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Archive for November 6th, 2008

Andrew Sullivan is effusive in his praise of Five Thirty Eight, the polling aggregation and analysis website created by Nate Silver:

The only state their model got wrong was Indiana, where they expected a narrow Obama loss. He won the state by a hair. Nate Silver owned this election on the polling front: one young guy with a background in baseball stats beat out the mainstream media in a couple of months. And he beat out the old web: I mean if you consider the total joke of Drudge’s recent coverage and compare it with Silver’s, you realize that the web is a brutal competitive medium where only the best survive – and they are only as good as their last few posts.

If you want to know why newspapers are dying: that’s why. They’re just not as good as the web at its best. This election proved that beyond any doubt. For the record, I think the WSJ and the WaPo and the NYT and the Anchorage Daily News rocked in this election. Most of the rest of the old media: not so much.

I completely agree. Five Thirty Eight revolutionized the polling analysis business and was far and away my favourite haunt during the elections.

There’s something else that I am happy about. Nate’s detailed posts were full of conditional probabilities, Bayesian analysis and related tools; yet, they were presented in a layman’s language. Modern probability is one of the core ingredients of rational thought. In its concise and practical demonstration of the power of numbers, Five Thirty Eight, I suspect, has taught a lot of people the basics of probability and the importance of cool, rational thought.

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Robin Hanson expresses eloquently a theme I have often touched upon:

We feel a deep pleasure from realizing that we believe something in common with our friends, and different from most people.  We feel an even deeper pleasure letting everyone know of this fact.  This feeling is EVIL.  Learn to see it in yourself, and then learn to be horrified by how thoroughly it can poison your mind.  Yes evidence may at times force you to disagree with a majority, and your friends may have correlated exposure to that evidence, but take no pleasure when you and your associates disagree with others; that is the road to rationality ruin.

I see this everyday with my liberal friends, I see it in the blogosphere, I see it in atheists and worshippers, libertarians and socialists, idealists and pragmatists. The collectivist tendency is a powerful one.

And I know it exists within me too, though it is rarely displayed on a social level, principally because there’s no one I know who I think of as an intellectual associate. Perhaps that is a good thing.

The tendency to immerse oneself within echo chambers is hard-wired into the human psyche. It is a survival mechanism and it is an enemy of rational thought.

Robin Hanson’s words deserve to be remembered everyday by each person who thinks of himself or herself as a rational, intellectual being.

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The New York Times has a nice article on “Blasted”, the extremely violent play that has been shocking — and wowing — audiences and disturbing the actors themselves.

The Soho Rep production has been unnerving theatergoers since its first preview, which sold out like every subsequent performance, and it has earned strong notices that have led to two extensions, now through Dec. 21.

No one was more disturbed by “Blasted” than its director, Sarah Benson, and the three cast members, yet they have found inventive ways to cope with the nightly torture sessions. (For one thing, no matinees. Double duty would be too much.)

[…] “It messed with my head, in preparations for the play; it was very disturbing,” Ms. Benson said. “I was actually depressed.” Mr. Cancelmi, who commits the most violent acts against Mr. Birney’s character, said the first reading of the play was “enormously upsetting,” but he and the other actors settled on what he called a “very workmanlike approach” that settled their emotions as rehearsals began.

“In a play like this,” Mr. Birney added, “if you had to live through this that way, you’d blow your brains out.”

Hmm… I would love to see the play if I ever get the chance!

And hats off to the actors. I have a deep admiration for artists who love their work deeply and are prepared to suffer any degree of distress — Heath Ledger being a tragic example — in their quest for perfection.

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If you are bored or simply wondering what’s the coolest way to die, check out this old Maddox classic. Not suitable for the easily offended.

Wondering why anyone should ever commit suicide? Maddox has the answer to that too. Also, the letters at the end are funny.

Lastly, if you a fan of fratire and know any other good writers, please post it in the comments.

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The CNN exit polls explain the passage of Proposition 8, that eliminates the right of gays to marry in California:

African-Americans voted for Proposition 8 by a 69 percent to 31 percent margin. However, 55 percent of white voters and 52 percent of Hispanics voted against the proposition.

This does seem to affirm the common observation that African-Americans tend to be highly homophobic. It is unfortunate that a group that has been a traditional victim of discrimination voted yesterday to deny legal rights to another community.

(Hat Tip: The art of the Possible)

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That was the topic addressed by a panel of scholars gathered at Princeton University two weeks ago. Reason has the report. Excerpts:

Hayes said he thinks more ideologues of all stripes are beginning to notice that real-world government tends toward neither a social-democratic nor libertarian ideal. “The problem of the U.S. economy in the past eight years has been a kind of corporate socialism…[a] hydra-headed monster of corruption and malfeasance.” He added, “In the current financial crisis, the two groups who come out looking good are the Marxists and the Austrians,” since both schools of economists predicted that government will tend to come to the aid of the already-wealthy amidst cyclical booms and busts.

[…] Paul Starr, on the other hand, sounded more willing to defend modern, welfare-statist liberalism on philosophical grounds. “What do liberals and libertarians have in common? The fundamental value of liberty. What do liberals and libertarians disagree about? What liberty means.” Liberals, he argued, see threats to liberty from concentrations of private power and will continue to defend government as a means of combating those threats: “The value of these programs,” such as Social Security, he said, “isn’t just security but liberty itself.”

[…] Lindsey coined the term “liberaltarians” for an imagined alliance meant to replace the decades-long, arduously-constructed “fusionist” alliance between libertarians and the right. He voted for conservative Ronald Reagan as a young libertarian (calling himself a “con-symp”) but voted for Democrats in 2006. He said he can no longer stomach the pretense by the two near-identical major political parties that, as he put it, “a 35% top marginal tax rate is Social Darwinism but a 39% rate is socialism.”

[…] Indeed, he echoed Massey’s call for open empirical discussion of how large a welfare state would be effective, saying that countries like Sweden suggest that once nations are wealthy enough, they can “afford” welfare states. “That just doesn’t seem like a matter of great importance,” he argued. Instead of an all-or-nothing, “yes or no” argument about whether to have a welfare state at all, Lindsey envisioned a collegial conversation about the size of the government safety net. “Bottom line: I’d rather hang out with the liberals and argue about economics than hang out with the Republicans and argue about Darwin and stem cells.”

[…] Brown University political science professor John Tomasi offered a plan for bringing together such feuding factions. Theatrically arranging three cups in front of himself on the podium, Tomasi encouraged libertarians (and liberals) to drink three metaphorical cups of potentially strange-tasting philosophical ideas: (1) Accept that there is a real distinction between classical liberals (who share a somewhat flexible bundle of ideas such as democracy, constitutionalism, and individual rights) and libertarians, adherents of a strict version of property rights that “not many people believe;” (2) accept that some version of “social justice” will seem intuitively appealing to most political thinkers and must be part of our agenda; and (3) recognize that once 1 and 2 are accepted, a friendly empirical conversation about economic policies can proceed.

On a related note, I highly recommend the liberal-libertarian blog “The Art of the Possible”.

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