Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bad but Recommended

This article is bad but I recommend it anyway.

The subject is interesting, important, under-covered, and timely. He discussed the two sides of the NBA Players Union and NBA Owners collective bargaining talks and explains why there is a lockout starting tomorrow. He also explains the key argument the players have leveraged in the talks: that the owner's claim to be losing $370 million is a bunch of bullshit due to cooked books.

The problem with the article is that he doesn't explain why the owners see their accounting as legitimate, simply stating that its a standard accounting technique.* The rest of the story makes the players look like the good guys, making it puzzling when he ends by saying that the truth is that both sides are a little right and a little wrong.

* - The issue that owners are putting down amortized costs of buying the teams and interest on their debt down as expenses, while the players don't think these should count. The rationale is that the amortized cost of buying the team isn't a real expense--no money leaves the franchise--and the debt isn't their fault. I think they are wrong on both points. The owners did spend a lot of money to buy the teams and the right way to add up profits is with net present value over the whole stream of payments. Furthermore, the players might as well argue that they aren't responsible for bad marketing, poor pricing strategies, or any other fiscal folly, but they don't.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quote of the Day: Romance Edition

To set the stage, Altfest and Ross are two guys who wrote the first (commercial) computer program to match couples. It was called TACT and a woman went out to interview them about it:
She had planned to interview Altfest, but he was out of the office, and she ended up talking to Ross. The batteries died on her tape recorder, so they made a date to finish the interview later that week, which turned into dinner for two. They started seeing each other, and two years afterward they were married. Ross had hoped that TACT would help him meet someone, and, in a way, it had.
The rest is here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Super 8 Review

I try to review one new movie a year on this blog. Usually its the summer's big non-sequel blockbuster, and yes there is usually only one. Last year, that was Inception. This year it's Super 8.

The verdict: Super 8 more than lives up to the hype. The writer/director J. J. Abrams has a great eye for how to capture moments in a story with memorable images. He's also written the most emotionally powerful script in years. But the movie isn't perfect. With a budget of $50 million the computer effects often look second-rate and the first two acts are superior to the third, though I think the let down was inevitable.

So what makes Super 8 great? In a word: theme. Super 8 is one of the few movies that gets a coherent theme across, finding a way to convey a meaningful (if trite, as all themes are) message into the movie in a natural way. The message is that, to be crass, "shit happens" and we see evidence of it from the first shot, which shows a worker changing a sign for the local employee-owned steel mill--where safety is the number one priority, as evinced by the sign--that used to say 700-some odd days since an accident but now reads one. The "shit happens" message is central to the main character's story but also to the alien's and unfortunately that needs the conclusion, which in retrospect seems obvious and inevitable, to feel like a bit of a let down. You'll know what I mean.

Other aspects range from ok to stellar. The cinematography is outstanding. The acting is first rate, esp. on the part of the children and the main character's father. The music is above-average but not James Horner's best work. The dialogue is mediocre (I can remember a lone quote) but passable. The story requires a little more suspension of disbelief than I'd like to see, which throws off the feel for a bit, and some technical plot points relating to alien seem unresolved, but that doesn't  detract much from the experience. I didn't even think much about the editing and pacing while watching, which is a good thing, although the pace does grind to a halt, just for a moment or two, toward the end.

I highly recommend Super 8. It's a movie that stands out in a year of disappoints.

Quote of the Day: Mass Murder Edition

Ross Douthat on sex-selective abortion:

The tragedy of the world’s 160 million missing girls isn’t that they’re “missing.” The tragedy is that they’re dead.

Here is the link. It's good, but I skimmed it and accidentally misread the last line as "The tragedy is that ... Paul Krugman is off today." Fair enough.

Is there a market solution to the problem? Chinese women are in high demand on the American marriage market. Chinese parents want their daughters to be able to work and be educated in the U.S. Enter F-1F visa, for female Asian students only.

It sounds stupid. Won't letting women leave China worsen the gender imbalance? But here's the catch: the increased demand for girls would vastly outpace the number of girls who actually leave. You can see the effect with health workers, where countries that make it easy to leave to work as nurses or doctors in the First World have more doctors and nurses. (Michael Clemens has done the most research on that topic and gathered the data and made the graph I saw showing the relationship.)

Should churches be forced to recognize gay marriages?


But this gay guy doesn't think so.

The state cannot force a church to change its beliefs. Even gay people realize that is wrong.
It sounds reasonable but suppose a church said it won't recognize a marriage between a black man and a white woman because they feel that is wrong. Does anyone find that acceptable? In 50, maybe even 20, year no one will find opposition to gay marriage any more acceptable.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Quote of the Day

From David Leonhardt:

Eventually, the country will have to confront the deficit we have, rather than the deficit we imagine. The one we imagine is a deficit caused by waste, fraud, abuse, foreign aid, oil industry subsidies and vague out-of-control spending. The one we have is caused by the world’s highest health costs (by far), the world’s largest military (by far), a Social Security program built when most people died by 70 — and to pay for it all, the lowest tax rates in decades.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brad DeLong explains Nozick

Nozick disavowed the argument DeLong explains so maybe it unfair to say it is his.

Here is DeLong's takedown. I figured that out when I was 16 so Im glad to get validation 5 years later.

Also, although it is a good point, I think the main point to make to libertarians isn't that they are (apparently) willing to treat children like shit. The main problem is that they believe in perfect markets. I think without that faith they'd be less willing to shit on children.

A good essay

This essay on Nozick and libertarianism is taking a lot of heat on the blogosphere.

I understand why the bloggers (mostly libertarians) don't like it. For starters, Metcalf is probably wrong about something claims in the essay--a lot of is about the psychology of what is going on in libertarian's heads. Second, everyone get emotional when insulted.

But I still think it's a good essay with a substantive claim: libertarians confuse capital with human capital, or in other words, spend so much time trying to arrange institutions to ensure that uniquely talented people get money, they forget that most people with money are rich because they have crap (capital) not human capital. He also has a decent explanation of the main problem with libertarianism: the perfect competition model is often a bad approximation--though he leaves out a the second half of the point, that we can distinguish when it does and doesn't fit pretty well.

Is that claim of interest or worth discussing? Yes! The libertarians on the blogosphere don't need to be psychoanalyzed, but the average idiot on Facebook who insists that cigarette labels are an affront to human dignity despite making smokers and non-smokers happier does need to be psychoanalyzed. There is a large class of people smart enough to understand perfect markets in outline but not smart enough to understand asymmetric information, behavioral economics, public goods and why market fails in general. We need to understand how to treat (medically) those people.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stat of the Day

Lebron James' +/- in 2011 NBA Finals game six: -24

Is CS that unpopular?

Only 11,000 B.S.s in computer science were granted this year. There are on the order of 1,000,000 college graduates each year so that's 1% of graduates.

Is computer science that unpopular?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

China Lays the Smackdown

China just laid the smackdown on some douche.

I used to think all people from China were like that piece of shit. They were entitled dumbasses who all played either violin or piano, had no sense of humor, no upper body strength, and said things like "who are going" and "too many spaghetti."

But the truth is that's just most Asian-Americans and the rich people in China. I'm glad the government just laid down the law.