by Daniel on October 22, 2004

Oh goody, I’ve been waiting for Pile On Stephen Landsburg Week. That column of his in Slate has been winding me up for years.

As my contribution, check out this guest contribution to Marginal Revolution, where half-understood physics meets half-understood economics, with predictable results.

The guts of the post are as follows:

Let’s play a coordination game: You and I are each asked a single question, either “Do you like cats?” or “Do you like dogs?”. Our questions are determined by independent coin flips. We both win if our answers differ, unless we’re both asked about dogs, in which case we both win if our answers match.

Here’s a pretty good strategy we could agree on in advance: We’ll contrive to always differ. Whatever we’re asked, I’ll say yes and you say no. That way we win 3/4 of the time.

Can we do any better? No, if we live in a world governed by classical physics. Yes, if we live in the world we actually inhabit—the world of quantum mechanics.

I think I know a way to do better, using only classical physics.

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Not Me

by Ted on October 22, 2004

Dan at Contrapositive has written up a very cool hour-by-hour guide to election night- what to expect, when not to panic, and what each Presidential candidate needs, as the night passes, to stay viable.

And McSweeney’s has a very funny little piece on history’s notable films:

The Terminator

According to The Terminator, in the future, time travel will be perfected, but it will only work on humans or flesh-covered appliances; fabric is out of the question. As interesting as the Terminators are, I would almost prefer to see a movie about the invention of this time-travel device, because I imagine it would feature a lot of lines like, “Well, the good news is, the flesh-covered toaster made it. The bad news is, the khakis didn’t.”


If I understand things correctly, Mel Gibson is a cleric who regains his faith in God after he realizes that his wife, in her dying moments, gave him a message that was too cryptic and oblique to save the lives of millions of people during an alien attack, but was just specific enough to save his son. This may be the most narrow definition of a miracle, ever.

Friday fun thread

by Ted on October 22, 2004

For your tireless service on behalf of good, you have been given the power to replace the weak link in any band, past or present.

You need not be bound by practical considerations; you’re free to ignore the fact that (say) Peter Criss was the only one who could properly apply the KISS makeup. For example, you can replace Liz Phair (the singer) while keeping Liz Phair (the songwriter). How do you use this power, and why?

My answers under the fold.

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Unfair to the readers

by John Q on October 22, 2004

I’ve never been a great fan of Steven Landsburg’s ‘Everyday Economics’ columns in Slate[1]. While he occasionally has something interesting to say, a lot of his columns are what Orwell called ‘silly-clever’, such as this piece defending looting. Economists are often prone to this kind of thing, and it doesn’t do the profession any good in my view, but it’s usually not worth refuting.

Landsburg’s latest piece is in a different category. It’s a repetition of dishonest rightwing talking points about taxation that have been refuted over and over, but apparently need to be refuted yet again. As is his wont, Landsburg seeks to defend a paradoxical claim, namely, that “Bush’s Tax Cuts Are Unfair …To the rich.” He makes a total hash of it.

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If you think the NYT Derrida obit was harsh …

by Henry Farrell on October 22, 2004

try Dean R. Koontz’s “The Face,” as “described”: by David Langford.

bq. Koontz gives us an effectively alarming villain with a set policy of disrupting society via acts of chaos, a dark Merry Prankster; but the book seems inflated far beyond its natural length by … demonstrating this fellow’s wickedness again and again as he remorselessly kills a whole series of accomplices to his ultimate Big Bad Plan, while — being a deconstructionist professor — he naturally passes his spare time starving and tormenting a kidnapped colleague who gave offence by admiring such classics as Mark Twain. But of course.