Thursday, December 30, 2010

Open Letter to Kristof

Kristof wrote another horrible Op-Ed. The thesis is that everyone should learn Spanish because it'll help them converse with someone, sometime and maybe make their retirement go smoothly. (It'll also help people who need it for their jobs but they already learned it so that's irrelevant.) It's not clear whether he thinks learning it will help unemployed people find jobs or not, but you get the sense he thinks it might.

Here's my open letter in response:

These language columns drive me insane so I'm just e-mailing for the record on why they are so wrong.
1. Let's start with the premise that education is about training people for a good job as the column presumes, since it argues for Spanish on practical grounds.
Some representative anecdotes. We have three graduates of Local High School's class of 2006. One got a nursing degree and found a job in that field. The other got a useless B.A. in Classics and can't find a job. One didn't get any advanced training but he knows Spanish. (He may or may not be Hispanic.) He works at Wal-Mart part time or something. 
What's the difference between these three people? Well, one has technical skills. One has no skills. And one has Spanish, which isn't exactly a great skill. Now if you're advising a young person on how to spend their time to secure a good job do you tell them to get the nursing certificate, or maybe a minor in computer programming or do you tell them to learn Spanish?
2. Suppose there are two languages in a country, A and B. Learning the minority language has negative externalities because it makes it easier for the minority language speakers to hold on learning the majority language. In the long run that is bad for everyone because you can get a two-language equilibrium (e.g. become Quebec). Why is that bad? One, you waste time and money printing signs. Two, more importantly, its bad for social capital because you create a natural way for people to divide themselves and have civil strife.
I know it sounds harsh but here's the reality for Hispanics: the faster they assimilate the faster people will stop hating them. The faster Americans learn Spanish, the slower they assimilate (and maybe Americans become marginally more tolerant). Who benefits?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


From The New York Times (taken 12/28/10 at 11:30 PM):

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Did you know?

From the "Did you know?" report for today's Bills-Patriots game:
New England is 59-2 under Bill Belichick when scoring at least 30 points.
The two games, they don't mention, were

2006 AFC Championship Game - vs Colts (38-34)
2009 Week 10 - vs Colts (35-34)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pats fans

No one likes the Pats because they cheat, get all the calls (but no 1st on 9s), they're good (they are), and everyone knows people from Boston are the biggest assholes North of Philly.

But this takes the cake for ugliness.

No wonder the newspaper it out of print.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

WP48 Misleading?

I wondered back in April how accurate it would be to assume a player's WP48 wouldn't change when they change teams. I thought it would probably be biased heavily upward for players who take a lot of shots because each game only has so many possessions.

You can break a players value into possessions used and efficiency per possession. Some players are generating value largely from the former, so when they transition from a team where they are the star to a team where they are second (or third) fiddle their value drops.

Look at what happened to the Heat:

       TS%      Shots       WP48
James -0.031 -3.35 -0.117
Wade 0.011 -2.85 0.008
Bosh -0.028 -3.8 -0.102

In the Heat's case part of the WP48 decline is a small decrease in efficiency. The bigger part of it is a decrease in the number of shots attempted by over 10% each. For James and Bosh though, I suspect, that most of the WP48 drop is accounted for by declines in rebounded, steals, etc.

This picture tells the story about the Big Three:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pirates 4

Not impressed with the trailer.

Black Swan

Once in a while I read something that's just good.

Like this movie review. Read the 1st four paragraphs.


When you apply for financial aid at Harvard you're asked if you are:
A lineal or collateral descendant of: ... Harvard Class of 1889 [or] 1902
I guess Harvard graduates assumed their descendants wouldn't be able to pay the tuition.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Foreign Policy

When I was a kid I always thought foreign aid was the most important "policy" issue. At Church we had operation rice bowl for those starving people on T.V. I knew people are poor in America, but not like those Ethiopians. And if Americans come first, then at least as a foreign policy issue, making sure everyone can eat should come before say . . . partitioning Jerusalem.

I was probably 14 or 15 before I realize how strange my point of view was. I was reminded of it today. I'm taking a class on foreign policy. Our TA asked everyone to vote for what they consider the 2 most important foreign policy issues (there wasn't a prompt, you could write anything). There were 15 voters, and I cast the only vote for foreign aid.

Here's my rationale for why (the inspiration is John Rawls). Suppose you didn't know where you were going to be born. You're just a random person. You can implement on one policy and then you are born into that world. What policy do you implement?

The natural thing to ask is: what is likely to kill me and the answer isn't WMDs or terrorism: its diarrhea, AIDS, or indoor air pollution killing you as a child. So a rational person is going to prioritize that.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Completeness is a pretty simple concept. Rules are complete if they you can always get an answer by going to the rulebook and incomplete otherwise. It's so obvious--and so obviously--that we assume the rules of the games we play are complete.

But they rarely are. I was watching a football game today, Colts vs. Cowboys. The Colts called a timeout but they weren't granted it. The Colts committed a penalty that wasn't relevant to a play on the field and it pretty much gave the Cowboys the game when the refs called it.

Now what happens when people argue about whether the refs made a mistake. Colts fans are going to point to fact that the penalty was obscure, is never called, and didn't affect the play. So it shouldn't have been called--fouls are missed or ignored all the time. Cowboys fans are going to point to the rulebook--the rules are the rules and you call them like you see them. But Colts fans will point out that the rules say the Colts can call a timeout. If you look at the video its clear they called a time out long before the play started, but it was just missed. Cowboys fans can then say that's part of the game--not every timeout is recognized. But Colts fans argue that not every penalty is recognized and they know Cowboys fans' argument implies that if the refs missed a call that cost them the game they should accept it. Everyone knows no Cowboys fan would accept that--they get mad about "missed calls" like everyone else.

So the argument is really a mess. Who is actually right according to the rules? You could argue about the literal meaning of the rulebook and about the intent of the rule writings as if their is a right answer to the two critical questions: Do the refs have to recognize a clearly called time out and should the refs call an obscure inconsequential penalty? That is what lawyers do when they argue issues of law. I think most of them think there is a real right answer, or at least most laymen do.

But I don't think there is a right answer. I think American law and the NFL rules are incomplete. They just don't specify what is supposed to happen in all instances. In theory the rules are complete because of a clause like "in the event of something not in the rules the refs should use their best judgment." But when the refs themselves are corrupt or inept (they are often inept, no one doubts that!) then what?