. Ergo, above 2700, there's some inflation because of the existence of this website influences players behaviors. I just can't prove it at the moment, but I'm pretty sure there's some small inflation happening for these above 2700 Elo players. But in general, today's players are stronger than yesterdays.

I know very little about chess, but back in the nineties when IBM Deep Blue was making news I read a piece where someone compared chess to exploration. That is, it's like an immense cave with millions of crannies, and humans have explored the cave for centures. They said Deep Blue was more like a brute force boring out of the cave all at once.

5. "It is also odd what this piece leaves out."

What does it leave out?

I can't really figure it out either. But this obituary seems entirely insufficient. Robert Barron did a much better job.

Cowen and Thiel are "neuroatypical" and don't like talking to people, so I'll say it: Racey racey race race race. Alternatively, Islam. These men think it is always either race or Islam..

Millian, what are you talking about?

Millian - I doubt that anyone who knows him or follows this blog genuinely thinks that Cowen is "neuroatypical" in any useful sense of the word; "neuroatypical" is an interesting word but is not an interesting insult. While Professor Cowen is wrong about many things, partly because he probably has always had an eccentric circle of friends and an even more eccentric circle of conversational partners, he is no different in that from almost all the rest of us. Eccentric friends and family are neither a sufficient nor necessary proof of neuroatypicality. Anyway here are five words that were left out of the unusually bad NY Times obituary - pro-life (broadly legalized abortion is Soviet-level anti-human paganism), Ratzinger (people really don't care about tradition, but God loves us and God cares about it), marriage (the scapegoat knows what it is to be born unwanted, to be born disliked, to be born hated, and to be born rejected - or profoundly knows what it is like to have those things happen later on after a happy innocent childhood - the issue of the scapegoat is more central than many other issues, whether or not Nietzsche, who could have been but who was not happily married, was an interesting writer or not ), Roe (foretold, in spite of the assumptions of the comfortable Norwegian-American pride of the poor over-matched high-IQ-but-ultimately-mediocre tax-expert author, in the very uncomfortable but supremely compassionate Book of Revelation), Huxley (I am not one for reading books that people say are among the greatest, and I am more an Antic Hay or "After Many A Summer Dies the Swan" guy than a Signet and Bantam classics guy, but, hey, as they say, verbum sapienti sufficit.)

"One day, about five years ago, something strange happened. One of my blog readers at—her name is Kathleen Fasanella—wrote me and asked me very politely and very intelligently to consider if I might be described by either Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism. She thought I was, just from reading my writing, and she considered herself an Aspie, the current shorthand for Asperger’s syndrome. In her email she pointed out that I keep quite a bit of information in my head in a highly ordered fashion and that I have a command of many small facts in my areas of interest, namely culture and the social sciences. Apparently that was enough to set off her radar."--Tyler Cowen

Well, Girard's theory of the scapegoat is mentioned, but its articulation with the theory of mimetic desire is not explained. The article just says "groups of people often create scapegoats — tormenting and sacrificing them — as a means to establish unity". That is not what Girard says. Scapegoats occurence are special case of mimetic desire
crisis, where the desire of everyone converges to one same goal, namely hurting or killing a specific person (or small group of persons). Then afterwards, when the goal is realized (the scapegoat is killed and destructed), in the decreased tension that follow the crisis, people realize than the scapegoat has indeed realized the unity of the group, at least for some time -- but unity was not the aim in the first place.

Also, the article writes "In that book he said Christianity was the only religion that had examined scapegoating and sacrifice from the victim’s point of view." But Girard has always credited Judaism for exactly the same thing. To Christianism he gave credit for, not a different fundamentally point of view, but a much better and efficient pedagogy. See, everywhere in his (later) works, the reference to Abel and Caïn, the psalms, the book of Job, etc.

Brief, not the best paper on Girard I have seen.

Is this "mimetic theory" kinda sorta illustrated by that scene in Tom Sawyer where Tom convinces the neighborhood kids to paint a fence for him -- i.e., Tom is tasked with painting the fence, then when another kid walks by Tom pretends to really like painting the fence, so the other kid wants to try it, then another kid wants to try it, and eventually all the kids are standing in line waiting for their turn to paint the fence? I mean, is that at least an explain-it-to-me-like-a-five-year-old example?

That's correct (in my humble opinion, that is). This even looks even so simple that at first, when I heard of Girard from friends, and after my first readings of one of his book ("hidden things..."), I saw its work as an over-simplistic and over-reaching "theory of everything". What really convinced me that there was something really interesting going on is reading (later) his first book "desire, deceit and the novel" where I saw this theory (just the mimetic desire, not yet the scapegoat) at work to say interesting things and very well-known classical novels I liked (Dostoievski, Proust, Stendhal, Cervantes). As a scientist (if a mathematician may call himself so), I am still not entirely convinced of his theory as an explanatory tool for the world, but at least it is a tool to say illuminating things (for me) on the above authors, plus Shakespeare, Nietzsche, the Bible, Sophocles, Aeschylus, etc...

Maybe it does not explaining everything, but (1) mimetic desire seems an obvious component of the world we know (e.g., the impact of celebrity endorsements in assessing the value of a product), (2) explains much that the default model of desire as arising from evaluations made roughly rationally, and (3) explains how much of human desire must go unsatisfied, and points perhaps to other, subtler desires, arising in different ways, perhaps that are more authentically personal.

It seems to me that without the concept we have much the same world. We have a human nature arising from simian nature, but make more complex by intellectual abstraction. Perhaps I dislike "mimetic desire" because it seems an unnecessary abstraction. I might view the same behaviors as gambits for group membership and individual advancement. If so, what would I miss?

(Many of our gambits for group membership and individual advancement are unconscious, but this should not be surprising given our evolution.)

Not sure about the theistic implications of Girard's work, but there's a certain amount of bravery in positing the following about our species:

i) we are a copy-cat, monkey-see-monkey-do creature.

ii) And, some of our deepest religious impulses are really voodoo-esque / magical versions of destroying individuals to purify the body politic and to create social cohesion: scapegoating.

i) Seems true, but perhaps obvious.

Is it particularly French to think you have one theory that explains everything?

It is more a German (speaking) thing: Marx, Freud, Hitler, Spengler.

Why exactly does the FDA or USDA object to sheep's lung? Is it the vector for some disease, or is it just some bureaucratic tradition.

We don't approve sheep's lung because our predecessors didn't approve sheep's lung.

I believe it's a response to how Europe handles prion diseases, lung tissue is a vector like (eating) brain tissue.
But Im operating off memory and could be wrong.

According to the article sheep lungs have been banned since 1971. I think that predates most of the worry about prion diseases?

A quick google says that the FDA was worried about reflux from the digestive tract during the slaughtering process. I have no idea if a lung ban is necessary in light of direct measurement for microbiologicals, but perhaps it is net-net lower cost than sending teams out to investigate batches of bad lungs.

(still a Chipotle fan, but glad that someone is looking over their shoulder)

Quite. It's probably caused by a general US sissiness about food. I've met Americans who "won't eat offal" or "won't eat fish" and who give the silliest, flimsiest of excuses. Quite why that should extend to banning their fellow countrymen from eating haggis isn't clear, but I dare say it's the usual puritan joy at denying someone else his pleasures.

No doubt there's a federal GS-15 bureaucrat with the responsibility of determining exactly what parts of a sheep or any other animal are suitable for consumption by an American. This individual probably doesn't encroach on the territory of the fellow apparatchik that makes sure nobody drinks unpasteurized milk.

It isn't clear when haggis was "banned" in the US. I see 1971 given when Nixon and Earl Butz reorganized the ag dept and the emphasis was on industrializing the food industry. Butz called farmers obsolete and needed to be corporatized.

But I also see 1989 in response to the prion fears which would be Bush after Reagan's policies favoring industrial food production.

According to a 2010 article: "Sales of haggis in the United Kingdom last year brought in the equivalent of $14 million, up 19% from 2008."

What US corporation would invest in haggis, even to import it to the US for a market of a few million dollars?

We the People elected Congress with the demand that the food we buy does not kill us. Congress ordered the USDA to define how that is done by inspection and procedure which are made law by being written and reviewed and commented on in the Federal register by strict rules in law.

So, what is the incentive for underfunded USDA trying to get the regulations approved by the rules We the People required just for less than $10 million in haggis sales?

Re transplants
Didn't Alvin Roth get a Nobel prize for solving this sort of problem? With modern algorithms a socially optimal solution should be available within the short timeframe

Algorithms do not eliminate the time cost of distance nor extend the viability of organ for longer times nor create the right surgical team at the right arbitrary place and time.

Thus organs are shared between major surgical centers within a region with good regular transportation between these centers.

A dead body might be kept alive for several hours to arrange for the maximum harvest and to find out which recipients can be operated on and until transport is available. Different time lines exist for each part. Some transplants can only be done locally.

Hundreds of people need to be coordinated. It takes time to determine that all the people will be available for one organ before moving on to the next in the list.

5. What's frustrating about your link is what you leave out.

#1. Some chess players are more famous for being trailblazers. Tal has more hits than Botvinnik for example, though Botvinnik was the superior player for a longer period of time.

That is because no one can spell Botvinnik's name and so he is hard to google.

Tal on the other hand is not only easy, but he is likely to come up on wrong or incomplete searches.

I am probably being a little more serious than you think.

#5. I was an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins when Girard was there. In then went to SUNY Buffalo as a graduate student, also when Girard was there. Read two of his books (Deceit, Desire and the Novel, and Violence and the Sacred), talked with him on at least one occasion (about contributing an essay to a volume I was trying to put together), but never studied with him. Is he a smart guy? For sure. An original thinker? OK. But head and shoulders above a dozen or three other humanists and social scientists of his generation? No.

I've never been able to understand why organs would be wasted on poor people.

Au contraire, I say let them eat haggis!

#4 From Big Ben's blog post

"Over the past half dozen years the Fed has sent nearly half a trillion dollars to the Treasury, funds which directly reduce the government’s budget deficit. ... It’s true that the ultimate source of the Fed’s income is interest payments from the Treasury..."

Treasury sends tax dollars to the Fed which then pays them back to the Treasury.

Yet he is complaining about Congress' "budgetary sleight-of-hand".

Ha! Good one.

And the title of his book should be called "The Courage to Digitally Print Fiat Currency"

dear murray rothbard, is this iou, at the golf course, ok with your fiduciary police?

What is the ultimate source of the Emperor's clothing? The people bestow the clothing upon the Emperor, and his clothes shine upon them. It's a win-win.


> We measure players’ fame as the number of Google hits. The correlation between fame and merit is 0.38. At the same time, the correlation between the logarithm of fame and merit is 0.61. This suggests that fame grows exponentially with merit.

This is a trivial result. In virtually any instance when measuring on a domain constricted to positive numbers, logarithmic correlation is a better fit than linear.

I'm surprised the NYT does not force classes on Girard to its employees. It seems to me the value of "news" (in the modern medias sense) relies very heavily on mass imitative desire, wanting to be like the people who know everything first.

5. Equality: The internet (social media) empowers the powerless to act in concert (a mob) in a way not possible before, and to challenge those in power (via Facebook vigilantism), destroying reputations and careers in the process, the powerless acting as mob. It's Girard's dark view of human behavior (scapegoating) amplified through the equalizing effect of social media.

The organs should not go to the sickest patients anyhow. It should go to the patient who got the best chances of having a good outcome. This might be the actual system in the US. At least I hope so.

Should public education be directed to educating the most talented children or the least talented children or the children in the middle? Should social welfare programs generally be directed to helping those that need it the least (and, hence, more likely to "rise up" to use Jeb's campaign slogan) or that need it the most (and, hence, less likely to "rise up") or those in the middle (essentially rewarding mediocrity). These are obvious questions nobody likes to ask, at least not in public. My best friend works at an elite university, and he sides with the argument for directing social welfare programs to helping those who need it the least. Given the size of his school's endowment, they can afford to admit the best applicants regardless of ability to pay. Of course, those students are the most likely to "rise up" and contribute to the endowment in the future. [For those who can't make the analogy, it's taxes, those most likely to "rise up" will be the taxpayers of tomorrow who fund social welfare programs.] So, do the organs go to those most in need of a transplant and least likely to survive the transplant and live a long life, to those least in need of a transplant and most likely to survive and live a long life or to those in the middle? What would be the right choice if it's made solely on the basis of reason?

Rayward, clearly, the transplant should go to the person whose life expectancy is the most increased by it (I agree with Chirstian List on this).

I don't see any deep difficulty, neither intellectual nor ethical, here, but let me be more explicit:

If you give the transplant to some one "least in need for it", that means someone in perfect health, and for instance change his perfectly working heart for a transplanted one, then obviously you'll diminish his life expectance and also his quality of life. If you give the heart to someone "least likely to survive the transplant" (for example because not only the heart, but the arterial system, or other important organs, is very week), then you will not increase much their life expectancy. Brief, you should give in priority a transplant of an organ to someone who has that specific organ in a very bad state but is otherwise in very good health.

"What would be the right choice if it’s made solely on the basis of reason?"

Ethics are relative. So I don't think there's one *right* answer. But my answer would be: The organs go to those most in need but those persons need to have a pretty high survival chance. The transplantation has to make sense regarding both aspects because organs are so scarce. You can use both criteria pretty easily because you got so much more recipients than donors. I think (and hope) most Western countries use both criteria.

As I understand things Organ transplantion isn't determined in this fashion. The processes for exam type of transplant are slightly different however in all of them patients are ranked by need (likelihood to die soon). Getting and staying on the list requires meeting minimum standards (not currently using drugs, meeting weight standards etc). As long as you meet the basic standards the transplant centres are not trying to maximise benefit to society by calculating some kind of return on investment.

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