Thursday, December 24, 2009

moving back to sam's posts

So Eli agreed to be a guest blogger on Sam's Posts since the name is just so much better (we tried!), and let's be honest he doesn't post nearly as much as I do anyway. So in this, the season of birth, specifically of Jesus, dualing personalities meets an early grave.

merry christmas

As a wise man once said, "Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ"

Monday, December 21, 2009


I'll try to keep this brief, so you can return to what you were doing.

The healthcare debate has gotten me thinking about the Filibuster (I'm not alone). The need for 60 votes had two nasty effects on this bill:
1) it ended up being less progressive than I would have liked.
2) the final negotiations resulted in provisions amounting to thinly veiled bribery

Saturday, December 19, 2009

recession question

So we're all used to hearing about how dynamic the US economy is, and we all learn in our intro economics classes how the labor market is supposed to function more or less like a free market. Even though no one really thinks that's true, I've been wondering why the labor market is seemingly so dysfuctional.

I read a reader's complaint on Andrew Sullivan's blog recently about how impossible it is for so many college graduates entering the labor market to find work (any work!) right now. I don't really understand why so many people are out of work when so many of the college graduates I know actually work more hours than they would like. I have one friend who works over 50 hours a week, doesn't like his job and is planning on quitting soon. He would be considerably less miserable if he worked fewer hours for less money. Why doesn't his employer hire more workers to work fewer hours at lower wages when there's so much excess labor out there? This would save them money and leave them with happier, more productive workers.

If his work were the highly skilled or training intensive type, this arrangement wouldn't make much sense, but it's the type of work plenty of college graduates are capable of doing. Maybe there are other things about the job that I don't understand, but this type of situation seems pretty common. So what's the deal? Why doesn't the economy naturally adjust to this type of situation more easily? I understand that firms tend to hold excess labor during recessions in anticipation of recovery, but this seems to go deeper than that. Most of the people in my friend's position, for instance, are only looking to work for the length of the current recession anyway.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ethical eating, part 2

So, my sister and others pretty much convinced me that animal cruelty in the meat industry is more like a good ol' collective action (or prisoner's dilemma) problem than I originally thought. With this new perspective come my revised thoughts (basically rephrasing what others have said or pointed out to me):
1) Becoming a vegetarian is a somewhat empty gesture in the absence of at least bringing it to other people's attention in an effort to create a social environment ripe for change. Otherwise, it's like limiting your efforts to combat climate change to turning off the lights when you leave a room: in the absence of urging other people to do the same, it amounts to less than a drop in a bucket.
2) Collective action problems require collective solutions, and that means political action. So should I give money to PETA? The Humane Society? I don't really know, but I intend to find out.
3) Political action would ideally be at the federal level, because state mandates start a "race to the bottom" where those adversely affected by any new regulations relocate to less regulated states. For instance, according to some disputed estimates, 95% of California's egg industry will move by the time Proposition 2 takes effect in 2015, and obviously not too many chickens will actually be better off. What are the odds that this actually becomes an issue of significance any time soon? Sigh......

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rule changes for soccer, part 3: penalty kicks and the penalty area

So, now that the advantage rule is history, we delve into the more controversial realm. I decided that instead of going in order of ease of correction I'd just wait until I see things in real games that really tick me off and write about them in the order that they arrive. [Spoiler alert for the Liverpool-Arsenal game] The next problem is the size of the penalty area and the awarding of penalties.

A penalty kick is awarded to an attacking team any time a defending team commits any foul in its own penalty area. This rule is supposed to make teams defend much more carefully inside their own penalty areas, because they don't want to give away silly fouls that will lead to goals. Unfortunately, it too often has the opposite effect, because referees are often wary of awarding penalties for minor fouls when there is no goal-scoring opportunity. Referees are also forced to award penalties in situations where the laws call for one, but in truth the attacking team wasn't anywhere near scoring.

In the Liverpool-Arsenal match Sunday Steven Gerrard was tripped quite clearly by William Gallas (third minute of video), but no penalty was called. It was an obvious, blatant foul (and I'm an Arsenal supporter), but the reason the referee didn't point to the spot is because Gerrard had lost control of the ball, as the announcer says in the video, and Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal's other center-half points out here. The referee only has two choices, and both seem unjust: award a penalty for a clear foul on a play where the attacking player had already lost control of the ball, gift Liverpool an undeserved goal in a game where goals are few and far between. Howard Webb chose the second in this case (though I'm sure he wouldn't admit such a calculation).

Anywhere else on the field there's no assumption that you can trip someone who's trying to run past you--that only ever applies in the penalty area. In this case, the call was actually horrendous, but it's common for referees to have a higher threshold for fouling inside the penalty area (see the jostling in corner kicks and free kicks and the obvious advantage given to the defending team), and that encourages exactly the kind of defending that penalties are supposed to discourage.

Nevertheless, in a game with so few goals, is it right to give one team a free one for a mistimed tackle or an unintentional handball [at least as that rule is currently interpreted] when there was no chance of a goal from the run of play?

I can imagine two solutions. One is to allow referees the judgment to call penalties only for clear-goalscoring opportunties, and award normal free kicks from some specified distance for other fouls in the penalty area. Too subjective? Not necessarily. Referees already have to make the "goal-scoring opportunity" judgment in sending-off players.

The other is to halve the size of the penalty area (or something like that), making it 12*32 instead of 18*44 yards. [credit to Eli for this idea, but I have to say I like the former better.] Thoughts?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Not-all-that-interesting-interview with Al Gore about climate-gate. There are two important points he makes in the interview though. Here's one:

"The physical relationship between CO2 molecules and the atmosphere and the trapping of heat is as well-established as gravity, for God's sakes. What do they think happens when we put 90 million tons up there every day? Is there some magic wand they can wave on it and presto!—physics is overturned and carbon dioxide doesn't trap heat anymore? And when we see all these things happening on the Earth itself, what in the hell do they think is causing it?"

Of course, I assume everyone reading this pretty much agrees with me already about climate change, so I won't say much, but I still think it's an important point. One can never prove the causal human activity and global warming, but only track the correlation between emissions and temperatuer, and assign a probability of causation cased on certain models. Even if the greenhouse effect isn't behind the warming trend, we know it's not helping. The climate change skeptics, on the other hand, have no plausible model and no explanation for rising temperatures.

What I don't understand about climate change skeptics is that despite the fact that they're almost certainly wrong, they don't even recognize that probability. Even if there were no consensus about the science and the cause of global warming, wouldn't it still be worth doing something about it? If there were only a 50%, instead of well over 95%, chance that climate change has athropogenic roots, wouldn't it still be worth sacrificing 5% of our wealth now for a good chance at avoiding environmental and economic catastrophe later? It seems to me that even the worst deniers, even if they're right about the science by some freakish accident, are wrong about policy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Musings on taxes

I'd like to use this forum partly as an excuse to learn about things I don't know, and tonight I'm thinking about economics, particularly alternate forms of taxation.

My inspiration comes from a few sources:
  • An article in today's times about the Value Added Tax, and a follow-up blog post by it's author, Catherine Rampell
  • Krugman's op-ed a couple weeks ago about a financial transaction tax
  • A paragraph proposal from way back in the "Ideas" section of some magazine (Sam, help?) about heavily taxing just the undeveloped value of property.
For this post, my thoughts on the Value Added Tax.

Ground Rules

This is my first foray into the illustrious world of blogging, and what better way to start than by exposing to the "world" (momma? are you there?) Sam's and my private disputes & musings.

I thought to set the tone, I'd write out my vows (Sam, feel free to reciprocate):

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Welcome! Anew!

So I've decided to join forces with Eli to create a new blog, "dualing personalities." Get it? Really it's just a ploy to increase readership from my friends and family to my friends and family plus Eli's one friend. Ha! Having a co-blogger is so much fun! I finally have someone to deprecate other than myself!

Okay, for now I really have to write a paper. But get ready for plenty more to come. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rule changes for soccer, part 2: the advantage rule

The advantage rule should be modified to more closely resemble the one used in hockey. This change is so glaringly obvious I can’t believe it hasn’t been officially adopted yet. Currently, the advantage rule actually provides a positive incentive to foul in many instances, whereas, a priori, the laws of the game should be designed such that punishments for infringements are sufficient to overcome that incentive. These instances occur most commonly when an opponent makes a pass a sufficient distance—say 40 yards or more—from a defending player’s goal. If the defending player is close enough to the player making the pass and thinks the pass will be successful, he has a clear incentive to commit a foul. As long as his foul is not blatant enough to warrant a yellow card, the maximum punishment is a free kick far from his own goal. But, assuming the advantage is played, the benefit to fouling is to disrupt the player who just made the pass and eliminate him from attacking play, and, more generally, to get a chance to kick an opponent, annoy him, or possibly incite a retaliation, all without fear of further punishment. What should happen in this instance is to “play the advantage” for the duration of possession, and then award the original free kick once the advantage is lost, no matter how long its duration. The advantage rule as it currently stands is a detriment to attacking and encourages excessive and disruptive fouling. Why hasn’t it been changed?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rule changes for soccer? part 1

The rules of soccer, or “laws of the game,” are elegant, simple, and incredible. There are lots of ways you could set up a game where two teams kick a single ball toward opposite goals, but the way soccer is structured is a big reason it became and continues to be the “beautiful game.” The rules have served us very well over the years with only a few modifications, but they go largely unexamined. I think a few more changes might be in order.

Let's back up a little first. In soccer, there’s a perennial battle between “purists” and “realists” that takes on a distinctly moral character. I could describe it at length (more here!), but it basically boils down to this: sometimes, lots of the time, the team that plays “the best soccer” doesn't win. Purists simultaneously support those teams and want them to win while also wanting all teams to play more “attractive” soccer regardless of whether it helps their results. Realists think that winning is more important than any individual strategy and are willing to embrace a variety of tactics as means to that end.

But wait: isn’t “the best soccer” by definition the manner of playing that makes a team more likely to win? Yes and no. There are two reasons that what we call “good soccer” doesn’t always lead a team to victory. One is statistical, an artifact of soccer’s low-scoring-ness. Even though one team may be considerably better than another, it might only beat the other one 51% of the time because there are so few goals. The other reason is that the rules weren’t written to make playing in the most aesthetically pleasing way consistent with the most successful strategies and tactics.** I am acutely aware of this latter reason, often after watching a team like Barcelona lose a game: they played so well, it can’t possibly be their fault, so it must be soccer’s. [The second reason is admittedly related to the first insofar as the number of goals scored is related to way the game is set up, but they are still different in other ways.]

On the one hand, I really like this conflict, simply for providing an extra moral metaphor through which to view and play the game. Sports are full of moral metaphors that make for compelling viewing already, generally about your home team and its superiority to others. In soccer, there’s this extra dimension. You may never hear soccer commentators talk outright about the conflict I’ve described above, but they comment consistently and forcefully about which team “deserves” to score or win, and it’s the same idea. Even people who don’t fall squarely into one of the two opposing camps (as most don’t) feel the conflict, and it contributes to soccer’s popularity.

On the other hand, as a purist it gives me pretty constant anxiety about the direction soccer is going in when teams like Chelsea 2008, Greece 2004, Italy 2006, etc. have so much success.

Anyway, the rules and customs of soccer have obviously withstood the test of time, and therefore any changes I advocate are on the conservative and incremental side. Here are the things I think could use some tinkering, in ascending order of difficulty of implementation/problematic nature of proposed change. I’ll discuss them each in turn, and would love to hear other proposals along the way.

The advantage rule

Free kick placement

Persistent team fouling

Red card sendings off

Yellow cards for professional fouls

Penalty area size and penalty kicks

Wall distance

Offsides (not the rule, but enforcement thereof)


Goal size

**Most of what we come to appreciate in athletes is defined, ad hoc, by the things they manage to do that further their aims of winning. While that’s true also in soccer, there is a great deal that we appreciate in soccer players that is only loosely related to winning. While this isn't true only of soccer, I think the extent to which it is true is unique to it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

nerd humor

Hilarious bumper sticker (courtesy of my sister)

Physics club at Yale made a t-shirt every year, but never managed to come up with anything this good.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On eating meat

Lately, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I eat meat. If you don’t share at least some of this discomfort, you either don't read enough, or have a really narrow conception of animal rights. Because unless you’re extremely scrupulous about where your meat comes from, you’re eating animals that are treated in ways you should find appalling. There’s also the questionable ethics of killing animals (e.g. pigs) whose cognitive differences with young children are largely just linguistic. I’m not trying to moralize, especially since I’m not even a vegetarian (yet?), but I’m trying to figure out when the animal rights movement will finally enter the mainstream of society or reach a tipping point. Right now its advocates repeat the kinds of things I just said, but are, on the whole, reluctant to excoriate anyone for eating meat. If enough people become vegetarians, I suspect a large portion of the population would follow relatively quickly. But how will we get to that point without a little moralizing?

When I consider the vegetarians I know, I realize I don’t even know why most of them are vegetarians. For ethical reasons, or environmental? Public/personal health? Other? Maybe they don’t like to talk about it, and I don’t blame them. No one wants antagonize family members over Thanksgiving dinner about the turkey. No one wants to be Lisa Simpson to Homer’s big BBBQ. But I suspect there are large swaths of people who—consciously or not—avoid thinking about the issue entirely, but would greatly reduce—or eliminate--their meat consumption if they encountered moderate social pressure. These people, like me, know or can be convinced that what’s going on in the meat industry is detestable, but don’t change their behavior because they don’t identify with a larger movement and don’t consider their individual actions consequential in its absence. At least that’s part of my lame excuse, the rest being covered by inconvenience, social and dietary. If people were more vocal, not just about the abuse of animals but also about their vegetarianism, I think a lot more people would join them.

A lot more people would dislike them too, people who may or may not agree on the moral question, but really don’t want to be pushed to change, and won’t do so without a lot of social pressure. Hopefully things will change politically too. Until a few minutes ago I didn't even know about Proposition 2, which passed in CA last year. So things aren't so black and white. But as noted here (about halfway down the page), it will be impossible to raise the sheer quantity of meat we consume without resorting to unsavory methods.

How much blame do I have to shoulder here as someone who claims to see a wrong in the world, but does little to correct it, even in my own behavior? [For the record, I’ve--almost entirely--stopped eating the swine-based meats, and plan to start buying the expensive, humanely raised meats, though I haven’t talked to my lovely awesome roommate about this yet. So there’s still plenty of blood on my hands.]

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Henry under investigation??


Thierry Henry, who helped France to the World Cup courtesy of an extra-time forearm trap before a pass to goal-scorer William Gallas, might be fined or suspended? This is just like the Eduardo controversy from earlier this year, and it's absurd. For some reason the footballing authorities seem to think it's reasonable to hand out retroactive punishments that are harsher than the punishments that would have been given at the time.

If the referee had caught Eduardo's dive instead of calling a penalty, Eduardo would have been booked instead of being suspended for two games (the suspension was later overturned on appeal for other reasons). If the refs had spotted Henry's handball, he would have been booked and Ireland would have had a free kick in their own penalty area. Now Henry might be punished for the referees' mistake? Unfortunately, there's just no appropriate remedy. He made a mistake. Players handle the ball all the time, with varying degrees of intention. Henry's was hardly premeditated. It's too late to punish him for it.