Archive for January, 2009

Bury the bad news

January 19, 2009

Only a few hours left to be cynical…

Most people will view the inauguration as an opportunity for hope and celebration, perhaps with a tinge of disappointment.  A few will take it as something to fear.  But there will be a very few who will be looking at it as a bad time to release good news, or perhaps a good time to release bad news.  At least, so the U.K. Lib Dems claim, warning the government not to use the inauguration ‘as a smokescreen’.  The Scottish Lib Dems say to the Scottish Nationalist government, ‘No more bad news than is usual from this government should be sent out tomorrow.’  Are they right to be cynical?  Who knows?  But if you’re following any companies, you might want to see if they release any news on the 20th.

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Black swans on the water?

January 15, 2009

From the Freakonomics blog, June 11, 2006, titled Airplane nonsense, by Steven Levitt:

So many of the rules and regulations regarding what happens on airplanes seem completely ridiculous […]

Finally, when they read the safety instructions at the beginning of the flight, they go through the whole song and dance about “in the unlikely event of a water landing…” and all the precautions in place to deal with that happening. My friend Peter Thompson did some research on this. At least going back to 1970, which by my estimation encompasses over 150 million commercial airline flights, there has not been a single water landing! (Some planes explode and fall into the water, but he couldn’t find anything resembling a water landing where any of those instructions might help you.) So perhaps 15 billion customer trips have heard that 10-15 second set of instructions without it ever being useful to anyone. […]

In general, it seems like many of the rules in place exist devoid of any sense of economic reality concerning costs and benefits. Many of these regulations impose costs (maybe small ones, but costs just the same) while providing essentially no benefit (e.g. the water landing stuff).

Why doesn’t Heather have two daddies and one mommy?

January 13, 2009

What happens when economists start thinking about sex?  One paper at the recent American Economics Association conference (pdf here) which I’ll summarize looked at the question of why sex is biparental.  Or, more precisely, what does the fact that sexual reproduction involves just two parents tell us about why sex evolved?

A population that reproduces asexually can grow twice as fast as one that reproduces sexually, so why have sex in the first place?  One possible answer is that sex lets a species get rid of harmful mutations by genetic mixing.  But if mixing from two parents is good, shouldn’t three be even better?  One possibility would be to have a mother contributing half the genes, and two fathers contributing one quarter each.  This lets the three-parent population grow as fast as the two-parent one.

You might argue that it’s just too biologically hard to evolve triparental reproduction.  While I’m blissfully ignorant of the genetics, the authors note that bacterial viruses can get their DNA from more than two parents.  So how hard could it be to evolve this in a sexual context?  You might say that the coordination costs would be too high, but they point out there are a lot of species where litter mates have different fathers.

To jump to the punchline, the authors look at one of the leading explanations for the existence of sex – that it stops harmful mutations from adding up, and show that three parents would be better than two in the case of one particular model.  This leads them to favor the alternative leading class of explanations – that it allows a species to adapt to environmental changes, though they haven’t investigated these models in detail.

Minor advice for the new loyal opposition

January 8, 2009

What can Republicans do now?  One small thing is that they can propose a constitutional amendment to ensure a special election if a senator leaves mid-term.  Governors appointing senators  is not the most pressing problem we have, but it is a problem, and the Democrats may not want to address it (why keep it in the news for longer than it has to be?).   It stands a fairly good chance of passing, and could give a morale boost to Republicans in state legislatures as they organised to ensure its passage.  Overall, I don’t see much of a downside.

Blog and counterblog

January 5, 2009

There are a number of blogs that have associated counterblogs.  Megan McArdle has Fire Megan McArdle, and Mickey Kaus has Fire Mickey Kaus.  This would not have been a surprise to Hegel, whose dialectical theory predicts that every blog would give rise to its antiblog, with the blog and antiblog merging to form a synblog, which in turn generates its own antiblog etc.

You can find a counterblog to this blog at the Bewhere blog.