Stay away from fatties

They’re contagious:

It may seem like bad news for the thin among us, but socialising with people heavier than yourself could make you put on weight…. where two people who are friends for a long time, and where one is heavier than the other, the thinner friend tended to increase in weight by up to 57 per cent over time.

No offense to the heavyset, you understand, it’s just that it’s catching….

Of course the White House is lying

Given the Obama administration’s unique combination of shamelessness and incompetence, I won’t be in the least bit surprised if we should eventually learn that the birth certificate that was finally released last week turns out to be a fake too:

In a pants-on-fire moment, the White House press office today denied anyone there had issued threats to remove Carla Marinucci and possibly other Hearst reporters from the press pool covering the President in the Bay Area.

Chronicle editor Ward Bushee called the press office on its fib: “Sadly, we expected the White House to respond in this manner based on our experiences yesterday. It is not a truthful response. It follows a day of off-the-record exchanges with key people in the White House communications office who told us they would remove our reporter, then threatened retaliation to Chronicle and Hearst reporters if we reported on the ban, and then recanted to say our reporter might not be removed after all.

The Chronicle’s report is accurate.

If the White House has indeed decided not to ban our reporter, we would like an on-the-record notice that she will remain the San Francisco print pool reporter.”

I was on some of those calls and can confirm Ward’s statement.

The contrast in administrations is easily apparent. The Clinton White House used to assassinate its wayward members with impunity and successfully conceal its connection to the killings within minutes. The Soebarkah/Soetoro White House, on the other hand, apparently can’t even forge a convincing government document when it has two years to get it right.

NFL second round

As requested. I don’t have much to add, except that I really wouldn’t mind the Vikings drafting another quarterback just to increase the odds that we might end up with a half-decent one. But we probably need offensive linemen.

Econ doesn’t stick

This may explain why today’s economists are so hapless; they simply don’t know the relevant core principles:

Unfortunately, however, most students seem to emerge from introductory economics courses without having learned even the most important basic principles. According to one recent study, their ability to answer simple economic questions several months after leaving the course is not measurably different from that of people who never took a principles course.

What explains such abysmal performance? One problem is the encyclopedic range typical of introductory courses. As the Nobel laureate George J. Stigler wrote more than 40 years ago, “The brief exposure to each of a vast array of techniques and problems leaves the student no basic economic logic with which to analyze the economic questions he will face as a citizen.”

Another problem is that the introductory course is increasingly tailored not for the majority of students for whom it will be their only economics course, but for the negligible fraction who will go on to become professional economists. Such courses focus on the mathematical models that have become the cornerstone of modern economic theory. These models prove daunting for many students and leave them little time and energy to focus on how basic economic principles help explain everyday behavior.

But there is an even more troubling explanation for students’ failure to learn fundamental economic concepts. It is that many of their professors may have only a tenuous grasp of these concepts, since they, too, took encyclopedic introductory courses, followed by advanced courses that were even more technical.

It may sound cool, at least to dorks, to be a quant or a wonk. But all the technical expertise in the world doesn’t do you any good if you don’t get the core concepts right. That’s why, in RGD, I attempted to begin at the beginning and leave as much jargon and econometrics out of it as was reasonably possible. I was fortunate, as about half my econ professors had a fairly sound grasp of the core concepts. But given the more common nature of those who didn’t, it doesn’t surprise me to learn that their sort are in the majority. As I’ve mentioned before, I once met a nominal econ major from a big state school who had never heard of Keynes or the General Theory.

On the royal wedding

Needless to say, I haven’t exactly been paying a lot of attention to the marriage of the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but it’s inescapable over here. So, a few observations:

1. The two princes make a good pair. Unlike so many politicians, they always come off as two men you wouldn’t mind hanging out with. Even on a formal state occasion. If it’s merely an act, they’ve got it down. And the British people obviously have great affection for them.

2. The bride looked very pretty. A streamlined bridal gown always beats fluff and poofery, in my opinion. I still don’t understand the whole train thing, though.

3. The little groomsmen in their red coats were cute.

4. Prince Charles has aged remarkably well for a man who looked like a prince of dorks in his prime. Of course, as SB commented, there was nowhere to go but up.

5. I wish they’d had a mike on the Duke of Edinburgh. He always has some hilariously inappropriate comment for every occasion.

6. The service was remarkably and explicitly Christian for a nation that is supposed to have moved beyond all that Dark Age mysticism. The selection of Romans 12 for the Bible reading was well done.

7. I think it is vastly preferable for a woman to not vow to obey her husband than to vow it when she does not mean it. I am much more inclined to trust a woman who values her word enough to refuse a knowingly false vow than a woman who will blithely agree to say anything.

8. Don’t ask me about the NFL draft. I can’t think about the NFL draft. I’m still in denial. I just hope Spielman knows what he’s doing by selecting Ponder. He’s smart, so here’s hoping that the idea is that he’ll be better able to read NFL defenses than his more highly rated peers.

Mailvox: the Gordian theologian

In which Cartusiae metaphorically shakes his booty for our amusement:

To clarify, does Calvinism have any relation to the historic man, “Jean Cauvin”?

If so, were these beliefs present in the early Latin edition of ((Institutes)), the French edition following, or the more sizable final editions? Were they present in the documents currently in libraries, either as manuscript editions, editions commonly referred to as critical editions, including critical translations?

Given the historically extended second period of Calvin’s ministry in Geneva, which of the sermons and/or extended glosses and scholia exegetically or eisegetically (as you, or something utilizing your denotation, claims) postulates AND sustains the theses you present under the rubric of ‘Calvinism’?

Whether Scots, UK (anachronistically deployed to refer to the various jurisdictions emerging from the 16th century), Dutch, HRE, Swiss, or other congregations, consistories, presbyteries, synods, bishoprics, Electorates or Palatinates, could you indicate which of these in public confession, commentary on confession, commentary on laws emerging from Scriptural reflection, or in merest battlefield support of ‘Reformed’ polities held the positions attributed to Calvinism?

Or, logically, given a universe of propositions, can you inductively construct a probable argument that conforms to ‘Calvinism’ as you define it and a reliable construction of the varieties of historic and constituted bodies, polities, jurisdictions, or even German encyclopediae of the 19th century?

Something as FOL as “For all R such that R is a set of propositions…” and “There exists a c contained in C such that the union set of r contained in R is to a set of c contained in C where C is the superset of statements I attribute to Calvinists, even if I haven’t made them yet but they can be translated by a Jovian sociologist 500 years hence as I would hope them to be translated when ascribed to me.”

Or, please inform me what your understanding of “bereshit bara elohim et haeretz vet hashamaim” might be.

We’ll start there.

Once I’ve determined a baseline of your understanding of causation, then I can better comprehend your stance vis-a-vis your understanding of the relation between causation, determination, agency, the attribute commonly ascribed to God as ‘justice’ but understood in terms of the originating words, since the cognates emerging from proto-Semitic ANE are drastically different than the extended and quite contradictory–in the strong sense–definitions currently punting about under the cloak of justice; then perhaps I can adequately meet your conversation about the adequation of warranted and credible models of divine responsibility and the coherence of ‘calvinism’ with said scriptures.

No, we really won’t. I pay absolutely no attention to the overblown theological autoeroticism of the sort Cartusiae is exhibiting here with his rhetorical questions. One thing I have observed over the years is that people who don’t actually know what they’re talking about and cannot defend either the facts or the logic of their positions invariably retreat into impenetrable jargon when the mere fact of their waving credentials is insufficiently effective. What Cartusiae has written might intimidate some, but it merely makes me laugh out loud. I mean, I studied economics under economists who wrote the econ textbooks. Do he seriously think I haven’t seen the high-flown jargon tactic before… or had any trouble dealing with it?

VD: “That’s not true. Your argument falls apart here.”

CE: Well, Mr. Day, only after you demonstrate that you have first grokked the confarbulation of the schixamotroid can we begin ascertaining if you truly possess the One True Understanding of the Grand Moxistic Illuminastine’s definition of the upper middle will of God, which of course you must exhibit before we can deal with your impertinent observation that I appear to have calculated 342 as the sum of 2 plus 2.”

VD: That’s all irrelevant. The problem is that 2+2 simply isn’t 342, it’s 4. The foundation of your vast monstrosity of an argument hangs on a miscalculation. So, it’s wrong, your collection of impressive credentials and recitation of irrelevant encyclopedic details notwithstanding.

CE: You know nothing about [insert subject here]!

Perhaps I don’t. And yet, ironically enough, I don’t need to. It doesn’t matter what term is applied, whether it is Reformed, Calvinist, or omniderigiste, because I am not objecting to the labels, but to the specific ideas and the arguments that have been presented to me. In this case, all the navel-gazing theological babble in the world will not change the fact that X!=Not X nor will it make the observable evil in the world vanish. Cartusiae and others who fancy themselves credential experts in the field of God can tie as complicated a Gordian knot as they like, but any sufficiently practiced logician will simply avoid all the extraneous nonsense and cut through the relevant rope.

I’m entirely comfortable with all of the theological possibilities reasonably in play, ranging from the Bible being the imperfect, incomplete, and inconsistent Word of God to God being an omniderigent puppet-master who is typing these words through the mechanism of my fingers as one minute part of an awesomely elaborate Kabuki play. Something is, but none of the concepts absolutely, necessarily has to be… which is why I conclude that the optimal approach is to seek to understand the truth as best we can understand it from the Scriptures, observe it in the world around us, and articulate it through properly applied logic. If the credentialed babblers of the theological world had any utility at all, you would think they would at the very least have been able to come up with a word or two to describe what a significant number of people, both Christians and non-Christians, actually happen to believe regarding God’s relationship with the world.

The only thing of real interest to me is a conclusive answer I have not yet received from anyone capable of speaking for the Calvinist camp. I would like to know if the Wikipedia summary accurate when it states: “Calvin argues that the knowledge of God is not inherent in humanity nor can it be discovered by observing this world. The only way to obtain it is to study scripture. Calvin writes, ‘For anyone to arrive at God the Creator he needs Scripture as his Guide and Teacher.’ He does not try to prove the authority of scripture but rather describes it as autopiston or self-authenticating.”

If this is accurate, then it would explain much about what I have long seen as the logical incompetence exhibited by those holding to various strains of the creed that can be reasonably described as being somehow “Calvinist”.

NFL draft 2011

Here’s hoping it is not the last one, what with the players attempting to turn the NFL into a European soccer system where there is one heavy favorite every year and only two other big-spending teams have any shot at the title. My only thoughts on the actual draft this year are as follows:

1) Cam Newton is a stretch and will not be a star quarterback. Great athlete, but I doubt he’ll be able to read NFL defenses or have the patience to stay in the pocket and find receivers. If he’s willing to work hard, his upside is Michael Vick. Not awful, but you’re not likely to win a Super Bowl with him either. Looks like Vince Young 2.0.

2) The Vikings need to draft Mallet or Dalton. Yes, they’re not likely to be stars either and yes they’ll probably be overpaying, but they have more of a shot than Newton and more of a shot to be decent starters than Joe Webb. The NFL is a quarterbacks league. I would draft a QB first every single year until I had a keeper; there is no shortage of bad teams with great linebackers or wide receivers.

In defense of college

This Cracked commenter’s explanation of why college is worthwhile is more than a little amusing:

College sucked for the first two years for me (as in I was one phone call away from talking to an Army recruiter) but then I ended up studying abroad for a semester, meeting some really cool people and professors and took classes in my major (Rhetoric) which were really eye opening and awesome. I started out as a judgmental hyper-conservative p***k and four years later, here I am graduating in three weeks as a well rounded, tolerant atheist. I don’t mean to toot my own horn (although if I could, I would, heh heh) but I’m certainly much better off, mentally, than I was before college. To me that’s what makes my mountain of debt worth it.

So, there’s some good news and some bad news, Mom and Dad. On the one hand, your son is broke, unemployable, and hugely in debt. On the other, he’s now an atheist. It’s a pity college recruiters and high school guidance councilors are not similarly forthright about the statistically probable outcomes.

The other thing that is always rather funny about the comments following post-bubble articles about the value of college is the way most of the people attempting to defend it are still in college. Which is to say that they are presently enjoying the short-term benefits without taking the long-term costs into account.

HBO is on a roll

It appears someone at HBO has concluded that perhaps they might do better producing shows and series that are based on good books rather than repeatedly regurgitating the generic TV formula of cops and docs.

[Neil] Gaiman followed [Good Omens] with another classic, Neverwhere, in 1996 and Stardust in 1997. I have since adored every tale he has turned out. So it was with great interest I learned that nearly simultaneously with the premier of its epic Game of Thrones, HBO has announced that American Gods will be adapted into a new mini-series, with Gaiman himself co-piloting the writing, along with Robert Richardson.

I am no Gaiman fanboy, but I did rather like American Gods. Given that Stardust translated very effectively to the screen, I have little doubt that HBO’s American Gods will be every bit as entertaining as the Harris and Martin adaptions that preceded it.

Some of the other SF/F books I’d like to see HBO eventually address are the Melanie Rawn Dragon Prince series, Ann McCaffrey’s Harper Hall series, (although Dragonriders would make for much more HBO-style material), and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain.

The great financial rape

Tyler Durden shows how the banks used the housing bubble to rob the middle class of half their wealth:

The Great Middle Class between those in poverty and the top 20%–56 million households– owns about $2.7 trillion in financial wealth, and the millions with mortgages own an additional $1 trillion in home equity. That comes to $3.7 trillion, or about 6.5% of the total household net worth.

Consumer durables–all the autos, washing machines, jet-skis, etc.–are worth about $2.2 trillion ($4.6 T = $2.4 T in consumer debt). Add the durables and the other wealth, and the Great Mortgaged Middle Class holds about 10% of the total household wealth ($5.9 trillion).

Before the housing bubble, households owed about $5 trillion in mortgages. The housing bubble came along, introducing the fantasy of home-as-ATM-cash-withdrawal-machine, and mortgages ballooned to over $10 trillion.

Back at the top of the bubble, the middle class had $6 trillion more assets on the books. Considering the Mortgaged Middle Class now owns about $6 trillion in net assets, then the bursting of the housing bubble caused their net worth to drop by 50%.

With regards to the importance of real estate and debt, note that household and nonprofit real estate is now worth $18.2 trillion despite its $6.8 trillion decline since 2006. This is non-trivial, given that real estate is still nearly twice the current $8.9 trillion of the M2 money supply. What I find particularly interesting is that mortgage debt and consumer credit are both nearly flat; this indicates that the Fed has successfully resisted the debt-deleveraging thus far while being unable to prop up the prices of certain asset classes.

This is further indication that what we are presently seeing in the equity and commodity markets is a speculative spike driven by liquidity rather than true monetary inflation. The silver market, in particular, has gone nearly vertical, which in most situations would indicate that there should be some further buying opportunities in the relatively near future. Alternatively, if the rising commodity prices are indicative of hyperinflation, we’ll see real estate prices start rising soon and silver could go to 400.

I think, however, that we’re more likely to see prices start collapsing when QE2 comes to an end. For all that the rising prices look superficially impressive, they’re actually quite moderate in comparison with the $5 trillion in global liquidity pumping. No doubt there will be calls for QE3, but given the increasingly obvious failures of the first two quantitative easings and the attention that is being given to the debt, I doubt the Fed will be in much of a position to try it.

Anyhow, the two most interesting signals now appear to be housing prices and silver. Right now, these markets are moving in opposite directions and its as foolish to ignore one as the other. Sooner or later, one of them is going to reach an inflection point and reverse direction and that should provide us with a better idea of whether Federal Reserve pumping has been disguising the deflation or various factors unique to the housing market has been mitigating the effects of inflation in the real estate market.