Creative Destruction

October 29, 2007

Daylight Saving Time is a Trap

Filed under: Content-lite — Brutus @ 12:41 am

I got caught this morning by Daylight Saving Time. It’s a public menace. The proper time to reset clocks is always the last weekend of October. So without checking, I shifted my clock last night and missed a 5K run I was meant to do because I arrived 15 min. into the race when I thought I was 45 min. ahead of time. I haven’t made the mistake of forgetting to reset my clocks in years.

The Wikipedia article has more information that I care to investigate. I find the whole business infuriating. The rationale behind DST is beyond me, I guess. It seems like a meaningless anachronism, like the academic year that still has space (summer vacation) for the harvest when only a tiny sliver of the population works in agriculture compared to the late 19th century when upwards of 90% did.

So I pouted all day long and am now taking it out on the blog. Grrr.

October 24, 2007

Presented Without Comment

Filed under: Human Rights,LGBT Issues — Robert @ 11:11 am

Foster parents to 28 forced to resign.

They are Christian and do not want to tell their foster charges that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle, which is apparently required by new UK government parenting guidelines for foster families. (Edited to add: the family is not fostering 28 children at the same time. They have, in the past, fostered 27 kids and are currently fostering one, an 11-year old boy who has been with them for the past two years. That boy will be removed from their care this coming Friday, and will go to a “council hostel”, which I assume is the rough equivalent of an orphanage for kids of his age.)

October 23, 2007

GMU Econ Bloggers

Filed under: Economics,Education — Adam Gurri @ 6:08 am

Arnold Kling has up a list of GMU Econ bloggers, including faculty, students, and alumni.  It’s quite substantial.

Huge Numbers of Unqualified Students Attend Elite Colleges…

Filed under: Education,Race and Racism — Robert @ 2:41 am

and it isn’t who you might think. About 15% of the freshman slots at the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher education are going to students who do not meet the institutional criteria for admission – specifically, athletes and legacy admits, the bulk of whom are white.

Consistency time. I’m opposed to strong (quota-based/preferential) affirmative action. This is no better – worse, in fact, since at least preferential AA can be plausibly motivated by a desire to help people who are behind the eight-ball. Admitting unqualified students to boost a sports team or placate donors is cronyism and hypocrisy.

It’s bogus either way. If the institution is going to have standards-based admissions, then publish the standards and admit students who reach them – and nobody else. No more preferential AA – not for the “disadvantaged” sons of upper-class blacks, not for the genuinely disadvantaged in the slums, not for the talented but dim football star, not for the well-connected scion of privilege.

Admit by merit – or acknowledge that the institution is not interested in merit, and has some other agenda in mind.

A fair liberal (or conservative, for that matter) might then ask, “ok, but then how do you help the genuinely disadvantaged?”

My answer is, by providing a first-rate education to every student who wants one in the primary and secondary grades, ensuring that the disadvantaged have a shot at learning things of value and increasing their human capital. And then create scholarships for the poor – of whatever “race” – but worthy student. Not perfect, but it gets us 80% of the way there without hurting anyone at all – a Pareto optimal situation, or close to one.

(I have an old friend on a discussion list who is an absolutely devastatingly good scholar on proving that Pareto optimality never really happens, in the service of arguing against the unbridled market’s efficiency. She’s right; it almost never does. But we very often get what I’d call a “Pareto good enough” – a situation where there’s a big benefit and most people aren’t hurt by it.)

In the case of affirmative action of the preferential variety, there is a definite benefit. Though we may quarrel about the existence and magnitude of the ratchet effect, I agree with liberals that strong affirmative action does help the people it is designed to help, overall. Unfortunately the negatives to specific people are large enough, I think, to break even my relaxed standards for Pareto goodness.

I Could Use A Favor Or Two

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Off Colfax @ 12:58 am

My father’s home is in the middle of the evacuation zone for Ramona, CA. And I’m just now hearing about it. I can’t reach him on his cell phone. He’s not registered on the Red Cross’ Safe And Well website. And I’m really fucking worried. So if any of you could say a prayer, light a candle, cast a spell, sacrifice a couple of goats, have the random fluctuations of the space/time continuum move aside or whatever method you use to communicate with Who/Whatever is actually out there, I’d appreciate it. So far, there’s no reported deaths from the Witch Fire. And I’d fucking love for it to stay that way.

Houses can be rebuilt. Business can be restored.

You only get one dad.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and frantically keep checking websites until either I find out something or I pass out at the keyboard.

[EDIT: 10.23.07 1103MDT]
Well, according to this map, and if it is accurate, my dad’s house remains. Missed him by about half a mile or so, but it remains. And when I make a call to my dad’s house, hoping that he has made it back by now, the phone rings rather than a busy signal. Which is another sign of confirmation, I hope. It wasn’t quite what I was wanting to know, but any information helps when you’re worried.

Still haven’t found my dad yet, but there are still no reported fatalities from the Witch Creek Fire so it’s just a matter of time. (But when I do get in touch with him, he’s grounded for a month for making me worry like this!)

Thanks to those folks at http://www.sdcountyemergency.com/ for taking time out of an already hectic night to put together information for the rest of us. And thanks to Bruce Webster over at And Still I Persist for the on-the-spot reporting even as the flames are headed towards his own home.

My candle is still lit over here. Yet now it is for the continued safety of the people throughout my old stomping grounds. Whether it be Ramona or Devore or Lake Arrowhead or Malibu or Santa Clarita or any of the other fires in the Southland, let folks stay safe.

And that goes triple for firefighters on the lines.

[EDIT: 10.23.07 2058MDT]
Finally got the chance to talk with my dad. He is currently in the evacuation center at Mira Loma High School. And he reported to me that, even with almost a million people displaced by the firestorm, the various agencies are still on top of things. FEMA, the Red Cross, CHP, San Diego County, veterinarians, animal shelters, and all the various and sundry city and community and town governments are working together very well. Aid is right there when it is needed.

For a direct quote: “Son, this is not like Katrina.”

Keep those candles lit for the people out there, and keep those prayers going for the firefighters, both those already there and those from all around the West that continue to stream into the area. No one is fully out of this thing yet.

October 19, 2007

Gonna Buy Me A Hammer

Filed under: Free Speech — Off Colfax @ 2:06 am

Being a responsible newspaper, we must note that this is a misdemeanor, a crime, a completely inappropriate way of handling a business dispute.

Noted.

Heh. Indeed.

[Turn Signal: The Indeed of all Heh's]

October 16, 2007

Competition Spurs Failure

Filed under: Business,Economics,Science — Brutus @ 1:38 am

As with Adam’s anticipation of the demise of the newspaper, the demise of the recording industry has been prophesied for some time now. Periodic transitions from one medium to another have been disorienting, but it wasn’t until the digital era, when ripping tunes and file swapping became ubiquitous, that the economic model of the recording industry got to be seriously undermined. (Others have disagreed with me on this point in the past.) The RIAA has made itself a scourge by acting to protect its members’ intellectual property, which I find a legitimate response but others insist is preposterous. This is a brief background to provide context.

What surprised me to learn was that the recording industry has had a larger hand in its own eventual failure than even I suspected. As this article describes in some detail, recording companies (labels, if you wish) competed to attract listeners and sell albums, but rather than focus on developing musical groups and creating the best possible musical product (or maybe in addition to those things), they adopted a subtle technological trick to harpoon listeners. Louder music (average level rather than peak level) tends to give the impression of better quality to typical listeners, so over time, the dynamic range of music was flattened or compressed while made louder overall. The side effect the industry should have foreseen is listener fatigue, which causes customers to turn off the music.

This competetive strategy looks conspicuously like the tragedy of the commons to me. A few thoughtless competitors abandoned their values for a temporary and illusory edge in the marketplace until the practice became so widespread that the music itself was compromised. I suppose there are plenty of examples of both principled competition and weaselly competition. In this case, the weasels sealed their own fates first by enabling infringers and then selling listeners short (not in that order chronologically). Oddly enough, neither of these practices has had the same effects in the classical and jazz markets, where the best possible medium and best possible musical material have always been used to stimulate listeners’ interest and album sales. What a shame those simple values are lost in mass markets.

Velly Interesting… But Stoopid

Filed under: Content-lite — Off Colfax @ 12:00 am

Now that is what I call durability.

My only question to them is:

Will it blend?

[Turn Signal: Teh Insty]

October 13, 2007

To Advocate Equality

Filed under: Ethics — Off Colfax @ 6:56 am

[In response to this, yet I will not comment on what Jeff Fecke says or the logical flaws of his diatribe.]

It is not proper for any American to remove any rights from any person without due process. Period. Ad infinitum. Ad astra. Ad nauseum. Forever and ever. Amen. It was a fundamental error by our ancestors to pretend that the color of one’s skin or the location of one’s gonads determined whether or not the fundamental rights of, much less membership within, Homo sapiens applied to them. As such, it is just as fundamental of an error for anyone else to do so, regardless of what motivation is behind the movement.

I cannot disagree that there has been injustice performed by some of those who are, as I am, white and male. That is a simple fact that only the blind cannot see and only the ignorant can ignore. Still to this day, women are treated as if they are less than a human being simply due to their lack of a Y-chromosome: the glass ceiling, income inequality, the removal of personal autonomy, objectification, mutilation, humiliation… The list of offenses that short-sighted individuals have performed unto women is a long and miserable one. It has been codified into our laws. It has been decreed among our religions. It has been solidified in our societies. It is pervasive. It is subconscious. It is everywhere. And this is but a single example that does not touch racial discrimination, religious discrimination, ethnic discrimination, sexuality discrimination, or any of the myriad of other forms of discrimination that exist in human society.

There is no reason to excuse rape. There is no reason to excuse spousal battery. There is no reason to excuse child abuse. There is no reason to excuse oppression. There is no reason to excuse any crime, of any type, perpetrated on someone because of their gender or the color of their skin or their political views or their religion or even what they had for breakfast the day before yesterday.

Likewise, there should be no reason to automatically expect those things to occur against you because of those factors. That is against the principle of equality.

One does not combat injustice by ensuring more injustice. As Mohandas Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Subjecting another to the same violations that you were forced to endure is to fall under the same trap, the same impossible fallacy, as you purport to fight against.

To strive for all humans to be treated equally is frustrating. Being what we are, we attach our certain circumstances to our declarations, whether it be for our gender or for our ancestors or for our religion or for our nationality. It ranges from men’s rights, women’s rights, sexual preference rights, hyphenated-American’s rights, yet it boils down to the same thing. We want the right to be free to choose. To be free to decide. To be what we so desire to be, without anyone to gainsay against us or stop us from making the attempt.

And that is the true basis for equality: freedom. So long as you do not actively cause harm against another person with your choices, a truly free society should never stand in your way.

Yet with any of the various groups advocating such freedom for their members, it must come at the expense of those that allegedly already possess such freedoms. It is not enough that the privileged must give up their privilege, but that they must become the underprivileged in recompense.

And that is not the definition of an equal society. To punish someone for the accident of their ancestry is the same fallacious argument that the various advocacy groups are fighting against. And when another group rises in order to counter the presumed subversion of their own rights, they are decried as being short-sighted and bigoted and wrong.

Here is a basic test.

[___________] promotes the rights of their members at the expense of [___________] group’s rights.

Fill in the blanks with any of the advocacy groups and their opposite number, and it will match perfectly. Gender. Race. Religion. Ethnicity. Sexual orientation. Even right- or left-handedness, should it come to that. They will, naturally, disagree with such a statement when it comes to themselves while at the same time voicing full-throated agreement with the statement relating to their opposite number.

The only way to avoid such contradiction is to promote equality for all, regardless of identifiers.

I regret to say that, with humans being humans, I will not hold my breath for such a happy occurrence.

[Crossposted from Left Off Colfax]

October 11, 2007

Newspapers Relegated to the Dustbin of History

Filed under: Blogosphere,Business,Economics,Media Analysis — Adam Gurri @ 6:29 am

Note: the following is a paper I wrote for a Microeconomics class, which is why the language is a bit more formal than usual. This paper may also be viewed as a PDF file.

When the last newspaper goes bankrupt, people will be better informed. This is counterintuitive only if you hold to the popular misconception that newspapers developed as an institution in order to filter out all but the highest quality information. The problem that newspapers address is reality is not one of quality, but one of distribution. They utilized mass-production in order to provide consumers with a cheap medium with a wide variety of content. This was a highly efficient solution to the problems of the printing press, but the internet is rendering such problems obsolete. As a result, the newspaper model will rapidly be overtaken by more effective online alternatives.

The incentives provided by the newspaper business model are unnecessary for the production of content. As pointed out in Price Theory and Applications, “Some people are willing to create without material reward, simply for the pleasure and glory.” (Page 330) This is as true for nonfiction writing as it is for creative works—writer William Zinsser famously categorized nonfiction as a type of literature. The fact that content is produced for pleasure does not imply that it will be poor in quality, either. The reason is simple—often people who have a passion for something will invest a great deal of time on it. Whether it’s spent on research or taking art classes, it refines the tools that they will have available to produce content later on.

In some cases, they may be indulging in extracurricular pursuits on topics related to their profession. Tyler Cowen, of Marginal Revolution, is but one of many economists who write on weblogs, or “blogs”. Since his professional career is dedicated to accumulating information on a particular subject, the marginal cost of finding relevant information for a new publication in his field is significantly less than it would be for a non-economist. In fact, it’s safe to say that it would cost a journalist far more to produce something of comparable quality on the subject. In the world of nonfiction, newspapers cannot compete with their online alternatives—Cowen is but one example of the professional blogging in his spare time. Eugene Volokh, of The Volokh Conspiracy, is a professor of law who offers far more educated insights than a newspaper could hope for, without asking for any subscription fee.

In terms of specific content, newspapers are simply unable to compete. Webcomics are abundantly available, free, and popular. Crosswords and Sudoku puzzles are numerous, as are puzzle games of every imaginable variety. Photosharing websites such as Flickr allow for the dissemination of photographs of far more diverse subjects than newspapers ever provided. Perhaps most significantly, websites such as Craig’s List are providing substitutes for the Classified Ads pages.

The myth of the fact-checker aside, the content creation aspect of the internet does not actually come in direct competition with newspapers in and of itself. For newspapers in fact provide not high quality content, but variety in a world where the time to accumulate various sources is scarce. Just as the price system economizes the distribution of information that is fragmented across many minds, so too do newspapers economize the access to certain categories of content that would otherwise be fragmented across many different specialized publications.

What newspapers offer is not authority, but a bundle, in which quality must to a certain extent actually be traded off for variety. For this reason, the fact that an article in Nature magazine on Climate Change may be more accurate than an article in the New York Times does not necessarily make the former a threat to the latter. A newspaper competes, not on the quality of a particular article, but on the quality of the bundle it offers as a whole. So while the New York Times may not be concerned with whether or not a particular article is as accurate as an article in Nature, it probably has to be concerned with whether or not it provides a higher quality product, with greater variety, than the Los Angeles Times.

What newspapers truly have to fear from the internet, then, is the fact that it gives consumers to ability to customize their own bundles of content. For almost as long as there have been web browsers, there have been “bookmarks”, which allow users to save the location of their favorite websites. More recently, websites such as del.icio.us have given users the ability to “tag”not only to save locations, but to provide categorical data “metadata” about those websites. This means that even if a user saves a massive amount of bookmarks, all they need to do to locate a particular one is search for the particular word or words that they “tagged” it with. For instance, one might tag Marginal Revolution, with both words in the title, then “Tyler”, “Cowen”, “economics”, and “blog”, and be relatively confident that it could be found again by searching any combination of those words, even if there are a thousand other websites bookmarked.

Another tool is the feed aggregator, such as Google Reader, that allows users to subscribe to the content of many different websites and access it all in one place. The setup is then almost like a custom made newspaper; you can subscribe to your favorite blogs, webcomics, even online newspapers, and you can access them all in one place, which signals you which of them have updated. Unlike physical paper, however, you don’t have to waste storage space if you ever want to access old content. You can simply scroll back to old updates.

In the past, consumers had to decide between the bundles offered to them by different newspapers, all or nothing. The tradeoffs that were made whenever it was decided to hire a particular journalist, or run with a particular story rather than an alternative, were taken on by the editorial staff. The consumer had no direct input in that process, and effected the outcome only insofar as competition between different newspapers made it clearer the sort of content consumers were interested in.

In a world where consumers make those decisions for themselves, however, the margin of competition will shrink to the level of content. In Price Theory and Applications, it states that content may be given away free of charge because “original composition may yield indirect material gains” (page 330) and it is for those gains that content producers on the internet will have to compete. The reason is that, as shown above, many people will produce content for no other reason than the pleasure of it, including high quality content. The market will be flooded with content, creating a stiff competition to be included in the bundles of consumers. Prices will be undercut until producers no longer even ask for money in exchange for the goods that they supply; merely the attention of consumers.

Those producers of content that are able to make a living off of that particular trade will be the ones who manage to obtain “indirect material gains” through the acquisition of consumers’ attention. In fact, this is already occurring. Webcomics predominantly offer their content for free, and the popular artists manage to make a living by selling merchandise. Successful comics such as Questionable Content and Penny Arcade sell a lot of Tshirts, with the latter even managing to sell large volumes of printed editions of their online works. Blogs have integrated Google Ads, which give them a small payment whenever their readers click on the ads. Glenn Reynolds, who gained fame through his highly popular blog Instapundit, wrote a book that sold quite well—safe to say far better than it would have, without the online fame he had achieved.

The end result is that consumers are able to eliminate the newspaper’s role entirely. They can experience a far greater variety of content than newspapers could have afforded to provide. At the same time, the sources of content will be engaged in a level of competition over quality that used to be relegated to the specialized publications, such as scientific journals. As people increasingly turn away from the old media, newspapers will go out of business one after another. When the time comes that the last one goes under, we will all already be much better informed. This trend will likely continue long after its timely demise.

(Cross posted at Sophistpundit)

October 8, 2007

What Passes for Political Coverage

Filed under: Election 2008,Media Analysis,Politics and Elections — Brutus @ 10:00 pm

It is any wonder so many Americans ignore politics and don’t vote? One of the big stories emerging in the past few days has been dubbed Chucklegate, which is in-depth analysis of Hillary Clinton’s laugh. Um, yeah, her laugh. See just a few examples here and here and here. There is undoubtedly room for some consideration of personal character or characteristics in a presidential race, but the way the media has jumped on this issue is frankly embarrassing, considering actual issues bear greater scrutiny than hairdos, wardrobe, or how someone laughs.

If this pseudocontroversy isn’t lowbrow enough to convince you that journalism is at a particularly low ebb, how about a manufactured controversy about actual wardrobe? Barack Obama is being pilloried for his refusal to wear an American flag pin. See a few examples here and here and here. Who on earth bases political strategy or the decision whether to cast a vote for a candidate on something so entirely mundane? This particular stupidity was parodied in the movie Office Space, where the servers were judged not on their service but on pieces of flair. Simply substitute patriotism for service and it’s the same foolishness.

These cooked-up stories apparently have the power to kill a candidacy and are pathetic examples of political theater. Howard Dean’s now infamous scream comes to mind as a good example. Both candidates are apparently engaged in these utterly meaningless and ephermeral issues, which gives the issues legs and makes them fodder for endless spin, conjecture, and strategizing. And once the jokes and parodies start rolling in on YouTube and Comedy Central and such, we take lots of humorous enjoyment but lose sight of the fact that we’re considering these candidates for an office of far greater importance than the elements on which we apparently prefer to rank and rate them. It’s little wonder, then, that we get what we deserve out of the political process: buffoons, poseurs, and incompetents.

October 5, 2007

Free Burma


Free Burma!

More about the campaign here; via Amp, who continues to set new and interesting parameters for “not blogging”.

The Rubric Theme Blog at WordPress.com.

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