Bodies In Motion; Kittens At Tea

by John Holbo on January 17, 2017

I like to relax at night with a spot of sketching. I would like to improve my capacity to render human anatomy accurately. My gesture drawing could be more – gesture-y. The girls and I are resolved to branch out into animation. TVPaint, here we come! (Or is that more than we can manage? We shall see.) The internet is a glorious source of free reference material. Fine books exist, and a few sit on my shelf. But a new site launched today, which looked good enough to make me open my wallet and pay for a yearly subscription. They are having a 50%-off deal, launch day only. And you can look around for free. It’s nicely done. It’s fun to look at.

Or perhaps you prefer vintage 1914 kittens, courtesy of the Library of Congress Flickr feed, celebrating 9-years of Flickr Commons.

Happy 9th Birthday, Flickr Commons! (LOC)

{ 0 comments }

For You, to Cheer You Up

by Belle Waring on January 17, 2017

Car Seat Headrest is a good band. Like, damn, so amazing. Maybe the acme of “anything could be a bandname” naming, but I don’t care. The album Teens of Denial is just crazy good, like a Pavement had sex with Guided by Voices album delivered from your dreams, but with Belle and Sebastian story songs?

Also the 2016 Bon Iver Album is great and I didn’t know (John and I haven’t lived in the same town since June or he would have told me, probably ;__; ).

So now you can go listen to good music, and let’s all celebrate MLK day by figuring out if we can get to the Women’s March nearest us on the 21st. I may be able to go to the one in DC, if my insurance company will agree to pay for a thing at the Mayo in time! Cross fingers for me. If not I can go here in Phoenix.

Also, watercolors of Finn Family Moomintroll!

{ 1 comment }

Empire Games

by Henry on January 16, 2017

Just finished an advance copy of Charles Stross’s Empire Games, which is coming out tomorrow – recommended (NB – no spoilers below, except for the most abject social science geeks). I haven’t gotten as much out of his last couple of Laundry Books as the earlier ones (I prefer the horror-to-jokeiness balance to be weighted a little more in favor of horror) but I liked this sequel to his earlier Merchant Princes books quite a bit.

Specifically, it returns to the economic-development-theory fan-service that Paul Krugman liked so much in the earlier books, and ramps it up. It’s certainly cheeky to have an organization called the Ministry of Intertemporal Technological Intelligence with the goal of furthering domestic development through grabbing great ideas from elsewhere (in this case parallel universes) and looking to use them to build up domestic production capacity without allowing dangerous foreign dependencies to develop. I suspect that the nice clockwork theory that this MITI is working on is going to start popping escapements all over the place in the sequels. See also: cross-dimensional deterrence theory. I’m not going to say any more, so as to avoid spoiling actual plot developments, but if you liked the earlier books, you’ll almost certainly like this one, and if you’re looking for social-science literate entertainment, you should read it too, but likely you should read the prequels first to avoid hopeless confusion.

{ 4 comments }

Those of you fortunate enough to be able to pick up BBC Radio 4 on your wireless sets may wish to tune in after your lunches this week of the Trump inauguration, at 13:45 for fifteen minutes each weekday,1 to hear Trump: The Presidential Precedents, a programme hosted by UCL historian and 2015 Broadcaster of the Year Adam Smith, and devoted to US presidents who came into office promising to upend one apple-cart or another. (Presumably if you cannot tune into Radio 4 the old-fashioned way, you’ll be able to get the episodes on the Internet via streaming audio.)

At the American Historical Association annual meeting this year, I ended a pleasant conversation with a UK-resident friend of mine, who said in parting he’d be happy enough to trade Brexit for Trump. I hadn’t time to inquire after his logic, so I leave it to you to decide whether you would do likewise.

1This is just before “The Archers,” so if you want your sense of relentless continuity restored, just hang around for another fifteen minutes.

{ 40 comments }

Sunday photoblogging: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

by Chris Bertram on January 15, 2017

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

{ 1 comment }

Algorithmic Price Fixing, Amazon Variations

by John Holbo on January 14, 2017

Henry’s post was interesting. It reminded me of an anecdote passed along by an acquaintance, who shall go nameless.

The individual in question is involved in publication of limited run, high quality art books. You can’t do that if you can’t make significant profit, per unit. (‘Volume volume volume!’ doesn’t hack it if you lack volume.) Medium-length story short: [click to continue…]

{ 27 comments }

Ride a Painted Pony

by Belle Waring on January 14, 2017

Words can’t express how much I love the Shirley Bassey cover of Spinning Wheel. I couldn’t find it for ages; all my records in storage in Savannah, and no love from iTunes. In SF in the late 90s I used to go to a club night that was all…cheesy 60s music? But with a brilliant DJ who was good at reading the small crowd. This song was the barnburner. I was always resentful that my mom had once—but no longer—had thigh-high white patent leather go-go boots. (I also lacked the imagination as a teen when I first found out about these missing boots to see how you might just dance through/fatally stank up a thing like that). I only ever had knee-high white patent-leather go-go boots. Good enough when the piccolos attack this furious!

{ 8 comments }

Tu quoque revisited

by John Quiggin on January 12, 2017

Slightly lost amid the furore over the alleged Trump dossier was the news that Trump had held a meeting with leading antivaxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. As is usual, particularly with the Trump Administration, accounts of the meeting differed, with RFK claiming Trump had asked him to lead an inquiry into vaccine safety and Trump apparatchiks denying any firm decision had been made.

This interested me because, on the strength of sharing his father’s name, RFK Jr was, for many years the poster child for those on the right who wanted to claim that Democrats were just as anti-science as Republicans. (I’ve appended a post from 2014, discussing this.) Now he’s eager to work for Trump.

I pointed out the likely emergence of vaccination as a partisan issue in another post. Lots of commenters were unhappy about it, and it’s true that it’s unfortunate in the same way as is the partisan divide on global warming, evolution and just about any scientific issue that has political or cultural implications. But, whether we like it or not, it’s happening and likely to accelerate. The sudden reversal in Republican views on Putin, Wikileaks and so on illustrates the force of loyalty to Trump. We can only hope that, for once, his team’s denials turn out to be correct.

[click to continue…]

{ 56 comments }

The Political Thought of Stephen K. Bannon

by Ronald Beiner on January 11, 2017

Every anxious citizen on this currently deranged planet of ours should feel a keen interest in penetrating the hyper-active political brain of Steve Bannon, who has been appointed as “senior strategist” by President-elect Donald Trump. Up until the point when he joined the Trump campaign, Bannon was a manically voluble communicator. He gave thundering lectures to right-wing groups.[1] He made films celebrating conservative icons from Reagan to Sarah Palin; there are reports that as a film-maker, Bannon modeled himself on Leni Riefenstahl.[2] He even collaborated on the script for a rap version of Coriolanus, “drawn to Shakespeare’s Roman plays,” according to the woman with whom he co-authored the script, “because of their heroic military violence.”[3] Then Bannon closed up like a clam. Presumably, the time for words had ended; the time for deeds had begun. Bannon is on record as welcoming darkness and destruction.[4] And in Trump, Bannon seems to have found the suitable political instrument of the darkness and destruction for which he yearns.
[click to continue…]

{ 58 comments }

Grumpy Cat Face: Good

by Belle Waring on January 10, 2017

I have been avoiding the internet for ages. But Belle Waring, what did you do instead? I went to ten followed by 100 zeroes doctors’ appointments, and I got exercise like a real person, and discovered that actually I rather like Adorno and Horkheimer when they are unfairly mean to Kant*, and I re-read Harry Potter. Also I played Animal Crossing on the Nintendo 3DS. So. Much. Animal Crossing. I recommend it very highly. I thought I could look at the internet again after the election. (Muffled sobbing from every direction). I still can only sort of deal with looking at the NYT. So this article was actually a happy surprise: Women’s March on Washington Opens Contentious Dialogues About Race. I thought, oh God, this is going to be tedious reading about how white feminists are alienating minority feminists by insisting that everyone needs to unify behind the most widely-supported goals and bell hooks needs to shut the f$%k up. But no! It’s about how minority feminists are throwing bell hooks quotes in everyone’s faces and insisting that concerns about racial discrimination be foregrounded even as women unify against the Trump administration! I thought I’d read depressing “this is why I’m not a feminist” quotes from minority women, and instead I’m reading whiny “I’m not marching if people are going to try to make me think about white privilege” quotes from white women. Progress!

Ms. Willis, a 50-year-old wedding minister from South Carolina, had looked forward to taking her daughters to the march. Then she read a post on the Facebook page for the march that made her feel unwelcome because she is white.

The post, written by a black activist from Brooklyn who is a march volunteer, advised “white allies” to listen more and talk less. It also chided those who, it said, were only now waking up to racism because of the election.

“You don’t just get to join because now you’re scared, too,” read the post. “I was born scared.”

Stung by the tone, Ms. Willis canceled her trip.

“This is a women’s march,” she said. “We’re supposed to be allies in equal pay, marriage, adoption. Why is it now about, ‘White women don’t understand black women’?”

Jesus, lady. South Carolinians who feel unwelcome because they are white—this is such an unlovely group of people to throw in with.

Now, I know plenty of people will respond to this with not-crazy concerns about maximizing turnout for the march being more important than intersectionality right at this crucial moment. But what if every moment is crucial? Does intersectionality ever get to be important? I think this addresses it well: “if your short-term goal is to get as many people as possible at the march, maybe you don’t want to alienate people. But if your longer-term goal is to use the march as a catalyst for progressive social and political change, then that has to include thinking about race and class privilege.”

And take it away march organizers:

For too long, the march organizers said, the women’s rights movement focused on issues that were important to well-off white women, such as the ability to work outside the home and attain the same high-powered positions that men do. But minority women, they said, have had different priorities. Black women who have worked their whole lives as maids might care more about the minimum wage or police brutality than about seeing a woman in the White House. Undocumented immigrant women might care about abortion rights, they said, but not nearly as much as they worry about being deported.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ll see from commenters here a lot of argle-bargle about how caring about trans people cost Democrats the election and we need to tone down the gay, and tell bell hooks to shut the f@#k up, also, too, generally. But to the extent that one is being serious about appealing to the white working class, a feminism that serves only the needs of educated white women with relatively high-paying jobs ain’t going to get you nowhere on that front either. Maybe doing the right thing can also be politically expedient?

*John would like to object here that Adorno can dish it out but he sure can’t take it. I haven’t read enough [thin-skinned complaints from] Adorno to evaluate this claim but it seems not implausible. Still, the dishing. So dishy. ‘Do you know what the Critique of Pure Reason reminds me of? De Sade.’ [I note for the benefit of readers that this is a paraphrase but I will post on the topic soon.]

{ 72 comments }

Algorithmic price fixing

by Henry on January 9, 2017

This FT article is pretty interesting:

The classic example of industrial-era price fixing dates back to a series of dinners hosted amid the 1907 financial panic by Elbert Gary, then chairman of US Steel. In a narrow first-floor ballroom at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, men controlling 90 per cent of the nation’s steel output revealed to each other their respective wage rates, prices and “all information concerning their business”, one attendee recalled. Gary’s aim was to stabilise falling prices. The government later sued, saying that the dinner talks — the first of several over a four-year period — showed that US Steel was an illegal monopoly.

Algorithms render obsolete the need for such face-to-face plotting. Pricing tools scour the internet for competitors’ prices, prowl proprietary databases for relevant historical demand data, analyse digitised information and arrive at pricing solutions within milliseconds — far faster than any flesh-and-blood merchant could. That should, in theory, result in lower prices and wider consumer choice. Algorithms raise antitrust concerns only in certain circumstances, such as when they are designed explicitly to facilitate collusion or parallel pricing moves by competitors.

… a German software application that tracks petrol-pump prices. Preliminary results suggest that the app discourages price-cutting by retailers, keeping prices higher than they otherwise would have been. As the algorithm instantly detects a petrol station price cut, allowing competitors to match the new price before consumers can shift to the discounter, there is no incentive for any vendor to cut in the first place.

“Algorithms are sharing information so quickly that consumers are not aware of the competition,” says Mr Stucke. “Two gas stations that are across the street from each other are already familiar with this.” This episode suggests that the availability of perfect information, a hallmark of free market theory, might harm rather than empower consumers. If the concern is borne out, a central assumption of the digital economy — that technology lowers prices and expands choices — could be upended.

The argument here, if it is right, is twofold. One – that even without direct collusion, firms’ best strategy may be to act as if they are colluding by maintaining higher prices. Firms have a much weaker temptation to ‘defect’ from an entirely implicit bargain by lowering their prices so as to attract more customers, since there are unlikely to be significant gains from so doing, even in the short run. The plausible equilibrium is something that might be described as distributed oligopoly. Harrison White once defined a market as being a “tangible clique of producing firms, observing each other in the context of an aggregate set of buyers.” With super-cheap information, it doesn’t have to be a clique any more to be tangible.

The second is that where there is direct collusion, the information burden on regulators is much higher. For example, one may plausibly imagine that oligopoly-type outcomes might emerge as a second-order outcome of the aggregated behavior of automated agents. One might also imagine that it might be possible artfully to tweak these agents’ behavior in such a way that this will indeed be the most likely result. However, proving ex post that this was indeed the intent will likely at best require a ton of forensic resources, and at worst may be effectively impossible.

NB that both of these can happen entirely independently of traditional arguments about concentration and monopoly/oligopoly – even if Amazon, Google, Facebook, Uber etc suddenly and miraculously disappeared, these kinds of distributed or occulted oligopoly problems would be untouched. If you take this set of claims seriously (the evidence presented in the FT piece still looks tentative tentative), then the most fundamental problem that the Internet poses is not one of network advantage, increasing returns to scale and so on advantaging big players (since, with a non-supine anti-trust authority, these could in principle be addressed). It’s the problem of how radically cheaper communication makes new forms of implicit and explicit collusion possible at scale, squeezing consumers.

{ 27 comments }

Sunday photoblogging: Paris metro

by Chris Bertram on January 8, 2017

Metro

{ 6 comments }

The Wish Power Are Together With You

by Belle Waring on January 8, 2017

Someone dubbed a terrible Chinese sub of the third Star Wars prequel under the title The Third Gathers: Backstroke of the West. It is the best thing ever. Obi-Wan Kenobi is called “Ratio Tile”, while Anakin is “Allah Gold.” The Presbyterian Church is also involved way more than you might think. If When you watch the full movie, use settings to put the subtitles at “backstroke” or you will be distracted by the actual, really bad script. Some highlights:

{ 27 comments }

Health policy: Excerpt from Economics in Two Lessons

by John Quiggin on January 8, 2017

Another excerpt from my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons (partial draft here). As usual, praise is welcome, useful criticism even more so.

[click to continue…]

{ 23 comments }

DJ Earworm 2016

by Belle Waring on January 6, 2017

This year blew hairy goat balls. Like, Mickey Kaus learned lucid dreaming techniques and came up with these balls. I know this, you, The Plain People of Crooked Timber know this. Anyway, did DJ Earworm’s 2016 mix blow perforce? Nah. It’ll grow on you. I know y’all are all going to say “oh Belle Waring there were no good songs this year and this just reminds me how much I hated that “worth it” song which was like some stepped-on B-List Destiny’s Child knockoff bullshit, and also that Drake doesn’t rate and I should get with Rhianna, and stuff.” That’s as may be, Plain People of Crooked Timber, but basically Rhianna needs to date like a Rhianna clone or maybe Cara Delivigne or something, or else we’re all still going to be standing here saying, “this person? Seriously?” but this is a good mashup. It has an EDM-esque enough track in it, which is crucial for a good mix. Zoë thinks 2013 is best while Violet favors 2012. Both very solid choices. I have a lot of love for 2012, in part because I listen to it so much with Violet. This is so even though I find it brings up memories of a year that also blew hairy goat balls, but for me personally rather then the world at large. (John is experiencing the cold robbies as he reads the number 2012.)

If I never go that crazy again it’ll be too soon, I tell you what. And what did my Singaporean psychiatrists do? Prescribe every wrongest worse medication in the world, to where I got ordered an EKG an hour in on my first day here at the Mayo Clinic when they asked “so, they’re monitoring your heart carefully on this right?” Me: wat no. And now I have to titer down off all this scheisse and what does amitriptyline withdrawal give you? MIGRAINES HA HA HOW IRONIC. (Also plain old reg’lar headaches. Also I have 8 more weeks on the taper. Also some people have headaches for 8 weeks following total elimination. Those people are probably pussies who suck at withdrawing from drugs though, am I right?)

I like to listen to music loud on the good headphones when I’m miserable. When Violet pointed out the other day that this might be counter-productive I explained, rather lamely, that when I control the sounds I hear and I know what they will be I don’t find it disturbing in the same way that other loud noises are. Violet, with excessive emphases: “oh my favorite songs could never hurt me. They’re my favorites!!” Mmmmmm. Compelling. Also, the headphones just died lol fine. I’m going to go put my feet in the hot tub and pour icy water on my head which, put that way, makes this seem pretty baller. I mean, some people have real problems. I even have new anti-depressant/mood stabilizers that appear to make me be not depressed! I’m an ungrateful shit, really; I was actually depressed a month ago and had forgotten how vile it is, and also Zoë is doing great and now I’m all “I have a headache”/whine. In some ways 2017 can only be worse generally but for my family in particular I’m certain it’ll be way better (provided my mom is OK.) I’m fervently hoping the same is true for all the Plain People of Crooked Timber and their simple but honest families. OK, I have a soft spot for the complicated dishonest families; y’all stay safe too.

{ 21 comments }