December 20, 2014

Best President of my lifetime


It has been, in short, a very busy and extremely consequential lame-duck session. One whose significance is made all the more striking by the fact that it follows an electoral catastrophe for Obama's party. And that is the Obama era in a microcosm. Democrats' overwhelming electoral win in 2008 did not prove to be a "realigning" election that handed the party enduring political dominance. Quite the opposite. But it did touch off a wave of domestic policymaking whose scale makes Obama a major historical figure in the way his two predecessors won't be.



Nazi Sans?

December 18, 2014

The Anti-Happy

Also, the best pop song of the year, in my opinion.

December 14, 2014

Got some impeachment ideas of my own

December 13, 2014

John Wesley on inheritance

If you have good reason to believe that they would waste what is now in your possession in gratifying and thereby increasing the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life at the peril of theirs and your own soul, do not set these traps in their way. Do not offer your sons or your daughters unto Belial, any more than unto Moloch. Have pity upon them, and remove out of their way what you may easily foresee would increase their sins, and consequently plunge them deeper into everlasting perdition! How amazing then is the infatuation of those parents who think they can never leave their children enough! What! cannot you leave them enough of arrows, firebrands, and death? Not enough of foolish and hurtful desires? Not enough of pride, lust, ambition vanity? not enough of everlasting burnings? Poor wretch! thou fearest where no fear is. Surely both thou and they, when ye are lifting up your eyes in hell, will have enough both of the "worm that never dieth," and of "the fire that never shall be quenched!" 


He had a huge income from his books, but gave most of it away:

[H]e rarely let his expenses rise above 30 pounds. He said that he seldom had more than 100 pounds in his possession at a time.

This so baffled the English Tax Commissioners that they investigated him in 1776 insisting that for a man of his income he must have silver dishes that he was not paying excise tax on. He wrote them,
I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread.


"I failed to raise her properly," said no American billionaire ever

[H]er father, the chairman of the airline, Korean Air Lines, stripped his 40-year-old daughter, Cho Hyun-ah, of the titles she still had in the family-run conglomerate. He apologized on live television Friday for her “foolish” behavior, when she forced her plane back to the gate and then kicked off the head steward after being served macadamia nuts in their bag, rather than on a plate.


December 12, 2014

I had no idea

He is credited with saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century.


Photo history of my favorite plane

SR-71s logged a combined total of 53,490 hours of flight time, of which 11,675 had been spent at Mach 3 plus. They flew 3,551 operational sorties for a total of 17,294 hours, during which more than a thousand surface-to-air missiles had been fired at them. All missed.


December 11, 2014

Good Cop / Bad Cop as an organizing principle

Interview with man who designed CIA torture approach explains how he made torture work.
Mitchell is largely responsive to Larsen's questions, and perhaps the most striking moment is when he reacts to the intelligence committee's findings that torture had not yielded actionable intelligence. It wasn't supposed to, he says. It was supposed to make detainees more responsive to other questioning. 
"It's almost like a good cop, bad cop kind of set-up," he says, "with a really bad cop." 
The point, he says, "was to facilitate getting actionable intelligence by making a bad cop that was bad enough that the person would engage with the good cop," Mitchell continues. "I would be stunned if they found any kind of evidence that EITs, as they were being applied, yielded actionable intelligence."

This makes a ton of sense.  It is possible to resist even severe torture - e.g., this guy is a hero in Singapore for holding out against the Japanese, who of course had great institutional cruelty skills.  But they also had trouble convincing anyone that they had good cops.

What I find most interesting about the good cop / bad cop thing is that the underlying principle has become pervasive in American society.

We're very free, as long as we don't cross certain lines.  But if those lines are crossed, you are in a world of hurt.  American prisons are terrifying.  No person with free will in the matter would risk being incarcerated if they had reasonable alternatives.  You could easily run a society with fewer incarcerations, less prison rape, less prison violence overall - every country in Europe does.

But that's not a priority.  The current approach must be working really well for someone.  Law enforcement and the prisons have become the "the really bad cop" in an America that guarantees your rights, but also conspicuously and violently redacts them for those who get too uppity.  Police confiscation of property, extralegal and judicial murder and torture by intelligence agencies are now common.

Kudos to the President for saying "enhanced interrogation" was torture, and that it was wrong.  But, sadly, this is who we are.  We made our choices.  I wish they could be undone easily, but in my lifetime we have voluntarily given up one of the keystones of American exceptionalism, and the hour is very late.  Once you get into this deep, dark forest, it's not easy to get out.  We've been in it for a long time.

December 10, 2014

The Battle of the Century

Come for Namor vs. The Human Torch, stay for Machine Man vs. Ten-For (and many others).


December 09, 2014

I relish the last years in which this sort of thing is still funny

December 07, 2014

We've got figure out how to shut this guy up

I think I’m like the majority of people in not having any fixed ideological position about whether the state should be large or small. The state is clearly good at doing some things, and bad at doing others. In between there is a large and diverse set of activities which may or may not be better achieved through state direction or control, and they really need to be looked at item by item on their merits.


December 06, 2014

China Will Invent New Economic Justice Robot

George Mason U Economist: No worries, some sort of tech thing might help inequality maybe sometime. I note this with mouth slightly agape.

December 05, 2014

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce won't read this because some of the words have more than one syllable

The map confirms that California has the highest median RQ (103.6) and no fewer than 28 out of the top 50 firms in terms of RQ score. (Note that the RQ scale for firms is like the IQ scale for individuals — the average is 100, and 67% of firms fall between 85 and 115). What’s nice about this is that California also has (by far) the highest number of publicly-traded firms doing R&D (235), so the total effect is large. The other state that stands out is Minnesota. Like California, it has an above-average RQ (101.5), and also a large number of firms doing R&D (38).

But what sets these two states apart from the other states? It’s clearly not geography — it’s hard to imagine two states being more different in climate (sun versus snow), location (coastal versus mid-western) or culture. Its not industry specific; the firms in both states span a wide set of industries and no single industry comprises more that 15% of firms in either state, so the explanation is unlikely to come from Porter’s four-diamond framework of regional advantage.

But there is one important institutional feature shared by California and Minnesota that is consistent with the Klepper story: both states have legislation restricting the enforcement of non-compete agreements.

Papers by Matt Marx and other researchers show that employees in states that restrict the enforcement of non-competes have more freedom to pursue new ventures in the same industry and location as their prior employer. In other words, California and Minnesota have created environments that are favorable to the spawning of entrepreneurial ventures around a successful large innovator. Meanwhile in other states, although companies that enforce non-compete rules may be able to keep some employees from leaving, the entrepreneurial ones will leave anyway, and when they do, they’ll have to leave the state as well.

So although many firms may believe the institutional frameworks of California and Minnesota are unfriendly to and expensive for business, these states’ friendliness to entrepreneurial employees make them better locations in the long term.


(The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's 2010 press release describing its ideological and economically illiterate critique of California is here.  The actual report is no longer available at the original links.)

Behold, the Beast of Turin


December 04, 2014

Computers and Capitalism

Educated, uneducated, the young are getting screwed. I shudder to think of adding in housing costs in space for hours worked, or the lost value of stability.

December 03, 2014

The Brow is now

He has been the best player in the NBA over the first five weeks of the season. If you look at his per game stats, he's scoring like Stephen Curry, rebounding like Tyson Chandler, and defending like Serge Ibaka. He leads the league in blocks and he's second in steals. He's ranked No. 1 in player efficiency rating (PER) — the advanced stat that measures a player's total contribution to the game. The difference between him and the 2nd-ranked player in PER is the same as the difference between the 2nd-ranked player and the 20th-ranked player. (link)

As they always say in the NFL: it's not just about winning

December 02, 2014


So I found some useful statistics to help in the development of a points-based quarterback assessment metric - call it Interception-Adjusted Points per Attempt, or IAPPA.

It's easy enough to see how many point a quarterback helped the team score - Aaron Rogers has thrown for 32 touchdowns this season.  Since the extra point is automatic nowadays, that gives us 32x7=224 points.

Now, what should we subtract for each interception?  Well, according to these tables compiled by Football Outsiders, the average NFL drive (2014 ytd) yields about two points - so when you throw an interception to the other team, you are giving them an incremental +2 to their normal expected scoring.

So: Aaron has thrown three interceptions this year, so we would (counts on fingers) subtract six points, giving him a IAP of 218...dividing by attempts (380) gives him an IAPPA of 0.57.  All clear?

Looking at the other end of the reality spectrum, Gino Smith of the New York Jets has thrown seven touchdowns, for 49 points, in 258 attempts.  His 11 interceptions, however, would get him a penalty of 22, leaving him with a IAPPA of (49-22)/258 = 0.10.  I'm pretty sure that's not good.

Here's the League (minimum 100 attempts):

Player Team IAPPG
Aaron Rodgers GB  0.57
Peyton Manning DEN  0.49
Andrew Luck IND  0.44
Tony Romo DAL  0.43
Tom Brady NE  0.41
Philip Rivers SD  0.38
Ryan Fitzpatrick HOU  0.36
Ben Roethlisberger PIT  0.35
Drew Brees NO  0.34
Carson Palmer ARI  0.32
Jay Cutler CHI  0.31
Joe Flacco BAL  0.31
Eli Manning NYG  0.30
Ryan Tannehill MIA  0.29
Mike Glennon TB  0.29
Russell Wilson SEA  0.28
Kyle Orton BUF  0.28
Matt Ryan ATL  0.27
Alex Smith KC  0.27
Kirk Cousins WAS  0.25
Mark Sanchez PHI  0.25
Colin Kaepernick SF  0.24
Austin Davis STL  0.23
Nick Foles PHI  0.23
Cam Newton CAR  0.19
Matthew Stafford DET  0.18
Andy Dalton CIN  0.18
Derek Carr OAK  0.17
Drew Stanton ARI  0.17
Teddy Bridgewater MIN  0.15
Josh McCown TB  0.15
Brian Hoyer CLE  0.14
Geno Smith NYJ  0.10
Blake Bortles JAC  0.10

To some degree we are rounding up the usual suspects - Rodgers and Manning look great of course, Smith and Bortles are in the basement again.  Wilson and Kaepernick look like twins, as they do on IAYPA.

But there are also some interesting differences.  Some players - like Hoyer - look good on IAYPA, but terrible here.  Tony Romo, who has never looked good on IAYPA, looks like a superstar in this system.  Andrew Luck usually looks middle-of-the-pack on IAYPA, but is elite here.

So, since points and yards are theoretically equivalent, and since the two systems yield somewhat different results, you can get a more robust take on quarterback efficiency by looking at both.  I suppose the next step is an IAYPA/IAPPA scattegram or cross table.  More on that story as it develops.

December 01, 2014

DeLong even more amok

[Questions for the Cato growth panel contributors]

[A] look back at the history of ideas about a proper “neutral” monetary policy–Newton’s fixed price of gold, Hayek’s fixed nominal GDP level, Fisher’s fixed price-level commodity basket, Friedman’s stable M2 growth rate, the NAIRU targeting of the 1970s, Bernanke’s inflation-targeting—leads immediately to the conclusion that anybody who claims to have uncovered the Philosopher’s Stone here is a madman. How can you reassure me that I (and you) are not mad?


November 30, 2014

Arguably the best performance of its kind

November 28, 2014

On behalf of Jay Cutler, shut up

Because he is surly and has poor body language, let me say for Jay Cutler what he cannot say for himself:  shut up.  I heard a bit of the Bears game yesterday on the radio.  The announcer bitched repeatedly about Jay Cutler's body language while the Bears defense was giving up 24 points in the first half.  

Full disclosure:  I have not met Jay Cutler.  Nevertheless, I can say one thing with absolute certainty:  he is the best quarterback the Chicago Bears have had in half a century.

(Yes, better than Brian Griese.)

I ran a list of the top 25 Chicago Bears quarterbacks by passes attempted.  A summary of the findings:

  • It's  really a shame to cut the list at 25 because we omit Brian Griese, Chris Chandler, Caleb Hanie, Kent Nix, and Bronco Nagurski, among others.
  • Cutler has only been there five years, but has already played more games (79) than any Bear except Sid Luckman (128), George Blanda (103), and Jim Harbaugh (89).
  • Thanks to playing in the modern era, Cutler nevertheless leads the list in attempts with 2,538.  Sid Luckman is second, with 1,744, and Jim Harbaugh third with 1,759.  Dave Krieg brings up the rear with 377.
  • Cutler's passer rating of 84.6 is the highest of any of the 25 quarterbacks.
  • Cutler's TD/INT ratio is highest on the list (tied with Erik Kramer).
  • Cutler's IAYPA of 5.3 is third on the list behind Jim McMahon (5.6) and Kramer (5.4), which is probably because he has bad body language.
So, Chicago, your Jay Cutler is an average NFL quarterback - something you haven't seen much of over the past five decades.  He is a professional foot-ball player.  He is not the Bears' problem.  There are 70 things they need to fix before they need to worry about the quarterback position.

So shut up.  You are ungrateful:  you do not remember or appreciate true champions, and so the universe punishes you.  

Jay Cutler is exactly what you deserve.

November 25, 2014

Please Enjoy Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin Pouring A Teensy Bit of Acid on the Concrete of the System

In the wake of the what, oh really? $100,000 fine on Marshawn Lynch for not talking to the media, is this.

November 23, 2014

DeLong amok

Today as in 1902 the poor have to spend their incomes in order to buy their necessities. Today as in 1902 the middle class have to spend their incomes to buy their necessities and the conveniences they need in order to ensure themselves that they are not among the poor. And today the rich can spend their incomes or not, depending on current and expected future interest rates, the magic wand of the Confidence Fairy, the state of long-term expectation, the level of interest rates, the availability of financial markets to summon the Genie of Risk Tolerance, the Inflation-Expectations Imp, and other factors.


November 22, 2014

Art interlude

November 21, 2014

Reduction Gear to the Known Universe

A UW Math Grad student in my figure class forwarded this to me- it's an art piece in Boston by Arthur Ganson.

"Each worm/worm gear pair reduces the speed of the motor by 1/50th. Since there are 12 pairs of gears, the final speed reduction is calculated by (1/50)12. The implications are quite large. With the motor turning around 200 revolutions per minute, it will take well over two trillion years before the final gear makes but one turn. Given the truth of this situation, it is possible to do anything at all with the final gear, even embed it in concrete."

Courage Beyond Your Nation: Lt. Thompson at My Lai

Regarding a man who helped stopped the slaughter by ordering machine gun cover against fellow American soldiers at My Lai, Maj. Hugh Thompson,

The Reddit thread has veterans' anecdotes about training to dehumanize the enemy.

November 17, 2014

More media meddling in good fun

November 15, 2014

Over the top, really

I'm out

Brown's exploits run through some of the most momentous events of world history. He was at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he interrogated Hermann Goering, helped liberate the Belsen concentration camp and by chance managed to sing with the Glenn Miller band.  [He was also one of only two survivors of the sinking of HMS Audacity.]

But his greatest achievements were as a Royal Navy test pilot...


Bonus:  NOT an obituary

November 13, 2014

Say hello to the reality hammer, bitches

November 09, 2014

Let me clarify

When I said "no one can shell a mediocre defense like Peyton Manning," I may have overlooked someone in Green Bay:

November 04, 2014

A Link For the Republicans in Your Life

Rainbow Stalin, the most fabulous communism.

November 02, 2014

Trouble on the Dwarf ride


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