Sunday, May 31, 2009
Update: In another review, Gintis says about Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom:
I don't want to suggest that Gintis is now a free market economist -- he seems closer to the center to me -- but he is very far from where he used to be.
Further Update: Tom questions how centrist Gintis is. My sense is that he is critical of what he regards as the ideological left and right. Here is an excerpt to give one the flavor of his analysis:
The main problem [with this analysis] is that the social democratic vision has not been turned back, but rather has been largely realized in the form of (a) the end of legalized discrimination against African-Americans; (b) the huge increase in the rights of women against the claims of patriarchy; (c) the rise of a culture that asserts racial tolerance and affirms gender equality; (d) a wide-spread system of social safety nets in the form of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance; and (e) a vigorous system of laws and social institutions protecting the rights of children against sexual and physical violence. I would argue that there are several new social priorities that have arisen given the basic resolution of the aforementioned social problems, but that social democracy has not shown itself popular among voters in solving these problems. Moreover, some of the old social democratic institutions, such a support for labor unions, were merely a means of forging a political united front of a labor aristocracy and the political social democrats that worked to the detriment of the majority of voters, including most workers.
Recognizing that most of the social democratic vision has been achieved and that unions are generally a force for bad takes one a long way towards the center.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
I'm looking forward to trying Microsoft's new search engine, Bing. I have been hoping for a long time that somebody would take on Google on its own terms, and it looks like Microsoft is going to give it a credible shot. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has felt that Google has been trading at least as much on its hat as its cattle. It's search product is good, but it could be a lot better and the only way things get better is through competition. A lot of Google's success also seemed to depend uncomfortably on positive feedback effects, effects that promote a network monopoly. So, to get lots of visits to your site, the most important thing was your Google ranking in certain keyword searches. But this meant that you had to optimize your site for Google, which might mean making it difficult to use competing products. Many think not running Google AdSense on your site, for example, is a good way to lower your PageRank. But since the ranking algorithm is a holy of holy secret, good luck trying to prove that. Moreover, some critics claim that there is something pernicious in Bing's "decision engine" approach -- Bing puts on top the results it thinks will help you make a decision in certain categories, such as picking a travel destination or finding a doctor. Google, on the other hand, is supposed to keep all this under the hood, and rank results by a mysterious but highly Scientific process, that's even better for humans being out of the loop. The Google approach is said to be more objective and less eliteist somehow. But I don't buy it. My suscipion is that the Science going on is the science of maximizing ad revenues. My guess is that has a lot to do with what a "high quality" site is. By making it explicit that somebody is making their best guess about what you are looking for and pushing some restaurants or airlines to the top, Bing is being more transparent, not less. Bing can compete on whether it delivers what people are looking for. That, not cuteness, or not doing evilness, or hipness, or coolness, ought to be the measure of a search service. If this turns into a competition about service to us, and not brands, we will be the beneficiary. It is not from the benevolence of high tech companies that we should expect good search results. Let the war begin.
Well, at least we can call it nationalization now. Seems like a long time ago when the politically correct were saying, oh, it is not nationalization. It's just a loan! Now, Uncle Samantha is going to own 70 percent of our great American Brontomanufacturus, and if that's not nationalization, I don't know what is. And $50 billion? Goodness, this is starting to seem like real money. Still, it will be a useful experiment to prove government can do an even worse job than GM did already. We may get something out of this -- a concrete symbol of our time, the way the Yugo was an expression of Yugoslavian socialism, the kind I was taught in the 'seventies we should get all dewey eyed over. God, those of us who lived through the seventies could tell you lots of reasons not to do it again, but whatever. I predict a green car few people will want to buy, even at a highly subsidized price, but we'll see. It's interesting that even the Washington Post is starting to ask WTF is going on here.
Here are Judge Sotomayor's 50 most important opinions, as judged by the PreCYdent algorithm. (See also pdf version below. Our site is running slow these days because we need another server, so if you just want the list, the pdf is probably quicker.) Our algorithm judges importance in something like the way that Google judges the importance of webpages. For you geeks out there, that means we use a modified Kleinberg algorithm with some special sauces. So it's not just a matter of how often a case is cited, but how important are the cases that do the citing, among many other factors.
University of Utah law professor and former US District Court Judge Paul Cassell, not to mention brother in law of RC blogger me, discusses Judge Sotomayor's record. (Unfortunately, the PBS website does not seem to allow me to embed the clip, so you have to go there to watch it.)
Here's an interesting suggestion, in the last paragraph of this piece in Time. Yet another iteration of the crazy or crazy like a fox question about our young President. The idea is, maybe the WH wants to have a national debate about racial preferences because it thinks now is the time to win it. Seems like a bad idea to me, but I'm not President.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor reportedly remarked that she hoped
as a wise Latina woman she would be able to make better decisions than
a white man. Others have wondered what people would think if a white
man said something like that. This is a good question. I would wonder
what a white man was doing thinking he was a Latina woman. But then I
would realize, what would I, as a white male man know about what it
would be like to walk a mile in the very fashionable footwear of a
white man who thought he was a Latina woman? Very little indeed, I
should think. And who would know how wise this man was? Perhaps he
would be wiser than us all. Or maybe not.
first Hispanic Justice designate not counting Sephardic Jews could have
said "I am woman, hear me roar" and I think we can all agree that would
have been worse. "Wise Latina woman" is at least a curious phrase. It
makes me think there is some ethnic stereotype at play I am not clued
in on. Is a WLW different or the same as a wise white woman? Do they
know about different herbs or something? I also must dissent from the
implication, if there is one, that white men somehow fall short in the
wisdom department. There is Moses, assuming he was not Sephardic, or
rather, pardon me, even if he was. There is Ronald Reagan,
Gandalf and Dumbledore, just to name a few, all quite white and quite
wise. Trying to come up with the name of a wise Latina woman, the only
one I can think of is our Lady of Guadalupe, and I'm not sure she
should count, since Hillary Clinton didn't even know who she was. No
doubt I could come up with more were I not a white man, or if I were a
wise white man. But if I were a wise white man, I would probably not
be writing this post. Nevertheless, one does wonder, would a wise
Latina woman even make the claim that a wise Latina woman could make a
better decision than a white man? So even if this statement is true,
might Judge Sotomayor's making it suggest she is not one of them? Food
for thought, indeed.
Still you have to admit we have all known people who were so white you really had to doubt their wisdom. Many of us knew clueless preppies in college, whose idea of diversity was having both a metal and a wood tennis racket. But I sort of like the idea of a clueless preppy on the Supreme Court, as long as he or Muffy were sufficiently learned in the law. I am not trying to be racist here, I just think he or she would be kind of cute. There was a Justice White on the Supreme Court but he was neither clueless nor a preppy, nor cute in the least, though I think you would have to concede that he was white.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
One hears a lot about the California budget crisis, but what are the facts? One blogger writes:
Think about that -- a 6 percent increase in expenditures from the prior year during a recession/depression. How can anyone blame this on anything else than excessive government expenditures? As the post says, "during tough times shouldn’t we tighten our belts?" Apparently, not.
I'm not big on identity politics or identity anything, but I thought this was interesting.
According to the article:
The 45-year-old single mother of an adopted teenage daughter recently completed rabbinical school and is about to become the first ever black female rabbi.
"I am blessed," said Stanton, who, on August 1, will become rabbi of Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C., a 53-family congregation affiliated with both the Conservative and Reform movements.
"I was their first choice," she said. "They were my first choice."
The irony of a black woman presiding over a white congregation in the deep south is not lost on Stanton.
"God has a sense of humor," she said.
Hat tip: Manny Kausner.