"It Was The Plan"

Jonathan Rauch has written a reality-based article on New Orleans and Katrina. Opening paras:

The evacuation plans were inadequate and then bungled. The rescue was slow, confused, often nonexistent. Yet the most striking fact of the New Orleans catastrophe has received less notice than it deserves: The plan for New Orleans in case of a hit from a very powerful hurricane was to lose the city.

In other words, if a severe hurricane struck, the city's flooding and abandonment was not what would happen if the plan failed. It was the plan.

No fooling. When I occasionally think my Deep Thoughts, I've thought that the most promising libertarian analysis on the proper role of government could be based on risk analysis and mitigation. Not that I'm smart enough to do that myself. But Rauch's article is a good example of that kind of analysis and follows through to policy implications.

Random Thought

Isn't "cease and desist" redundant? Don't "cease" and "desist" mean exactly the same thing?

Oh shoot. Someone already noticed.

Anyway: looking forward to seeing Serenity tonight.

URLs du Jour (9/29/2005)

  • Hugh Hewitt recalls the lies of the press in the Katrina aftermath. Note: the subtitle claims that the article will answer "Why so many journalists painted an exaggerated picture of the situation in New Orleans." It doesn't really. There's an assertion that there was a "deep desire to injure the Bush administration." But there's no real evidence of that assertion provided in the article, extremely plausible though it may be. The article closes with a loopy excerpt from a Dan Rather interview, which can only make one wonder how this lunatic managed to hold down a job at all, let alone network news anchor.

    Hugh makes an interesting related point on his own blog:

    Given this failure to capture the true story in New Orleans even with all of the combined resources of all the MSM working around the clock, why would anyone believe that American media is accurately reporting on the events in Iraq from the Green Zone, in the course of a bloody insurgency fought in a language they don't understand? If the combined forces of old media couldn't get one accurate story out of the convention center, why for a moment believe it can get a story out of Mosul or Najaf?

    My answer to both questions: I can't think of any reason. How about you?

  • Yay! (See Michelle, ma belle, for background.)
  • Interesting mini-story on Tom DeLay's replacement as House Majority Leader: Andrew Sullivan goes all coy for some reason, but the Minuteman lays it out. Comment: Andrew's been furious in the past at leftwing gays "outing" closeted conservative gays. But he can't resist a taking a teeny-tiny bite of the same apple here.
  • And if you just want to see a bunch of cool science-related pictures, check out this from the gotta-be-good-for-something BBC. (Via Dartblog.)
  • But if you ever just wanted to know what Jane Galt looks like, check out this. But I'll tell you: she looks good.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 7:43 AM EDT

Fair is Fair

I blogged yesterday about the less-than-stellar business columnist at Slate. But today Arnold Kling dismembers Tom Nugent's article at National Review Online about paying for Katrina. Arnold concludes:

The incoherent babble that is NRO economics today simply will not do.

Yeah, it's weak. I go to NRO daily, but usually manage to avoid the "Financial" section. Now I know there was a reason.

URLs du Jour (9/27/2005)

  • UNH alum Erin Buzuvis, now a law prof at the University of Iowa, blogged about how she disapproved of the painted-pink visitor locker room at Kinnick Stadium. But Iowahawk has the first draft of her article, and it's better. Sorry, Erin.
  • From the dogs-and-cats-living-together department: The WaPo has an editorial that, if you didn't know otherwise, might have come from National Review:

    Like looters who seize six televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly spend usefully.

    Whoa. (Via Instapundit.)

  • Will Wilkinson provides a piquant takedown of a Slate article by Daniel Gross. You'll come away wondering how Gross could have ever been hired to write on business and finance.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 7:56 AM EDT

The Magnificent Seven

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

One of the great things about being on an online DVD rental plan is that there's no marginal cost involved in getting a sentimental favorite every so often. Such is the case here.

It was especially fun to watch this after Seven Samurai, on which it's based; some things are direct copies, others are significant changes, and it's fun to speculate on the reasons for the changes.

Example: the opening conflict where Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen) meet; they are nothing less than selfless civil-rights workers, determined to integrate a "Boot Hill" cemetery, in conflict with a number of bigoted townsfolk. In Seven Samurai, Kambei has a much less socially relevant task: rescuing a child from a kidnapper. I'd guess this change reflects the mindset of the circa-1960 American "progressive" filmmaking community. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

But that's too much deep thinking for this fun movie.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

I Took an Online Test, and …

[I gave up trying to make the pretty results HTML5-compliant. What a mess! Anyway: a pretty good test on political attitudes, and I am unsurprisingly, around the Libertarian/Capitalist border. You can take the test yourself here.]

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:33 AM EDT

I Am Immortal!

… and I have warm and fuzzy feelings toward my new best friend Dave.

URLs du Jour (9/26/2005)

  • In the "plague on both your houses" department, Bob Novak reports on the addiction of Republicans to free-spending big government. Term limits for congresscritters look like an excellent idea.
  • On the other hand, Walter Olson points out that there's still plenty of economic moronicity on the Democrat side too, even from one who should, in theory, know better.
  • And on (still) another hand, there's plenty of unsharp tacks outside the halls of Congress. For example, there are journalists. Mindles Dreck analyzes one Nina Munk's NYT article on the Forbes 400 Richest People in America, and finds it tedious, fact-challenged, and incoherent. Well, it's the Times, what do you expect these days?
  • And then there's Arianna. She's extremely upset that Tim Russert caught out Jefferson Parish president Andre Broussard in a creepy lie in the same venue it was originally made. She's got an … interesting … attitude toward the truth.
  • There are on the order of 1.0e7 people that know more about baseball than I do, one of them is Mr. Soxblog himself, Dean Barnett. He writes:

    The Red Sox will make the make the playoffs, win their division and win the World Series. There are certain people around Boston (like the Boston Globe's ncreasingly obnoxious and unbearable Dan Shaughnessy) who think that last year didn't change everything with the Red Sox. But it did—the Red Sox are now not only the most talented team in the baseball but also play with a swaggering confidence.

    You read it here first! Unless you read it there first. Dean also writes about the local football team, which I understand is also pretty good, but, really, who can get into football when the Sox are still playing?

  • And Prof Althouse offers sage advice:

    All you "overly compliant" folks out there: heads up. You actually are expected to take responsibility for yourself.

    Good to keep in mind.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:35 AM EDT

Why I Love My Fellow Americans

They have their priorities straight. (Via Mullings.)

Just One Look

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Someone needs to come up with a name for the phobia/neurosis/whatever that makes you crave reading material when faced with even a brief period of sitting. I've been known to court disaster by desperately looking for a magazine before heading off to the bathroom.

In this case, my car service appointment took longer than I thought it would, so, after going through the magazines in the waiting room, I walked a mile to a drugstore and bought this book.

I've read a couple of Harlen Coben's books before, and it seemed a safe bet. And it was extremely readable. albeit shamelessly commercial, with a lot of padded description with seemingly no other purpose but to pad the word count out to the author's contractual obligation. The plot is complex, twisty, and (literally) incredible with a host of deliberately colorful characters.

So it's not great literature, but if you're stuck in a waiting room, it's better than reading Field and Stream.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

The Machinist

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

The big thing here is Christian Bale's alleged 63-pound weight loss to play the role of Trevor Reznick. Trevor hasn't slept for a year. He looks creepy, and seems to live half in reality and half in a hallucinatory nightmare. I'm still not quite sure what was real and what wasn't, and maybe that's the point.

Michael Ironside, the hardest working man in show business, is here doing some real acting.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

Bride and Prejudice

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

This is an immensely enjoyable movie. They take Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice; move it to the present; move it to India; put in garish song and dance numbers in the so-called "Bollywood" style; put in clashing cultures from America and England. All in all, it's an amazing achievement.

Plus which, it's got Marsha Mason!

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

URLs du Jour (9/23/2005)

  • Michelle, ma belle, has taken aim at the incredibly easy target of Congressman Dan Young (R-Pork). What is it about Alaska that sucks Republicans into above-average idiocy?
  • Geeks of a Perly Bent will enjoy The State of the Onion 9 by Larry Wall. (Via Slashdot.)
  • "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy … oh, hey, wait, I know some of those guys." (Via Dave Barry.)
  • Not everyone reads everything, but Joe of Dartblog does, and he spied the following in a Tina Brown article in the WaPo.
    The new, honed Clinton on the rostrum made sure that any earnest hand-wringing grappled with the raw brutality of irreconcilables.

    But if you're wringing your hands, how are you gonna grapple with anything? She used to be an editor, right?

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:49 AM EDT

URLs du Jour (9/22/2005)

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:51 AM EDT

URLs du Jour (9/21/2005)

  • If kausfiles disappeared from Slate, it would be pretty much wall-to-wall Tedious Liberal Snarkiness over there. But Jack Shafer has a classic article counting up and contextualizing the appearances of weasel-word "many" (12 times) in a page-one NYT story about college women's attitude toward motherhood vs. careerhood. Shafer observes that the article "can't be false because it never says anything sturdy enough to be tested."
  • Totally coincidentally, Tim Blair sets upon this snippet from a different Times story:

    Many New Yorkers said yesterday that Ms. Sheehan gave them back hope that was lost when war was declared on Iraq.

    You'll never look at the word "many" appearing in a news story the same way again. ("Many" count in the short NYT article: six.)

  • Rebecca Pidgeon looks so smart in her movies, but, well, geez, here's some of her latest at HuffPo:

    Virginia Wolf [sic] says it's important never to write when one is angry. Maybe that's a good rule for speech too. While anger can be proper for large, life and death issues (combating evil for example), outrage and emotions perhaps cloud the issue most of the time, causing sane, thoughtful, compassionate people to revert to hurling abuse, instead of making a clear, reasoned argument, that may change an opinion.

    Well, duh. I think I heard this on Star Trek once. Note that Ms. Pidgeon apparently did not intend this as a rebuke to the other contributors at HuffPo, who seem to be angry all the time.

  • Apparently Rebecca will be one of the few bloggers not to be employing the latest catchphrase "Stuck On Stupid". I, for one, am thinking about renaming my blog to that.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:52 AM EDT

URLs du Jour (9/19/2005)

  • Brad Linaweaver, Dafydd ab Hugh, and Sachiko ab Hugh have started the Big Lizards blog, which has one of the coolest graphics ever.
  • I blogged about Martin Cruz Smith's Wolves Eat Dogs a few days ago, which involved the Chernobyl nuke disaster. It relied somewhat on maximizing the death toll caused by the fallout from the reactor explosion. If you're interested, there's a debunking of those apparently exaggerated numbers this morning by Michael Fumento at Tech Central Station. Wolves Eat Dogs is still a good book, but please note that it takes place in a fictional universe.

    Communism still sucks, though. You don't want Commies running your nuclear plants or your economy or your government. Just in case you thought otherwise from the above.

  • And even though the NYT op-ed columnists have ostensibly vanished behind the veil of pay-me "Times Select", Bobby Musil lifts the veil and trashes "Herr Doktorprofessor" anyway.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:53 AM EDT

New Picture

One of the UNH staff photographers, Doug Prince, came by the other day to take our pictures for (I am not making this up) inclusion in a Power Point doc for the new head of our organization to see what we look like.

So I've installed one of Doug's pics over there, replacing Jim Cerny's previous fine work, showing me in my work habitat. Notice that this professional effort is probably as good as it gets, mugshot-wise. Apologies in advance for scaring your small children and pets. Hope there's nothing sensitive on the screen behind me …

Last Modified 2005-09-19 10:58 AM EDT

Fooled By Randomness

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

This is an entertainingly written, occasionally bitchy, book about randomness in business and life. The author is a trader on various exchanges. I notice from his web page that he currently teaches at UMass-Amherst.

I was drawn to check the book out of the library thanks to Tyler Cowan's praise of it on his blog. (UPDATE: Tyler's removed this post because his commenters got abusive. Trust me, he liked it.) It's a quirky, personal exploration, fun to read. I've been exposed to most of the counter-intuitive results of probability theory the author explores, but the application to high finance is fascinating.

I especially enjoyed this from the preface:

My rules while writing this book have been to avoid discussing (a) anything I did not either personally witness on the topic or develop independently, and (b) anything that I have not distilled well enough to be able to write on the subject with the slightest effort. Everything that remotely felt like work was out. I had to purge the text from passages that seemed to come from a visit to the library, including scientific name dropping. I tried to use no quote that does not naturally spring from my memory and does not come from a writer whom I have intimately frequented over the years. (I detest the practice of random use of borrowed wisdom — much on that, later.) Aut taceaut loquere meliora silencio (only when the words outperform silence).

Guilty realization that if I hewed to the same rules in putting stuff in this blog, it would get real thin, real fast. Oh well …

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

URLs du Jour (9/17/2005)

  • Pejman points to this article and says "Read. The. Whole. Thing." And he's right, of course. Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post looks at the response to Hurricane Katrina from the government and the private sector, compares and contrasts without ideological blinders, and concludes:

    … the worst failures of the past two weeks have been big government failures. The biggest successes, by contrast, have come out of this country's incredibly vibrant, amazingly diverse and fantastically generous civil society. Sooner or later, it will be impossible not to draw political lessons from that paradox.

    When you see this kind of admission in a canonical "mainstream" outlet, you can't help but think: Is it time for a resurgence of small-government thinking? That would be neat.

  • Ann Althouse observes:

    You know one Supreme Court case the Senators aren't grilling Roberts about? Despite all the talk about the Commerce Clause at the hearing, none of them wants to bring up Gonzales v. Raich, the medical marijuana case.

    Why not? Because the Senators like the blank-check interpretation of the Commerce Clause that the Supremes relied on in Raich.

    Professor Althouse is one of the most entertaining sources of analysis for the confirmation hearings; if you're in the mood for that sort of thing, and you inexplicably haven't done so already, check her out.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:53 AM EDT


[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

Another Kurosawa samurai movie with Toshiro Mifune as our semi-reluctant hero. This is very popular among the critics; for me, it was (only) OK, sorry. So I'm a philistine.

Part of the problem, perhaps, was that I've seen the remakes (Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis, and A Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood) and so was pretty sure how it was all going to come out.

More generally, it was probably groundbreaking in its day. When you've seen all the imitations, the original loses some of its specialness, unfortunately.

But it's fun to watch overall. Mifune's deadpan, dark humor is great.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

URLs Du Jour (9/15/2005)

  • Wuzzadem has a bizarre story about the tearful appearance of Andre Broussard on September 4th's Meet the Press. The problem being, the heart-rending story he told, endlessly replayed, looks like a lie of the creepiest kind.
  • Darn fine Mullings from Rich Galen today yesterday (oops), commenting upon the Roberts confirmation hearing.

    Like so many other things in Washington, the word "hearing" in the US Senate has absolutely nothing to do with the act of listening. It has everything to do with talking.

  • Via Point of Law, a reporter looks at the picketers outside a Las Vegas Wal-Mart:

    They're not union members; they're temp workers employed through Allied Forces/Labor Express by the union—United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). They're making $6 an hour, with no benefits; it's 104 F, and they're protesting the working conditions inside the new Wal-Mart grocery store.

    In comparison, the article reports, the average pay for Nevada Wal-Mart workers is $10.17 an hour, and most of 'em work inside where it's air conditioned. Now that's irony.

  • Find out about the Safe-T-Dome from Warren Bell at NRO:

    Is personal injury a worry? Do your children suffer from bumps and scrapes? Not in the Safe-T-Dome they won't, where all residents must wear a specially engineered Safe-T-Suit (helmet permanently attached) made entirely of waterproof Gore-Tex and Nerf. Go ahead, Junior, ride your skateboard off that bridge! You'll bounce!

    Heh, he said "nerf."

  • And you should as always check out Surviving Grady for Red Sox insights you can't get elsewhere:

    Is it just me, or is David Wells a little less effective when the billboards behind home plate at SkyDome are displaying fast food ads? I swear he was cruising right along until that friggin' "Mr. Sub" banner came up, then he started giving up the bases on balls. When that "Pizza Pizza" one flipped up shortly thereafter, I figured the game was lost, and was just counting the seconds till he served a gopher ball. Thankfully, a Royal Bank of Canada ad slid up next, and all was well again.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 7:29 AM EDT

Shuffle Serendipity

Not that it matters at all, but my iPod Shuffle started playing "Ophelia" on the way into work this morn:

Boards on the window
Mail by the door
What would anybody leave so quickly for?
Ophelia …

Spooky. Best of luck to our Carolinian readers, if any.

URLs Du Jour (9/13/2005)

  • Apparently the New York Times is going to (seriously) try to move some of its content to a pay site, and this will allegedly include the excellent John Tierney. So before he disappears, you might want to check out his suggested questions for senators grilling John Roberts. Sample:

    If Roe v. Wade were a tree, what kind of tree would it be?

    Is there any chance that you could speed up Justice Stevens's retirement by addressing him as "Gramps"?

  • You could do worse, amusement-wise, than to peruse the winners of the 2005 Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest. As a big T. S. Eliot fan, I especially enjoyed Courtney Siebring's "The Tight Thong of J. Alice Prufrock" containing the immortal lines:

    And without these lines
    I wonder, "Do I dare?" and "Do I dare?"
    To wear the pair that makes them stare,
    Although they know my bum's so bare?

    Indeed. (Via Iowahawk.)

  • Garrison Keillor: humorless crank, or litigious bastard? We link, you decide. (Via Hit&Run.)
  • How many Google hits do you think you'd get for "hapless toad"? Guess before clicking.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:55 AM EDT

URLs Du Jour (9/11/2005)

  • UNH's own Shawn Macomber's brief but hilarious essay comparing the Grand Canyon with the Hoover Dam has been included in a college writing textbook among such authors as John Updike and Walker Percy. Shawn's comment: "Completely weird.". See, I told you he was a professional writer.
  • For folks on the "outside" wondering how we get our marching orders: Frank J. spills the beans.
  • Lileks. You read him every day, right? Well, if you don't, today is a good day to start.
  • If we computer geeks didn't have enough to worry about, there's now this:

    Li Zhuang, Feng Zhou, and Doug Tygar have an interesting new paper showing that if you have an audio recording of somebody typing on an ordinary computer keyboard for fifteen minutes or so, you can figure out everything they typed.

    Well, that's just swell. (Via good old GeekPress.)

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:58 AM EDT

Wolves Eat Dogs

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

This is the fifth novel by Martin Cruz Smith featuring Russian police investigator Arkady Renko. I think the title refers to Renko's doggedness in trying to solve crimes that nobody else is particularly interested in having him solve, and the wolvishness of his adversaries.

Smith does his usual outstanding job of putting Renko into hellish situations, this time sending him to the area around Chernobyl, running into the misfits and miscreants living in an area where no sane person would. Renko does his duty with tenacity and his usual glum deadpan humor.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

URLs Du Jour (9/11/2005)

  • Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution writes: Today, I am an American. Two observations: (1) we native-borns take way too much for granted; (2) we're lucky to get folks like Alex, and we're probably taking him too much for granted too.
  • At Reason's Hit & Run, Tim Cavanaugh has a memorable intro to this article by Dave Kopel: "What do you call a government that doesn't protect your life or property, then comes in to steal your stuff and prevent you from protecting yourself?"
  • And Jeff Goldstein takes issue with hurricane necrophilia from Andrew Sullivan and Terry Neal. Read the whole thing, and the links are good too.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 8:58 AM EDT

URLs Du Jour (9/10/2005)

  • Will Wilkinson subjects op-eds by Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, and Harold Meyerson to some simple analysis and it's like they used to say: fish, barrel, smoking gun.
  • Via Joe's Dartblog, Gateway Pundit detects double standards in reporting heckling of Kanye West versus Dick Cheney. Before looking, guess which gets the bigger mainstream media notice?
  • Prof Bainbridge takes no prisoners while finger pointing at Dubya. One quibble: apparently

    Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that "arguably" a day or so of response time was lost due to the absence of the Mississippi National Guard's 155th Infantry Brigade and Louisiana's 256th Infantry Brigade, each with thousands of troops in Iraq.

    Whenever I see a one-word quote in a news story, I'm skeptical that we're seeing the entire context. Nevertheless, this semi-vague admission of theoretical possibility has been immediately turned into certainty by Prof Bainbridge:

    The head of the National Guard has acknowledged that the deployment of his personnel to Iraq delayed the response to Katrina by at least a day

    Maybe, maybe not.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 9:00 AM EDT

Any Given Sunday

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

I never got around to seeing this movie when it was current, and I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

I don't have a lot of fondness for Oliver Stone, but he obviously coaxed about a dozen great performances from the actors here, and helped write a nifty screenplay. It's actually a pretty old-fashioned movie about redemption and teamwork, leavened with modern touches of profanity, nudity, and drug use. And it's really funny in spots.

Everyone's worth watching. Special bonuses are Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor in sizeable roles, and Y. A. Tittle, Warren Moon, Johnny Unitas, and Dick Butkus in minor ones. In a cute moment, Al Pacino has the Ben Hur chariot race playing during a dinner meeting with Jamie Foxx; later in the movie, Charleton Heston turns up as the football league commisioner.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

URLs Du Jour (9/7/2005)

  • Curt Schilling is major good guy, putting up the Fields family, population nine, from New Orleans in a Boston-area hotel. This would have been a quiet, unpublicized act of generosity except that Mr. Fields finally figured out who his benefactor was:

    ''I said, 'Wait a second, I know this guy,' " said Fields, a big baseball fan. ''Schilling . . . Schilling, there's only one Schilling I know, and he's a baseball player! It blew my mind."

    Solemn vow: I will never boo Curt, or even say anything remotely uncomplimentary about Curt, even if he never throws another strike.

  • Bruce Schneier has brief comments on Katrina's implications for national security policy.

    The response by DHS and FEMA was abysmal, and demonstrated how little we've been getting for all our security spending. It's unconscionable that we're wasting our money on national ID cards, airline passenger profiling, and foreign invasions rather than emergency response at home: communications, training, transportation, coordination.

    There's plenty of criticism that can be aimed at other places than DHS and FEMA, but Schneier's main point seems on-target. It smells very much as if homeland security spending is aimed politically, rather than at things that might actually save lives.

    Since such spending typically has "broad bi-partisan support", it's particularly hard to make it a visible political issue, since neither party has anything to gain by complaining that the money they had a hand in spending was wasted.

  • If you have the slightest inclination to take accusations of "price gouging" seriously, hie on over to read Iain Murray at Tech Central Station or (Lordy, I'm in love) Jane Galt at Asymmetrical Information. Preferably both.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 9:01 AM EDT

Katrina and the Tragic Vision

We're used to seeing Jack Bauer save a kidnapped Secretary of Defense, stop multiple nuclear plant meltdowns, and find and destroy a nuclear-tipped missle homing in on LA; moreover, doing all this in a mere 24 hours. And he still has time to mess up his personal life in the slack periods on the same day. So it's little wonder that folks are disappointed with the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

What I've also been reminded of is Thomas Sowell's great book The Vision of the Anointed, in which he describes the "tragic vision":

In the tragic vision, individual sufferings and social evils are inherent in the innate deficiencies of all human beings, whether those deficiencies are in knowledge, wisdom, morality, or courage. Moreover, the available resources are always inadequate to fulfill all the desires of all the people. Thus there are no "solutions" in the tragic vision, but only trade-offs that still leave many desires unfulfilled and much unhappiness in the world.

This, in short, is the view that accepts screwups and delays as nothing to be shocked about. People fail to forsee problems that are in retrospect "obvious." They don't get the information necessary to make informed decisions, or get incorrect information, or can't sort out relevant and correct information from a deluge of noisy and unreliable facts. They make the wrong decisions, or take too long to make the right ones. Or they remain devoted to their course of action long after reality says they were wrong. They say the wrong things, or fail to realize the perceptions generated from their words, actions, or demeanor. Worse, the magic computers that provide instant and infallible answers to any vital query have yet to show up. Resources (shockingly) turn out to be finite, and not (again, in hindsight) optimally allocated.

And people die.

Not that criticism isn't justified or important, of course. People deserve to be called on the stupid or silly things they've done or said. The tragic vision is not an inpenetrable barrier to constructive criticism or reform.

But what I see is the assumption that all would, or could, have been well under a different band of buffoons. And (of course), nothing but anger, bitterness, and paranoia arise from that worldview. When it could have been OK, the reason it wasn't OK was that the evil and/or stupid people were in charge.

Here's Sowell again, who contrasts the tragic vision with the "vision of the anointed":

The vision of the anointed begins with entirely different premises. Here it is not the innate limitations of human beings, or the inherent limitations of resources, which create unhappiness but the fact that social institutions and social policies are not as wisely crafted as the anointed would have crafted them.

The near unanimous chorus from politicians and media is: government failed. Which is (trivially) true in one sense, totally wrong in another. Governments will always fail, if you operate under the assumption that their duty is to take care of everybody, everyplace, all the time, even under the most catastrophic conditions.

So act accordingly. Even if your vision is "anointed", the smart money says that you should plan as if you were operating under the tragic vision.

By the way, Thomas Sowell's latest column is here.

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link]

This is a sweet and amusing movie about two pothead buddies from New Jersey who suddenly discover a craving for White Castle cuisine. Major complications ensue, making their quest an epic one.

A major part of the amusement comes from the movie's eagerness to play on racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes, sometimes confounding them, sometimes exaggerating them.

Neil Patrick Harris has a major role, playing himself on LSD.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

The Cooler

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link]

This movie operates on a supernatural premise: that luck is real, and that people can visit luck, good or bad, upon you. And where else would this be more useful than a Vegas casino?

William Macy plays a personification of bad luck, who is "gifted" with the ability to shift the odds in the casino's favor. Maria Bello, through complex circumstance, turns things around π radians for him.

This would normally be the stuff of wistful romantic comedy, save for Alec Baldwin, who plays the old-style casino manager. Old-style in the sense that he's got few scruples about having people beat up or murdered. And he doesn't take Macy's sudden turnaround well at all. The result is relatively unwistful.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

The Transporter 2

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

Jason Statham makes a very cool action hero. It helps if you've seen the original Transporter, but not really necessary. The action moves from France to Miami, and becomes several notches more detached from reality. But as long as you disconnect the skeptical part of your brain, the movie is quite enjoyable on its own terms.

Matthew Modine shows up in an inexplicably small role, which he gives a rote performance as an annoying twit.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

Everything Bad Is Good For You

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

The subtitle of this book is: "How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter." The idea is that current movies, TV shows, and video games are becoming more challenging, demanding more mental activity from the consumer, than in the past. And, hence, make us smarter.

Fair enough. Johnson's thesis is of decent size for a longish essay in (say) Wired. But arguing for it in a book makes for a lot of repetition. There is no point so obvious that Johnson will let go without mentioning. There is no element in his argument that he doesn't beat to death by saying it over and over again. And I think his argument is weakened by not considering some pretty obvious objections. (For example: "Is current popular music making us smarter? Hah!")

Or to quote an unimpressed Amazon reviewer:

Let's assume pop-culture is making us smarter. A different question would be, is it also making is better? Is it actually good for us? Is it building character, courage, heroism, altruism, and charity? I remain unconvined that it is.

Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:54 AM EDT

iPod Shuffle Math

I noticed that my iPod Shuffle repeated songs (in its shuffle mode) more often than I would have expected. But I thought about it a bit. Then I thought a bit more. Then … aha, said I: this is the Birthday Paradox. Which is (to quote Wikipedia): "if there are 23 people in a room then there is a chance of more than 50% that at least two of them will have the same birthday." That's a lot better chance than our untutored intuition would tell us. The same is true with the Shuffle: relatively short sequences of randomly-selected songs contain repeats more often than you'd think.

If my iPod held 365 songs, then it's exactly the same math as the Paradox: about 23 randomly-selected songs would have a better-than-even chance of containing a repeat.

But (right now) it's holding 262 songs, totalling about 17.7 hours of music. So it's clear that makes repeats more likely with songs than with birthdays, right? But how much more? I wrote a script, based on the Wikipedia entry, to do the math:


use strict;
use warnings;

print "Enter number of shuffled songs: ";
chomp( my $d = <> );
print "Enter total playtime (in hours): ";
chomp( my $tot_time = <> );
print "Enter cutoff probability: ";
chomp( my $cutoff = <> );
my $prob = 1;
my $n    = 1;
while ( 1.0 - $prob < $cutoff ) {
    $prob *= ( 1.0 - $n++ / $d );
printf "Probability: %0.3f that\n",                    1.0 - $prob;
printf "%d randomly selected songs\n",                 $n;
printf "out of %d will contain at least one repeat\n", $d;
printf "Approx time for %d songs: %0.1f hours\n",      $n, $n / $d * $tot_time;

No comments on the code, please, just a quick and dirty hack. Results: Out of 20 randomly-selected songs out of 262, there are better-than-even odds that a repeat will occur. (This is about 80 minutes worth of music, since each song averages about four minutes.)

Increasing to 35 random songs (about 2.4 hours worth), the probability of a repeat goes over 90%!

Math is fun and surprising.

Last Modified 2024-01-23 2:06 PM EDT

URLs du Jour (9/1/2005)

OK, maybe I feel a little better now.

  • Shawn Macomber covers the visit of Paul Rusesabagina (hero of the movie Hotel Rwanda) to Bedford, NH. My own congresscritter, Jeb Bradley, comes off particularly poorly. Shawn brings his contrarian perspective and insight to the visit, and the result is very much worth reading.
  • I used to admire Ted Frank back in the day when we both hung out on Usenet, whether I agreed or disagreed with him. So go read him on shooting looters:

    I fully acknowledge that shooting looters is an inappropriately disproportionate response if one views looting as mere larceny. But one doesn't shoot looters to protect property, one does so to protect order. Somebody is going to suffer unjustly when society breaks down. I don't understand why Muller thinks it preferable for the law-abiding citizens to be the cost-bearers. History has shown repeatedly that the way to stop an anarchic riot is an early display of substantial force.

    Good point. I have to (belatedly) add PointofLaw to the blogroll.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 9:22 AM EDT

Blogging Light to Intermittent

Not that it matters much, but I've discovered something about my blogging psychology: it doesn't deal well with times like these. I can blog when I'm irked by something, I can blog when I'm amused, and I can blog when my interest is piqued.

But I have a tough time blogging about things that just make me sad; and most of the stuff I'm seeing the last few days is just saddening.

As often happens Jane Galt makes relevant and insightful comments. Wish I could do that. And you've probably seen Instapundit's list of worthy charities.

I'll be back when I snap out of it.

Last Modified 2005-09-01 11:11 AM EDT