Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Fall and Decline of Tim Burton; More on a Conflict of Visions

  1. Welcome SOB reader Dallas! Feel free to leave a comment.
  2. Alice in Wonderland was a disappointment (Although it was nice to get out). All the character were dumped on us artificially in the beginning of the movie with little introduction and little development. the plot was dumped on us too, not that there was much of one, or that the movement from place to place was explained in any compelling way. I mostly liked Alice, but I got the sense that she was talking to herself most of the time. Part of the fault likes with CGI characters, who didn't interact with each other like they were actually there. 
  3. Aside from a good story to tell, good pacing, and appropriate music, I think one of the key elements to good story telling in movies is showing us character reaction. Remember the scene in Goonies when the kids see the ship for the first time and they are completely amazed? According to the special features, that was the first time they had seen the ship. Watching their reaction is more interesting than looking at the ship. I think that that is one of the main problem with Wonderland: very few reaction shots, or the reaction does not match the spectacle. Part of this is because of CGI. The actor doesn't know what he is reacting to, and that's a particularly big problem for CGI created characters, where interaction is key to believability.
  4. Another problem with CGI is a spin on the uncanny valley hypothesis. No matter how real the CGI looks, there is always something that looks a bit fake, and, thus, it, more often than not distracts rather than enhances the experience. CGI should be used very subtlety, like in Where the Wild Things Are (which suffers from other, unrelated problems). But maybe Avatar disproves this theory.
  5. Seems to me Tim Burton has lost his way. Consider his most recent movies:
    1. Batman Returns--hard to watch.
    2. Planet of the Apes--ugh
    3. Big Fish--a solid movie
    4. Corpse Bride--disappointing compare to Nightmare before Christmas
    5. Sweeney Todd--this could damage my thesis because it could be good, but I haven't seen it.
    6. Alice in Wonderland--see above.
  6. 4 of 5 are disappointments.
  7. Do you think church lessons are primarily for faith-building or primarily for learning? Here's the dilemma I face (you can read some of my thoughts on this topic here). I'll have to teach a lesson and the lesson manual is about 2 pages worth of material, most of which is very, very familiar. Obviously there's got to be a lot of discussion to teach an hour lesson based on that little material. I, therefore, primarily focus my efforts on thinking of good questions to facilitate discussion. About the second or third time through, I usually have some questions I think will prompt a good discussion. But the problem with these questions is that they tend to lead to speculative or ambiguous gospel areas. They also tend to challenge truisms we've accepted in the church. Sometimes discussions in these gray areas aren't necessarily the most faith promoting. So would you ask the question, or what criteria would you use to make that decision? I know this is kind of a hard question to answer in the abstract. (I'll put may partially formed thoughts in the comments later).
  8. I for one welcome our new bureaucratic health care overlords!
  9. Do you think that being a better writer makes you a worse speaker? I don't think I'm any great writer. But I do think I've become a better writer, and I think it's come at the prices of speaking confidently. My theory is that good writing comes from an economy of words and clarify of thought, that requires a lot of reflection and rewriting. It's very hard to do those on the fly. Also, when you write a lot, and get used to that precision, it's hard be less precise, even when speaking. The one exception might be when you are speaking about something you write or think about so frequently that the thoughts are already predigested into ready-made phrases and sentences.
  10. Can't think of anything to write about politics now guys. I can't think of anything original to say about the health care bill (not that it would be truly original anyway). I was going to write about David Frum's Waterloo post and his subsequent split with AEI, but I suspect no one cares.
  11. Here's the quote from A Conflict of Visions that I couldn't find for the last blog post:
  12. Because of conflicting visions of how much knowledge a given individual can have, and how effective that knowledge can be in deciding complex social issues, the two visions attach widely differing importance to sincerity and fidelity. Where the wise and conscientious individual is conceived to be competent to shape socially beneficial outcomes directly, then his sincerity and dedication to the common good are crucial. Godwin's whole purpose was to strengthen the individual's "sincerity, fortitude and justice." The "importance of general sincerity" was a recurring theme in Godwin, and has remained so over the centuries among others with the unconstrained vision. Sincerity tends to "liberate," according to Godwin, and to "bring every other virtue in its train." While conceding that everything is insincere at some time or other, Godwin nevertheless urged " a general and unalterable sincerity" as a powerful, ideal, capable of producing profound social benefits.


    Sincerity is so central to the unconstrained vision that it is not readily conceded to adversaries, who are often depicted as apologists, if not venal. It is not uncommon in this tradition to find references to their adversaries' "real" reasons, which must be "unmasked." Even where sincerity is conceded to adversaries, it is often accompanied to reference's to those adversaries' "blindness," "prejudice," or narrow inability to transcend the status quo. Within the unconstrained vision, sincerity is a great concession to make while those with the constrained vision can more readily make that concession, since it means so much less to them. Nor need adversarial be depicted as stupid by those with the constrained vision, for they conceive of the social process as so complicated that it is easy, even for wise and moral individuals, to be mistaken--and dangerously so. They "may do the work of things without being the worst of men," according to Burke. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Game Theory in Democracy and Why Celebrity Apprentice is Fatally Flawed

  1. I've been thinking about Danny's comment that "our pseudo democracy makes us think we have a voice and can make changes in government and the Chinese know they don't have one. Either way the people have the same pull." I don't think that's true. In an authoritarian regime, the majority can want something and not get it, unless they are willing to commit civil disobedience and revolt and possibly face physical punishment. Even then they might not get it what they want, and run a very big risk (e.g., Iran, which may or may not work out). That means most, even strong majorities are not going to get what they want, unless the government wants it too. In a democracy, the majority only has to want something so bad that they become single-issue voters on it, and they can usually get it. And the majority in a democracy doesn't risk serious retribution by government. Those are big differences. 
  2. Unfortunately, while not strictly true, the statement certainly contains truthiness. That is Democracy gives you the feeling of control with very little actual control. Consider the following, which I think is kind of like game theory, but without the math (which I understand real game theory utilizes). We have persons A, B and C, who are students in a class trying to pick a class pet. They have three choices, a cat a dog and a fish. A prefers cat to dog, and dog to fish. B prefers dog to fish and fish to cat. C prefers fish to cat and cat to dog. If they all vote at once, they'll have one vote for each pet, and no decision. They'll have to vote in two rounds, between two pets, and the next round between the winner of the two, and the remaining pet. the outcome however, depends completely on the ordering. So, if the class picks between dog and cat, cat will win the first round (A and B for cat), and then in the second round between cat and fish, cat will win (A and C voting for cat). However, if the class picks between cat and fish first,  fish will win the first round ( B and C will vote for fish) and between dog and fish, dog will win the second round (A and B will vote for Dog).  In other words, voting only gives us the illusion that we are getting our preference. In reality it's random, or worse, can be manipulated.
  3. If you want to get even more sad about it, you can listen to this excellent but depressing podcast by Russ Roberts and Don Boudreaux. First they point out that one vote basically never counts. Boudreaux doesn't even bother voting because he views it as a waste of time. Then they point out that, because you vote for candidates and not policy positions, you are taking the bad with the good, making the outcomes even more random and less representative of actual popular preferences. Picking a candid is like shopping, by choosing between several prepackaged shopping cart, where the voter just has to find the best fit for his preferences, and buy a few things you probably don't want or need. Then, what happens if only the policy positions you opposed but could live with are the ones that are enacted? I'm shooting from the hip here, but it seems possible to me that voters could pick one "cart" because of strong preferences about a few of the items that are in the cart, with none of the positions actually garnishing majority support. Like a cart that appeals to many various special interests.
  4. I've long thought that people who don't want to vote shouldn't bother. If people don't care how they are governed, why not let the people who do care pick the leaders?  Now non-voters have another reason not to vote: one person can't make a difference.
  5. I, by the way, have become an avid reader of Cafe Hayek, which is Boudreaux's and Roberts' blog. I almost get giddy about new blog posts. Today's post taking a journalist, to task for, well, acting like a journalist, would be funny if it weren't so sad and common. 
  6. I want to say that I finished reading A Conflict of Visions. It was actually kind of a slog, and took me several months. First observation: Sowell is brilliant.
  7. Second Observation: there is almost nothing about libertarianism in the book. I feel like libertarianism fits pretty well with a constrained vision, but Sowell describes it as a hybrid. I think it deserved more than the half-page treatment it got. (on to Frank Meyers?)
  8. Third Observation and biggest lesson learned: liberals always seem to question conservatives' motives. I've always thought those accusations were in bad faith. Conservative and liberals generally want the same ends--help the poor, create wealth, increase freedom, etc.--we just have good-faith disagreements about how to reach those ends.  I can't find a good passage right now, but Sowell explains why liberals judge conservatives that way. Essentially, when you're liberal, and you think that people are "unconstrained", there is no reason to doubt that humans through government can correct social problems. The only think holding government back are the obstructionists. Anyone who does object to solving the problems is acting for some selfish motive and is evil. I need to find that passage because that's not quite right.
  9. On to something a little lighter. Celebrity apprentice is fatally flawed. In normal apprentice you teams get a task, the project manager runs the task and people are held accountable for how they perform. Generally the project manager that loses gets fired. Now, some people on the show that become "celebrities" in the loosest sense of the word, like Omarosa, are going to hang around a bit longer. But everyone has about equal star power. Celebrity apprentice messes that balance up. Some celebrities have more star power, and ratings are everything for a show, so Donald's choice of who to fire is heavily affected by star power. Also, getting in a cat fight can only help your chances to succeed. Hence Joan Rivers and Annie Duke lasted to the end because they were in a huge cat fight (although I supposed normal apprentices can help themselves this way, too). Also, in celebrity apprentice, "succeeding" in the tasks is more related to who's in the celebrity's rolodex, and how well they can shake the money tree, instead of  how well they perform at the task. Fundraising, not performance is key. Either that, or every task is fundraising, so they should just call it celebrity fundraiser.
  10. If you're a little nerdy, you'll probably find this funny.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Radical Chic in the DOJ

After this video got some traction, Fox news went out and, through court documents, discovered who the seven unknown lawyers were.

Was it right to expose the seven Obama Justice Department lawyers that worked pro bono for Gitmo detainees before they moved into justice?

Thoughts pro, here, here, here, here. Thoughts con here, here.

Kenneth Starr is against:

I'm not exactly sure on this one. I don't think every defense lawyer that handles a case pro bono necessarily approves of what their client did. And then, criminal defendant's have a right to counsel, and you can believe a criminal defendant is entitled to a defense--even a good defense--regardless of what he did.

The problem with defending terrorists is that it is not clear they do or should have a right to counsel or habeas corpus--that is a right to challenge their detention in federal court. Of course, judges eventually decided that they do have some limited rights to challenge their detention so it wasn't that crazy of these lawyer to think they do. But then the same people who are criticizing these lawyers have also criticized the Supreme Court for micromanaging the war effort by creating rights for non-American enemy combatants held at Gitmo, so at least they are consistent.

Part of what really bothers me is what Kenneth Anderson identifies as radical chic. It seems like some Che tee-shirt wearers think it's kind of cool to defend terrorists. But I guess I don't know that all these lawyer were motivated by radical chic.

So these lawyers defended the indefensible, for good reasons or bad, and now they want anonymity. Maybe the criticisms are misplaced, and maybe the lawyers will subject to undue harassment, but it seems to me like Americans should at least know who these people are and where they are serving so American's can check up on them and hold political leaders accountable for the people they hire and trust with policy decisions. These lawyers are not beyond criticism, even if the criticism is misplaced, right?

UPDATE: Here is another post that I think is, more or less, where I'm at.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Noodling Productivity

Don Boudreaux asks us to find the problem with this article. Here is his answer. I'll give you the summary. The article argues that increases in American productivity over the last several years are illusory. Productivity is measured by the amount of work or a unit of output. The article contends that work done overseas is not being considered, and is improperly hidden in productivity calculation. Someone is still doing the work, the article contends-- it's just not Americans. Thus American's really aren't that much more productive.

Don's answer is this:
If yesterday American workers required two hours to produce an electric drill, and today those same workers require only one hour to produce an identical drill, those workers’ productivity has risen.  Whether this higher productivity is the result of importing (rather than producing in the U.S.) more component parts of the drill, or instead the result, say, of a new machine that today produces some parts that yesterday were produced by hand, the result is the same: it requires fewer hours of work by Americans to produce a given amount of output.
I didn't understand this answer at first. I think I do now, and I agree with Boudreaux, but I think it's confusing. Here is why. The "hours" spent producing the drill don't just include the labor of the workers working in a factory on the actual drill. It also has to include the man hours spent creating and maintaining the "new machine." For example, if it takes one hours to make a drill with a machine, but a worker spends two hours to fix the machine for every drill, or if the machine takes so many man hours to create that the equivalent man hours can never be saved, then, the machine doesn't increase productivity. (Of course, no one will ever conscientiously use a machine that lowers productivity.)

Similarly, outsourced labor shouldn't be taken into account when considering American productivity. But those foreign laborers are providing the components for other goods or services. And those American hours spent producing the goods/service that are exchanged, should be considered, just like hours spent making/maintain the machine are considered.

At the end of the day whether it's a machine or trade, no one will voluntarily use either unless they increase productivity. I think Boudreaux doesn't go down this road, because he's trying to keep it short and simple. But I think he would agree that these other "hours" are incorporated into productivity calculations.

There's another similarity between trade and technology. Both "destroy" jobs. No one, however, argues we should get rid of copy machines, refrigerators or computers to bring back all the jobs they've eliminated.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

More Second Amendment

If you're interested in the Second Amendment debate, you might watch this video. Fireworks start at about minute 16. I think Volokh wins decisively, but I'm interested in other thoughts.

UPDATE: it occurred to me watching this for the second time, that maybe the most important part of the discussion isn't what happened in 1787, when the Second Amendment was written, but what happened in 1868, when the 14th amendment was adopted.

Rakove's argument (that he doesn't quite commit to) seems to be that the states were being promised some sort of dual authority over the militia, and that no individual right was guaranteed. But then the debates over the Fourteenth Amendment show that the Republicans at the time (who controlled congress when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted) were ensuring the right to keep and bear arms to blacks. And that right was not clearly not a state right; the Fourteenth Amendment cuts across state power. Of course, the privileges and immunities clause was almost immediately gutted by the Slaughterhouse cases, so maybe that doesn't get you very far...

UPDATE II: Just to complete that last thought: we know that whatever privileges and immunities were guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment were personal rights, because the Fourteenth Amendment was specifically passed to abrogate state power. So the question would be what do "privileges and immunities" mean; do they include the right to keep and bear arms?

Suppose the adopters of the 14th amendment thought that the second amendment included the right to keep and bear arms for personal defense? Wouldn't that make the 1786-87 debate largely irrelevant? Apparently there is some evidence that people in 1868 thought that privileges and immunities included the first eight amendments, but also that it included a right to keep and bear arms apart from the second amendment. But even supposing the commonly understood meaning of the 14th amendment was only that it made the second amendment binding on the states, wouldn't the relevant question still be "what right do the people in 1868 think they are making binding on the states, even if they are wrong about the original understanding of the second amendment? Apparently the debates from the time show that the amendment was in fact supposed to give blacks the right to keep and bear arms for self defense. I wonder then, if the 1868 understanding of the Second Amendment isn't more relevant than the 1786 understanding.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Illuminati of the HOA legal community, Second Amendment Incorporation, and other Misc.

  1.  Here are two videos with about twenty minutes of debate about whether this association should hire our law firm. My favorite part happens about three minutes, twenty seconds into the second video when someone accuse my firm of being the illumati! (or actually I think they accuse use of being members of CAI (a trade organization--Community Association Institute--which we are) and CAI is like the illuminate, so we are too, by association). It seems like their main complaint is that our firm sues homeowners. I know people don't like it when the association sues them or their neighbors, but how else are associations supposed to collect assessments or enforce their rights?
  2. Lots of interesting stuff has been written about McDonald v. Chicago, because oral arguments happened this week. The case deals with whether the newly discovered/affirmed Second Amendment right to bear arms for self-defense is binding on the states. Here's my original take on the problem that incorporation poses for originalists. The short of this dilemma is: what an originalist does when almost all the other rights in the Bill of Rights have been "incorporate" against the states, but in order to incorporate the Second Amendment, you'll have to use the doctrine of substantive due process, which many originalist consider to be specious, judicially-created doctrine. I recently realized that I don't think the dilemma is going to be much of a dilemma because there is an out for Thomas. (Scalia has already accepted incorporation through "substantive due process" basically a concession to precedent, so he's just going to go with that.) Thomas will have the opportunity to use the privileges and immunities argument, overruling 140 years of case law, true, but sticking to originalism to incorporate the Second Amendment. Here's an explanation of the privileges and immunities. Here's an op-ed about privileges and immunities clause and originalism. 
  3. Sorry number 2 didn't make any sense! I tried!
  4. Originalism is a harsh mistress. Or is it just the constitution? It has these provisions like "privileges and immunities," "due process of law" or even "congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." So what do you do to flesh out these provisions? One answer is you leave it to congress to figure out the parameters of these rights. But then the constitution is a limit on congressional power. So you have to flesh out the provisions, otherwise what's the point of having a constitution if a simple majority can expand, diminish or eliminate the right? An originalist can then look to history; to the original understanding. But then historians don't agree, or there isn't much history. In those cases, you're basically just left to your best judgment in some instances it seems.
  5. Take the Heller opinion, for example, which held that individuals have a right to bear arms for self-defense. The language of the amendment says, "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." That sounds like it's not an individual right, but a right of military personnel. Otherwise the "militia" language is gratuitous. Historians don't agree on the original understanding, with some saying its and individual right and others a collective right for military personnel. I don't know all the history, but the argument that works best for me is not historical: If this is a "collective right", what would be the point? It's a right of a group of people that the government controls? That's means the government can deny the right completely. And isn't the Bill of Rights supposed to contain restrictions on the government? If this was a collective right, then the government is not restricted. For this reason, I side with the Heller majority. Is that textualism, purposivism, or just a policy argument?
  6. Orin Kerr argues here that you should be careful cross-examining a judge. True enough Although I have to quibble with one argument. Judge Posner and Easterbrook are too very famous conservative-leaning academic judges on the Seventh Circuit, and they voted against incorporation of the second amendment, with Judge Bauer. Then some crank threatened them, saying they should be shot, and putting their job information and pictures on the internet. Here's the defense attorney crossing them:
"Orozco[the defense attorney] asked the judge, “If it’s overturned, doesn’t that mean Hal Turner is correct?” At that point, laughter was heard through the courtroom.
Judge Easterbrook said no, for two reasons. First, the central issue — whether the Second Amendment applies to the states — is one for the Supreme Court, the judge said. Therefore, a reversal would in fact confirm that the case had been rightly decided."
This last sentence makes no sense to me. How does getting overturned confirm that the case was rightly decided? I can't see how being overturned can ever confirm that you were right. I'm guessing that, because this isn't a direct quote, the journalist just screwed up.

     7.  Who are the 5 people that most annoy you one TV (Or, just in showbiz if TV is too narrow). And not          for political reasons, because that's too easy. Here's my list.
  1. Tyra Banks
  2. Billy Bush
  3. Andy Rooney
  4. Al Roker
  5. The fourth Judge on American Idol (because three is plenty)
    8. I don't like how being fat is considered morally wrong. I don't think there's anything seriously immoral about being fat. George Will wrote this about how sin of gluttony is replacing the sin of lust. I don't think that Mormonism even acknowledge the sin of gluttony. Shows like The Biggest Loser make it seem like there's nothing worse than being fat.