Results for “star trek”
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The Political Psychology of Stimulus

David Hirschleifer writes:

Regardless of who's right on the economics, clearly the ‘stimulus'
language captures the pro side perfectly, and the con side not at all.
Indeed, the term immunizes the mind to opposing evidence. After a cup
of stimulus from Starbucks, if I'm still drowsy, by definition I need
another jolt.

….Opponents have lots of metaphors they could choose from. Instead of
the image of rousing activity, there could be the economic ‘suppression
plan,' ‘deadweight package,' or ‘growth-retardant system.' For
alliteration, there's ‘prosperity Propofol.' To honor the frugality of
government, how about ‘resource-flush scheme,' ‘wealth dump,' or
‘porkapalooza'? As for mechanical metaphors, there's ‘recovery off
switch,' ‘opportunity crusher,' and ‘investment choke button.' For the
computer savvy, how about ‘stagnation drag and-drop-down device,' or
‘system freezer'.

In recognition of our gleaming new
infrastructure, there's the ‘road-to-Hell-paving project'. And to
celebrate the new Star Trek film, how about economic ‘stasis-field
mechanism', ‘enterprise eliminator,' 'job vaporizer,' or just plain
‘black hole'?

So, here's a political psychology question. Why did opponents gullibly
swallow the stimulus terminology, and thereby defeat? Any ideas?

Questions that are rarely asked

Richard Green writes to me:

If the likes of Hitchcock and others could turn works that were mediocre in literature into great films, I wonder what mediocre films could have been great literature.

The point is not to come up with a list (though some of you will) but rather to ponder what we can learn about literature as a medium.  He continues:

…literature adapted from films is almost (and this is a hedge because my experience says invariably) hack work, rushed and held in the lowest regard...Is it because literature is the elder medium, and has a higher status which would prevent condescension to recognising a prior from another medium? Is it because creation is more personal to a individual writer than the inevitable collaboration of film, and so they are loath to allow others’ work in?

Movies need (at least) a plot and a script and that can be taken from a book, with results of varying quality of course.  But I do not have an equal understanding of which factor of production is scarce to writing a good novel.  Do professional writers benefit more from showing originality in creating a world and also creating a language?  There is plenty of fan fiction based on Star Trek and the like but few professional writers take this same tack.

A simple default hypothesis is that movies are more powerful and more real than books.  So a movie based on a book won’t necessarily be overwhelmed by its source but a book based on a movie will be.  Of course there are many books adapted from oral tales so maybe it is the addition of the pictures that is so overwhelming.  I know only a few books adapted from paintings, most notably Gert Hofmann’s excellent Der Blindensturz.


A few points:

1. "Transcendental" arguments fail in epistemology, as in most other realms.  "Well, if you couldn’t know things, really know them, you couldn’t even be here to doubt that we can know things…" etc.  Please.  Don’t bring this up.  It is not logically impossible to imagine a non-knowing computing device spewing out all sorts of true claims.

2. I love Thomas Reid, but I run away when I meet others who like him, much less love him.  He is too often used to dismiss the doubts that others have about your ridiculous, completely unsound philosophical positions.

3. The relevant real world question is why we ignore obvious truths, rather than how we come to know the tough things we do.

4. The quest for "justified true belief," a’ la Nozick, is a chimera.  Gavagai, I say, and no, Quine does not require behaviorist roots, even though Quine was a behaviorist.  As a general rule, expect either underdetermination or overdetermination in your theoretical endeavors.  For that same reason, don’t think that epistemology can be reduced to neuroscience.

5. Ask an agnostic to give you betting odds on the existence of God.  Most of them hate this question, but I do not see how they can eschew it.  Hard-core atheists will be torn between "zero" and "one in a trillion," but when you ask them where the "one" comes from, they get flustered.

6. Bryan Caplan still mocks me for saying "one in twenty."

7. When they shoot phasers ("set to kill") in the original Star Trek, how does the phaser "know" to wipe out the person and his clothes, but not the ground nor the boulder he is leaning upon.

8. You are wrong so, so, so often.  That is, or rather should be, the central lesson of epistemology.  It is a lesson which hardly anybody ever learns.  And you don’t need the fancy philosophical machinery to get there.  That is why the rest of epistemology is so often so fruitless.

The Two Things

Glen Whitman, Cal State Northridge economist, presents an elegant idea: The Two Things.

A few years ago, I was chatting with a stranger in a bar. When I told him I was an economist, he said, “Ah. So . . . what are the Two Things about economics?”

“Huh?” I cleverly replied.

“You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, here are the Two Things about economics. One: Incentives matter. Two: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

It would be hard to do better than that! And Glen has gathered an terrific group of Two Things statements from readers. A sample:

The Two Things about Marketing:
1. Find out who is buying your product.
2. Find more buyers like them.

The Two Things about Software Engineering:
1. Pick two, and only two: stable, feature-complete, on-time.
2. One great coder is better than two good coders, except when not.

The Two Things about Teaching History:
1. A good story is all they’ll remember, not the half hour of analysis on either side of it.
2. They think it’s about answers, but it’s really about questions.
-Jonathan Dresner

The Two Things about Art Criticism:
1. If it isn’t novel, critics aren’t interested.
2. If it is novel, no one else is interested.

The Two Things about Writing:
1. Include what’s necessary.
2. Leave everything else out.
-Nicholas Kronos

The Two Things about World Conquest:
1. Divide and Conquer.
2. Never invade Russia in the winter.
-Tim Lee

The Two Things about Star Trek:
1. Don’t beam down in a red shirt.
2. You can always talk evil computers into destroying themselves.
-Tim Lee

My modest attempt to match these is

The Two Things about Life:
1. Be brave, work hard, save: live for the long run.
2. In the long run, we’re all dead.

Sunday assorted links

1. “About 100 surrogate babies are waiting for parents to pick them up in the country, about half of them at BioTexCom’s facilities, the Ukrainian Parliament’s human rights commissioner, Lyudmila Denisova, told The Associated Press. The numbers could rise to the thousands, she said, if coronavirus travel restrictions are extended.”  Link here.

2. Drive-in van Gogh exhibit.

3. Avi Schiffman update.

4. NASA releases principles for moon governance.

5. Analysis of the Delhi lockdown.  And a lockdown counterfactual for Sweden, not a huge difference given what already was baked in.

6. “…the path that individual job-losers follow back to stable employment often includes several brief interim jobs, sometimes separated by time out of the labor force.”  A new Hall and Kudlyak paper on job market recovery, in my view shows the importance of matching.

7. Weather and transmission rates.

8. “Major League Baseball told players their prorated salaries would contribute to an average loss of $640,000 for each game over an 82-game season in empty ballparks…

The Tyler Cowen Guide to 10.5 hr layover in Los Angeles

That is a reader request, here goes:

I sometimes describe L.A. as the world’s best city to live in, but one of the worst to visit.  Nonetheless you have some pretty good options.  With half a day, make sure you have a rental car with the appropriate soundtrack(s).  If you start from LAX, pick one road to drive east on, another to head back east to west — how about Sunset and Pico?  Wilshire?  Stop and walk as you can, convenient parking is often available.  Use Jonathan Gold to pick the right eating places, perhaps Thai and Mexican?  Veer off a wee bit and visit the La Brea Tar Pits, or for a longer trek Watts Towers.  Time the sunset for Griffith Park.  Deemphasize “Downtown” but consider the new Broad Museum for contemporary art.  Work in a beach walk at Santa Monica or Venice, preferably the former.  See a movie.  See another movie.  Avoid Beverly Hills.  The truly ambitious can drive all the way down Western Ave. and stop for Belizean food along the way to that chapel at the very bottom of the road.


Skype Translator is on the way

In May, Satya Nadella and Skype Corporate Vice President Gurdeep Singh Pall unveiled Skype Translator, Microsoft’s breakthrough in real-time speech translation at Re/code’s inaugural Code Conference. Since then, the engineering team has been hard at work to get the technology behind Skype Translator ready for a preview release. Starting today, we are rolling out a Skype Translator preview program sign-up page.

There is more here, the pointer is from Lotta Moberg.

Using Incentives to Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The very interesting Bruce Bueno de Mesquita has a good analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a clever suggestion for moving forward:

“In my view, it is a mistake to look for strategies that build
mutual trust because it ain’t going to happen. Neither side has any
reason to trust the other, for good reason,” he says. “Land for peace
is an inherently flawed concept because it has a fundamental commitment
problem. If I give you land on your promise of peace in the future,
after you have the land, as the Israelis well know, it is very costly
to take it back if you renege. You have an incentive to say, ‘You made
a good step, it’s a gesture in the right direction, but I thought you
were giving me more than this. I can’t give you peace just for this,
it’s not enough.’ Conversely, if we have peace for land–you disarm, put
down your weapons, and get rid of the threats to me and I will then
give you the land–the reverse is true: I have no commitment to follow
through. Once you’ve laid down your weapons, you have no threat.”

Bueno de Mesquita’s answer to this dilemma, which he discussed with
the former Israeli prime minister and recently elected Labor leader
Ehud Barak, is a formula that guarantees mutual incentives to
cooperate. “In a peaceful world, what do the Palestinians anticipate
will be their main source of economic viability? Tourism. This is what
their own documents say. And, of course, the Israelis make a lot of
money from tourism, and that revenue is very easy to track. As a
starting point requiring no trust, no mutual cooperation, I would
suggest that all tourist revenue be [divided by] a fixed formula based
on the current population of the region, which is roughly 40 percent
Palestinian, 60 percent Israeli. The money would go automatically to
each side. Now, when there is violence, tourists don’t come. So the
tourist revenue is automatically responsive to the level of violence on
either side for both sides. You have an accounting firm that both sides
agree to, you let the U.N. do it, whatever. It’s completely
self-enforcing, it requires no cooperation except the initial agreement
by the Israelis that they are going to turn this part of the revenue
over, on a fixed formula based on population, to some international
agency, and that’s that.”

The article cited has a lot more on Bueno de Mesquita and the remarkable series of accurate predictions that he has made using rational choice modeling.  See also this piece from Science News, The Mathematical Fortune Teller.

Markets in Everything — alibi edition

Our very first installment of Markets in Everything dealt with fake alibis for philandering husbands.  Now the concept has been carried further:

$500, nobody will believe you weren’t sunning yourself last week on
Copacabana Beach, just before you trekked through the Amazon rain
forest and slept in a thatched hut. Hey! That’s you, arms outstretched like Kate Winslet on the bow of the Titanic, on top of Corcovado!

Persey Tours was barely keeping the bill collectors at bay before it
started offering fake vacations last year. Now it’s selling 15 a month
– providing ersatz ticket stubs, hotel receipts, photos with clients’
images superimposed on famous landmarks, a few souvenirs for living
room shelves.

If the customer is an errant husband who wants his wife to believe he’s
on a fishing trip, Persey offers not just photos of him on the river,
but a cellphone with a distant number, a lodge that if anyone calls
will swear the husband is checked in but not available, and a few dead
fish on ice.

Thanks to Pablo Halkyard for the pointer.

Markets in everything

When I originally heard about First Contact, a trip offered by Woolford’s trekking company, Papua Adventures, I couldn’t believe he was really doing what he claimed to be doing. An easygoing American expat from Springfield, Missouri, who jokingly describes himself as a "hillbilly," Woolford marches into the jungle in search of uncontacted native tribes who have never seen outsiders–and who aren’t supposed to mind tourists barging into their lives. I had trouble buying the idea that, in the 21st century, there were still nomadic hunter-gatherers out there using stone tools and rubbing sticks together to start a fire. But there are, Woolford assured me. From his home in Ubud, Bali, he explained the strategy behind his First Contact trips.

"There are a handful of places in West Papua that are untouched–still Stone Age tribes, still cannibals," he said. "It’s just that a lot of people are too scared to go look for them."

Making contact with tribal people is a risky business–a simple flu could wipe them out. But Kelly Woolford insists that he’s mindful of such risks. "We don’t try [sic] to corrupt them," he says. "Five minutes is all we do."

Here is the story.  Here is the company’s website.  Thanks to the ever-useful for the pointer.