Patterico's Pontifications

1/28/2013

Monday Morning Fun

Filed under: General — JD @ 7:32 am

[Guest post by JD]

Johnny Football teamed up with trick shot marvels Dude Perfect to film some spectacular trick shots with footballs and basketballs. I don’t care how many takes they need to get the shot, these are great fun.

H/T to the incomparable DRJ.

— JD

Government Officials Not Subject to Proposed Assault Weapons Ban; Government Says Assault Weapons Good for Self Defense When Used By Government

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:28 am

The Blaze:

The Department of Homeland Security is seeking to acquire 7,000 5.56x45mm NATO “personal defense weapons” (PDW) — also known as “assault weapons” when owned by civilians. The solicitation, originally posted on June 7, 2012, comes to light as the Obama administration is calling for a ban on semi-automatic rifles and high capacity magazines.

Citing a General Service Administration (GSA) request for proposal (RFP), Steve McGough of RadioViceOnline.com reports that DHS is asking for the 7,000 “select-fire” firearms because they are “suitable for personal defense use in close quarters.” The term select-fire means the weapon can be both semi-automatic and automatic. Civilians are prohibited from obtaining these kinds of weapons.

Meanwhile:

Not everyone will have to abide by Senator Dianne Feinstein’s gun control bill. If the proposed legislation becomes law, government officials and others will be exempt.

“Mrs. Feinstein’s measure would exempt more than 2,200 types of hunting and sporting rifles; guns manually operated by bolt, pump, lever or slide action; and weapons used by government officials, law enforcement and retired law enforcement personnel,” the Washington Times reports.

Place to one side for now the fact that, in light of the purpose of the Second Amendment, it raises questions for government officials to have the right to bear arms that citizens can’t. I think anyone would agree that the military should be able to have weapons citizens can’t, and the same arguably applies to law enforcement. Your neighbor doesn’t get to have a nuclear bomb.

But when “government officials” are not subject to the same laws as citizens, there is a problem.

That alone is reason to oppose Feinstein’s bill.

And why are assault weapons “suitable for self defense in close quarters” when used by government officials, but not necessary for citizens who want to defend themselves.

There’s some hypocrisy going on here, it seems.

1/27/2013

We Don’t Know As Much As We Think We Do About the Economy, Part 3: Don’t Ever Say “A Study Shows” To Prove Anything

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:02 pm

I have been discussing what I learned in a podcast in which Jim Manzi cautions people to be very skeptical about the authority of conclusions reached by social scientists, including economists. The point he consistently makes is that, to have reliability, any phenomenon should be repeatable in different situations in different contexts, allowing people to make consistent and reliable non-obvious predictions. One important corollary is not to make too much of a single study — no matter how interesting the result might be, or how much it seems to confirm your pre-existing biases.

We all do this. Here’s a fun real-world example showing why it’s a bad idea.

Economic theory tends to hold that greater choice leads to greater demand and consumption — thus, if you want to sell more, offer more choices to your consumers. But Manzi tells the story of researchers who set out to test this. They ran an experiment in which they set up a table at a grocery store on two successive Saturdays. At the table, they had a selection of jams and jellies. One Saturday they had a selection of six different jams and jellies, and the other Saturday they had 24 varieties. On each day, they asked shoppers to taste their wares, and if they liked them, the shopper would be given a dollar coupon to redeem at the checkout counter to purchase one of the jams or jellies.

Conventional economic theory would hold that the day where the greater choice was available, a higher percentage of coupons would be redeemed. But the researchers found something counterintuitive and interesting. On the day where they had six different jams or jellies for purchase, fully 30% of the shoppers used a coupon to buy jams or jellies. On the day when they had 24 different varieties of jams or jellies, only 3% of shoppers redeemed the coupon.

Fascinating, huh? Reducing choice actually increased sales. You can easily see journalists writing an article that wows the public. Call the Freakonomics guys. Can’t you envision a section of a chapter talking about this surprising result, and discussing the likely reasons for it? Perhaps the shoppers were paralyzed by indecision when presented with so many choices. Valuable information, certainly, for any marketer to know.

Valuable — and almost certainly wrong.

Manzi says it was a mistake to draw sweeping conclusions from this single experiment. After all, look at how extreme the results are.

Can it really be true that all you have to do to increase sales by a factor of 10 is to remove 75% of your supply from your shelves? If this is the case, Manzi says, retailers everywhere are leaving “suitcases of money on the ground.” That is a HUGE effect — and frankly, so remarkable that it should raise a red flag.

The effect was so remarkable, in fact, that people have tried to replicate this experiment using other products, in other contexts, to see if the results can be repeated. And they can’t be. Manzi says that the experiments produuce a wide range of distributions — and that the general trend is that greater choice leads to greater demand.

Remember this the next time a single social science study comes to a conclusion you like. It’s tempting to cite such a study — we’re almost all guilty of this. But I am personally going to try to be aware of this in the future. Unless a phenomenon is proven through repeated observation in different contexts, allowing people to make repeatable, reliable, non-obvious predictions, the result of a social science study should always be viewed with immense skepticism.

We Don’t Know As Much As We Think We Do About the Economy, Part 2: A Slight Detour Into Politics

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:00 pm

I recommended this podcast in which Jmes Manzi argued that the confidence we have in social science predictions depends upon the ability of the “scientist” to make accurate predictions about the future that are non-obvious and can be repeated.

One phenomenon he discusses is the way people react in economics if their predictions go wrong. Manzi said that, before the the $820 stimulus was passed, he said he didn’t know whether it would work — but he did know that its supporters would say it worked regardless of the data:

[At the time I said:] I don’t believe any of the folks making these confident assertions really know what the effect will be. And the only prediction I’ll make is this: I’ll predict that, in early 2011, you know, professor, famous economist X said: unemployment will be about x%, say 10 percentage points without the bill and 8% with the bill. When it gets to be 2011, if unemployment is 10%, here’s what that professor is going to say: You know, conditions were worse than we thought they were; so without the bill unemployment would have been 12%, not 10%. Now unemployment is 10%. See, I was right all along; it lowered it by 2 points. And that’s exactly what happened, of course. That’s exactly what the economist said. And it has nothing to do with Democrats versus Republicans, by the way. If John McCain had been President, it would have been Republican advisors, too. And what I said is you cannot know the counterfactual reliably.

The other thing stimulus supporters say is: it would have worked better if it had been bigger.

In other words: if the data don’t prove your policy successful, you always say the situation was worse than you had realized, and the cure should have been more extreme.

This takes place in politics as well. If your candidate loses, one side will say it was because he wasn’t moderate enough, and he frightened off undecideds. The other side will say it was because he wasn’t principled/hardline enough, and he lost the base.

Each side will always draw the lessons they want to draw, and a plausible case can generally be made. But generalizing from specific instances is well-nigh impossible. Moderate candidate x might do great while moderate candidate y tanks; hardline candidate a might wow the electorate while hardline candidate b loses them. If winning elections were always about providing candidates closer or further from the center, winning elections would be easy.

In the economic context, our inability to predict the future with perfect accuracy leads people like me to believe we should have less government involvement, because it is often hubris to believe your particular intervention will have the desired effect on the economy. Far better to leave decisions to the collective expertise of society, which in the aggregate knows far more than any set of people in a room in Washington D.C., no matter how smart and well-informed they may be.

In the context of politics, our inability to predict the future leads people like me to suggest that candidates simply advocate what they believe. (Shocking suggestion, I know.) If you can’t be sure how to manipulate people, how about not trying to manipulate them at all?

And maybe — just maybe — your sincerity will actually win them over. Even if not, at least you don’t have to remember what your positions are supposed to be. You can just remember what they actually are.

1/26/2013

Saturday Night Music

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:29 pm

Brad Delp singing Beatles songs, starting with the incredible “It Won’t Be Long” followed by “All My Loving.”

Played at a high school.

Parthenon Huxley covering ELO’s 10538 Overture:

Finn Brothers’ “Won’t Give In.”

That’s for Andrew.

1/25/2013

We Don’t Know As Much As We Think We Do About the Economy, Part 1

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 11:08 pm

We all make the error of confidently saying that this or that governmental policy is certain to have this or that effect. But while studying history and economics is important, perhaps a little humility is in order.

I have told you that I am a fan of Russ Roberts’s Econ Talk podcast. Today I listened to one in which the guest questioned whether people can confidently use economic (and other social science) theory to confidently predict the effects on human behavior of changing certain variables. Do we truly know that a stimulus is going to increase GDP . . . or that it is not?

The hour-long podcast summarizes concepts in a denser and more complex book. I’m going to dumb it down even further and summarize three or four of the points the guest made that stuck in my head. I’ll do so over a series of posts, so let’s start with a single observation that is central to the guest’s thesis.

Essentially, the guest distinguished social sciences from hard sciences that give one the ability to make consistent non-obvious predictions about the future. One example he gave to make the point:

[I]magine you are the President of the United States and you are receiving, you are considering an Iranian nuclear weapons program, what to do about it.

And into the room walks your science advisor and she says: Look, if the Iranians take the following amount of physical material and combine it in this size and using this method, it will create an explosion big enough to blow up the city.

And next into the room comes an historian. And the historian says: Well, you know, if an attempt to subvert the Iranian nuclear weapons programs, my reading of the history of Iran is that the people will want this enough they will continue to replace, one way or another, the government until this happens. So it really is not a good idea to try and stop this.

And what I say is, no, even if this happens to be President Carter, trained as a nuclear engineer, even if you know nuclear physics, for the President to sit there and begin debating the empirically validated laws of physics with his physics advisor is kind of foolish. On the other hand, not debating the historian, not bringing in different historians of different points of view, talking to people who have lived in Iran, personal introspection about human motivations, would be equally foolish.

And so really you ought to treat the prediction made by the physicist very different from the one made by the historian. Both are very valuable. I would never advise taking action without listening to both those. People make lots of use of historian experts and non-historians make lots of useful predictions about this situation.

And then imagine, third, his economic advisor walks into the room. And she says: Well, you know, the CIA has a program to counterfeit currency in Iran. And this amount of currency will create this amount of inflation and unemployment. The question I pose is: Should you as the President treat the economist’s prediction more like the historian’s prediction or more like the physicist’s prediction? And what I say is: A lot more like the historian’s prediction.

Economics is not hard science like physics. It’s more like history. There are too many complex variables to make consistent predictions about exactly how changing one variable will affect the economy.

This, by the way, is why I tend to oppose any government intervention in the economy. There are so many documented examples of unintended side effects that I think it’s best to leave a complex system to the distributed intelligence of the nation and indeed the world, rather than trust a group of supposedly smart guys in a room with their hands on the financial levers. The more humility you have, the less apt you are to opt for the government solution.

The big government guys are the arrogant ones. We free marketeers believe in the market precisely because we don’t think we know everything.

UPDATE: It’s also worth noting, as I have noted many times, that capitalism is the only economic system fully compatible with freedom. My comments about supporting capitalism in this post are made in the context of discussing what economic system is most likely to work. But freedom is an independent reason for supporting capitalism. Everyone who regularly reads my blog understands this.

Friday Night Music

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:20 pm

It’s late, sure. But the kids are going to bed and it’s time to fire up some tunes. The first one needs no introduction. I thought I had shared this one with you guys, but if I did, I can’t find the post, so here you go:

Next up: a couple from a session with the Braun brothers, of Micky and the Motorcars and Reckless Kelly fame. You’ll see they’re from the same session. First is “Snowfall,” sung by Willy Braun, the lead singer of Reckless Kelly:

Then “Rock Springs to Cheyenne” sung by Micky Braun, lead singer of Micky and the Motorcars.

Enjoy.

The Media Is A Big Part of the Problem

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:03 pm

Ace says we must do something about the media.

The media no longer hides it in their actions. They are fully fused with the Obama Administration and DNC. The only way in which they do hide it is by simply lying when confronted about it: They’ll issue a snide denial, then go about doing precisely what it is they were accused of doing.

This is dangerous and unhealthy. I keep banging this drum but honestly, some patriotic billionaires do have to band together to purchase or build a media outlet. The outlet would be founded upon a simple premise: that it is dangerous and ultimately fatal for democracy for media power to fuse with government power, that the adversarial press is vital.

If we have any hope of fixing the horrible crisis we are facing, the electorate must be educated. But any time someone tries, Democrats howl that they are trying to kill old people and children, and the media joins right in.

Obama gave a partisan inauguration speech and they tried to tell you it was Lincolnesque. Hillary shrugged her shoulders at Benghazi lies and they told you that she had won. As Ace puts it, media’s power is perfectly fused with government’s power. “This is dark, and dangerous, and will lead to horrors. It always has lead to horrors before.”

As with most things, I don’t have the solution. I just know that diagnosing the problem is the first step. National Democrats and the media are the primary problem, because they are lying about the severity of the crisis.

We should all keep thinking about the solution, because it is important.

Glenn Reynolds says: “[G]o full Alinsky. Buy stock and show up at shareholder meetings. Protest at executives’ homes, like ACORN did for bankers. Hound correspondents and anchors by name for unfair coverage. That’s how you do it.”

I’m not sure that will solve the problem, but I don’t see how it would hurt. We certainly have no obligation to make it easy for them to lie to the public.

One thing is to identify the honest ones who don’t have a big head, and support them. I don’t always agree with Jake Tapper, but he’s willing to talk to people like Ace and me, and he’s willing to ask tough questions. You guys might not like to hear this, but Jan Crawford is one of the good ones and she deserves the support of honest people. Using allies — not ideological allies, necessary, but people who care about truth — is important. And also can’t hurt.

Breitbart always said the media was the biggest enemy. I’m not sure they’re the only one or the biggest one, but they’re right up there. Don’t ever forget it.

Obama “Recess” Appointments Unconstitutional

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:59 am

Because there was no “recess.”

Not odd to see this guy violating the Constitution. Just odd to see a court calling him on it.

Saxby Chambliss to Retire

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:49 am

The one guy in Congress who really seemed to care about holding the FBI’s feet to the fire on SWATting cases is not running for re-election.

Sigh.

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