Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tim DeChristopher on Bill Moyers

Interesting thoughts. I don't know enough about jury nullification to have a strong opinion.

Run Log: May 13-26, Zoom Loco, Bryce

 After a slow week after TNF's Bear Mountain, the 13th-19th was a little better with 45 miles. I spent most of the week grading, which takes me an incredibly long time. That meant I didn't get in much running until the weekend, when I had a couple good runs trying to get every mile of singletrack in my two preferred nearby parks: Crum (16) and the Wissahickon (21).  (There's a little more than that to be done in the Wiss, but that's basically all there is to Crum. It's no East Bay Regional Park system, but it's nice that it's there.)

This past week I did 53. I did a decent 12 in Ridley Creek State Park. Normally this park is not my favorite since the trails don't really follow any clear geographic features, but this time I found a trail along Ridley Creek itself that was pretty nice. I also did 20 on Sunday on the Appalachian Trail in memory of my friend Zoom Loco, who died in a mountaineering accident in Peru last year, and would have celebrated his birthday that day. He hiked the AT in 2000, and was part of my inspiration for doing the same in 2002. His parents got a bunch of his friends from all walks of life together to celebrate his birthday with a hike on the AT, burritos, and graveside prayers. DY, MrB and I decided to add a little distance for good measure.

Mary's Rock, near Thornton Gap on the AT/Skyline Drive

Now I'm off to Utah to run the Bryce 100. I'm hoping to break 24 hours, and I'm also hoping to set up a commitment device using Stickk.com. More on that later.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, and a bit less bigoted than yesterday.

Monday, May 20, 2013


I've got an RA this week, and I've got him working on a lit review on empirical topics like replication, p-hacking, sub-group analysis, pre-specified analysis plans, publication bias, etc.

Anyway, that reminded me of this New Yorker article on how scientific results tend to fail replication: "The Decline Effect." Unfortunately, this article is by Jonah Lehrer, who lost his job because he made up quotes. In a mildly interesting diversion, I came across these articles about Lehrer and the TED conference.

Felix Salmon wrote about Lehrer and the TED conference, and though Lehrer never spoke at TED, he lumps them (and Malcolm Gladwell and David Brooks) together. Appropriately, I think. Basically, they don't really understand science very well.

Yes, that's right: I strongly dislike TED. I think it's style over substance. Despite saying TED talks have "a somewhat vaporous tone," this (gated, unfortunately) New Yorker article by Nathan Heller about the history of TED is mostly laudatory:
Why speak rigorously to an audience of hundreds when you can ham it up a bit and spread the fruits of your research to millions?

Wow, that is aggravating. I much prefer the argument of Evgeny Morozov in The New Republic:
But surely, "modern attention spans" must be resisted, not celebrated.
Agreed. I don't think the world is simple. I don't think many useful answers are that simple. Conservatives like to mock the number of pages in Dodd-Frank, or they like to mock the fact that salmon are regulated by a different agency when in freshwater than when in saltwater, and we all know what crap John Kerry got when he said he voted for it before he voted against it, but guess what? The world is complicated. Policy, in order to be good, is most likely going to be complicated. More complicated than a TED talk.

(The salmon and Dodd-Frank bits are from this good Yglesias blog post.)

Hypocrisy or Empathy

A while ago I posted about what I called hypocrisy, in the form of conservatives' inability to imagine what it's like to be underprivileged or underrepresented unless someone in their immediate family brings it home to them. You might consider that a lack of empathy. Now there's a recent essay in The New Yorker called "The Case Against Empathy." Basically, empathy is horrible at math (read: cost-benefit analysis). Also, conservatives claim they're being empathetic too, just with the over-regulated small business owner instead of the polluted-on inner-city minority, so just claiming we need more empathy doesn't really solve many arguments. And today there's a short bit in The Atlantic about the same thing: military intervention to stop atrocities is really expensive, so likely less cost-effective than other ways to save lives.

I suppose it just boils down to your definition of empathy. If you think it's a blind emotion with no reason, sure, it's not that useful, but that's really only a straw man. The New Yorker piece talks about everyday gun crimes compared to massacres, and preventable diseases and starvation compared to Katrina or the Boston bombing, and says that Americans' over-fascination with the latter of those pairs, along with babies who fall down wells and white girls who get abducted in Aruba, is somehow proof that those who call for a "global empathic consciousness" are wrong. But that's exactly the same point that those who call for more empathy are making--we'd be better off if we spent less money on American babies who fell down wells than we spent on malnourished sub-Saharan African children, and we'd be better off if we sent fewer stuffed animals to the wealthy suburb of Newtown, Connecticut and more cash to something like Haitian orphanages. We're already pretty good at showing empathy for people who are similar to ourselves. It's people who are different that we need to work on.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tim DeChristopher Released

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher is out of prison, and saying good stuff on Democracy Now!

Friday, May 17, 2013

One Gallon

I've never met One Gallon, but I've heard good things from hiker friends. Justifiably, it would seem.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

English Countryside

These 360-degree panoramas of landscapes in England and Scotland are pretty.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

To Be Or Not Because It's There, according to Mallory

“The first question which you will always ask and which I must try to answer is this, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is no use.’ There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.” [via Adventure Journal]

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Economist Deep Thoughts

I have trouble taking economic models seriously. I suppose ever since I learned that increasing the minimum wage doesn't increase unemployment (Card and Krueger, Dube, Lester, and Reich), I've basically come to the conclusion that for most models, the exceptions to the rule (externalities, indivisibility of goods, etc.) are more common than things that actually follow the rule. The one exception is that I still do believe that the bias in policy should be towards free trade, but I admit that neither trade models nor trade empirics are my specialty. And instead I heavily lean towards empirical regression analysis. Of course this requires a whole new set of assumptions (linearity, normal distributions), and maybe I'm just not good enough at math to know that these assumptions are just as stupid as assuming magical perfect free markets. Some statisticians (David Freedman, he of "randomization does not justify regression" fame) would probably think I'm foolishly naive for how much faith I put in (well-identified) OLS, even though I think I'm healthily skeptical about things like omitted variable bias, p-hacking, specification searching, publication bias, etc. I hope I'm not deluding myself.

I'm thinking about all this because of the classes I'm teaching. I have very little interest in the standard undergrad models, and I think I just taught a development economics course without drawing a supply and demand curve a single time. I just skipped all that and went straight to regression, the "real" way to get an answer. It might be crazy, but I think maybe not. Several in my cohort in grad school had not been econ majors as undergrads, and I don't recall having seen many supply and demand curves in grad school, so they might be perfectly wonderful economists and not know what a Cournot competition graph looks like.

It also came up in a discussion with an older colleague whom I very much like and respect.  He said something offhand to the effect of "we'll have to see if all this quasi-experimental literature is still with us in another 15 years..." which can do nothing but belittle to the point of nothingness everything I know and value.  So reasonable people can have different opinions on the matter, apparently. Like many things, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. (But left of center. Definitely left of center.)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Run Log: May 6-12, Berkeley Hills

It was an off week for running. Monday I flew from JFK to SFO, and I flew back on Saturday, and drove home to Swat today (Sunday). I spent most of the week writing mock final exams (and answer keys) for my students. I only got 35 miles in, but they were pretty good miles--some of my favorite trails in the Berkeley hills, with maybe 2-4x the climbing per mile as I get in Philly.

I did run my 1000th mile of the year this week, so that's something. Just shy of 8 miles a day and 55 a week. I hope I get the average up to 60.

Final exams on Tuesday. Grading, unwinding, and then research. Running, too.

Fall Races

My fall I-hope-my-job-market-materials-are-all-mailed-by-then-but-they-probably-won't-be race schedule is coming together. Philadelphia Marathon Sunday November 17, and JFK 50-Miler Saturday November 23. 26 miles of flat pavement, then six days later 26 miles of the C&O towpath, then 8 on pavement to the finish. Mr. B is running Philly with me, so that should be fun, but the dogs are going to be killing me at the end of C&O. Time to order some Hoka One One's.

TAL on Thru-Hiking

This American Life has talked about thru-hiking twice recently.

The more recent one, about a college grad who got fired from his job and walked (mostly roads, it seems) coast to coast asking people what they would tell their younger selves, is here. It's a shortened version of the full piece made by the guy who did the walking. I haven't listened to the full piece, but the TAL abridged version was OK enough.

The one from January is about a guy who sold all his stuff and tried to copy Peace Pilgrim and walk coast to coast. It's a little more offbeat and interesting, despite the fact that he only lasted 3 days.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Urban Stairs

Remember that time that I hiked all the stairs in Berkeley? Neither do I, because it was boring and I quit halfway. That didn't phase Snorkel, who thru-hiked LA's staircases. (Her blog. LA Mag.)

Run Log: April 29 - May 5, Bear Mountain 50-Miler

84.53 miles for the week, plus 7 miles of biking, and 12 more walking. The Thursday club run was a little slower this week, as there were fewer of us. Then Saturday I ran TNF's Gore-Tex (not just one corporate sponsor, but two!) 50-miler at Bear Mountain State Park, 30-40 miles from New York City, finishing in just over 12 hours.

Here's the GPS from the 50-miler:

The course was brutal, and I definitely will not be repeating it. The climbing wasn't so bad (I like climbing), but I really don't want to have to wake up at 3:00AM to get to a 5:00AM start. (5:00AM for a 7:00AM start is much more typical.) So I got fewer than 4 hours sleep. Then I had to go to the bathroom at the first two aid stations. Then I dry heaved a few times. And the course was solid anklebreakers. Seriously. So many rocks. It was more like parkour while staring at the ground than running.

And that's on a relatively flat section. I was feeling like garbage around mile 15, but eventually a nice guy from North Carolina passed me, but started a conversation with "This is the part where we take it easy," so I drafted off of him for several miles, and two guys from Puerto Rico, one in a Superman costume, drafted off of me, which really helped me through my lowest point. When we parted ways around mile 26 or 27, it was clear I'd finish the race just fine.

I spent a day or two in NYC after the race. George likes the chicken bones all over the street, but was otherwise underwhelmed.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

STFU, Vanguard

Everyone else charges higher fees, so it's not like I'm going to put my retirement money anywhere else, but I really wish Vanguard would shut the hell up with their bond vigilantism and deficit scolding (to steal a pair of phrases from Master PKrug).
. Why isn't "putting people back to work" the defining economic issue of our generation?

It's pretty simple math, actually. As long as the economy is growing faster, the US can continue to run defecits forever, and yet the total debt will decrease. I think this happened for years after WWII. We didn't run surpluses, yet the total outstanding debt got smaller, because the economy was growing. (Yglesias mentions this all the time.) The recovery is quite weak. Austerity won't help. Getting people working again would.

Oh, and this episode of Frontline might be useful. Economists, my dad, and Vanguard agree: on average, you won't beat the market, and you definitely won't after taxes and fees, so just buy index funds.

PCT Class of 2012 Video

Jealous. Why have I only hiked this thing 1.3 times?

PCT 2012 Class Video from Alasdair Fowler on Vimeo.