Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jesus; Liar Lunatic Lord, or realistic?

I don't like C.S. Lewis' Liar Lunatic or Lord argument (the Lewis Trilemma). It goes like this; Jesus said some pretty crazy things about him being Lord. Is he a liar? No because it conflicts with his character. Is he a Lunatic? No because it conflicts with his character. Well then it must be that he really is Lord.

Criticisms of the Lewis Trilemma have been made. One is that he might be a legend. This largely comes from people who are trying so hard to prove that there isn't a God that fall into their own kind of religiosity. If you have time read Bart Ehrman's book, Did Jesus Exist? He says that it is not only his professional opinion that Jesus existed, but the professional opinion of almost all New Testament Scholars. Ehrman is a high ranking New Testament Scholar and atheist who is more commonly found defending his atheism from Christians than defending Christians, but defending Christians he does. So he gets a lot of credibility when he defend's Jesus' existence from the Mythisists. Or if that's not good enough you could always read the many reasons he gives in the book, but of course, reasons are for suckers.

Another Criticism of the Lewis Trilemma is Space Alien... that Jesus might be a space alien. Hey, it's not more unrealistic than believing he's God, right? The problem with this you're substituting belief in one crazy thing for another. Maybe Jesus isn't Lord, but you have to go all the way to Space Alien to prove it. Why atheists are more comfortable with things like space alien and not Lord is beyond me.

I think the best criticism is one that I never hear talked about. Jesus was inconsistent. When we look at historical figures we tend to turn them into cartoon characters; not a lot of layers. Jesus could have been very profound when he talked about loving each other, and at the same time very loony when he talked about his role in the Kingdom of God. I know lots of people who are fanatical about some things and not about others. Or are liars about some things and not about others. Lots of sensible honest people will say insensible dishonest things about their favorite politician for example.

Liar Lunatic Lord? Or how about just not a cartoon character?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Best of Bryan Caplan

My brother has been listening to econ-talk, and more recently focused on Bryan Caplan episodes. He likes them a lot. I love econ-talk, but I've watched/listened to everything Bryan Caplan has on the internet, and my favorite interview with him is on Rationally Speaking: Does Parenting Matter.

My other favorite other things Bryan Caplan are his Night Watchman State talk, his liberty vs efficiency debate, and his Separation of Health and State Debate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bryan Caplan on Canadian Immigration and Healthcare

Here is what Bryan Caplan thinks of Canadian Healthcare. Er, parts of it. Actually it's about what he thinks about immigration...

Canadians are hardly alone, so why single them out?  Because their blatant exclusion of sick foreigners directly contradicts their stellar international reputation for compassion and common sense.  As usual, the welfare state isn't about helping the poor and desperate.  It's about helping relatively poor and desperate members of your tribe while keeping absolutely poor and desperate human beings comfortably out of sight.  Sick.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Lowest measured risk

Statisticians have measured the risk of dying as a result of cancer caused by the release of plutonium from a deep space probe that loses control during its swing around the Earth to gain velocity and burns up in the atmosphere—measures in at three-millionths of one percent.

So enough people to make a news story and worry people.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Health and Safety Class vs. Standard Economics of Risk

For work I'm required to take a health and safety class for eight hours every week. What I take away from the class is how to cover my ass as an employer, but the instructor wants me to take it a step further. He wants me to believe in the regulation, when I simply don't.

One tactic he tried to use to get me to become a believer is storytelling. He told us about a friend who had an accident at work (of course it was all the employer's fault). As a result of the accident, her elbows were permanently damaged. Here's the crux of his argument; she could no longer pick up her child because of the accident. "You can't put a price on that," he said. The whole room nodded, except for me.

Suppose we could go back in time and shut down the entire multi-million dollar firm she worked for. Without the firm, she never hurts herself and she can pick up her child again. Should we shut down the firm? As soon as you say no, you've just put a price on her ability to pick up her child. If you say yes, you should really shut down pretty much every industry ever because accidents will always be possible. And with so many potential people for an accident to happen to, it will happen to one of them no matter how low the risk.

These people see the purpose of legislation as reducing risk to as close to 0 as possible. A more sensible task is to move risk to the level that a fully informed, sensible person would have if all the costs and benefits belonged to him.

If I as a reasonable person stand on a counter in my kitchen to get a bag of chips,
The chips are mine if I succeed
The damage is mine if I fall
I know the risk of me falling is very small (less than 1%)
I know the risk if I fall of me doing serious damage is pretty small (less than 10%)
I still stand on the counter in my kitchen to get a bag of chips,
Then that is a reasonable risk, and a risk that I should be able to take at work

look, there are lots of economists who think the health and safety regulation is good. That's not what I'm disputing. Of course there are times when an employer receives the benefits and an employee receives the risk and there's a market failure there. The real question then is what would the risk level be if the employee received the all benefits or if the employer were taking all the risk. That's the risk level to shoot for. That's the target. The risk level currently being shot for is 0, and you can see that in the pages and pages of legislation we go over that tries to prevent any possible harm.

If tragic stories keep substituting for statistical competency and the standard economic logic of risk, the world will never be as good as it could be.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Eliezer Ydkowski's The Sequences

If you've never read Eliezer Yudkowski's Sequences, now is the time. I highly recommend it.
In this essay I pose questions. If you see what seems like a really obvious answer, it’s probably the answer I intend. The obvious choice isn’t always the best choice, but sometimes, by golly, it is. I don’t stop looking as soon I find an obvious answer, but if I go on looking, and the obvious-seeming answer still seems obvious, I don’t feel guilty about keeping it. Oh, sure, everyone thinks two plus two is four, everyone says two plus two is four, and in the mere mundane drudgery of everyday life everyone behaves as if two plus two is four, but what does two plus two really, ultimately equal? As near as I can figure, four. It’s still four even if I intone the question in a solemn, portentous tone of voice. Too simple, you say? Maybe, on this occasion, life doesn’t need to be complicated. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I'm fond of how Robin Hanson starts this blog post:
We talk as if we pick our beliefs mainly for accuracy, but in fact we have many social motives for picking beliefs. In particular, we use many kinds of beliefs as group affiliation/conformity signals. Some of us also use a few contrarian beliefs to signal cleverness and independence, but our groups have a limited tolerance for such things.
I've heard this view a number of times, I just like the way he phrased it. The whole post is good.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Trump's Talk vs. Bill Clinton's Actions

10 years ago current presidential candidate Donald Trump said,
I moved on her, actually. You know, she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married.

I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.

Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
Ugh, pretty terrible. But now suppose that Donald Trump makes it to the white house. It then comes out that he has been given oral sex in the Oval Office by someone other than his wife, and blatantly lied about it under oath.

Which is the bigger Trump blunder? The inappropriate talk, or the oral sex? Obviously, the oral sex in the white house. But Bill Clinton already did that (right around the same time the Trump tape was recorded). Many liberals who are outraged over Trump's "locker room talk", run to Clinton's defense at the first word of Monica Lewinsky.

If what Trump said disqualifies him from being president, why in the world wasn't Bill Clinton disqualified 10 years ago?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Worst Year Ever

What was the worst year in history? I find it remarkable how many people give 21st century examples. I suspect this has more to do with us having better information on more recent tragedies. It also may be that we're more sensitive to more familiar environments. So the mongol conquests of the 13th century just doesn't seem as important as a world war of the 20th century.

The best answer:
Some 65.5 million years ago, the Chicxulub asteroid struck what would one day be Mexico’s Yucat√°n Peninsula. It ended up incinerating all life for hundreds to thousands of miles and causing a perhaps mile-high tsunami that wiped the East Coast of North America as clean as a billiard ball. And that was just the first day of a very bad year—it got worse.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Cause vs. A Factor that Plays Into

This part of War and Peace always stuck with me,
When an apple ripens and falls - what makes it fall? Is it that it is attracted to the ground, is it that the stem withers, is it that the sun has dried it up, that it has grown heavier, that the wind shakes it, that the boy standing underneath it wants to eat it? No one thing is the cause.
And yet people search for the cause within complex social systems - the cause of the financial crisis - the cause of the iraq war - the cause of gender wage gap - the cause of the falling crime rate. Really everyone should stop saying the cause and start saying, "one of the factors that play into."

On the same note, I hear about the reason we have such and such law, which usually means why such and such law makes sense. But laws are not passed because they make sense for society, but because they made sense for individuals in government found it to their personal benefit to pass such laws.

For example someone might say, "we have farm subsidies to make sure we have food."

Which is a dumb reason, but whatever, people say it.

My point is that that's not the reason at all. What they should say is, "we have farm subsidies because many individuals in government including Franklin D Roosevelt thought it would be in their own political interest to pass such laws." Why was it in their own political interests to pass farm subsidies? For lots of reasons that don't need to be the same for any two political actors. Maybe one thought it was a good idea for society, and another thought it was a good idea for their political contributions, and another because his cousin is a farmer who benefits, and another just went along with the party because he had his own legislation he wanted to pass so he went along with the others hoping his legislation would have a better chance if he didn't seem combative.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

How does the Free Market ensure Companies won't abuse their Workers?

I received my highest rated answer on Quora yesterday. I wasn't that many upvotes, but taking into consideration the popularity of the question I feel like I fared pretty well. Here's the question:
Libertarians, in a free market how do we ensure that companies don't abuse their workers?
My answer:
How does government ensure that companies don’t abuse their workers? Even where there are laws, it still happens. The non-free market does not ensure that companies don’t abuse their workers, so why is that a standard that libertarians must live up to? 
The question is never how markets are going to make things perfect, it’s how the net impact of markets compare to the net impact of government. Remember that. 
Why don’t so many companies abuse their workers today? You might think it’s because we have laws, but that’s not true.  
I worked in both Arizona and Indiana where my employers gave me breaks. Why? There are no laws at any level of government that say a working adult needs to be given any break at all. A little less than half of states are like this, absolutely no legal obligation for employers to give working adults break (look it up), but it almost always happens anyway. 
Low pay is another form of abuse. Have you considered that less than 4% of the population makes minimum wage. The other 96% of all workers are paid more with absolutely zero legal obligation to do so. There are no laws telling employers to pay their workers $50,000 a year, and yet it’s the median income. That’s just the normal supply and demand market wage, no government necessary. 
Why do we have decent working conditions? General economic growth lifted the wages of almost everybody. After people started earning enough, they started substituting some higher wages for better working conditions. 200 years of economic growth is why I got breaks in Arizona and Indiana. General economic growth is the hero that saved us all from 18th century level working conditions, not the government. The government simply codified it after it already started happening. 
No system is perfect, but those mechanisms that keep employers from abusing workers today would still remain in play in a libertarian society. And if libertarians are right that their society will yield more growth, then even fewer employees will be willing to put up with an employer who abuses them, because there are lots of other places they can go where they don’t have to put up with that nonsense.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Joy Dollars on Rainbow Slides

Word Problem:

In the best of all possible worlds, the care bear counsel would spend 500 Joy dollars on rainbow slides. Should the Care Bear counsel increase or decrease spending on rainbow slides?

What's the right answer?

We can't know, because we don't we need to know how much the care bear counsel already spend.

Easy easy question.

So why in the living hell do people who haven't the faintest clue what the federal budget looks like want to tell me that government should spend more or less on something!

So government spends more on something you think is good. Why do you rejoice? It doesn't mean that previous levels of funding weren't already sufficient!

This behavior makes no sense if political positions were about what's best for society. It makes a lot of sense if political positions were about expressing yourself. When they say, "government should spend more on health care" what they're really saying is, "I'm the kind of person who likes healthcare"

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Odds of Trump becoming President

Here are presidential election odds based on betting markets. Currently, Trump is at 17%. If there is a 10% chance of Trump will take what could have been a quickly-defused diplomatic incident and turn it into World War III, then we live in scary times.

Then again, a 2% of starting World War level catastrophe every four years, we'd probably get through about a century in a half without such an incident. Without getting into SlateStar level complications, which I admire, my guess is that might be pretty good by historic standards. Or am I still not quite appreciating the black swan problem sufficiently?

Back to political betting - since our overlords decided it was against out best interest to access such things, they have to be rerouted through another site located in the European Union. The same percentages are verified by other sites, so I trust them.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Predicting for your Future Self

We often have to make decisions based on what our future selves are going to do. When we make those kinds of decisions we need to be careful to predict our future selves as what they will be not what we want them to be.

People sometimes have unrealistic fantasies about who they're going to be in the future. They think that by some time, they will have gotten their act together. When they have these idealistic depictions of their future selves, they make decisions that their future selves won't be able to deal with.

The college drop out rate is depressingly high. A lot of those students would have been better off if they had never gone in the first place (and consulted Bryan Caplan's blog post before making that decision). So what happened? Well, these students usually didn't do well in high school, which should have been evidence that college might not be the right decision. Instead of following the evidence they convinced themselves that they're going to get their act together, do their homework, listen to their teachers, and graduate college. So they made all sorts of investments in time and money based on that unrealistic depiction of their future selves, and dropped out without a thing to show for it.

We make the same mistake for shorter time horizons too. Downloading habit bull is a waste of your time if your future self can't be trusted to use it.

And oh my god stop buying workout devices, machines, tapes, and all the rest (unless it's IronGym). They're not worth the price, not to mention the clutter! Musical instruments work the same way; how about learn how to play before you buy.

It all comes down to seeing your future self from the outside view rather than the inside view. What will your future self be like? Start by taking a fair look at your present self.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Incentivize your Brain while you're away

We like to think our rationality is in charge, but most of our decision making is made by our subconscious. I didn't think about whether I should sit down and write a blog post, my subconscious decided that and then afterwards my conscious made up reasons why it was a good idea. My System 2 played press secretary for my System 1. This leads to some mistakes, but ultimately if our conscious had to make every decision we'd take too long to get anything done.

One of the best ways to improve your life is to take those moment of levity - when system 2 is brightly shining - and use it to modify the incentives your System 1 will face. Late night snacking is a regular indulgence I wanted to stop. So I started brushing my teethe at 7pm. After the Listerine rips my mouth apart the urge to eat goes away.

The average American brushes their teethe 1.1 times a day by the way, of course it's hard to get good evidence because of social desirability bias and the rest. My morning brush became more consistent after I moved my toothbrush's home to the shower.

There are more creative ways of manipulating your subconscious to obey your conscious while it has gone fishing. System 2 knows that if you invest in a little bit of exercise in the morning the whole day will go better, but System 1 isn't feeling it. So throw your car keys in a tree the night before.

Democratic Campaign wanted to Elevate Trump

Here is a supposed e-mail from Hillary Clinton's campaign Chairman John Podesta to the Democratic National Committee.

There are two ways to approach the strategies mentioned above. The first is to use the field as a whole to inflict damage on itself similar to what happened to Mitt Romney in 2012. The variety of candidates is a positive here, and many of the lesser known can serve as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right. In this scenario, we don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates, but make them more “Pied Piper” candidates who actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party. Pied Piper candidates include, but aren’t limited to:

 • Ted Cruz
• Donald Trump
• Ben Carson  
We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to (take) them seriously.
 The whole thing may be an insight into presidential campaign strategy.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

How to Write Deep Characters

Here is Eliezer Yudkowski on How to Write Deep Characters:
A good rule of thumb is that to create a 3D character, that person must contain at least two different 2D characters who come into conflict. Contrary to the first thought that crosses your mind, three-dimensional good people are constructed by combining at least two different good people with two different ideals, not by combining a good person and a bad person. Deep sympathetic characters have two sympathetic parts in conflict, not a sympathetic part in conflict with an unsympathetic part. Deep smart characters are created by combining at least two different people who are geniuses...
Conflicts between evil and evil are even shallower than conflicts between good and evil, which is why what passes for 'maturity' in some literature is so uninteresting. There's nothing to choose there, no decision to await with bated breath, just an author showing off their disillusionment as a claim of sophistication.
I never thought of that.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Empathy You Empathy Me

People don't always make clear what they mean by empathy.

Do they mean to put yourself in someone else's position?

Or do they mean to feel what they feel in someone else's position?

As someone who often does not feel what other people feel, I notice this distinction. I've been told that empathy is putting myself in someone else's position, but when I do, am I me or am I you?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Cathy O'Neil on Econtalk

I listen to this podcast with Cathy O'Neil on Econtalk.
O'Neil argues that the commercial application of big data often harms individuals in unknown ways. She argues that the poor are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Examples discussed include prison sentencing, college rankings, evaluations of teachers, and targeted advertising. O'Neil argues for more transparency and ethical standards when using data.
She's a clear leftist, to the point where she almost went on a tangent criticism of Fox News. But she's a leftist who can articulate correctly the objections the other side make. For example she, like any good leftist, believes that tuition is so high because universities are in an arms race for the best students. But she also understands that when government throws a bunch of money into demand, prices are going to rise. Both seem true, so I guess all that's left to talk about are magnitudes. At the end of the day, she gave a lot of reasons why some statistical points are true, but didn't say much to convince me that they were big.

Mostly she just stuck to the quality of the algorithms she criticizes, but more than once she articulated a moral opposition to the algorithm being used regardless of whether it was measuring what it was supposed to measure. My skepticism ears perk up when someone believes that something everyone thinks is great is useless, and even if it were useful it would be unjust to use anyway. Her moral objections to using data that proxies race or class makes me wonder why she doesn't advocate banning employers from using university degrees for hiring.

Overall it sounds to me that the solution is an algorithm that spots lousy algorithms. It sounds coy, but I'm serious.

She advocates more transparency in what metrics are embedded in the algorithm. What isn't mentioned is how that open information can be used to cheat the algorithm. She's very aware of how school districts can exploit certain metrics that make them look better to the algorithm, but not necessarily enhance their performance. If they didn't know what was in the algorithm they wouldn't be able to do that.

I felt like her and Russ were tiptoeing in order to not get into an argument. It worked, and I felt like the interview went well for both of them. But what I heard a lot of what, "yeah, I agree that what you say happens, but my thing is what happens all the time!"

Cathy has a lot of firsthand experience working as a statistician in the private sector, and she likes to use a lot of firsthand stories as evidence. Some of these stories involve a sort of pure evil that only exists if its being interpreted from the out-group. I'm thinking of the predatory venture capitalist who "wants to be treated like a first class citizen, and wants other people who are being prayed upon to be separated."

Yeah, I'm sure that's how it all went down.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Medicare is like a Bar Patron

Also a not completely fair but somewhat revealing description from PutANum:
The Medicare non-negotiation policy is like if I walked into the only bar in town and announced that I will buy all their whiskey at whatever price they charge. The bartender quickly raises the price of Jack from $20 per glass to $20,000, and the other customers in the bar are forced to leave in disgust, cursing my name. I spend half a million dollars getting drunk on overpriced whiskey and fall under the table, shitfaced and broke. Just before I pass out, I call the cops to complain angrily about the evil, price gauging, bartender.
The stuff about Medicare getting drunk and passing out serves no purpose for the analogy. It just makes Medicare look bad. But there is an economic lesson to be learned, when government throws a whole bunch of money into demand, prices go up.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Monday, October 3, 2016

Question about Wall's Effectiveness for Trump

Mr. Trump

You've advocated a massive public works project in a wall between the U.S. and Canada. You think this will halt illegal immigration. But data show that most illegal immigrants don't sneak across the boarder at all, they come over with legal visas, and simply overstay their welcome.

Is your wall really going to be an effective deterrent considering most illegal immigrants walk through the front door?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Question about Trade for Hillary

"Mrs. Clinton, there has been an overwhelming economic consensus in favor of free trade since the idea of comparative advantage was developed 200 years ago. This discovery is older than Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and before anyone was talking about global warming.

So why are trade policies one of the only places you're eager to convince the public you agree with Trump?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Information on Twin / adoption studies and parenting

Curious what twin / adoption studies say about parenting? Check out:

Or of course read breakthrough book, The Nurture Assumption

Speaking of Yale Open Courses. watch their course on the Old Testament. What I like about it: it doesn't get bogged down in religious vs. anti-religious moralization. 

"Of course not, this is a classroom, the academy, where intellect reigns supreme!"

I don't think you know what happens in real classrooms.