Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 16th, 2014

Go: Best board game ever

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And Wired has a good article on it.

UPDATE: After reading the article, I purchased a copy of Crazy Stones for The Wife’s iPad. An excellent program for the isolated Go player.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2014 at 5:31 pm

Posted in Games, Go

GM to pay $35 million fine for covering up defective part

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And, of course, no one responsible will face any prison time. The usual thing: cost of doing business, write a check, no one suffers except the victims whose lives were shattered or lost because of the cover-up.

The $35 million represents two hours of GM worldwide revenue—about one month’s profits. A slap on the wrist. No one at GM suffers.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2014 at 1:50 pm

Posted in Business, Law

Krugman being forceful in the face of idiocy

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Steve Levitt has altogether too high a regard for himself, one who mistakes confidence for content. Krugman sets him straight:

Noah Smith isn’t very happy with Steve Levitt, who thinks he was being smart by telling David Cameron that he should scrap the NHS and let the magic of the marketplace deal with health care. Strangely, Cameron wasn’t impressed.

I think there are actually several things going on here. One is a Levitt-specific, or maybe Freakonomics-specific, effect: the belief that a smart guy can waltz into any subject and that his shoot-from-the-hip assertions are as good as the experts’. Remember, Levitt did this on climate in his last book, delivering such brilliant judgements as the assertion that because solar panels are black (which they actually aren’t), they’ll absorb heat and make global warming worse. So it’s true to form that he would consider it unnecessary to pay attention to the work of lots of health economists, or for that matter the insights of Ken Arrow, and assert that hey, I don’t see any reason not to trust markets here.

There’s also the resurgence of faith-based free-market fundamentalism. I’ll write more on this soon, but I’m seeing on multiple fronts signs of an attempt to wave away everything that happened to the world these past seven years and go back to the notion that the market always knows best. Hey, it’s always about allocating scarce resources (never mind all those unemployed workers and zero interest rates), and why would you ever imagine that market prices are wrong (don’t mention the bubble).

And underlying all of this is a problem of methodology.

How should you use the perfectly competitive model, so beloved of economists? It is, of course, only a model, and we know that its underlying assumptions are untrue. There’s the Friedman dictum that this doesn’t matter as long as the model makes good predictions; that’s actually quite problematic, and there are good reasons to argue that the realism of the assumptions matters too.

But one thing you surely shouldn’t do — one thing that even Friedman would or at least should have said you shouldn’t do — is . . .

Continue reading.

And do click the link in Krugman’s post and read that. Levitt is the epitome of unwarranted self-esteem.

And the comments to Krugman’s column (at the time I write) are interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2014 at 1:00 pm

What if we were simply honest about sex with our kids?

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Very interesting article. The boy in the article will doubtless see the world as making much more sense than will his coevals who get the usual muddled, embarrassed “talk.”

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2014 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Daily life

Yet another US espionage success story

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We seem to be getting an awful lot of stories of glowing successes due to US espionage (and, in this case, counter-espionage): the FBI, CIA, NSA, and—why not?—the DEA are being portrayed in the best possible light: doing excellent work, with no real cause to dig deeper into what they’re up to. The Border Patrol promotional articles are probably on hold for now.

But keep your eye out for upbeat, inspirational stories about covert actions, espionage, and the like. There has been a noticeably rising tide of such things.

Here’s the latest I’ve seen.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2014 at 12:51 pm

One of the Most Pervasive — and Wrong — Conservative Economic Myths, Debunked

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Very interesting book excerpt. It’s from Think Like A Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons, by David Bollier:

“Picture a pasture open to all.”

For at least a generation, the very idea of the commons has been marginalized and dismissed as a misguided way to manage resources: the so-called tragedy of the commons. In a short but influential essay published in Science in 1968, ecologist Garrett Hardin gave the story a fresh formulation and a memorable tagline.

“The tragedy of the commons develops in this way,” wrote Hardin, proposing to his readers that they envision an open pasture:

It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible in the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy. As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?”

The rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another…. But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd with- out limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

The tragedy of the commons is one of those basic concepts that is drilled into the minds of every undergraduate, at least in economics courses. The idea is considered a basic principle of economics—a cautionary lesson about the impossibility of collective action. Once the class has been escorted through a ritual shudder, the professor whisks them along to the main attraction, the virtues of private property and free markets. Here, finally, economists reveal, we may surmount the dismal tragedy of a commons. The catechism is hammered home: individual freedom to own and trade private property in open markets is the only way to produce enduring personal satisfaction and social prosperity.

Hardin explains the logic this way: we can overcome the tragedy of the commons through a system of “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected.” For him, the best approach is “the institution of private property coupled with legal inheritance.” He concedes that this is not a perfectly just alternative, but he asserts that Darwinian natural selection is ultimately the best available option, saying, “those who are biologically more fit to be the custodians of property and power should legally inherit more.” We put up with this imperfect legal order, he adds, “because we are not convinced, at the moment, that anyone has invented a better system. The alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate. Injustice is preferable to total ruin.”

Such musings by a libertarian-minded scientist have been catnip to conservative ideologues and economists (who are so often one and the same). They see Hardin’s essay as a gospel parable that affirms some core principles of neoliberal economic ideology. It affirms the importance of “free markets” and justifies the property rights of the wealthy. It bolsters a commitment to individual rights and private property as the cornerstone of economic thought and policy. People will supposedly have the motivation to take responsibility for resources if they are guaranteed private ownership and access to free markets. Tragic outcomes—“total ruin”—can thereby be avoided. The failure of the commons, in this telling, is conflated with government itself, if only to suggest that one of the few recognized vehicles for advancing collective interests, government, will also succumb to the “tragedy” paradigm. (That is the gist of Public Choice theory, which applies standard economic logic to problems in political science.)

Over the past several decades, the tragedy of the commons has taken root as an economic truism. The Hardin essay has become a staple of undergraduate education in the US, taught not just in economics courses but in political science, sociology and other fields. It is no wonder that so many people consider the commons with such glib condescension. The commons = chaos, ruin and failure.

There is just one significant flaw in the tragedy parable. It does not accurately describe a commons. Hardin’s fictional scenario sets forth a system that has no boundaries around the pasture, no rules for managing it, no punishments for over-use and no distinct community of users. But that is not a commons. It is an open-access regime, or a free-for-all. A commons has boundaries, rules, social norms and sanctions against free riders. A commons requires that there be a community willing to act as a conscientious steward of a resource. Hardin was confusing a commons with “no-man’s-land”—and in the process, he smeared the commons as a failed paradigm for managing resources.

To be fair, Hardin was following a long line of polemicists who projected their unexamined commitments to market individualism onto the world. As we will see later, the theories of philosopher John Locke have been widely used to justify treating the New World as terra nullius—open, unowned land—even though it was populated by millions of Native Americans who managed their natural resources as beloved commons with unwritten but highly sophisticated rules. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2014 at 12:41 pm

Obamacare is based on using private insurance companies. Why?

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Kevin Drum takes a look at what we get by making sure private insurance companies are the center of the Affordable Care Act:

Here’s an excerpt of a recorded telephone conversation between David Cienfuegos’s wife and a rep from Anthem Blue Cross (“Howard”) prior to a surgery that Cienfuegos underwent:

Wife: So how can I find out if the doctor we’re working with is contracting with Anthem?

Howard: If you know the doctor’s name, I can look them up for you.

Wife: The doctor who is doing the procedure … is Dr. Werthman, W-e-r-t-h-m-a-n.

Howard: Philip?… Yes, that doctor is in-network.

Wife: Oh, OK. So when I submit my claim form, that goes towards the in-network deductible?

Howard: Correct…. That is correct.

Wife: I just wanted to then confirm that the procedure, veri — I’m sorry, what was it called again? I know I gave you the name.

Howard: Uh, varicocele. I am not quite sure how you pronounce it.

Wife: Varicocele. That’s covered by our insurance?

Howard: Correct.

You’ve probably guessed the punchline already: After the surgery, Anthem denied Cienfuegos’s claim, saying his doctor was out of network and the procedure wasn’t covered. This is the kind of innovation and cost-cutting efficiency that makes it so important to keep private insurers at the core of our health care system.


Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2014 at 11:00 am

Megs asleep on my pyjamas, her feet in a pile

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Megs on pyjamas

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2014 at 10:52 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

BBS with a Schick Krona and a Kai blade

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SOTD 16 May 2014

Excellent shave today. QED’s shave stick—I used the Vetiver today—makes a stunningly good lather, for all that it’s a glycerin-based shaving soap. Some credit is also due to the Mühle silvertip brush shown.

Three passes with the Krona holding the Kai, and my face was BBS and nick-free.

A good splash of Fine’s Clean Vetiver and I’m ready finish the week. I like the fragrance of the Clean Vetiver, but it’s very light (thus, I presume, the “clean” part).

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2014 at 10:51 am

Posted in Shaving

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