Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Links for Cynics

Waddya think--would I be better off if I were less well informed? At certain times I've read every single post on Talking Points Memo, and most political articles on Salon and NYT. I scaled way back so I wouldn't waste time on the job market. Currently I'd say I glance at Salon and NYT, then go back to work, and spend my free time reading the stack of old New Yorkers I brought with me that piled up during the job market. I do get a lot of utility out of walking around thinking I'm better informed than everyone else, but everything I read makes me angry. It's a quandary.

Here are some examples.

One, Texas executed an innocent man. I actually don't have strong anti-death penalty opinions, but Scalia's thoughts on the matter are repulsive.

Two, government prosecutors, like anyone with authority, push little people around because they can instead of going after wealthy people who run banks and tank the world economy. To make it even more awesome, the reward for this behavior is becoming a Republican congressman.

Three, the only people Obama is prosecuting for Bush's warantless wiretapping are the whistleblowers.

Here's a less cynical article about great tennis rivalries. And a pretty good satirical piece that Blattman linked to on how white people should write about Africa. I definitely don't think it's entirely fair, but it's funny.

Back to being cynical. As an adventurer, and someone who thinks it's crazy that Americans don't own passports and don't travel, it upsets me that there's apparently a lot of backlash against the US hikers who are imprisoned in Iran. (1, 2)

Since the root of my cynicism is my belief that all organizations are corrupt, basically there's no good way to aggregate preferences, here's some evolutionary evidence that I'm at least not too far off when it comes to large groups. I read this in John Reader's Africa: A Biography of the Continent (which, other than this tidbit is way too much geology for my tastes.) A Psychology professor at Liverpool University, Robin Dunbar found a strong correlation between primate neocortex size relative to the rest of the brain and their social group size by species. This relationship applied to humans would imply an natural group size of 148. There are several societies through history that have had about that size (e.g. Hutterites split their farming communities once it's bigger than 150.) So maybe I shouldn't be so disappointed in Obama--the real problem is that the US has more than 150 people. So there are two take aways--(1) who wants to join me and 148 other people in the woods? (2) [For the Econs] Is that Hutterite 150-cutoff a strict rule? If so, are there Maimonides' rule-type regression discontinuity papers to be written?

Let's end this on an upbeat note: Jeff Mangum is touring again and Neutral Milk Hotel is putting out a box set with previously unreleased material on November 22! Somehow, I've already heard several of the "previously unreleased" material (thank you, Internet). Still, if I lived where I could get a copy of this, I might buy a record player just for these few records. You can download some live recordings from Mangum's recent performance in Toronto here.

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