URLs du Jour

2021-06-08

  • She Was Told There Would Be No Math. Eric Boehm takes on a wacky scheme: Elizabeth Warren’s Plan To Close the ‘Tax Gap’ Doesn’t Add Up.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) says her plan to more than double the annual IRS budget would allow the federal government to collect an extra $1.75 trillion over the next 10 years.

    But that windfall of new revenue—generated by beefing up IRS enforcement and giving the federal tax cops more authority to snoop through Americans' financial records and even bank statements looking for targets to audit—seems unlikely. Despite lawmakers' eagerness to scoop up more revenue without having to increase tax rates, the estimates offered in Warren's plan are far out of line with official projections about the size of the so-called "tax gap" and the amount of revenue that can be captured with additional enforcement.

    Our Getty Image du Jour shows the Senator pushing for a different wacky scheme. exorbitant spending on "universal childcare".

    Whenever I see a politician advocating for "universal X", my reflex reaction is "… including the Klingons?"


  • I Predict This Will Not Happen. Scott Alexander has an interesting idea: Instead Of Pledging To Change The World, Pledge To Change Prediction Markets. An interesting look back at "pledging":

    In April, Joe Biden pledged to halve US emissions (from their 2005 max) by 2030.

    This is nice, but I can't help but remember eg Australia's 2009 Copenhagen summit pledge to decrease emissions 5% by 2020 (in fact, they increased 17%). Or Brazil's pledge at the same summit to cut emissions 38% by 2020 (in fact, they increased 45%). Or Canada's pledge for -20% (they got +1%). I'm not cherry-picking bad actors here, I'm just going through the alphabet (pledges source, outcomes source) . For that matter, what about George W. Bush's pledge to return Americans to the moon by 2020?

    All of these pledges have one thing in common - they expire long after the relevant officials are out of power (and in Biden's case, probably dead). As hard as it is to hold politicians accountable in normal situations, it's even worse here. Sure enough, prediction aggregator Metaculus shows that forecasters only give a 15% chance that we reach Biden's emissions target by 2030.

    Scott says Biden should pledge to move the prediction market number instead, to at least 51%.

    I foresee difficulties:

    • Biden doesn't have the foggiest idea what prediction markets are, or how they work.
    • Neither do all but a tiny sliver of Americans.
    • If Biden's efforts failed to move the prediction markets to his goel, Scott thinks we could "hold it against him" in a future election. But (a) he probably won't run again; (b) American voters have a lousy record of holding failed promises against politicians.

    That Metaculus site is interesting, though.


  • In The Pun Salad "No Duh" Department. Kenny Xu and Christian Watson take on a bogus argument: No, Critical Race Theory Isn’t a New Civil Rights Movement. (Just the Opposite).

    Critical Race Theory has become a prominent subject in American political discourse. Several state legislatures have advanced measures aimed at banning it from public schools, on the basis that its rigid moral categorization of people as either “privileged” or “oppressed” is offensive and even racist. Yet supporters argue that Critical Race Theory is vital to the project of eliminating racism, which they see as an omnipresent contaminant in every sphere of American life. Only by constantly and explicitly taking race into account in every aspect of policy-making, the theory goes, can we rid ourselves of its presence.

    One of the most ideologically ambitious defenses of Critical Race Theory presents the doctrine as the next logical stage in the process that began with the civil rights movement. This is the argument made by the American Bar Association, the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. The ABA instructs us that Critical Race Theory provides a “powerful approach for examining race in society,” as well as a “lens through which the civil rights lawyer can imagine a more just nation.”

    One can understand why Critical Race Theory’s proponents would seek to link it to the civil rights movement, which properly enjoys a hallowed status in American history—and which yielded some of the most revered and intensely studied Supreme Court judgments on law-school curricula. But this line of argument, however rhetorically attractive, is logically incorrect: Critical Race Theory (often abbreviated as CRT) explicitly undermines the intellectual and moral foundations of color-blind American liberalism.

    You shouldn't expect honest arguments from the CRT advocates.


  • Linda Richman Reincarnated. You have to have a heart of stone not to chuckle at this Slashdot story. Microsoft's Kate Crawford: 'AI Is Neither Artificial Nor Intelligent'.

    What should people know about how AI products are made?

    We aren't used to thinking about these systems in terms of the environmental costs. But saying, "Hey, Alexa, order me some toilet rolls," invokes into being this chain of extraction, which goes all around the planet... We've got a long way to go before this is green technology. Also, systems might seem automated but when we pull away the curtain we see large amounts of low paid labour, everything from crowd work categorizing data to the never-ending toil of shuffling Amazon boxes. AI is neither artificial nor intelligent. It is made from natural resources and it is people who are performing the tasks to make the systems appear autonomous.

    Um. Isn't everything made from natural resources?

    Trust me, it gets worse. But also funnier. She's learned how to babble all the clichés.

    As noted, Kate works with Microsoft in some prestigious position. I can see why she's down on AI, because for all the immense talent at Microsoft, they still haven't come up with decent progress meters. ("25% complete"? You lie!)

    (Didn't get the "Linda Richman" reference? Explanation here.)


  • It Turns Out The Answer Is: None Whatsoever. Charles C. W. Cooke wonders (NRPLUS) What Use Is Chris Cuomo to CNN?.

    At this point in the proceedings, one is tempted to conclude that Chris Cuomo must have laced CNN’s corporate offices with dynamite and informed the powers that be that, if he goes, they go, too. What else could explain the network’s eternal tolerance for being embarrassed and degraded by the man? Here, at the tail end of his long experiment in deficiency, Cuomo resembles nothing more keenly than the inadequate tee-baller who gets to stay in past eight or nine strikes because his uncle coaches the team. His ratings are poor. His insights are vacuous. His conduct is a permanent source of ignominy. All the perfumes of Albany could not sweeten this little man. “What’s in a name?” inquired Shakespeare. Little did he know.

    It is unclear why Cuomo was selected by CNN to begin with. He’s a lawyer who knows nothing of the law; a journalist who knows nothing of journalism; an American who knows nothing of America. His temper is third-rate, his interests are bewilderingly narrow, he possesses no discernible sense of shame or self-knowledge, and the opinions he proffers are so ruthlessly subordinated to expedience that hypocrisy is his default mode. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s maxim that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” was meant as an extolment of the virtues of personal growth. Cuomo seems to have taken it literally.

    Related query: What use is CNN to anyone? I fear the answer is the same as above. They seem to have abandoned any pretense of being a "news network".

    (I don't watch Fox News either. I can barely stand to watch a half hour of local TV news, and my eyes roll a lot.)

Job: A Comedy of Justice

[Amazon Link]

Another book down on the "Great Heinlein Rereading" project. Specifically, rereading my first edition, purchased back in 1984. It is one of the "Late Heinlein novels", but (for me) it stands head and shoulders above his other books in that phase.

Back in 2010, I listed it as one of my "Ten Influential Books". And I'll just quote my plot summary from there:

It tells the story of Alexander Hergensheimer, who's far from the typical Heinlein hero. In fact, he's kind of a jerk. But he's roped into walking on fire in Polynesia, and (somehow) this starts bouncing him back and forth to multiple universes, where he meets Margrethe, the love of his life; it makes Lost look like a missed turn on the way to the supermarket.

(Kids, Lost was a TV series that ran from 2004 until 2010.)

Expanding some on that "multiple universes" bit: it becomes evident (page 2 spoiler) that Hergensheimer's "home" universe isn't ours. And neither is the one he gets initially bounced to. But (to his great fortune) he gets involved with the lovely Margrethe, a hostess on the cruise ship on which he tries to get back to (his) America. She (somehow) gets caught in his odyssey, travelling with him to each successive universe. And they fall in love.

What's going on? I won't even hint at it. But there's a big clue right on … nope, I won't even do that.

Influential? To me, yes. I got married not long after reading it the first time. I'm pretty sure this book cured me of my gamophobia.