Wrong Again

It has been a long time since I’ve enjoyed being proven wrong as much as I did in the comments section of this blog post about genetics (& Kobe Bryant) by Razib Khan. And since a belief I held so firmly (although briefly) was proven wrong (in my opinion):


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A Confusing Attempt to Take Money from Subway Riders and Taxpayers

MetroChange is a proposal for a kiosk that will allow MTA riders to donate the pesky leftover funds on their Metrocards to charity. NYU students Stephan Boltalin, Genevieve Hoffman, and Paul May have imagined a friendly, easy-to-use machine that invites New Yorkers to swipe their Metrocards, press a button, donate their chump change MTA credits, and feel the love of their own big hearts. A thin metal slot will even take used Metrocards off your hands for recycling, so you won’t have to Frisbee them into the tracks later. … One major hurdle is the fact that the credits on Metrocards are already part of the MTA economy, though their value belongs to MTA riders. The proposal hopes that the MTA can either match the value of rogue funds and donate the amount to charity, or that another institution can take on the same endeavor.

[emphasis mine]

(from here, as quoted by Andrew Sullivan)

“One major hurdle”??? More accurately, this is the factor that shows how this idea, which may seem at first to be a way of diverting money which otherwise would be “wasted” to a good use, is actually just a plan to take money from subway riders and taxpayers (or to convince some rich person that it is a good idea to base his charity donation amounts on the totally random fact of how much people happened to overpay for metrocards in a given month).

Subway riders prepay for their subway cards, and often end up with unusable credit. The proposal is basically to allow a customer the ability to fine the MTA by the amount equal to is prepayment, and then divert the fine to a charity.

This is no more legitimate or ingenious than trying to convince Time Warner Cable to donate a bunch of money to charity since I didn’t watch nearly enough TV last month to justify the $100 bill I got for it (one difference is that the MTA has a $900m annual deficit).

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Faulty News Article

Here is an AP article published on NYTimes.com which makes no sense. How could the ruling out of one possible error in a science experiment which seemed to indicate that Einstein was wrong “shr[i]nk” the odds that Einstein was wrong?:

CERN Excludes 1 Error in Faster-Than-Light Finding


GENEVA (AP) — The odds have shrunk that Einstein was wrong about a fundamental law of the Universe.

Scientists at the world’s biggest physics lab said Friday they have ruled out one possible error that could have distorted startling measurements appearing to show particles traveling faster than light.

Many physicists reacted with skepticism in September when measurements by French and Italian researchers seemed to show subatomic neutrino particles breaking what Einstein considered the ultimate speed barrier.


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What an odd justice system

When the cops raided Zuccotti Park, lawyers for Occupy Wall Street immediately woke up a judge with a civil liberties background and asked for help. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings signed an early-morning order temporarily barring cops from keeping protesters and tents out of Zuccotti Park.

At 11:30 a.m., court officials were scheduled to use a computer program to pick a new judge for an afternoon hearing on the restraining order — the proceeding that will determine if the tents can be erected again. Billings’ name will not be included because she usually handles real estate cases, court officials said.

From NY Daily News

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Insider Trading

Megan McArdle suggests that insider trading may be a “victimless” crime:

Of course, if our insider buys shares, someone else doesn’t get them … but there’s no way of knowing whether that person would have held on to the stock until the merger was announced [at which point the stock is likely to be more expensive – JC]. So the insider could possibly profit without making anyone noticeably worse off…

This is wrong. If Insider X buys a stock (or anything else) at a price of $20 on January 10, and sells it at $50 on January 20, then we know that, were it not for Insider X’s participation in the market, someone else (or multiple other people) would have held the stock during those 10 days, thus achieving the $30 profit. Mcardle seems to fixate on whether “that person” (i.e. a particular person) would have held it for 10 days. That is irrelevant. A stock cannot be ownerless. A crime with an unidentifiable* victim is different from a victimless crime.

[update 11/15 – I now believe the below note is unnecessary, confusing, and maybe wrong]

*Note that the victim may be “unidentifiable” in the strong sense that there is actually no specific victim or victims, not the weak sense that we simply don’t have strong enough investigative powers to find the victim. The victim is that person who “would have” owned the stock if it weren’t for the insider’s purchase. Thus the victim is a victim only because in the hypothetical world where the insider did not act, the victim would have been better off. It is impossible to determine what exactly would have happened were it not for the insider’s action; what we do know, however, with reasonable certainty, is that someone other than the insider would have been better off in this hypothetical world than in the actual one in which the insider acted.

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Cool Puzzle


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More Handouts for the 1% (i.e. Salman Rushdie and Michael Moore)

Salman Rushdie, joined by Michael Moore and 45,000 others, have signed an online petition to ask Jamshed Bharacha, the president of the Cooper Union (a private school in New York City), to reverse his decision to raise the monthly rent on the St. Mark’s Bookshop, which the Cooper Union owns, from $15,000 to $20,000. The Bookshop may have to close down if Rushdie and Moore do not succeed.

This is totally silly.

There is no asymmetry which makes it more morally (or otherwise) incumbent on Cooper Union to sacrifice its budget than for Rushdie and his followers to sacrifice their budgets in order to keep open the bookstore they love so much.

If Rushdie and Moore, and their 45,000 followers, are so adamant that the Bookshop stay open, they should each donate $10 to the Bookshop, rather than signing an online petition, in order to further their goal. That would ensure that the Bookshop could stay open for another 10 years (assuming no further rent increases)!!

This is just about as silly as it would be for a guy who makes $5 million per year to pester you (who make only $50,000 per year) to give money to his charity, and, upon your refusal, starting an online petition in order to pester you into doing so.

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Silliness on Steve Jobs’ Legacy as a “Job Creator”

Tim Noah has a blog post attacking Eric Cantor, who can stick up for himself, but Noah also unfortunately slandered Steve Jobs, who cannot.

I was writing an email to Noah to address this problem, but I figured that a brief discussion of this issue may come in handy to my readers as they mull the question of whether they should join the Occupiers in their fight against “the 1%,” or instead defend these rich people as “job creators,” so I decided to post my note on this blog (and direct Noah to it via email). The note is below.



You write,

Actually, as I noted on the sad occasion of his untimely death, Steve Jobs, though a remarkable man and an admirably creative entrepreneur, was not much of what Cantor likes to call a “job-creator” (assuming we’re talking about jobs created inside the U.S.). Henry Ford had more than 100,000 people working for him just in Michigan’s River Rouge plant during the 1930s. That’s more than twice as many people as Apple today employs around the world.

I’ve read enough of your previous smart analyses to be surprised that you’d write something so silly.

If we truly want to account for how many jobs Steve Jobs “created,” we should compare the number of employed people in the current universe to the number of employed people in the hypothetical universe where Steve Jobs was never born (e.g. where he was aborted rather than put up for adoption by his birth mother). Unfortunately this analysis is far more complicated than simply counting how many people work at Apple, and probably beyond the scope of anything we humans can ever hope to achieve in full, but it may still be worthwhile for me to provide you a few pointers to nudge you in the direction of a closer approximation to a complete analysis.

As Elizabeth Warren reminded us, a business owner has a lot more to thank than his own ingenuity for his success — he is indebted to those (taxpayers) who funded the roads he used, the police force he relies on, and so on. Perhaps, if she’d thought of it, she would have included the business owner’s Apple products in the list of things that facilitate his business success, and that thus are partially responsible for allowing him to hire as many people as he does.

Also, why exclude app developers, people who have gone into the business of attaching iPods to bracelets, and others who make their living creating products that complement Apple’s?

And what about the people who work at Amazon, Samsung, and Microsoft — surely some of them owe gratitude to Jobs for inventing a product of which they are now paid to create knockoffs.

Lastly, I hope you extrapolate from this example. Next time you are on the verge of attacking Obama’s record by counting how many people are on his staff and then asserting that he can have created no more than 500 or so jobs, think twice!


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Puzzle about Journalism

From the New York Times article 5 days ago “Romney Beating Obama in a Fight for Wall St. Cash“:

Mitt Romney has raised far more money than Mr. Obama this year from the firms that have been among Wall Street’s top sources of donations for the two candidates.

From the Washington Post article yesterday “Obama still flush with cash from financial sector despite frosty relations“:

Despite frosty relations with the titans of Wall Street, President Obama has still managed to raise far more money this year from the financial and banking sector than Mitt Romney or any other Republican presidential candidate, according to new fundraising data.

Puzzle Question: What explains the discrepancy? (And which newspaper is being misleading? Surely at least one is.)

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Last Night’s Debate

The main thing is that Rick Santorum showed himself to be a complete jerk:

1) He, like Perry, persistently interrupted Romney when it was Romney’s turn to talk. In both cases I appreciated Romney’s approach of being a stickler for the rules and largely drowning them out.

2) He “introduced himself” by telling his daughter that he loves her and he will see her soon. (She had surgery yesterday). Either he was using us to convey a message to his daughter (“I love you so much that I am willing to waste the time of millions of viewers to send a message to you”), or (more likely) he was using his daughter to convey a message to us (“I am a family man”). Either way, no good.

3) He uttered the sentence “The basic building block of a society is not an individual.”

Also Rick Perry showed himself to be a total jerk, primarily by accusing Romney of hiring illegal immigrants (via his lawn care company). I bet there are fewer than 1000 people in the country who would actually refrain from (knowingly) hiring illegal immigrants to do lawncare if they thought no one was watching.

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