Sunday, October 26, 2008

If the world could vote

This is quite cool

It is basically a survey of which way countries would vote if the US election was a global election.
It is a bit more democratic than I would expect but not much more. the republicans win Cuba 'democratic republic' of Congo., Nambia, Iraq, Georgia and Macedonia.

Of note however is that the vote for the USA is hugely in favor of Obama - indicating the survey might be democrat biased. Possibly economist readers tend to be democrats.


Both Powell and Biden seem to be predicting a international event (presumably military). Now he media have focused on how this is politically foolish. But anyone stop to think about hte other aspect - like they might know something we don't?

So what is this event? Biden mentioned Russia and the middle east.
I imagine the main issue they have in mind may be a collapse in Iraq related to withdrawal. I.e. blood on the streets sort of collapse. But do we have any other ideas? Also why is it that we have a system where it seems the politicians are making gaffes and deserve our distain if they veven hint at what they honestly think will happen?

Powell : "there’s going to be a crisis which will come along on the 21st, 22nd of January that we don’t even know about right now. And so I think what the President has to do is start using the power of the oval office and the power of his personality to convince the American people and convince the world that America is solid."
Biden : "
Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. And he's gonna have to make some really tough - I don't know what the decision's gonna be, but I promise you it will occur."
And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you, not financially to help him, we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lockwood smith and media reporting

Lockwood Smith has been caught up in a bit of a scandal. He was caught saying

"the physically smaller Asian people are better at some of the jobs in the vineyard, the pacific people are better at some of the jobs in the vineyard, the Asian people are better at some of the jobs they just have smaller hands, I mean I wouldn't be that good at some of the nimble finger work"

Now there are some shall we say unproductive undertones to this and another other quote where he talks about RSE training which are worthy of consideration - they may reveal somthign about Lockwood Smith. I personally wouldn't want him in charge of a portfolio.

Maybe lockwood smith has been caught saying hte same thing twice (mine comes from a tape of him) but I note that the quote most people are using below

“There are some skills in the vineyard that some people are perhaps better at. For example some of the pruning … some of the Asian workers have been more productive … because their hands are smaller.”

I supose I an nitpicking but it seems that has a lot of "..." in it. I wish people would actually repeat the whole quote without taking artistic licence or not pretend it is a proper quote. That might even remove the defence by the politicians who say "the quote is out of context".

Saturday, October 18, 2008

One child policy/ Keith Locke

here is a gem from keith locke (a NZ politician

Keith Locke saying its policy had been misinterpreted.

"There is no way the Green Party would ever dictate to any parent how many children they should have," he said. "Every child is a loved and wanted child. It would also be racist to try to dictate family size, given that the various ethnic groups in our society have different birthrates."

that means enforcing almost any policy is racist since it will effect different races to different degrees due to variations in culture... Keith must have been rather flustered - either that or he is crazy.

Bank pay


Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.

Staff at six banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup will pick up the payouts despite being the beneficiaries of a $700bn bail-out from the US government that has already prompted widespread criticism. The government cash has been poured in on the condition that excessive executive pay will be curbed.

Now I suppose much of this was agreed before the bailout plan - and there might well be employment law issues if they went back and reviewed it.. but still - I get the impression the policies of the company have been at least to some extent co-opted by the interests of the senior staff. Actually in my experience this seems to occur to some degree in other businesses too so I should not be surprised.

I wonder if there will be a massive drop in the wage bill for these banks next year - I presume there will be. Of course the problem there is there might also be a huge loss of talent. that might be less of a problem if the banks had never had that talent but there is a danger that systematically less talented and much less experienced people might try to hold together systems built up by more talented and experienced folk resulting in disaster. Imagine if the banks had the lowest budget of any significant company for a CEO - as a result being unable to hold a CEO for more than 6 months before some IT start-up poached him. that would be interesting...

So easy to screw it up - but still... maybe those banks don't need to pay those guys quite so much.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Election predicitons

here is some of my old predicitons
well i predicted hillary in 2004 to win 2008 but had to change that to Obama as he started to pull ahead. I also thought Romney would win the republican (although even further out I picked McCain but for a while he went into hte wilderness) one but as with the Hillary prediciton I did make that prediction very far out. Maybe party nominations are a little to hard to predict 3-4 years out but at least both my picks made it to the 'final two serious contenders' from a much larger feild.
Anyway elections are where I havent made any errors - so I'm still backing a Democrat win in the USA,
For NZ Im sticking with a
Labour coalition win despite all the silly things labour has done maori party will go with labourand so labour/maori/green/nzfirst will be a hard total to beatby act/UF/national.

A new problem for psychological hedonism?

Toby Ord comments
PH claims that one’s acts are all ultimately chosen to maximise one’s pleasure. However, there is a tension between immediate pleasure and lifetime pleasure. Indeed, it is easy to think of cases where people choose immediate pleasure at the expense of their total lifetime pleasure and to think of cases where people deny themselves immediate pleasure in order to increase lifetime pleasure. It thus seems that we can’t be attempting to maximise either immediate pleasure or lifetime pleasure. PH therefore lacks a coherent maximand and must therefore be false, or at least in need of considerable additional explanation.

in the comments I think Owen Weddle demionstrates why so many more philosophers should take psychology degrees with this.

Human behaviors consist of both of trained behaviors and extemporaneous behaviors. The former come about mainly from our sociological groups, such as family, religion, political party, occupation, military, etc, along with incidental events not attributed to human causes. As such, the groups “train” the individual in certain to follow certain behaviors, either through reward, punishment or the individual reflecting upon the value of such an action (which may even result in a oppositional behavior). All of which are motivations that can, at least in part, be explained by PH. All new untrained behaviors, are then caused by the PH, but many our actions become trained. By in large, from sociological groups, who themselves seek the maximize pleasure and minimize the pain of the group as a whole. So, altruistic behavior can be explained by the group’s (to coin a phrase that may not exist) sociological “hedonism”

Owen actually hedges his comments more than I would. When I make a decision like whether to dance a jig there are a number of determining factors. One of them is "do I have legs?" if I was born without them most peopel would not see that as a coice that PH needs to explain. The next is do I know how to do a jog? well maybe there were lessons finishing five minutes ago - maybe I could have chosen to go. Is doing a jig still a choice? what if I DID go and yet I'm too embarassed to try? What if I try and I mess it up (by conci0usly placing my foot in a place that happens to be the wrong place) just enough for it not to be an actual jig?

Now if I believed in PH I could say "all the PH choices are real choices and all the non PH choices are emvironmental factors" and suddenly my argument is water tight despite being bit circular. I could also argue that habit based 'choices' are choices and blow that out of the water (although that gets pretty unintuitive). So it would seem that there is a hidden semantic debate to be had here unless one wants to argue at cross purposes.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The NZ institute

I'd liek to generally support the sentiment of this from the NZ institute.

We keep hearing about how how the G7 are going to cooperate to solve the problems of hte world or how National has the solutions. But I heard the G7 solutions and their comment seemed to amount to 'its every man for himself". Sure they stood next to each other but as long as they talk about every country working out what their best strategy is it means they couldn't agree their way out of a paper bag.

That means that this problem will get much worse before it gets better. So what will national and labour do? continue to vastly overestimate the economy like they have for the last few years? well.. yes. Will they have any new strategy? apparently not...

they need to come up with a new and innovative plan and the suggestions of the NZ institute are a starting point for debate. Of course National's strategy is "me too" so they cant come up with anything innovative at all - and Labour's strategy is "desperate pragmitism" which means they don't really care what is good for NZ anymore.

Do we have any good third parties?

John Ansell

John Ansell has a great new idea for a national campaign board

Underage gymnasts again

debating the Chinese gymnasts at foolsmountain Charles says

GNZ, I hope you and yours will never be convicted on so little as [fill in the argument here], nor should you and yours ever be presumed guilty because “it takes years to prove otherwise”.

There ain’t no higher authority on this; FIG is the messiah of gymnast age. Until the FIG changes it’s verdict, that’s it, He Kexin is not guilty.

Well there is a certain logic to this except that this is not the appropriate way to apply the innocent until the authority finds them guilty logic.

so I constructed an analogy

The policy that the Olympics has regarding age is the equivalent of he anti child labour policy that many countries have. the idea is that if you ‘buy’ the product of underage Olympians you effectively pay for child abuse (you might agree or disagree but that is the logic behind it so this part of the analogy is pretty tight).

Now the highest authority on child abuse is the country in question. But many people in the west will indeed refuse to buy products from companies that aid agencies (just people - the equivalent of Stryde) tell them are using child labour (especially if they provide photos of documents where they admit to doing it). The argument seems to imply that it would be morally abhorrent to question the innocence of such companies until their own government convicts them.

The question is -
1) do we accept the FIG (or the government of the country which may use child labour) as a trustworthy final authority? Even if we see a mountain of evidence and noone seems to have made a serious attempt to tackle that evidence? Or where the authority has had a poor record of catching such things and where it has caught them it was blindingly obvious for years beforehand.
2) do we apply the innocent until proven guilty to al decision making? for example should a politician be considered innocent until proven guilty? should a business be considered innocent of using child labour until a court proves it guilty?
3) is this even about he kexin? the punishment for north Korea (the only country caught for breaching the rules) was a 2 year ban - so it amounted to a punishment of the country's gymnastics federation for what the gymnastics authorities see as a sort of child abuse (as opposed to child crime).

New Stockmarket Terms

CEO –Chief Embezzlement Officer.

CFO– Corporate Fraud Officer.

BULL MARKET — A random market movement causing an investor to mistake himself for a financial genius.

VALUE INVESTING — The art of buying low and selling lower.

P/E RATIO — The percentage of investors wetting their pants as the market keeps crashing.

BROKER — What my broker has made me.

STANDARD & POOR – Your life in a nutshell.

STOCK ANALYST — Idiot who just downgraded your stock.

STOCK SPLIT — When your ex-wife and her lawyer split your assets equally between themselves.

FINANCIAL PLANNER — A guy whose phone has been disconnected.

MARKET CORRECTION — The day after you buy stocks.

CASH FLOW — The movement your money makes as it disappears down the toilet.

YAHOO — What you yell after selling it to some poor sucker for $240 per share.

WINDOWS — What you jump out of when you’re the sucker who bought Yahoo @ $240 per share.

INSTITUTIONAL INVESTOR — Past year investor who’s now locked up in a nuthouse.

PROFIT — An archaic word no longer in use.

Quantum mechanics and Lotto

Here is a interesting hypothetical argument for not buying a lotto ticket - or possibly how you could bend the odds of winning lotto in your favour.

First let me introduce you to the Born rule which put really simply says

"I could predict probabilistically which world I would find myself in. Out of all the times the world was about to split 2:1, into a side of two-thirds width and a side of one-third width, I [would find] myself on the thicker side around 4 times out of 5, and on the thinner side around 1 time out of 5. When the world was about to split 3:1, I [would find] myself on the thicker side 9 times out of 10, and on the thinner side 1 time out of 10."

Or put even more simply
if I had a random lotto generator that could produce numbers and it showed 1 5/6 times and 6 1 out of 6 times my subjective experience of that would be to see 1 only 1 out of 26 times. If bob offers be 1:7 odds on that I subjectively should accept even if objectively it sounds stupid.

So at first glance it would seem I could create a situation where I artificially make results where I win money to be always part of the majority if situations - and thus artificially increase my probability of winning.

the solution might be to have a system that records the result of the lotto machine and instantly triggers the death of one of a set of Schrodinger's animals (mice stuck in a box separated from any information exchange with the universe) or, more humanely, produces a word that I must them memorize.

OR if that is impossible - I should never by lotto - its always a subjective loosing bet

Friday, October 10, 2008

Palin found guilty of power abuse

Palin found guilty of power abuse

Now I imagine a add on TV all in appropriate battle ground states with a picture of Cheney and a picture of Palin - with the line underneath, which of the above are guilty of abuse of power, and something about whether you can trust them.

Friday, October 03, 2008

US military hedging

Mathew Yglesias has a good post on US hedging against the threat of China.

I’ve long felt that was somewhat counterproductive insofar as it doesn’t so much hedge against the possibility of a deterioration in US-Chinese relations as it does make such a deterioration more likely. But Ilan Goldbenberg uses the column I published this morning as the jumping off point for the more provocative point that spending so heavily now is likely to counterproductive even in terms of the military balance:

The economy acts as the base of military power. It can be transformed into immediate military power at any time but at a long-term cost of reducing your military power. A country can invest in its economy in the short-term causing long-term economic growth, which creates a bigger base from which it can invest in military power. Or, it can invest in military power in the short-term understanding that this will have a cost to it’s economy and thus long-term military effectiveness.

The problem right now with the Bush administration sreategy is that we are investing well over $500 billion per year in defense once you include Iraq and Afghanistan, while China, the country most likely to present a significant long-term strategic challenge to the U.S., invests only $60 billion. That is a pretty dramatic handicap that we are creating for ourselves, especially when most of the spending is for weapons programs that might be obselete by the time the Chinese really are ready to compete and the fact that we still hold a dramatic military advantage.

To me this is the computer game strategy - you always focus on building up economic power territory and population with almost no military capability - then when forced to you build up a overwhelming strike force with just the right sort of weapons to fulfill that specific purpose as fast as possible and crush the enemy quickly and fairly painlessly. then you demilitarize after you have suppressed resistance. Using that strategy I have won many a game in record time.

Election 2008 (for NZ)

The Electoral Commission has finalised its list of registered parties for the general election, the full list of registered parties is here.

I'm hoping the Bill and Ben party win at least two seats - one for Bill and one for Ben, not 3 seats though...

flawed idea for the bailout plan

No Right Turn has a rather flawed idea for the bailout plan

The bailout was supposedly necessary because the banks had stopped lending to the real economy. The "solution" was to buy their bogus assets at vastly inflated prices in a dirty backroom deal cooked up between the US Treasury Secretary and his former workmates at Goldman-Sachs. A better solution would have been to cut the banks out entirely, and instead get the government into the lending business by setting up or buying their own bank and providing credit directly - bail out the real economy, and let Wall St burn. But that, apparently, would be "communism".

Now what could be the issue with his plan and why would it be communism?
Well the current banks have the current loan books. If we instituted communism we could take those loan books off the banks and desolve all the private banks. Amongst the many downsides to that one is that the rest of the world would be extremely angry because the USA doesn't wholly own it's banks anymore.

But of course NRT says his plan isn't communism - so he must mean the government starting it's own bank and out competing the private banks. But over the years that it would take to set that up banks would already be sucking money out of hte economy and would not be sellingthier business to the government because there is no incentive for them to do anyhting other than try every trick in the book to stay afloat.

So lets imagine it - banks starts charging high interest expecting high deposits offering low interest rates and caling in all it's morgages while companies cant get credit and start going insolvent. the government steps in and starts to offer cash to people - but who exactly is it going to offer that cash to? on what terms? does it jsut guarantee to extend every morgage at a fractionally lower rate than any bank that refuses to extend a morgage? If it had years up its sleve it could easily build a bank and hire the right people and run a bank at a huge loss in order to drive all the other banks out of the market (much to the anger of the WTO and the rest of the world) but it doesn't have that time - the economy would be in meldown.

Frankly it is lucky NRT isn't in charge. His policies sem based on anger and revenge rather than finding the best solution.

As to what one should do? the smart thing to do is very simply - not to pay vastly inflated prices. Maybe as David Brin says we could give money to Warren Buffet to manage.

'predatory' lending

As with readers at Scott Adams blog - I'm always a little irritated when I hear the term predatory lending. it sounds like a political strategy, to say that there is a problem but it isn't the fault of any significant part of the voters. that means you can sound like you are on their side even if you aren't really adressing the problem.

there seem two ways to look at it. the first is who is in the best position to determine if a loan should go ahead. As Scott notes that person SHOULD be the borrower in most cases. And in normal commerce it is, as the comments noted we don't get told at the local bar that we should buy less drinks so we can pay for the shopping tomorrow.

the second is who benefits unfairly. Well if I bought a house I cant afford and now was given assistance to stay in that house - it is probably me who is benefiting compared to the poor smuck who bought the rotten house that he could afford (with the same income), put up with all the mold and dampness and now finds him self no better off financially. To paint these people who spent far more than they could afford as victims rubs me the wrong way.

Frankly this overconsumpition is probably Americas's number one economic problem and the US system cannot bring itself to call it what it is.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Palin vs Biden Debate

So who won?
Well I have a pretty old fashioned view of debating - Palin didn't answer questions straight or with specifics - so she lost by a mile. She did however sound folksy - so she lost even worse.

That being said, this isn't a fair competition and I am not the judge that matters - therefore the best measure of who wins is what happens to the poll ratings straight afterward. For that answer I guess we need to wait.

Attacking Palin

Obsidian wings has another hit piece on Palin.

Now I'm no fan of Palin's , I think she was a cynical political choice - and would make a below average president - but I don't get some of the attacks against her.

here is the interview transcript

COURIC (to Palin): Do you think there's an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution?

PALIN: I do. Yeah, I do.

COURIC: the cornerstone of Roe v Wade

PALIN: I do. And I believe that -- individual states can handle what the people within the different constituencies in the 50 states would like to see their will ushered in in an issue like that.

Couric seems to have done this with the 'bush doctrine" phrase too.

To me that means the doctrine bush has (which is a complex thing) - I suppose I'm not exposed enough to the liberal media in the USA and neither is she - but that would be the literal interpretation.
Similarly here She asks a question about the right to privacy which to me reflects 1st amendment protection of 'privacy' of religion, 4th amendment protection against unreasonable searches and 5th amendment privacy against self incrimination.

Is there some secret American language in which the right to privacy implies roe vs wade? If so then I suspect it might be a secret democratic language which could explain why Palin does not know it. the same language where 'bush docterine' is a direct translation for 'preemtive strikes' and maybe 'republican' = 'fascist'.

Maybe Palin should know this language - in which case the critique may be valid - but in the absence of this assumption it is the critics that start to look bad to me.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Comments on Stryde Hax

Stryde Hax's blog regarding the underage gymnasts. I think it probably says something when one side is entirely made up with people with clearly flawed arguments.

first "lex" argues that Yang Yun must have been 1 when she started gymnastics if she was 14 at the olympics and was a gymnast for 13 years when she retired. the obvious mistake here was she did not retire during the olympics - she was around for another 3 years or so making her 4-5 when she started - which is normal for a top level gymnast in China. If she had been 6-7 that would have been a late start.

then "denglinlinfan" rants about how the girls should not be punished and accuses stryde of being a jellious american etc. really that is flooded with so much nonsene about other commenters to be hard to make sense of. His main point seems to be that he sees the issue through the eyes of the girls and thinks that even if htey were too young then we shouldn't talk about it because that might make them loose their medals and then they might be sad.

I don't know what to say to that.... says they competed and had no advantage over other gymnasts. Well in case he didnt know they had a huge advantage over the other 14 and 15 year old girls who had to stay home. And often gymnasts are at there best at 14-15 (take for example the most famous gymnast, Nadia Komenich who competed before the age restriction).

bobby fletcher highlights that yang yun 'mispoke" when she said she was 14. thanks bobby for using the same phrase as Hillary Clinton used when she wanted to excuse herself for lying.

Ironically the article goes on to quote one of the girls saying "If the FIG wants to investigate this matter," she added, "I will provide every form of documentation." interesting that she feels so confident she can provide that.

Ashamed on the otherhand seems to want to encourage a moral 'race to the bottom' by sayng that if the US cheats then China should cheat too... how about you maybe try enforcing the rules? regardless america giving pasports for competing in the olympics refers to for example how the US gave a passport to a australian athlete who had lived in the US for a decade so he could compete for hte country where he actually lived with his family as opposed to the one he was born in - oh the humanity! More seriously drugs are an issue - and if he has any evidence like the documents stryde cane up with them I hope he will show them.

Senate rescue package

The senate has passed a rescue package - leaving it up to the house now.
but in a classic example of the flaws in this system, the senate republicans have tacked a hundred million dollars in tax cuts onto the bill something that the fiscally conservative democrats will hate.

I don't know the details but this seems like so much pork attacked to what should be a purely rescue/investment* package. It seems a bit silly that a lawmaker could be faced with a sufficiently important and urgent bill that they had to vote yes, regardless of what bad policies were piggybacking on the same bill, or that it might end up getting thrown back and forth between the two houses as each rejects the others pork.

the best rescue package bill, I think, would have been a simple one with appropriate oversight.
Anyway - the lesson seems to be that the American system does not appear to be well designed for good quick decision making.

* the investment part comes from the fact that if done well the government can and in fact should make a profit.

Climate change: urgent

Norightturn highlights a IPCC report on climate change. I agree climate change is an issue - still I see a bit of the classic green strategy here of creating artificial targets and claiming that they are fundimental scientific ones.
First - there is no such thing as a "safe zone" for temperature change - or rather, if htere is a nearby tipping point (which I doubt) the IPCC has no idea where that tipping point is and neither does anyone else. So cutting emisions by 3% a year might be too litle too late or it might be easily enough. I know htat makes the argument less forceful - but I dont think we should be lying either.
Second - we talk about temperature rises by the end of hte century - that doesn't matter. What matters is the total temperature rise in the long term or if we are very selfish - the temperature rise in our lifetime.
Third - the temperature rate rise of 5.5 - 7.1 C is menitoned but hte rise with the plan that is suggested is sugesting is not - I suspect it is somthing like 3-4 C, so the marginal difference is a less impressive 2.5-3 C

Anyway I repeat my position on global warming that it really needs pragmatists and not socialists at the helm if we want somthing done. treaties like the kyoto protocol are flawed.

Chinese Gymnast's age - FIG ruling

The Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) has completed its investigation into the ages of Chinese team gymnasts who competed at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Originals of official documents received from the Chinese Gymnastics Association, specifically passports, identity cards and family booklets or ‘Household Registers’, confirm the ages of the athletes.

The FIG has shared its conclusions with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which originally requested the inquiry. It is considered that the case is now concluded.

However the FIG - with the agreement of the IOC - intends to investigate further the age of Chinese gymnasts Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun who participated at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney (AUS). The FIG does not consider the explanations and evidence provided to date in regards to these athletes as satisfactory.

I think that they are still looking at Yang Yun and Dong Fangxiao shows hat they are having a serious look at the facts, but it is interesting that the harshest ruling they feel they can give is "the evidence is not satisfactory". I'm not surprised that they had to let the 2008 team go - I still think they were under aged - but if a country is willing to falsify multiple official documents in order to hide it then it is hard to pass the very high bar that the FIG needs to effectively alienate a country of 1.3 billion people.