Archive for the ‘the stupid’ Category

Abortion arguments and the kidney theft legend

February 18, 2012

Bear with me here.

Back in the 60s and 70s, when moral arguments about abortion were still about something more than tribal identity, one of the standard hypotheticals was the Violinist Argument: a worl-famous violinist, who has brought joy to millions and done no harm, finds himself (by no personal fault) suddenly without the use of a kidney, a liver or some other vital organ. He could recover, but needs to be hooked up to another person’s circulatory system for 6 months or so in order to survive. Someone with just the irght blood and tissue type. So, the question went, is it OK for a particularly zealous music lover, having learned of your fortuitous match, to jump out from behind a tree, knock you down and hook up your veins? Conversely, is it OK, once you wake up and find yourself entangled in tubing with a violinist staring at you with his artistic, deeply soulful eyes, to pull the IVs out and condemn him to death?  Remember that this will only last 6 months or so, and you’ll only face a certain amount of discomfort, and the risks of getting a septic IV connection are minimal.

The points of analogy are obvious, as are some of the points where the analogy breaks down. Mostly they have to do with consent and “culpability”. (And some with the character of the risks involved.)

So I was reading about the whole contraceptive-coverage fake controversy and it came to me that the kidney-theft UL is really a much better analogy, especially since the violinist version has pretty much been overtaken by advance in medical science. So, to review: Guy on vacation or business trip, lured to a hotel room by apparently-willing member of the appropriate gender, wakes up neatly incised, short one kidney that is no doubt going to a desperately needy recipient. Temporarily acute body modification that might have serious longterm consequences, check. In the cause of a deserving recipient, check. Motivated by lust, check. Consented to the lustful part, didn’t consent to the body modification, although “obviously” should have seen it coming, check. Would it be OK to go tearing through town to the nearest hospital and demand your kidney back?

The devil is in the details, and the body modification is loaded differently, oh, yeah, and the protagonist in one case is a man while the protagonist in the other is a woman. And yet the urge to differentiate these two hypotheticals seems so visceral.

I had wondered whether the popularity of the kidney-theft legend might even be a sort of sign of anxiety about legalized abortion (because other than slasher movies, there aren’t that many ways for illicit sex to go so horribly wrong for men’s bodies — well, yeah , HIV, but that has its own set of urban legends), but it turns out from snopes that the original germ of the story was probably the testimony of a guy who sold a kidney to an organ broker and had regrets. Um.

 

Most annoying component ever

February 8, 2012

The other day I put a new battery in an old digital tire gauge, hoping to revive it Nope. So just for the heck of it I took it apart and found that it didn’t matter whether the batter was dead or that gauge circuitry was still working, because there was no connection between the display and the rest of the thing.

Instead of wires or flex or something sensible, the designer used a piece of rubber with a zillion embedded parallel conductors. The idea, I guess, is to carry signals from a bunch of goldplated bumps on the main circuit board to a bunch of contacts on the display. As long as those two are properly aligned, it doesn’t matter whether the rubber bit is in exactly the right place, because it conducts across the piece but not lengthwise.

Until the rubber shrinks a little. Or the ends of the embedded conductors develop an oxide coating. Or moisture condenses anywhere near it. I’ve lost count of how many cheapjack little devices I’ve taken apart that might have been working fine, except that they couldn’t display anything because of one of those stupid little rubber bits. And each time (hope springs eternal) I’m pissed off again. I should really have learned by now.

For the manufacturers I guess it makes sense. Not only do they lower parts and manufacturing costs (no fancy soldering, no super-precise alignment fixtures), but they guarantee a steady stream of replacement purchases. And sure, I’ll never buy something with that particular brand name on it again, but the factory doesn’t care.

Somewhere the ghost of Richard Whitney is laughing

November 1, 2011

What happened at MF Global | Felix Salmon

For traders, risk managers are always the enemy; Corzine was a poacher who was never going to be comfortable in a role as gamekeeper. The Goldman culture kept him in check, to some degree, before it pushed him out; on his own, he was — literally — out of control. And as a result, thousands of his employees are now out of jobs. It’s a truly ignominious end to Corzine’s career.

Better late than never

August 10, 2011

Confessions of a Financial Deregulator – J. Bradford DeLong – Project Syndicate

Depression-era restrictions on risk seemed less urgent, given the US Federal Reserve’s proven ability to build firewalls between financial distress and aggregate demand. New ways to borrow and to spread risk seemed to have little downside. More competition for investment-banking oligarchs from commercial bankers and insurance companies with deep pockets seemed likely to reduce the investment banking industry’s unconscionable profits.

It seemed worth trying. It wasn’t.

Analytically, we are still picking through the wreckage of this experiment. Why were the risk controls at highly-leveraged money-center universal banks so lousy? Why weren’t central banks and governments willing and able to step up and maintain the flow of aggregate demand as the financial crisis and its aftermath choked off private investment and consumption spending?

Breaking News from BBC: Fashion Industry Does Not Exist

June 17, 2011

BBC News – Flashy sports cars are male ‘short-term mating signal’

Although men used spending on luxury items as a short-term mating signal, women did not spend to attract men.

What they’re talking about, apparently, is that women don’t [tell researchers that they] buy big flashy luxury items to attract men for hookups and flings. Because makeup, designer clothes, personal trainers and plastic surgery are, y’know, free.

This pretty much encapsulates the traditional post-1980 rules on feminine versus masculine behavior: women have to make it all seem effortless. It also contradicts previous research results.

A certain naive charm

May 5, 2011

File-Sharers Await Official Recognition of New Religion | TorrentFreak

The church has its own set of axioms, most of which revolve around free access to knowledge and the sharing of information. They include:

# Reproduction of information is ethically right.
# The flow of information is ethically right.
# Remix Spirit is a sacred kind of copying.
# Copying or remixing information conveyed by another person is an act of respect.

Poor Colonized Ezra

April 15, 2011

Paul Ryan is not pro-competition, and his critics are not anti-competition – Ezra Klein – The Washington Post

Ryan, Brooks says, believes that “health care costs will not be brought under control until consumers take responsibility for their decisions and providers have market-based incentives to reduce prices.” It’s true that Ryan does believe that. But it’s not true that that’s what’s worrying so many about his budget proposal.

[italics added]

If Ryan actually did believe that old rightwing canard, wouldn’t he, you know, introduce a proposal that made it possible for medical consumers and to actually control their costs, and for effective lower-cost providers to gain share. But unless he’s a complete drooling moron, Ryan knows that’s not what his proposal does, hence he doesn’t really believe the canard (or doesn’t care about his beliefs) and has been pretty much feeding Ezra and all the other young village wonks a charming access-laced line of bullsh*t.

And this comes right after a sentence gently chiding Brook for giving Ryan too much credence.

This is why you test your new formulas first

March 24, 2011

The First Law of Development Stats: Whatever our Bizarre Methodology, We make Africa look Worse

The biggest change in method was that the new HDI is a geometric average rather than a normal (additive) average. Geometric average means you multiply the separate indices (each ranging between 0 and 1) for income, life expectancy, and education together and then take the cube root (I know your pulse starts to race here…)

Now, students, please notice the following: if one of these indices is zero, then the new HDI will be zero, regardless of how great the other indices are. The same mostly applies if one of the indices is close to zero. The new HDI has a “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” property, and in practice the weakest link turns out to be very low income (and guess which region has very low income).

You can see why the geometric average might have been attractive: by multiplying and then taking a root, it avoids the Bill-Gates-Walks-Into-A-Bar problem that besets arithmetic averages. But instead it makes errors in scaling or in linearity much worse. You gains on the swings, but you loses on the roundabouts.

And ultimately it’s always going to be about the scaling. $2 may make you twice as happy as $1, but $2 million is unlikely to make you twice as happy as $1 million, much less a million times as happy as $2.

It’s much, much easier, both mathematically and politically (because you get to avoid claims of subjectivity) to measure utility or development in linear terms of clear quantities like dollars or years of life or bushels of food. Too bad all you learn is ever more precisely where the house keys aren’t.

This is why you test your new formulas first

December 6, 2010

The First Law of Development Stats: Whatever our Bizarre Methodology, We make Africa look Worse

The biggest change in method was that the new HDI is a geometric average rather than a normal (additive) average. Geometric average means you multiply the separate indices (each ranging between 0 and 1) for income, life expectancy, and education together and then take the cube root (I know your pulse starts to race here…)

Now, students, please notice the following: if one of these indices is zero, then the new HDI will be zero, regardless of how great the other indices are. The same mostly applies if one of the indices is close to zero. The new HDI has a “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” property, and in practice the weakest link turns out to be very low income (and guess which region has very low income).

You can see why the geometric average might have been attractive: by multiplying and then taking a root, it avoids the Bill-Gates-Walks-Into-A-Bar problem that besets arithmetic averages. But instead it makes errors in scaling or in linearity much worse. You gains on the swings, but you loses on the roundabouts.

And ultimately it’s always going to be about the scaling. $2 may make you twice as happy as $1, but $2 million is unlikely to make you twice as happy as $1 million, much less a million times as happy as $2.

It’s much, much easier, both mathematically and politically (because you get to avoid claims of subjectivity) to measure utility or development in linear terms of clear quantities like dollars or years of life or bushels of food. Too bad all you learn is ever more precisely where the house keys aren’t.

Unclear on the concept

December 6, 2010

Queens Woman Nearly Loses Home Over Bank Error – NYTimes.com

Because she had a dogged lawyer, who had the wit to get a New York Times columnist interested in her case, a terrible mistake was uncovered. As a result, an unjustified foreclosure may well be reversed.

In the column that contains these lines, Nocera documents repeated acceptance of payments under false information, repeated court filing of falsified documents, knowing dissemination of false information in financial transactions (oh, yeah, and the usual failure to perform proper service of documents in a lawsuit). This is a mistake?

Ever bleeping convicted bad-check signer and con artist in the country would be walking around with a clean record if they could just say “oops, my bad” the way Bank of America gets to do.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.