Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Large Guns Man Speaks

My good friend Large Guns Man sent the following:

Well I knew our nations gun laws wouldn't last forever but this piece of legislation is nuts. What's next banning sling shots and squirt guns?

The best part is Section 3 part L that bans...

"A semiautomatic rifle or shotgun originally designed for military or law enforcement use, or a firearm based on the design of such a firearm, that is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, as determined by the Attorney General. In making the determination, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that a firearm procured for use by the United States military or any Federal law enforcement agency is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, and a firearm shall not be determined to be particularly suitable for sporting purposes solely because the firearm is suitable for use in a sporting event.'."

Since when do firearms simply have to be for sport? Isn't a right to personal defense enshrined in our federal and state constitution? Are we all going to be limited to muzzle loading smooth bore muskets?

Did I miss the huge gun riot after the Clinton ban sun setted that requires such a broad weapons ban? What does this bill do to address the MILLIONS of these firearms already LEAGALY owned by law abiding citizens?

I know I will feel much safer when it's illegal to own or use any of these weapons. I sure wouldn't want people to be able to defend themselves from oppressive governments or criminals.

Now, LGM may have a point. When I read the 2nd Amendment, to me it says this:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Now, most legal scholars would argue that the clause at the outset, about a well-regulated militia, means that none of the rest matters.

And I would argue that most legal scholars are full of oatmeal. The first clause is the REASON we have the right. But the right itself is still: "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Famously, the (otherwise) liberal Sandy Levinson exposed the nakedness of the left-wing emporer on this question, in his forthrightly titled "The Embarrassing Second Amendment." I was Sandy's colleague at UT-Austin when this piece came out, and Sandy was pretty well beaten up by the "rights conscious" lefties. They were very strong about defending rights they happened to agree with, but on the 2nd Amdmt they made up ridiculous arguments about why individual rights, in this ONE instance, were not important, and the Constitution didn't really mean what it seemed to....etc.

Of course, the Const meant JUST what it seemed to when it protected Daniel Ellsberg, or people who wanted to burn flags, or etc. (Don't get me wrong: Daniel E is fine by me, and people who want to burn flags are welcome to; just don't do it my flag, or on my property!)

Sandy happens to think that guns should be rather sharply controlled, maybe even prohibited in some instances. But the 2nd Amdmt MUST confer SOME individual rights, or else it just has no meaning. And, if we can selectively "nullify" parts of the constitution, at our whim....Well, John C. Calhoun didn't get to do it, why should anti-gun nuts?

So, Sandy said there is a perfectly good remedy: Amend the Constitution. Either strike the 2nd Amendment, or change it to read, "Only guns suitable only for sport can be borne by the people." (Okay, Sandy didn't say that last part; I'm just trying to make Large Guns Man angry. But Sandy did say: "You don't like the 2nd Amdmt? Amend it! You can't ignore it." Consistency. I give a guy a lot of credit for consistency. Sandy is a fine man.)

“...No one has ever described the Constitution as a marvel of clarity, and the Second Amendment is perhaps one of the worst drafted of all its provisions...[we no longer need militias, but] is hard for me to see how one can argue that circumstances have so changed as to make mass disarmament constitutionally unproblematic.”

So, Large Guns Man, there is the answer: THE CONSTITUTION! LOVE IT OR AMEND IT.

Go shoot something for me, LGM. And then give me one of the hindquarters, so I can make some sausage or something.


A nice link, partly from Volokh and Reynolds...

Some stuff on actual paper:

Sanford Levinson, The Embarrassing Second Amendment, 99 Yale L.J. 637 (1989)

William Van Alstyne, The Second Amendment and the Personal Right to Arms, 43 Duke L.J. 1236 (1994)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Kevin's Brain

Duke has been doing a study of how the brain processes mathematical problems.

My son Kevin was a participant.

We got some cool pictures of his brain.

From the top....(he's wearing headphones, to receive instruction. He doesn't have bones in his ears)

From the back....

They said his capacity to solve math problems immediately was remarkable. Of course, they were READING from the instruction manual, so I think that was a Lake Wobegon kind of compliment.

On Friday night, he and some friends went to a Waffle House, after going to a play over in Durham. I don't know just what happened, but I do know that there were attempts to jump over his car (an old 95 Mustang). The result was a kid in the hospital, broken collarbone, severe concussion, bruised lung. And a dent in the top of Kevin's car.

WHERE THE HELL WAS HIS BRAIN THEN? If someone tells you that they can jump over your car, get in your car and drive away.

Thank goodness he showed the good judgment to go to a Waffle House. If this had happened at a McDonalds, I might have had to take the car away. At least Waffle House is a classy place.

Meetings: The Unled Guiding the Uninterested


People have a harder time coming up with alternative solutions to a problem when they are part of a group, new research suggests....

When a group gets together, they can miss out on good options,” study team member H. Shanker Krishnan told LiveScience. This could mean ordering from a pizza place advertised on television even if there’s a better option, or making a poor decision in the boardroom. “Whether it’s with family or a group of co-workers, we could very quickly fixate on things and all come up with the same options.”...

The researchers speculate that when a group of people receives information, the inclination is to discuss it. The more times one option is said aloud, the harder it is for individuals to recall other options, explained Krishnan, associate professor of marketing at Indiana University.

Meetings down at old Duke U...go in dumb, come out dumber, too! (thanks to Randy Newman, and thanks also to his OFFENSIVE: WARNING! but great lyrics to "Rednecks")

(Nod to AV, who goes to meetings all the time. He must be a total idiot by now.)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

O'Rourke on Smith

Just finished reading PJ O'Rourke's new book, on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.

A disappointment. To be fair, I am a really, really big fan of both O'Rourke and of Smith, so my hopes were perhaps unrealistically high.

But Smith is subtle, and it is hard to understand his main thesis on division of labor. PJ apparently doesn't, or at least skips over it any real discussion. He wastes chapters paraphrasing Smith's language, instead of summarizing his ideas.

PJ is capable of deep understanding, as his famous essay, "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink" illustrates. That article changed my life, and dating/driving habits.

Seriously, I thought Parliament of Whores was so good I use several chapters in class. And All the Trouble in the World...well, the chapters on environmentalism are simply brilliant.

And, to be fair, O'Rourke's analysis of Smith does have a couple of terrific chapters. Chapter 7, on power and regulation, is outstanding. Not just funny, but fundamentally insightul. And Chapter 13, "An Inquiry into Adam Smith," is a wonderful overview of the man's life.

But too many of the other chapters just don't rise to that standard. Okay, but not great. You are still better off, if you don't want to read the whole WoN, just studying Book I and Book IV carefully, IMHO.

(cross-posted from DoL)

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read: NYTimes II

From the NYTimes, again. For those who find that reading takes away from their video game, and arguing about Britney/Fed-ex, time....

PARIS, Feb. 23 — It may well be that too many books are published, but by good fortune, not all must be read. In practice, primed by publishers, critics, teachers, authors and word-of-mouth, a form of natural selection limits essential reading to those classics and best sellers that become part of civilized intellectual and social discourse.

Of course, many people don’t get through these books, either, and too embarrassed to admit it, they worry constantly about being exposed as philistines.

Now Pierre Bayard, a Paris University literature professor, has come to their rescue with a survivor’s guide to life in the chattering classes. And it is evidently much in need. “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read?” has become a best seller here, with translation rights snapped up across Europe and under negotiation in Britain and the United States.

“I am surprised because I hadn’t imagined how guilty nonreaders feel,” Mr. Bayard, 52, said in an interview. “With this book, they can shake off their guilt without psychoanalysis, so it’s much cheaper.”

Mr. Bayard reassures them that there is no obligation to read, and confesses to lecturing students on books that he has either not read or has merely skimmed. And he recalls passionate exchanges with people who also have not read the book under discussion.

He further cites writers like Montaigne, who could not remember what he read, and Paul Valéry, who found ways of praising authors whose books he had never opened. Mr. Bayard finds characters in novels by Graham Greene, David Lodge and others who cheerfully question the need to read at all. And he refuses to be intimidated by Proust or Joyce.

Having demonstrated that non-readers are in good company, Mr. Bayard then offers tips on how to cover up ignorance of a “must-read” book.

Meeting a book’s author can be particularly tricky. Here, Mr. Bayard said there was no need to display knowledge of the book, since the author already has his own ideas about it. Rather, he said, the answer is “to speak well of it without entering into details.” Indeed, all the author needs to hear is that “one has loved what he has written.”

Ha! If someone tells me they love one of my books, I know right away they are lying. No one who has read my books loves them. My mom loved them, but she didn't read them.

(Nod to Anonyman, who reads. The articles, I mean, not just the centerfolds. No, really.)

Got Pole? NYTimes I

From the NYT: A story on pole dancing craze.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think this is a most EXCELLENT "turn" of events. "Tone your body, blow your mind!" indeed.

But I'm not sure my wife would really wear a tank-top that says, "Got Pole?"

I can imagine her pole-dancing, though. In fact, whenever I have to get a filling at the dentist or have to listen to a long sociology lecture (these two events are barely distinguishable, by the way), I intend to close my eyes and imagine my wife pole-dancing. I'm sure it will make the time pass much more quickly.

(Nod to Anonyman. I tried to imagine HIM pole dancing, and it cured my need for lunch)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hot Town, Summer and the Wiki!

We are failing our students. I don't mean we are giving them "F"s. I mean we are not teaching them what an authoritative source is. I tell my kids that ANYTHING they find on the internet will get strict scrutiny from me. Much better to have some original source. And if they even USE wikipedia, and I found out about it: D for death is their fate. Obviously, citing wikipedia would be an admission of guilt, so I have never seen it. Apparently, it happens, tho. The apocalypse.

Still, I am of good cheer. In fact, this story from the NYTimes....

When half a dozen students in Neil Waters’s Japanese history class at Middlebury College asserted on exams that the Jesuits supported the Shimabara Rebellion in 17th-century Japan, he knew something was wrong. The Jesuits were in “no position to aid a revolution,” he said; the few of them in Japan were in hiding.

He figured out the problem soon enough. The obscure, though incorrect, information was from Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, and the students had picked it up cramming for his exam.

Dr. Waters and other professors in the history department had begun noticing about a year ago that students were citing Wikipedia as a source in their papers. When confronted, many would say that their high school teachers had allowed the practice.

But the errors on the Japanese history test last semester were the last straw. At Dr. Waters’s urging, the Middlebury history department notified its students this month that Wikipedia could not be cited in papers or exams, and that students could not “point to Wikipedia or any similar source that may appear in the future to escape the consequences of errors.”

....moved me to song: (with apologies to the ever tuneful Lovin' Spoonful)


Verse 1
Hot link, research and the wiki!
Finding real cites is so darned tricky.
Due next class, I just need a quicky
Doesn't seem to be a problem with the wiki

All around, people looking half dead
Walking to the library, wonderin' what Rousseau said.

But at wiki it's a different world
Go out and find that URL
Cut-paste the text, then dance all night
Prof won't check, it'll be alright

And babe, you can't be too picky
When real books are too real for the wiki
Doing research...on the wiki!
Doing research...on the wiki!

Verse 2
Cool kids, writing for credit
Using a source even morons can edit.
In the library, real journal pieces head it--
But then you'd have to look up who said it!
Till you're reading 20 pages
Going up and down stairs, learning from dead sages!


Verse 3
Hot link, plagiarize the wiki!
Writing things yourself is so darned tricky.
Due in two hours, I just need a quicky
Haven't been taught how NOT to use the wiki

All around, GOOGLE showing matches;
I think it's past time kids learned just what a "source" is.


(Nod: Return of the Anonyman)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hard to Soar With Eagles When You Go to School with Buzzards

So, I have this friend. (He's not from North Carolina, btw). Sends his kid to quite a pricey private school.

And he (let's call him "Frank") is having a war with the school. His point is that the school represents itself as offering a very high quality education, and in fact works with each child.

Now, Frank is a bright guy. And his wife, with the exception of marrying Frank, is also as bright as they come. Their child is very, very smart. And he is now in the third grade.

(A personal note: my own sons, both of them, found third grade very difficult. The older one, Kevin, came home crying every day. "They just tell me things I already know, and they won't let me read!" Second son, Brian, was so bored that he got in trouble a lot. Not good. Fortunately, both went to public charter school the following year, and both have gotten challenging interesting lessons from teachers who want them to succeed ever since. SO, third grade is tough all over).

Frank's kid is acting out a bit, at this elite school where he is bored. He makes only a desultory effort at math problems, and if they are told to read a chapter in a book he reads the whole book and then goes on to something else.

School says there is a "problem." Frank says, "There sure is! You are not giving my kid any sort of challenging math questions, or letting him read on his own."

And Frank is right: it seems the school is more interested in imposing social control than in educating. And they are pretty honest about this. Frank goes to visit teachers and principals. All tell Frank that their main "mission" is to foster social equality. Part of that means paying extra attention to the weaker students, including those from the community who get "scholarships."

Now, these scholarships are money taken from Frank and other people (it's a private school, remember!), and given to people who could not send their kids to the school. I think that's a little strange, but okay: you could go somewhere else. If you sign up for this school, you must want to be part of this forced redistribution.

But here's the thing: the refusal to take a little extra time and give the top student some extra work, or different work.....THAT IS THE REAL STRATEGY FOR LEVELING. Not enough to help the weaker students. We have to hold the strong students back! Ayn Rand's ANTHEM was supposed to be just a story, not a documentary.

My man Frank sometimes thinks he is a liberal (he is NOT a Republican, that's for sure), but this is making him crazy. Why would a private school try to achieve social justice by withholding a quality education from THEIR BEST STUDENTS, THE ONES WHO PAY THE FREIGHT?

The final straw was when Frank got this email from someone at the school, which I reproduce verbatim below. It was in response to Frank's question about allowing students to go forward at their own paces:

I actually think the ability grouping hesitation is a philosophical one. Not wanting to have a group of eagles, hawks, cardinals and then buzzards. Easy to want the grouping when our children are eagles, less so if they are to be labeled buzzards. Huge topic in education but am happy to discuss.
[name redacted to protect the idiotic]

Childhood is a journey, not a race.


My own view? If you trap eagles, and make them live with buzzards, you end up with some pissed off eagles and frightened buzzards. And why add the pejorative labels anyway. All children are different. They learn at different rates, in different ways. Public schools might be constrained to try to make things more even by putting mental handcuffs on the smart kids. But why would a private school do that?

A final note: Frank claims that one of the other parents asked a school official, in quite a confrontational way, "What is THIS SCHOOL doing to improve public education in ?" Even the lefty-squishy school official was thrown by that one. Here is a wealthy white woman, who has chosen to pull her kid out of the public school and send him to the most expensive private school in the area. And she demands, from an official of THAT PRIVATE SCHOOL, an explanation on how the private school is working to make public schools better.

I'm afraid I would have answered, "Not enough to offset the damage that people like you are doing by sending their kids to private schools, I'm sure. But, thanks for doing it! We need the dough!" Talk about tracking! If all the parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools, we lose money, support, and diversity in the public schools. As I have noted, both my boys went to public schools, 4-12 grades. But we are lucky enough to live in North Carolina, which has pretty good public schools generally, and excellent charter and magnet schools, at least near Raleigh.

Boy, it just occurred to me. We should identify the best 20% of high schools in the state, and close them, right? Don't want any eagles around to make the buzzards feel bad.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

White Man's Burden....of Proof?

"It was just 85 years ago, in 1922, in the fascinating case of Rollins v.
Alabama, that a black man named Jim Rollins was tried and convicted for
'miscegenation'--the crime of having sex with a white woman. On appeal,
Rollins' conviction was overturned because the woman in question, Ms. Edith
LaBue, was a Sicilian immigrant, a fact that the court held could in no
sense be taken as conclusive that she was therefore a white
woman...Italians--like Irish, Jews, Poles, Greeks and now Hispanics and
others--have struggled in our history to achieve 'whiteness.'" [ABC]

The decision....

(nod to KL)

A Video for IT Folks Everywhere

My good friend Dr. P sends a video.

And as he describes it, it depicts his own relationship
with our own IT guru, Large Guns Man.

The video is very funny, throughout.

But the one section that is EXACTLY Dr. P (and I say this with love, and respect) is where the professor guy says, "You know, a scroll takes less time than all this 'turn the pages' stuff." Dr. P will always be a scroll guy in a Microsoft Vista world. Bless his heart.


The video itself is okay, I suppose.

But, looking at the associated ad, this claim is made:

" ordinary condom is a real pain in the butt. "

Perhaps, but surely that goes more to questions of sexual orientation, rather than convenience.

(Nod to the Mayor)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Toilet Seat Wars

This may have circulated widely already....

But I do want to share the link for this nice game theory analysis of toilet seat position.

It seems to me there are two costs left out here.

The first is the fact that if wife "Marsha" doesn't notice the seat is up, in the dark, in the middle of the night, she either sits on the cold porcelain (bad) or drops several inches into the water, with her legs sticking out in front of her (much worse). So, an asymmetry based on risk.

The second cost is the cost of "John" being celibate for at least a week if "Marsha" incurs the first cost, above. Forget "she yells at him." It's more like "she reminds John that she controls valuable easements, involving access."

(Nod to BN, who I'm sure always puts the toilet seat down. But then he sits down for #1, so it doesn't cost him much...)

UPDATE: lisalogic's comment is worth posting directly:

lisalogic said...
Very nice, the model might still be extended, though. Let's say, C(t) is constant, but D(t) is something like a mean-reverting process or else a poisson process (I call this the riposte model). How would the equilibrum behave in time, then?
Anyway, while it is logic to model a cooperative game and argue that one of the equilibrums is more efficient, and thus increases public welfare, it is not very much so for a non-cooperative game. As a woman would put it: "More welfare - for You".

Two good points there: design the game so it is in the male's advantage to choose the more globally efficient outcome. And, the dynamic properties of the game are interesting. If there is not a single equililbrium, what do we expect for the time path of behavior?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

On Eating, and Having, and Talking Cakes

"New Mexico...has ordered 500 talking urinal cakes that will deliver a
recorded anti-DWI message to bar and restaurant patrons who make one last
pit stop before getting behind the wheel...The state spent $21 for each
talking urinal cake for the pilot program...The cakes have enough battery
power to last about three months." [AP]

For more...

A nice female voice gives you life advice when you urinate on her. I'm not sure....well, I'm just not sure.

Just think of all the good that Bill Richardson can do if he is elected President.

[Nod to KL: that is wonderful]

Monday, February 12, 2007

Grade Appeal

Interesting case in Boston. What recourse does a student have, if s/he disagrees with a grade? There are two things that seem impossible: 1. All grades are open to renegotiation, because of the threat of legal action. 2. There is no appeal, and the student has no recourse.

But if neither one of THOSE is right....then what is the answer?

By Julie Masis

BOSTON (Reuters) - A student is suing a Massachusetts university over what he says is an unfair grade in a philosophy course, saying it could kill his chances of entering law school.

Brian Marquis, 50, said on Wednesday that he filed the lawsuit against the University of Massachusetts last week after receiving a "C" instead of the "A minus" he had expected.

"Quite frankly, I find this utterly unacceptable," Marquis, who worked as a legal assistant before returning to college, said from the university in Amherst in western Massachusetts.

The teaching assistant redrew the grading scale "to make grades more representative of student performance", which turned Marquis's 92.1 percent points into 84 percent, which became a C, according to an e-mail by the teaching assistant.

At the university, an 84 percent score can produce a grade between "A-" to a "C" depending on the professor's preferences, according to the school newspaper, the Daily Collegian.

School officials declined to comment on the case.

Sheldon Steinbach, a former chief attorney for the American Council on Education, representing over 1,800 colleges for over three decades, said such cases are rare and the handful of students who have sued over grades typically lost in court.

(Nod to BN, who is, as always, Mr. Reasonable himself.)

Friday, February 09, 2007

S. Rolen, World Series MVP

This has been bothering me for a long time, and I have to get it off my chest.

David Eckstein won the World Series MVP for my Cards. Well done, good guy, glad to have him, we won, yay!

But....Scottie Rolen was clearly the MVP for that Series. Not even close.

Slugging: Rolen .737* Eckstein .500
On Base %: Rolen .476 Eckstein .391
RBI: Rolen 2 Eckstein 4*
Runs Scored: Rolen 5* Eckstein 3
OPS: Rolen 1.213* Eckstein .891
*Led team

They both played excellent defense. A push there. Neither had a stolen base.

Based on those stats, why Eckstein? He's a cute little, scrappy guy. Also, to be fair to David, he got 4 of his hits, including 2 of his doubles and 3 of his RBI, with 2 outs. Clutch, I agree. But one of Eck's doubles happened when the CF fell down on the wet turf, on an easy fly. And another glanced off the LF's glove, when the outfield was (IMHO) much too drawn in.

Not an original view, I admit (note comment, here), but I had to say it. David, well done. Scottie, way to be a class guy and keep your mouth shut. Should been you, though, Scottie.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Radley Goes Far, But Not Far Enough

My man of Reason, Radley Balko, stops short of the obvious conclusion.

He links to....well, here's what he said:

The latest from ONDCP is just weird. I guess the message is, if you smoke pot, you may lose your paramour to an intergalactic, inter-species romance.

Which I suppose is the kind of thing Rick Santorum warned us about.

(You'll need to go to the Reason site to see the video; I'm no hit pirate).

Nope, Radley, as usual you are too kind. This short film is in fact a documentary, an actual videotape of how Rick Santorum's parents met, and flew away together.

There is no other explanation for the Senator. I'm just sayin'.

New Friends, Old Stories

A nice note, from some new friends in Hungary (in particular, Katie, a UNC-CH grad in 1982; what a small world: GO HEELS!). Katie had seen a piece I had written for EconLib, and said, "I loved this article!! I forwarded it on to a number of people, and they too raved about it. It looks like you focus mostly on domestic issues, but in fact your ideas are very relevant to other parts of the world as well. We happen to be part of a group of militant free-marketeers working in Central and Eastern Europe, for whom your article was very relevant."

Katie sends a link to a piece written by Katie and her husband at the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security (which they co-direct).

The problem, over and above everything else, is that Hungarians have not entirely given up their belief in socialism. Too many Hungarians still accept its moral compromises. Too many still accept that violations of law or ethics or personal integrity are acceptable it if serves the greater good. And even more importantly far, far too many still accept the false promises of socialism. The Hungarian government has been overspending for decades. In the 1980s, its overspending was covered by foreign direct investment and foreign borrowing. In the 1990s, its overspending was covered by income from privatization of state property, more foreign borrowing, and high taxation. But now the resources are exhausted, as are the Hungarian people. Hungarians are taxed as much as they possibly can be. So an austerity package that mostly promises to tax them further is not the solution. Indeed, many analysts have said that higher taxes will only push even more people to find ways of not declaring their income as well as further dampen competitiveness and suppress incentive for individuals and businesses to be productive and profitable. Therefore, higher taxes will not lead to growth, which is what Hungary needs above all else. The only way Hungary can again become an economically vibrant nation, rather than one mired in its own debt, is if the government stops consuming so much of the country’s assets and resources, and removes such fetters on productivity as excessive reporting requirements, bureaucratization, and excessive taxation.


To Katie, and friends: What you are doing is a lot harder, and what you are writing is a lot better, than my stuff. Good luck to you, and to ITDIS!