The Electric Commentary

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Cancer Fighting Beer

Great invention, or greatest invention.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Pre-Election Reading

Before you step into the booth tomorrow, I'd recommend picking up a copy of Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter, and James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. (They complement each other nicely, as the former draws heavily on the latter.)

Much of the bad policy-making in America can be blamed on the two-party system, in my opinion. Surowiecki convincingly argues that groups make bad decisions under the following scenarios:

Too homogeneous

Surowiecki stresses the need for diversity within a crowd to ensure enough variance in approach, thought process, and private information.


The two-party system takes a plethora of different views based on many perspectives and countless areas of expertise (and a bunch of garbage) and boils it down into two fairly similar parties, and forces a diverse crowd to select between them. This destroys the advantages of having such a diverse populace, and turns one of America's greatest strengths into a huge weakness.

Too centralized

The Columbia shuttle disaster, which he blames on a hierarchical NASA management bureaucracy that was totally closed to the wisdom of low-level engineers.


Parties tend to dictate position from the top down focusing on a few major issues while ignoring the practical value of said policies. As economist Robin Hanson frequently says, "politics is not about policy."

Too divided

The US Intelligence community failed to prevent the 11 September 2001 attacks partly because information held by one subdivision was not accessible by another. Surowiecki's argument is that crowds (of intelligence analysts in this case) work best when they choose for themselves what to work on and what information they need. (He cites the SARS-virus isolation as an example in which the free flow of data enabled laboratories around the world to coordinate research without a central point of control.)
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA have created a Wikipedia style information sharing network called Intellipedia that will help the free flow of information to prevent such failures again.


Having only two parties presents a black/white divide with no shades of gray available.

Too imitative

Where choices are visible and made in sequence, an "information cascade"[2] can form in which only the first few decision makers gain anything by contemplating the choices available: once past decisions have become sufficiently informative, it pays for later decision makers to simply copy those around them. This can lead to fragile social outcomes.


Information cascades can be good or bad, but in the realm of politics they are almost always bad. Perhaps the finest example of an information cascade takes place in the primaries. Ideally when aggregating data, in order for the group to be as smart as possible you want the members of that group to express their opinions as close together in time as possible. This preserves independence, and allows the group to contribute all of its local and personal knowledge free from influence. The primaries take the opposite approach, and collect the opinions of voters at periodic intervals over a long period of time. States that vote earlier have the ability to remove options from those who vote later, thereby creating a cascade, where each early state that a candidate wins makes it more likely that that they will win the next state, even if that state is vastly different demographically, which in turn makes it more likely that the candidate will win later and later states.

The simplest thing that America could do to increase the quality of politicians is to institute a national primary.

Too emotional

Emotional factors, such as a feeling of belonging, can lead to peer pressure, herd instinct, and in extreme cases collective hysteria.


"Obama is a Muslim! A Communist Muslim! Who hangs out with terrorists! And kills babies!"

If anyone says any of this to you, back away slowly and avoid eye contact, and note that not only does this person have the right to vote, but they are also MORE likely to vote than a normal sane person.

The two party system kills independence and diversity. The primaries destroy much of democracy's info-aggregation powers. The sport-team like mindset in which winning is more important than policy drives people to vote out of emotion instead of logic.

Maybe democracy is the worst system except for all the others, but there are ways to improve it. Until then, expect more of this.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Brewed Sports

Why not check out my sports blog?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Deadspin Packer Preview

The esteemed AJ Daulerio was kind enough to publish my Packer Preview on Deadspin. You can read it here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Steve Phillips, Brad Lidge, and The All-Star Game

Charlie Manuel thinks that Phillies closer Brad Lidge may have been hurt in the All-Star game, as he was asked to warm up 6 times and reportedly threw over 100 pitches. This is insane, and Manuel is right to be pissed off.

However, if there's one thing we know about ESPN commentator and former Mets GM Steve Phillips, it's that he can be counted on to make an idiot out of himself even when the facts are clear. Steve clearly doesn't like that the All-Star game counts for something, and ripped this setup when, on Mike and Mike this morning he said the following (paraphrased, obviously):

This is what happens when you have a game that counts, and managers are forced to do things that they would never do otherwise.


Now, in true Steve Phillips fashion, this sentence is stupid on several levels. First of all, it contradicts itself. Most baseball games count, and managers are accustomed to managing such games.

It's also factually inaccurate. The problem of player usage at the All-Star game stems from managers ignoring incentives, and still treating the game as an exhibition. No manager would ever run out of pitchers in a normal game, even though 4 of those pitchers are almost completely off limits. In the All-Star game, a manager running out of pitchers speaks to the shittiness of the manager, not to a problem with the All-Star Game.

If you have a problem with the All-Star game, that's fine. I think the game should count for something since players apparently don't have enough Herm Edwards in them to play the game hard on their own, and otherwise the All-Star game is pointless. But if you do have a problem with the game, you should at the very least have a decent argument against it.

Of course, Steve Phillips' first instinct is probably to blame the system and not managerial incompetence, for obvious reasons.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Do Not Trade Favre To The Vikings

In what would be the ultimate checkmate in this chess match of stupidity, the Packers are apparently considering trading Brett Favre to the Vikings.

This would be a very bad idea.

The market for Favre is obviously weak at the moment. Trading a QB during a weak QB market is stupid to begin with. Trading him to a division rival is lunacy.

Every year the market for QB picks up. This is the league that gave Jeff George interviews and tryouts (and the occasional job) for like 15 years after his, uhm, "prime."

Moreover, the Vikings only real weak spot is the terrible Tarvaris Jackson at QB. Their defensive line is fantastic after the acquisition Jared Allen. Their linebackers are OK, and their DBs, while not great, will benefit from the front four.

Offensively, their line is outstanding. Their RBs are outstanding. Their WRs do suck, but this is one of those situations where it's hard to separate the QB from the wideouts. Bernard Berrian is OK.

Up front, the Vikings are stacked. If you give them even an average QB they become one of the strongest teams in the NFC. If you give the Vikings a QB, you are bailing them out.

Basically any course of action would be superior to a trade with the Vikings. Sitting Favre on the bench would be better. Trading with the Bears (or any other team) would be better. Waiting for his value to increase would be better.

If the front office actually does this, they should all be fired.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is dead

From Bryan Caplan:

But let us be generous. We will not shoot them. We will not pour salt water into them, nor bury them in bedbugs, nor bridle them up into a "swan dive," nor keep them on sleepless "stand-up" for a week, nor kick them with jackboots, nor beat them with rubber truncheons, nor squeeze their skulls with iron rings, nor push them into a cell so that they lie atop one another like pieces of baggage - we will not do any of the things they did! But for the sake of our country and our children we have the duty to seek them all out and bring them all to trial! Not to put them on trial so much as their crimes. And to compel each one of them to announce loudly:

"Yes, I was an executioner and a murderer."
--The Gulag Archipelago


I was recently driving with someone, listening to NPR. The host stated that we won the "war of ideas" with the communists. My friend took great umbrage with this statement, claiming that we only won economically and militarily. I spouted off immediately about the deaths. The gulag. The forced famine. The murders.

Communism pisses me off. Solzhenitsyn allowed me to be informed enough to be pissed off.


 
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