Friday, November 30, 2007

 

Immigrants and Crime: Switzerland.The Independent had an article a while back on discontent with immigration in Switzerland. Here are a couple of interesting facts from it:
* More than 20 per cent of the Swiss population, and 25 per cent of its workforce, is non-naturalised.

* At the end of 2006, 5,888 people were interned in Swiss prisons. 31 per cent were Swiss citizens – 69 per cent were foreigners or asylum-seekers.

I wish it said how many of those "interned" were there for immigration crimes. None of them, or most of them?

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

 

Race-Realists and Group Identification. John Derbyshire has interesting things to say on the sociology of willingness to think about racial differences:
If you hang out with race-realist types a lot — and yes, I do, and count myself one — a thing you notice is that a high proportion of them, of us, are antisocial loners. Trust me, it’s not just because of their opinions that race realists don’t win any popularity prizes. ...

Like every other feature of human nature, the groupish emotions are unevenly distributed. Some individuals are richly endowed with them. They are plunged into despair when their baseball team loses; they bristle to hear their religion criticized; they are furious at insults to their nation; if of eccentric sexual preference, they may swear brotherhood with those similarly disposed; and yes, they are mad as hell to hear their race described as failed, even though they understand at some level that it’s an abstract statistical description that does not reflect on them personally, any more than their baseball team’s losing the World Series does.

Your antisocial loner isn’t like that. He probably has no strong opinion about the relative merits of Yankees and Mets. If he goes to church, it’s for personal and metaphysical reasons, not social ones. He’s a poor employee and a feeble team-sports participant. He may like his country, and be willing to fight for it, but exuberant expressions of patriotism embarrass him. He’s more likely than the average to marry someone of a different race. (Am I describing anyone in particular here? No! Absolutely not!) Tell him he belongs to a failed race and he’ll probably say: “Yes, I guess so. It’s sad. But hey, I’m doing okay...”...

If you are not that type — and most people, even most Americans, are not — it’s much more difficult for you to discuss human-group differences. Too much groupish emotion gets in the way. ...

... people strongly susceptible to group identification do better in the world — are more successful. It’s a social world, success-wise, and they’re social people. What is social success, but identifying with groups and securing high status within them? Having a set of good robust groupish emotions will do that for ya. Thus, race realists don’t get much of a hearing; and when they pipe up, their views sound strange and eccentric. They heat up the groupish emotions of the majority — of most normal human beings — and shouting breaks out.

 

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

 

Old-Fashioned Liberalism. Marginal Revolution quotes a Herb Gintis review of a Krugman book:
...1950's liberalism was based on southern white racism and solid support from the unions, neither of which exists any more. There is no future in pure redistributional policies in the USA for this reason. Indeed, if one looks at other social democratic countries, almost all are moving from corporate liberalism to embrace new options, such as Sarkozy in France (French socialists have the same pathetic political sense as American liberals, and will share the same fate). I am sorry that we can't do better than Krugman. There are very serious social problems to be addressed, but the poor, pathetic, liberals simply haven't a clue. Conservatives, on the other, are political sophisticated and hold clear visions of what they want. It is too bad that what they want does not include caring about the poor and the otherwise afflicted, or dealing with our natural environment. Politics in the USA is no longer Elephants and Donkeys; it is now conservative Pigs and liberal Bonobos. The pigs are smart but only care about what's in their trough. The Bonobos are polymorphous perverse and great lovers, but will be extinct in short order.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

 

Downward Sloping Demand Curves for Stocks. Marzena Rostek presented "Frequent Trading and Price Impact in Thin Markets," (with Marek Weretka)today at Nuffield. It's a simple approach to downward-sloping demands for assets. Suppose there are a number of traders with CARA utility functions and stock returns are normal, so the traders care only about mean and variance. Each trader holds some portfolio of stocks. He would like to diversify, but if he puts some of his stock on the market, he has market power and will push down the price, since other people will have to be paid to hold more of that kind of risk. As a result, he will hold back some of the stock rather than diversify fully. Also, in way I do not fully understand this can explain splitting a trade up across periods. It is not for informational reasons-- there is full information in this model-- but because if I try to trade more of my stock in a period, I will drive down the price, keeping other people's quantity offered constant.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

 

Democracy: Elections and Referenda. At my workshop today at the business school, the issue came up of whether people's votes express their preferences or whether they are too easily misled. Can we decide the intensity of feeling over abortion by seeing which candidate wins an election? A referendum would not work as well, since it is a vote on a single issue, so there is no opportunity for tradeoff. Everyone who voted would vote their preference, intense or mild, and the only opportunities for intense preferences to count for more would be in turnout and in spending on advertising to convince those with mild preferences. Interestingly enough, in such a case the presence of many almost indifferent voters could be very helpful in making the vote display intensity too. Someone who is almost indifferent is up for grabs, and so the intensity of other voters can obtain a double vote where it could not if the voter had somewhat stronger views. The danger from a tyranny of the majority is greatest not when there is a large number of voters with weak views, but where there are few such people, but many whose views are just strong to induce them to vote on their own initiative and to be immune to persuasion by the efforts of those with intense feelings.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

 

Pascal's Wager and Diversification of Risk.Marginal Revolution reports on a Justin Wolfers' variant on Pascal's Wager: If you have five children, train each to be a disciple of a different religion. That way, at least someone in the family will get into Heaven.

This is an argument worth thinking about. It is not an argument about yourself, but about helping your children. Here, perhaps, is the fallacy. If I am selfish, I care about my own salvation, which this project will surely doom. If I care about my children, I should choose the best estimated outcome for each of them-- which is the religion which best meets the conditions of Pascal's Wager (a high up-side gain and a low down-side cost). The Wolfers project makes sense only in a mixed case where my utility is concave in my children's utility. That's not unrealistic, but it's what we think of as our duty towards the children either-- and remember, if we're thinking about realism, my own salvation is going to weigh very heavily.

Of course, Pascal said that he didn't think his Wager was sound, since only God can give saving faith-- cold-blooded calculation won't make you love God. But the Wager does work as a way to avoid punishment for sin, if not for adoption into God's family.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

 

Personal Autonomy. I've been reading Feinberg on the idea that personal autonomy is a good thing. This is a central idea of modern liberalism. Self-fulfillment and self-definition become the central goods. A person should seek not achievement or happiness, but the fulfillment of his talents. I find this hard to understand. Suppose someone has very little talent of any kind. Is he to forfeit happiness in order to pursue what he is best at, or what he fancies he is best at but knows that "best" is not very good? Or suppose someone does have great talents. Must he give up happiness, or achievement, in order to pursue self-fulfillment?

Another component to autonomy is the rational choice of one's moral principles, in the name of "authenticity". This seems to me to have authenticity backwards. Which is more authentic, the person who picks and chooses to construct a hodge-podge of moral principles that fails to hang together but is individual and self-chosen, or the person who is true to the morality of his culture? Which is more authentic, the modern American mish-mash, or the Amazonian savage who sticks to the beliefs of 1000 years of his culture? And which is more stable? Someone who tries to create himself is less likely to stick with it precisely because he is always self-creating and because he never is bound to what he has chosen. Almost by definition, he changes more easily, and of course he will give in more easily to temptation, since his habits are less established.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

 

Thanksgiving. This webpage is for things useful in celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. For printing out to read at the table, see first-thanksgiving.pdf , more-proclamations.pdf, 2006.proclamation.pdf, and We- gather-together.pdf song lyrics. See also the page on original Thanksgiving foods via James Lindgren. This is a copy of my 2006 webposting for Thanksgiving.

When a person is thankful, he is of course has to thanking someone---"to thank" is a transitive verb, requiring an object. Thanksgiving is a time to thank God, as the government proclamations traditionally say. These proclamations make nonsense of the claim that the American Constitution forbids a place for Christianity in public affairs, though it is noteworthy that Thomas Jefferson, unlike his two predecessors, refrained from issuing any Thanksgiving Proclamations. The 2006 Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation is here. (Click here to read more.)

 

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London Markets. I ran across a couple of websites that say interesting things about markets in London. (Click here to read more.)
 

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

 

Subprime Mortgages. "The Rise and Fall of Subprime Mortgages" by Danielle DiMartino and John Duca is a good Dallas Fed discussion of the subprime mortgage crash. They explain it as the result of overly bold financial innovation. People didn't realize how liable to default subprime mortgages were, which meant that the innovation used to securitize them was unreliable. What as done was to divide a package of mortgages into tranches, bundles with different amounts of the risk allocated to them, where the packaging was supposed to put almost all the default risk into the lowest tranches so the upper ones could be AA quality. The problem is that if the amount of default is higher than the entire value of the lower tranches, default creeps into the upper ones.

They also have a good explanation for overconfidence:

Subprime loan problems had surfaced just before and at the start of the 2001 recession but then rapidly retreated from 2002 to 2005 as the economy recovered (Chart 3). This pre-2006 pattern suggested that as long as unemployment remained low, so, too, would default and delinquency rates.

This interpretation ignored two other factors that had helped alleviate subprime loan problems earlier in the decade. First, this was a period of rapidly escalating home prices. Subprime borrowers who encountered financial problems could either borrow against their equity to make house payments or sell their homes to settle their debts. Second, interest rates declined significantly in the early 2000s. This helped lower the base rate to which adjustable mortgage rates were indexed, thereby limiting the increase when initial, teaser rates ended.

 

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Monday, November 19, 2007

 

Converging Cables. (click to enlarge) On Kingston Road, or perhaps Heyfield.
 

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

 

Making Big Choices under Uncertainty. I had a good talk about Christianity today during my visit to Warwick University. We talked about two fallacies of delayed decision. One is that of Buridan's Ass, who, halfway between two equally good mangers of hay, died of starvation because there was no way to choose between them. Lesson: To not choose is a choice in itself, and sometimes worse than not choosing the best alternative. The second fallacy is that of my webpost a few days ago: of choosing X because it is very uncertain which is better, X or Y. This seems silly until I bring in the application: choosing not to pray to God because it is very uncertain which is better, praying to God or (because he might not exist) not praying. It is quite possible to make your choice and pray heartily to a God you are not sure exists, just as you can write letters to someone who might never receive them or spend thousands of dollars on a medical treatment that might have no chance of
working. You may not be able to fix the degree of your belief, and without a strong belief you may find the discipline of following it hard, but you can make the decision.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

 

Perceived or True Value? A fundamental problem that bothers me no end is whether a person is made worse off by discovering an unpleasant truth. I own what I think is a painting by Vermeer. If you tell me that it is not, am I worse off, or better off? (Click here to read more.)
 

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Friday, November 16, 2007

 

Ocean Grove: A Methodist Town. Ocean Grove, New Jersey, was founded as a town run by Methodist church rules. The WSJ reports on how it went into decline and had its governmental powers transferred to the Township as being too religious a place. This is a good example of how a minority could formerly set up a jurisdiction with is own rules but how modern liberal government is intolerant of traditional morality and forbids anyone to try to enforce it. The WSJ article is about a current dispute over a homosexual union being celebrated on church property
 

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

 

Tynant water. This bottle of bottled water is beautiful. The photo doesn't do it justice, alas, so the best it can do is jog my own memory. In this rich world, we are surrounded with beautiful things, too many to appreciate. But that is true of the poor world too, isn't it, with all of God's creation out there? Who takes the time to appreciate a leaf?
 

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

 

Logic and Rhetoric. David Hume writes in The Treatise that:
There is an inconvenience which attends all abstruse reasoning, that it may silence, without convincing an antagonist, and requires the same intense study to make us sensible of its force, that was at first requisite for its invention. When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, its conclusions seem to vanish, like the phantoms of the night on the appearance of the morning; and ’tis difficult for us to retain even that conviction, which we had attain’d with difficulty.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

 

The Argos Catalog Store. Argos has an interesting sort of retailing outlet. You go in and look at a big catalog, or shop on the web first. Then you can give the number of your items at a counter and pay, or do that on a terminal (or do that part at home too). You wait. Eventually, your number is called and you go to a different counter and pick up your goods. You can reject them and get your money back if you don't like them upon seeing them.
 

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Monday, November 12, 2007

 

The Value of Voting. It really is not a mystery why people vote, after all. Given the importance of who wins, even a tiny probability of being decisive is enough, if the voter is altruistic. (Click here to read more.)
 

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

 

Sin. Pastor Roberts at St. Ebbes spoke on Romans, and how hard it was to keep the Ten Commandments. Bosh. It's easy. The idea of sin should be based on the greatness of God, not on my baseness.(Click here to read more.)
 

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

 

Flowers in a Wall.(click to enlarge) From Hay-on-Wye, near the church.
 

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Friday, November 9, 2007

 

The Jaded Scholar. I was talking with RR today about the problem of how one's research is less exciting 20 years after the PhD than during graduate school, even though one is so much better at it. (Click here to read more.)
 

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

 

Sources for My 2001 Weblog Controversy. PK was asking about my 2001 weblog controversy. Here is a compilation of old posts and a separate one.
 

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

 

Some Fallacies of Belief.

1. Believe X because it would be nice if X were true.

2. Believe X because evidence for the alternative, Y, is not overwhelmingly strong (even though it is stronger than for X).

3. Believe X because smart people believe X, even though I know they haven't thought about it.

4. Believe X because most people believe X, even though I have no respect for their judgement.

These are all surprisingly tempting.
 

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

 

A Good Graphic. (click to enlarge) When I was in Taiwan in August, here is how I could gauge how bad the weather might be in Taipei. Notice how much information is conveyed-- not just the expected value of the path, but a confidence interval, and, using color, the intensity of the typhoon.
 

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Spam Blogging Shutdown. For some reason Google's Blogger marked me as a possible "spam blogger" and shut me down for a day or two till I verified that I was a human. I've noticed I'm not getting spam now that I've shifted to Blogger, though I think that's because the spambots have not noticed me yet.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

 

It's Better to Be Recessive than Dominant. Let's suppose you;re a mutation. Congratulations! Whether by cosmic rays, quantum mechanics, or divine intervention, you've come into existence, the hardest part. Now, how about survival? Which would you rather be: neutral junk, recessive beneficial, or dominant beneficial? (We can assume you don't want to to be a fitness-detrcating gene.) (Click here to read more.)
 

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

 

Divine Anger and the Atonement. I've always thought that the idea that Jesus had to die on the cross to propitate God for Man's sins was a mystery-- something that we had no way of understanding. There is no logical connection between Eric Rasmusen sinning against God and God having to die on the cross so Eric could be forgiven. Why not just forgive Eric outright? There could well be a reason, but we are not told it. (Click here to read more.)

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

 

Selective Prosecution. The Taipei Times article "Ma found not guilty in corruption trial" tells of how the KMT government in Taiwan prosecuted opposition party leader Ma for keeping for personal use much of a "special allowance" as mayor of Taipei. It seems that it has been customary for years for officials to treat the allowance as income, and Ma made no secret of doing so, in which case this seems a good example of selective prosecution for political purposes.

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Friday, November 2, 2007

 

Pain for Ten Years I Bore.(click to enlarge) From Dore Abbey in Herefordshire.
 

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

 

Image Captions in HTML. "Image captions on Web pages" is good. It said "Sadly enough, there is no markup for image captions in HTML. What comes closest to semantically associating some text content with some image is putting them into a table so that the image is in one cell and the text is either in another cell or in a caption element." Here's an example (try VIEW SOURCE for the code):

Tintern Abbey

 

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