Saturday assorted links


Kosher marijuana is definitely a marketing gimmick. If I were in NY I would avoid this company out of spite for them playing to religious/ethnic identity to try to gain market share.

Ha! Let this be a lesson for armchair socioeconomic reasoning when you're not embedded in the right context: you clearly don't think like a minority. Orthodox Jews don't feel offended when people try to make their products kosher in an effort to gain market share. It's literally the only reason we can eat anything at all. Kashrut certification is expensive -- not only does the human capital take years to acquire, but the social capital of having an acceptable brand is super expensive and rare too, and there are monopolies and cartel dynamics. Companies are only going to certify anything as kosher if they think they can make a buck off it. And it's kind of nice that they notice us as a community and respect the fact that yes, we are consumers, too, not some sort of Jewish Mennonite sect. I remember clearly the day when I was young when a popular candy lost its kosher certification. *That* was offensive to everyone -- it meant that they didn't care about the Jewish community enough to target us.

And don't even get me started with the joy of kosher Oreos.

The OU, meanwhile, really does seem to be doing it for the good of the Jewish community. There isn't yet a conventional kashrut issue, true. If you read the article, everyone is really above the board that they're trying to combat stigma. Rav Genack calls it a mitzvah to use medical cannabis, and that can only be referring to its use as medicine, since visiting a doctor and getting treated when you're ill is a commandment but eating x food vs y food isn't usually. Institutions like the OU are generally pretty open about their role and responsibility as one of the most visible and influential organizations across the Orthodox world.

But this will also definitely be a kashrut issue eventually. Going based on gum and cigarettes, the second they start including flavors or weird animal products it will have to be kosher. And if you don't anticipate bacon flavored weed, well then you've never had weed before.

This is interesting! Do you know any research papers on this unique market with strict certification?

You need to talk to some people off the derech to get a little more cynical.

First, it isn't true that if nothing had a kashrut certification you couldn't eat anything. Before anything and everything had a kashrut certification only a few things actually required them. You could go into a store and buy toothpaste without worrying that it didn't have a hechsher. The biggest concern was that you got meat from a kosher butcher and beyond that common sense prevailed.

Which leads to the second point, the OU is a money making operation that operates as a two sided extortionist.

It's Shabbos afternoon at 2pm and I'm commenting about weed on the internet from work how much more off the derech would you like me to be?

Everyone is getting more machmir (trans: strict) about everything. My bet is that the spread of legal literacy through the lay orthodox world is at least in part to blame -- you can't have Rabbis being lenient, they'd get caught and criticized in a way that, say, the Aruch Hashulchan was never exposed to. And anyway, most people I know are proud of the lengths they go to keep strictly kosher...I'm not sure we could go back to a world of treif potato chips even if we disbanded the OU and chaf-K and the others.

(Of course, fear of assimilation etc. is also driving this trend. And there's also no reason to be cynical about that. A lot of people I know would say that kashrut serves an important social function in keeping Jews separate, and kashrut naturally got stricter when Jews became more enmeshed in foreign societies. If you were just eating that bag of potato chips with other Jews, because the non-Jews wouldn't hire you or let you into their fraternities or whatever, then who cares if it's got a certification. If you work, are friends with, and flirt with gentiles, the law as a social structure is going to try to put an end to it).

Maybe the OU is expanding and extracting its share as a monopolist, but I also think that some sort of process like this was always likely, given that the same movement towards strictness is happening everywhere, on most questions, outside the boundaries of financially interested institutions.

To bring the question back to the public square: is the Orthodox Union's behavior exogenous or endogenous? Did supply create demand or vice versa? Depends on your model. But I think it's more accurate given the societal trend (heyyy cointegration) to see their profitmaking as catch-up supply to a demand for social conservatism. It's also judging favorably, which I still think is both a good moral thing to do and good intellectual practice: the assumption that the most cynical answer is the truest is an unfounded bias and often wrong.

"It’s Shabbos afternoon at 2pm and I’m commenting about weed on the internet from work how much more off the derech would you like me to be?"

Good point -- as soon as I posted I remembered what day it was.

> It’s Shabbos afternoon at 2pm and I’m commenting about weed on the internet from work how much more off the derech would you like me to be?

It would be more authentically OTD if you were at least having fun while you violate the 4th commandment.

#4...The only reason you have to worry about many modern food products is that they have lots of ingredients, some of which you need to be a chemist to determine what they are. The problem with production facilities is similar in that some plants process numerous products, which, again, you need to know they are. A person could do this on their own, but it's a pain. The simplest way to keep kosher is to eat simpler and better foods.

On second thought, I appreciate that it will enable strict observant Jews to use medically without as much risk at being looked down on by their peers, some of whom may have bought the propaganda on the highly expensive and ineffective war on drugs..

I thought it was interesting the article mention insects. I know that there's nothing intrinsic about broccoli that makes it non-kosher, but it's basically impossible to inspect thoroughly to make sure there's no insect hiding in there, so nobody who keeps kosher eats broccoli.

But marijuana buds are smoked. And, marijuana buds are like broccoli in that you can't thoroughly inspect them for insects. Is it a violation of the rules for keeping kosher to smoke an insect?

There is a very good book on the kosher certification industry, by Timothy Lytton.

One point made in the book. also relevant for this thread, is that there is free entry in this market and plenty of competition. There are scores of certification agencies in the US, more than a hundred. Anyone can open one. You can make money if you provide better value than the next guy. Better value means combination of convincing consumers that your seal is worth something and providing it to merchants at a reasonable price. The companies who pay for these certifications are very shrewd and so on the whole are the customers who rely on them. Could be that they try to persuade consumers that their certification is worth something but many companies do. Only a tiny fraction of rabbis have any financial interest in the OU so I don't really believe that a tendency towards stringency is meant to enrich their coffers.

Most of the companies are avowedly for profit so it's not like the OU is doing anything objectionable if they are also trying to make money.

Thanks! I'll take a look at that book, sound good.

The thing around here (in BC) is organic pot.

6. It confirms the error of the Tabarrok view of regulation of drugs: desperate people will resort to desperate measures. Lax regulation of end of life drugs encourages drug companies to devote finite resources to drugs that may extend life days or weeks, if at all, rather than to drugs that have far more potential. Of course, what Tabarrok prefers is no regulation at all, where picking drugs is a crap shoot, the difference between an efficacious drug and snake oil determined by chance.

"Lax regulation of end of life drugs encourages drug companies to devote finite resources to drugs that may extend life days or weeks, if at all, rather than to drugs that have far more potential."

Why would that be the case?

"Of course, what Tabarrok prefers is no regulation at all, where picking drugs is a crap shoot, the difference between an efficacious drug and snake oil determined by chance."

Underwriter's Laboratory, ASME and NSF seem to be doing OK with their tests. Why couldn't a similar organization evaluate drugs?

Heathen! Do you not pray at the altar of the State?

" . . .no regulation at all, where picking drugs is a crap shoot, the difference between an efficacious drug and snake oil determined by chance . . ."

Lax or no regulation, and efficacy, have zero relationship. Witness colchicine. And a big (regulated) pharma where monopoly profit motive overrides quality of care.

Then let him!

Tip for young players: The FDA isn't always 'wrong'

I don't know if Tyler intended this, but there is an interesting connection between 4 and 6. There is no government agency regulating kosher food, rather there is (are?) a plethora of private, for-profit certifying agencies with free entry. There are over a hundred in the US. Some do a very good job at certification and some do a very perfunctory job; some consumers demand a very good jog and some demand a perfunctory job. The question is, a. can they tell the difference? (a question which can be resolved by research), b. Is it bad when people have low standards? (a purely religious question).

I imagine that if we had a free market for drug certification we would have a similar outcome: many private agencies with a wide variety of certification quality. We would have to ask ourselves a. if people are well informed (something we could study) and b. if we care, presumably the answer is "yes" because we don't like people neglecting their health and simultaneously enriching charlatans. (Obviously this is also a "religious" question but our common civic religion gives a pretty clear answer.)

Another possibility is to keep the FDA as a monopoly in certification but to only allow them to certify drugs, not to outlaw them. Maybe this would solve a, b probably not.

Razib Khan's confession that he underestimated ISIS sounds remarkably similar to Ross Douthat's confession that he underestimated Trump.

American liberal secularists didn't even have the instincts to understand they would have to try hard to bridge the psychological distance from the worldview of their milieu to that of foreign theocratic warriors. One can say the same of establishment conservative pundits and their own party's base.

In both cases, this failure was derived from a naivete about the variety of possible human mentalities enabled by ideological monoculture and a socially sorted echo-chamber. It is a large part of the explanation of how we got into the current messes, and it is why we are bound to get into a lot more.

American liberal secularists didn’t even have the instincts to understand they would have to try hard to bridge the psychological distance from the worldview of their milieu to that of foreign theocratic warriors. One can say the same of establishment conservative pundits and their own party’s base.

I cannot imagine which you think Razib is

i am a conservative leaning atheist. ross is a conservative leaning catholic. are you that ignorant, or do you just pretend to be on the interwebs? ;-)

Wait, we have emoticons now?

Copy, paste ?

I'm not asking how to do it, I'm surprised that they show up as faces instead of characters.

Razib, is that really you. Anyway, a great piece of analysis. Thank you.

y wouldn't it be me?

I'm afraid you're going to need to ban someone to prove it's you :P

Concur. Very insightful and useful thoughts are encapsulated in there. And are applicable in much wider arenas. Namely two concepts: the role of an anarchic period (power vacuum), and the heroic effort. Keeping these two concepts in mind, I think allows me to better understand, and consequently predict, events in the Russian Federation and the former Soviet states, as well as across northern Africa.

And if that is really Razib Khan responding in the comments, good on ya.

Of course I know that Razib. I love you man, but as usual your hypersensitive snarky hair-trigger needs to relax. Try reading what I wrote again, but more carefully this time, ok? I didn't say you and Ross were either the same as each other, or identically overlapping some typical progressive.

However, you are both recognized as members of the elite intelligentsia (too bad about your NYT gig by the way) and also profoundly distant psychologically from the the individuals whose attitudes and behaviors you endeavored to assess in those particular instances. That impedes the ability to construct an accurately predictive theory of mind without some special effort and humility. Isn't that part of what Bryan Caplan is getting at with his spin on the Turing Test?

Secularists have trouble with jihadists, and elite members of the conservative commentariat don't genuinely relate to the lower rungs of their base even as they purport to advocate for their interests, just as Charles Murray observed for class-based divergences in general. And what Ross said was that his underestimation of Trump was really a misappraisal of the tastes, preferences, and establishment-obeisance of his own party's voters.

fwiw, I thought what you originally wrote was quite clear and spot on.

#2 summary: Food trucks use social media to market themselves, and because they have wheels they can move to where people are most interested in eating from food trucks. Wow, who knew!

If you want to stand in line with a bunch of hipsters, pay the same price as at a restaurant, and eat crappy food that you've only tricked yourself into thinking is any good because it's got quinoa in it, its name was written in fluorescent dry erase marker, and the guy who sold it to you is covered in tattoos, then by all means go eat from a food truck.

(Except taco trucks in the southwest, those things are awesome. But they tend to stay in the same place every day and are gimmick-free. In fact they're all very much the same.)

Ya know, you make a lot of sense. And I abide by it…when I'm going solo. The minute anyone else enters the picture all this marketing "cool" fluff begins to enter the picture. Drinking alone? Bud light. Drinking with a date? Go artisanal lager. Eating alone? McDonald's. Eating with friend? Taqueria.

WTF is a taqueria? I must be losing cool points :(

Food trucks are a lot less hipstery than you make them out to be. Besides being mobile, food trucks give niche foods a low-cost way to sell their product. A Korean BBQ or Irish potato cake truck is much more viable than a Korean BBQ or Irish potato cake restaurant. There are, of course, pizza trucks, hamburger trucks, etc. Food trucks seem like a very legitimate business model and aren't dependent on catering to hipsters.

Yes, there are food trucks sitting on the property of some dumpy gas station and frequented by construction workers. There are food trucks in suburban business parks patronized by telemarketers. The idea that food trucks are "hipster" is another manifestation of trendy media types guided mostly by what THEY see.

This is probably true in New York and San Francisco, where there is a big enough pedestrian lunchtime crowd to cater to a wider variety of niches including those you mention (construction workers, telemarketers, etc.). In Midwestern cities though, food trucks are almost exclusively run by and marketed to hipsters.

(In Portland it's all hipsters anyway, and in LA it's mostly those taco trucks that I actually like.)

Interesting. Thanks for the POV.

Image of the LA area a strip mall is a better value proposition than a food truck.

("Currently, three restaurants in the SGV feature Wuhan-style cuisine: 2-year-old Tasty Dining and recently opened Happy Tasty in San Gabriel, and Qiwei Kitchen, a sister restaurant to Tasty Dining, in Rowland Heights.")

Something funny happened between me dictating a comment, squinting with one eye, eating a (Habit) burger, and proofreading at the same time. Sorry. Gist: strip mall Wuhan.

"except" - you just contradicted yourself, and your exception does not prove your rule.

I don't think you've ever operated a food truck. I would hardly scoff at " Food trucks use social media to market themselves, . . ." as that marketing phenom is so new, AND efficacy may not be recorded.
And I would hardly synopsize the mobility factor as ". . . and because they have wheels they can move to where people are most interested in eating from food trucks". In most cities, at least so far as I am aware, the places a food truck can park and operate are severely limited by regulation. Placing a food truck is always a gamble, as one often cannot know, beforehand, whether the micro-market at that location is a) discriminating, or b) destination-oriented (vs convenience vs price-discriminating). Having mentioned the limitations to movement, it is rather that the cost barrier to entry at a location is lower for a food truck than a storefront. Permitted locations may be out of the main traffic stream of locale consumers. Use of social media can help alter the geo-location of that traffic stream. For food trucks that specialize in "destination" product, social media can completely reroute the traffic stream to a new location - i.e. one required by permitting regulations. For instance, in Boston, near where I currently live, permitting regulations require the food trucks to move on a rotating basis. Thus, creating a "destination" draw, and using social media to publicize location, could be a survival strategy.

That's an interesting advertisement on the right side of this webpage. It says:
Ten Unavoidable Problems with a "Living" Minimum Wage from 100% Waste of Your Money to Millions Unemployed by Steve Baba -
I wonder if Prof. Cowen endorses this economic analysis :-)

#7. Razib is smart and that is a good post. I learned a lot. The Middle East is going to get a lot worse. I wonder what the population age structures are of the Middle East in comparison to 1930's Germany and 1780's France. The Middle East is aging; if they can keep the chaos contained for another decade they might avoid some bad events.

I thought much of the Middle East actually skewed pretty young, like Egypt and Iran (is that the Middle East?). Can't say I've studied it intently.

yes, the TFR crashed lately. iran has a lower TFR than the USA or israel.

Africa is next (parts of it already have crashing TFRs), then the whole world becomes Japan demographically in 80+ years. I wonder how capitalism will adapt.

Well, hopefully.

There are still plenty of African countries with TFR of 5 or 6. When I last checked, almost all of the "heavy hitters" in terms of TFR were in sub-Saharan Africa except for Afghanistan.

As I said, Africa is NEXT. But it will happen, same as everywhere else, and for basically the same reasons.

So T Green read over 70 books last year .... Yeah, right

Pssht....Tyler probably read twice that.

Does 70 seem like a lot? If you took all the blog posts I read in a year and converted them into, say, 100k words per book, I would have read hundreds of books last year (plus the dozens of actual books I read)

Not sure why you'd think that's a lot - I read more than twice that number, and I blogged/reviewed a substantial proportion of them (see the link).

If most people spent as much time reading books as they spend in front of the telly, there'd be a lot more people reading 100 books/year.

I do not watch the television.

I also do not have children. When I have children I fully expect my reading count to drop by 20 or so books a year.

This motivates me to read as much as I can now.

Though if there was no internet I'm pretty sure I could double the count. I am very fast reader, but a very slow writer. Blog posts take days of work; longer social media posts even take hours. I don't have any advice for others on how to read faster; I think the skill is innate. I certainly haven't tried to do so. I fear the same thing is true for writing, and I'll be stuck as a poor writer for ever.


I recently saw my grandmother's book log that she kept since 1935. Her master degree was in philosophy from Ohio St and told she couldn't enter the PhD program because women don't do philosophy.

She read over 100 books a year, but in 1942 she only listed magazines. That was the year her second child was born, who became a literature prof as did her next daughter. (My dad was too addicted to sports to become a lit prof so became an economist.)

Grandma K.'s last book entry was in October at age 106. It was a book on cosmology.

You notice T. Greer claims he's read Plato's Republic in 2015, a difficult work that's best left to experts. I suspect he's just posing.

I am not quite sure if this is meant ironically or not.

It is possible the entire list is the work of a poser, though the opp cost of this kind of posing would be high. A large % of the books are cited in the blog posts though, so that might be one way to verify, if you are really driven by such concerns.

As for the Republic: I was not impressed. Probably ny most disappointing read of the year, and it was all I could do to slog through it. The ideas are not as great as promised, and the circular argument style is maddening.

Perhaps I read it too fast though. It might be worth it to read it slower and try to map out each chapters dialogue or something like that. Reading it straight through brought no benefits.

"So T Green read over 70 books last year …. Yeah, right"

Dude, that's just a little over a book a week. Really?

I dunno, I read about 30/yr and I have four kids, a job and an occasional Netflix binge. Before I had kids, and I had a train commute and a boring job with a 60+ minute lunch break, it was more than double that. I had to feed by habit at the library.

Beheadings, young female sex slaves, making $1.5 million a week on stolen oil, shaking down the people for money, in the towns they occupy, involvement in the drug trade (captagon instead of heroin or cocaine), the IS sounds a lot like the Mexican drug cartels. ISIS is just a bit more Islamic than the drug cartel members are Catholic. But for the kingpins of these gangster organizations, it's still about wealth and power. If ISIS kingpins can take over the Levant, they will rule it more like warlords than like imams.

They're much worse than cartels because their foot soldiers believe they'd going God's work.

#6, in which the director tacitly admits the FDA approval is a work of journalism. He must resign in order allow someone to build an approval process based on science and decision theory. He obviously is not capable.

Conjecture: the Nordic bureaucracies are better than average because their cultures do not stand for this sort of thing.

7. Interesting read. Human beings have always been violent and these spasms of terror are not unusual.

But there are two differences today, both related to technology. One is obvious - whereas in the past radical movements could slaughter thousands and hardly be noticed elsewhere in the world, today we are nearing the point when small movements can destroy cities. The idea of any leak of material from Pakistan or North Korea - and eventually Iran - should frighten everyone.

The second difference is more obscure. We live in a time of exponential change. AIs, gene editing, robotics, the Singularity. What will be the appeal or efficacy of religious violence in the near future?

Just to throw an idea out there, how many people will fight for ISIS when they face an army of machines? What is the appeal of hardship and quick death in a foreign land when you can play out your fantasies in virtual reality instead.

Aren't ISIS-like groups bound to become absurd?

buterlian jihad then? :-)

Was that ever explained more in any of the later books?

Brian Herbert has been writing some prequels based on his father's work, including

Dune: The Butlerian Jihad

Reviews have been mixed.

The Idiran War against the Culture.

>how many people will fight for ISIS when they face an army of machines?

You just move from south Afghanistan to Libya and take out a US ambassador. Then sit and watch the show.

1 - "four classical novels", a translated Mandarin phrase, gets, I believe, two out of three words right.

The real phrase is : 四大名著 ( Sìdàmíngzhù)。"Four Great Classic/famous Works" might be the most accurate word-for-word translation? Do you have a preferred one?

I could be wrong, but how about "The 4 Classical Novels of the Nobles" (based on the register of what is translated into English as Classic/Famous).

#3. If you don't mind my saying so, my review of Robert Gordon's book is also pretty good.

Ugh. Dr. Richard Pazdur Obstruct, obstruct, obstruct, and then the moment his wife gets cancer, approve, approve, approve?

Think of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of husbands, wives, fathers and mothers who lost loved ones to his obstructionism... And the moment it became personal, suddenly he "sees the light?" If your resistance to fast approval was based in principle, you wouldn't have relaxed the standards to save your wife. And if it wasn't based in principle, just in regulatory habit, the moment the first person came to you, 16 years ago, asking for fast approval, you should have thought: "What would I do if it was my wife, dying of cancer"?

Most people aren't capable of useful abstract thought: until a topic engages with their life, they are as children; often rather dim, selfish children.

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