Saturday, May 05, 2007

Liberals Defend 2nd Amendment, Defeat Gun Control Laws

no, really!

If only as a matter of consistency, Professor Levinson continued, liberals who favor expansive interpretations of other amendments in the Bill of Rights, like those protecting free speech and the rights of criminal defendants, should also embrace a broad reading of the Second Amendment. And just as the First Amendment’s protection of the right to free speech is not absolute, the professors say, the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms may be limited by the government, though only for good reason.

I have to admit, my own awakening to the 2nd amendment came a little late. While never a fan of arbitrary gun laws, I sort of came to full understanding it after reading the Federalist Papers (Fed 8, I think). I believe that guns should be regulated exactly like other potentially deadly items are, i.e. a lot like prescription drugs, with proper training, they can be handled safely and responsibly. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to cop to both rifle training and a membership (now lapsed) in the NRA). Like abortion, I think the problem is at the boundaries and how they are set. I certainly see a right to own a gun, but I’m also pretty sure folks don’t have a right to a nuke. Where, between those poles, do the limits lie? I don’t know but I think that’s the debate our society is now having.

Oddly, I have a hugely better chance to build a working nuke than a working gun. Phrased another way, if I had to build them both, I am fairly certain the nuke would work, offering me a pain-free death. The gun, on the other hand, I would be terrified to try, as it’s as likely to blow my face off as hit anything.


Thursday, May 03, 2007


A note on the current bifurcation of the economy:

Warning: Horrifying attempts to hip up these indices comes from God knows where (iBankers? PR flacks?), leading to a word that leaves aghast readers in its awful wake: "blingdexes"

"Still, the new crop of "blingdexes" offer further proof the wealthy are increasingly creating their own consumer economy. The number of millionaire households in the U.S. has more than doubled since 1995, according to the Federal Reserve. The total wealth held by the nation's richest 1% has increased more than 50% since 1998, to $16.7 trillion in 2004, the latest period measured by the Fed."
Interesting stuff.
NOTE TO MIDDLE-AGED WHITE PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY BANKERS, INDEXORS, PR FLACKS AND MEDIA STILL USING THE WORD "BLING": Stop. Right now. For your own sakes. It does not make you look hip if you use hip-hop, urban, or black expressions -- most especially those that are circa 1998. Please stop it immediately. All it does is reveal you to be a clueless middle-aged white guy.
The term Bling
long ago jumped the shark. And because I am a middle-aged white person, I was more than a year late in making that observation -- over two years ago. (See RIP Bling-bling for more details).


I love it when brokers get jiggy with it! It's the ... shiznuts!

Word homes!

Army Training, Sir!

A note from my son this morning with photos:

Here are some pics of me getting the SMI Leadership Award at ourAwards Ceremony. The man presenting is my CO, LTC Flood. The award wasgiven to one Sophomore and one Junior who demonstrated the biggestimprovement in leadership in the past year, instead of a ribbon or somethingthey gave me and the other guy a very nice eagle statue with our names onit. Since I was a new Cadet and now am going to be the third highestranking Cadet in our leadership, they said that was big a big enoughimprovement and gave it to me. Don't be upset that you weren't invited, theceremony was at 6am and lasted about an hour, no one's parents showed up...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Predictions for 2001 from 1901

Surprisingly accurate given the time frame. If one is very slightly generous in their interpretation of the descriptions, there is better than an 80% accuracy rate. The just missed on the bit about giant fruits...

and the pneumatic tubes...

and the killer Walrus invasion...


Day by Day

I've read it occasionally and failed to see what the fuss is about. This critique however is excellent:

If Chris Muir drew Charles Schulz's Peanuts, for example, he wouldn't have bothered drawing a panel showing Lucy pulling the football away at the last minute when Charlie Brown tries to kick it. That would be too Old School for him. Instead, Muir would just have Lucy say, "Democrats always pull the football away at the last minute when you are trying to kick it, Charlie Brown." Lucy and Charlie Brown would also probably be in their underwear.

The rest of the post is about some conservatives giving themselves permission to use "blackface" in their criticism of Hillary. If a liberal did this, the talking heads would be swarming on them.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Product Placement

PZ entones:

And really, my initial impression that here was a device that would allow women to fire debilitating high voltage sparks out of their nether regions did get me a little bit excited, so you can't blame me for mentioning it.


A Very Distrubing Result

"Reality" may not exist when no one is looking at it.

They found that, just as in the realizations of Bell's thought experiment, Leggett's inequality is violated – thus stressing the quantum-mechanical assertion that reality does not exist when we're not observing it. "Our study shows that 'just' giving up the concept of locality would not be enough to obtain a more complete description of quantum mechanics," Aspelmeyer told Physics Web. "You would also have to give up certain intuitive features of realism."

Alan Aspect has been working on this for a decade and a half, in part to build an instantaneous communication device. This observations could have some odd and weird effects.

I imagine folks who are more religious and less grounded in math are already warming up their word processors to talk about how this proves the existance of god...

Is the Global Economy in a Bubble?

Some interesting observations and thought:

1. Global fundamental economic conditions are nearly perfect and have been for some time.
2. Availability of global credit is generous and cheap and has been for some time.
3. Animal spirits and optimism are therefore high and feed on themselves through reinforcing results and through being universally shared.
4. All global assets reflect this and are overpriced and show, probably for the first time, a negative return to risk taking.
5. The correlation in global economic fundamentals is at a new high, reflected in the steadily increasing correlation in asset price movements.
6. Global credit is more extended and more complicated than ever before so that no one is sure where all the increased risk has ended up.
7. Every bubble has always burst.
8. The bursting of the bubble will be across all countries and all assets, with the probable exception of high grade bonds. Risk premiums in particular will widen.
9. Naturally the Fed and Fed equivalents overseas will move to contain the economic damage as the Fed did last time after the 2000 break. But the heart of thelast bubble, the NASDAQ and internet stocks, still declined by almost 80% and 90%, respectively.
10. What is wrong with this logic? Something I hope.
11. Of course the tricky bit, as always, is timing. Most bubbles, like internet stocks and Japanese land, go through an exponential phase before breaking, usually short in time but dramatic in extent. My colleagues suggest that this global bubble has not yet had this phase and perhaps they are right.

I'm not sure I agree with each step, and the global market is a lot of more complicated than Japanese Land market. Still there is a lot to be said for going short.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Creationist Builds Noah's Ark


Of course, it's only a replica of the biblical Ark, built by Dutch creationist Johan Huibers as a testament to his faith in the literal truth of the Bible. Reckoning by the old biblical measurements, Johan's fully functional ark is 150 cubits long, 30 cubits high and 20 cubits wide. That's two-thirds the length of a football field and as high as a three-story house. Life-size models of giraffes, elephants, lions, crocodiles, zebras, bison and other animals greet visitors as they arrive in the main hold. "The design is by my wife, Bianca," Huibers said. "She didn't really want me to do this at all, but she said if you're going to anyway, it should look like this." A contractor by trade, Huibers built the ark of cedar and pine - biblical scholars debate exactly what the wood used by Noah would have been. Huibers did the work mostly with his own hands, using modern tools and occasional help from his son Roy. Construction began in May 2005.

I encourgae biblical literalists to do things like this and always happy when they do. Why? It points out how unlikely this actually is. Sure the true believers will crow over it, I dont care about them. Reasonable people though look at this and cant help but compare it with their everyday experience at, say, the zoo. Trying to fit an entire zoo into a structure that size starts to seem a little silly, especially when you factor food and zebra shit into the equation.

Personally, I would head straight for the dinosaur compartment.

For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls

I was catching up on Dr. Nick's blog and ran across a posting from TJIC that he links to about the subject of race and IQ. I've long known that TJIC's opinions were pretty far to the right on this subject, but wow. Read the post here.

To be honest I was pretty shocked.

We all have a tendency to read books and articles which confirm our inner biases and self-image, espeically when that self-image sets us apart from the rest of the population. That's understandable. OTOH, this is a question of science, and science, when it's done correctly, is a model of an objective reality. After the inital shock of reading TJIC's post I had to think through the question, "Shocking, but is it true?" I had read the Bell Curve when it came out and as some of you know, I spent a lot of time in college training as a teacher to work with gifted kids. I ultimately chose not to follow that career, but it involved a lot of training around human intelligence, it's measurement and it's manifestation. Also, as some readers know, I had a full bore neuropsych evaluation last year, so my own inteligence has been measure as best as can be done with current technology and some of the results surprised me (and the testers). Given this, after a few hours of thinking, I came to the conclusion that the Bell Curve, even after almost 15 years, is still a bad piece of science. Here's why:

There are a bunch of cumulative assumptions the authors of the Bell Curve (Herrnstein and Murray) make which lead to their results, any one of which if not true results collapses their hypothesis:

Intelligence may be depicted as a single number. This is based on Spearman's hypothesis that "g", a measure of general intelligence that synthesizes multiple aspects of exists and is dominant. While a useful concept, psychometrics moved way beyond the concept of g in the 80s (early critiques of this date back to the '30s). Howard Gardner and Bob Sternberg both have proposed different, measurable models of multiple intelligences (Sternbergs theory is actually very useful from a practical point of view). The use of multiple tests to catalog mental processing in different areas is pretty well established at this point in time, and is certainly the norm moving forward. Online IQ tests are fun and sometimes (if you score well) can make you feel good about yourself, but they really don't have a lot of value as a tool of science. The Bell Curve is based almost exclusively on the approach that g is the central measure of intelligence and is reflective of a more complicated reality. It is however, too simple a measure for them to deconvolve their entire theory. Kind of like judging your entire physical health based on your bowling score. Bowling requires coordination, speed, strength, good vision, fast reflexes and mental discipline, all factors measured in physical exam. It is reflective of those aspects, but loses a lot of information in the integration. A better, more accurate approach would involve designing an intelligence test which controlled for multiple environmental and cognitive module biases. However, that would be work and the authors of the Bell Curve are economists, not psychometricians. Simply put, a single number IQ score is too coarse a measure on which to base these kinds of sweeping conclusions.

Intelligence is primarily genetic. While there is absolutely a genetic component to intelligence, the degree to which your potential intelligence as dictated by your genes' control of your brain structure is translated into your functional intelligence which you use every day is determined by lots of factors in your environment many of which no one has any control over. To draw the conclusions Herrnstein and Murray have come to, i.e. that one group of people has a overall lower genetic potential for intelligence than another, they would have to de-convolve all the relevent environmental factors. They don't do this, in part because no one could do this with the data they are using. One possible explanation for the Flynn Effect is the improving environmental and educational environment is allowing people to realize more of their genetic potential (another is that improved access to education is making a larger number of people better readers and they are doing better with the cultural bias of the test).

Intelligence is a fixed, unchangable value after a certain age. I don't even know where to begin. The general effect of the physical environment (disease, pollution, trauma, etc.) is to lower functional intelligence over time for populations exposed to these hazards. In the absence of external factors, IQ scores do tend to be stable, however the Herrnstein and Murray do not control for these factors to any significant degree in their data. I think that have cooked into the data the very effect they are looking for.

Testing Bias. A lot of the data they use is old, and while they attempt to correct somewhat for this, it's lipstick on a pig. I dont think you can meaningfully compare data in the 60s with data from the 80s. The tests are different, built with different assumptions and testing for different effects. It's simply not possible to integrate results in the way they do, not without adding apples and oranges.

Correlation and Causation: All that said, there is one more beef I have with the Bell Curve, at least as work of science, they bury the regression analysis in the back of their book. Their entire premise is based on an R2 value of 0.4. While interesting statistically, no one in a physical science would publish a result like that, much less base a public policy on it. Further, that is their *best* result. Read Appendix 4 of their book, then read this analysis.

Race: Finally, they define a "race" fairly loosely. Their functional definition is, basically, dark people with lots of ancestors from Africa. Unfortunately for them, modern genetics doesn't actually bear out on this, although it turns out there *are* distinct races within the human family. It's a very complex (and very interesting) subject, but again the Bell Curve simply integrates over this complexity. For a researcher to really support the Bell Curve's conclusions, they would need to deconvolve intelligence scores along genetically important racial lines. Obviously this was not possible to do in 1994, so I don't fault the authors, however in science all conclusions are tenative and need to be re-evaluated in the light of new evidence and new models. Depending on the Bell Curve's definition of race too much is unsupportable at this late date.

And that's why I disagree with the Bell Curve. :)