Saturday, September 26, 2009

The serious problem of global not-warming (or an application of prospect theory)

I was listening to another hysterical warning about global warming on the radio yesterday. Global warming sounds so much more dire when you frame everything as a loss. But what if you flipped things around.

Here's a new problem the world is facing: global not-warming. If we don't do something to stop the big moneyed special interests led by those like Al Gore who are intent on preventing the world from its current projected warming trend, the world will face the following according to the Nobel Prize winning UN IPCC:
  • $3.5 trillion of economic damages by 2030 (dwarfing the current financial crisis)
  • 50 million people thrust into poverty by 2030 (about equal to the population of France)
  • Shorter growing seasons in large parts of the world
  • Millions of deaths from diseases related to cold: hypothermia, the flu, etc.
  • Many new species would be lost as the course of speciation is altered
  • Less hospitable plant habitat around the world due to less carbon dioxide

All of this will happen if activists get their way, and the world caps carbon emissions as the IPCC recommends.

Now of course, all of this is likely outweighed by the problems associated with global warming, but it helps to put things into perspective, a perspective that is often lost.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blame Obama (Michelle) for the lack of Tomatoes

One of the joys of moving to Ithaca is simply sublime tomatoes. My roommate in grad school introduced me to "real" tomatoes late in life, with a tomato picked up from Berkeley. I felt like a Platonic cave dweller, for the first time exposed to the true thing. I quickly learned that such perfection is really only available a month or two during the year, and only available from serendipity. Even some of the best restaurants I've been to have not been able to deliver a consistent tomato experience. But Ithaca in late August was always a heavenly time where visits to the farmer's market will yield a pretty good shot at a great tomato (eaten by itself, or maybe toasted with fresh basil and mozzarella on a slice of ciabatta). Not so this year. Most of the north east crop apparently has succumbed to the Blight (a variant to what caused the Irish Potato famine).

Dan Barber - Owner and Chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns (the current contender for the "it" celebrity chef, only chef on Time's 100 most influential list, and probably the chef of the best meal I've ever had) offers an interesting reason why... the expansion of gardening, promoted in part by Michelle Obama which has led to a greater dispersal of globalized tomato plants to untrained amateur home gardens who increased the geographical reach of the disease, but also led to more grown by people who didn't know how to identify and deal with it. To be fair, I think Barber supports very much the trend of home gardening, but still an interesting story.

Friday, September 18, 2009

On the latest guest columnist at the NYTimes: They have a point.

I used to complain about people using They as a substitute for he/she (or the more compact s/he). Which is strange for me, because I tend to be a descriptivist when it comes to language rather than a prescriptivist. But at some point, I caught a NY Times article using They for the singular. which bugged me. This new column argues that using They as singular was common until a feminist grammarian in the 1800's convinced everyone to use He for the genderless singular pronoun.

Up to grad school, I still stuck to the old rules and used he exclusively, but that raised the umbrage of a feminist education prof of mine, so I have adopted the economics standard of alternating, though that normally means defaulting to she especially for people in positions of power. Now, it is nice to know that maybe using They is ok.

And come to think of it, at some point, it became ok to use the 2nd person plural as a singular (You used to be plural, Thee and Thou was the singular form). So why not use They for the singular as well.

(I used to stick to using he/him exclusively as I had been taught in grade school until getting chastised by a feminist professor in grad school, so now I adopt the alternation which seems to be the norm in economics [the norm also requires the gendered pronoun used to defy stereotypes. For example, the manager is always a she])

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The real shocking thing of Wilson's "You Lie": the fact that people find it shocking in the US.

One interesting point made in an op-ed today attacking Joe Wilson, was that this type of behavior is normal in Great Britain. I was actually thinking about that while I was in Australia last week, where on tv, there were clips of a member of the opposition calling the climate minister "Legally Blonde" which made me wonder why of all the legislative bodies in the world, why the US seems to be the only civil one (what with fist fights breaking out in places like Taiwan, Russia, Bolivia, Australia, Japan, Korea, Ukraine, Macedonia, Czech Republic, Turkey, Iraq, Germany, all through Africa and regular insults and shouting matches going on everywhere else).

Saturday, September 12, 2009


(Sorry for the hiatus. Was in Australia. Will post photos and recap some day...)

I had never really understood the fascination people have with the surpreme court (nor with the continuing coverage of the space shuttle though that I can explain to historical path dependence) but people seem to love talking about Nina Totenberg (a favorite answer in nytimes crosswords and this comic) and the latest antics of Scalia or Roberts, or that Thomas never talks, or the excitement over Sotomayor.

Though a recent minor change allowing surpreme court proceedings to be taped may change my mind. Flipping on CSPAN as is my habit on the elliptical, I happened on the latest hearing on campaign finance reform.
From the cold logic of propositional calculus and induction based machine learning, to the somewhat rigorous forms of economic proofs, to the styles of academic argumentation, it amuses me to think formally how conversation/debate/dialectic/dialog works. These other forms are easier for me to follow, but it is interesting to see the logics employed by the supreme court. The reliance on analogy and precedent, the backward induction and strategic consequences of various statements, what is allowable as evidence and what is not.

I guess I knew some of this given that I teach it in class and have been working on a model of malpractice, but it is neat to hear it directly. I imagine allowing the voice recordings will help (a bit) get people more involved in the courts; I'm surprised it took so long.

Though one thing that sadly may be lost, is Nina Totenberg's dramatic re-enanctment of surpreme court debates on NPR, now that we have actual recordings.