Monday, March 31, 2008

No news

Amazing how completely lacking in necessary comparative statistics this article is. Not that is isn't reporting something that isn't true...but one should make one's case as strongly as possible.

Shouldn't one?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Development Tourism?

Here, wonderfully earnest and curious Christ Blattman discusses the practice of short-term trips to developing countries often made by students and professionals.

Many of his arguments are sensible. What if all that money had gone to paying for cleft lip surgery, or what if the student had spent that time learning a truly valuable skill and then applied it somewhere as opposed to existing in a state of uselessness for some time?

All of these make sense. But there might be something to be said for the value of the exposure and the experiences. Perhaps they make an impact and help the students/professionals contribute to later actions taken on behalf of the developing world. Maybe such exposures ensure that their work, thought not awful, will be better, more topical, specific and effective than it would otherwise be.

But perhaps not.

Also, this is an interesting brief of the economic advisers to the presidential candidates. Let it be noted that Gene Sperling went to the UoM.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Thoughts after a night of foosball.

Unfortunately, none of the thoughts are related to foosball (we won!).

This is a very intelligent description of trade, what its importance is in relation to those issues we (liberals) are often concerned about (inequality, social justice) as well as a little dose of international relations near the end.

His thoughts at the end are strongly reminiscent of this book by a Harvard professor that I found to be inestimably wise.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

One nation...

Two worlds.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A moment to breath..and recommend

For those who take a fascination in humanity's attempts to understand itself through computers, this provides and interesting read. Apparently, Netflix established a one million dollar prize to anyone who could improve upon its movie recommender program by 10%.

What's interesting is that amongst the group funded by giants like AT&T one of the top ten contenders is an unemployed psychologist working out of his home. Take note that the direction of his solution draws from behavioral economics.

Also, I went to a fantastic lecture on optimization. Essentially, finding the best solution from a set of possibilities as judged by an explicit criterion (or set of criteria). The speaker began by discussing the emergence of optimization during the Renaissance. Then it was conceived of as being a principle of nature. God created the world, the world is perfect and so its physical operations are determined by the principle of optimization (more explicitly, by the idea that nature is structured so as to follow and produce the best of all possible outcomes).

An interesting illustration was with theories of light and its movement. Initially, it was thought that light always traveled along the shortest path and this is true for the case of reflection (this can also be understood as saying that the incoming angle with respect to the reflecting surface equals the reflecting angle). However, it is NOT true for refraction.

But, Fermat showed (and this wasn't experimentally verified until 200 years after him) that light maximizes SPEED, not distance in the case of refraction. How does light KNOW to act in such a way (to optimize something)?!?!

Well, it doesn't (neither case turns out to be true in the situation of light reflected in a closed circle). And the transition from thinking of optimization as a condition and definition of nature into thinking of it as an analytic tool follows the rise of the Enlightenment. However, it still leaves us in the interesting position of assuming optimizing behavior not only in individuals (which turns out to not be so problematic) but also among groups. Which turns out to be VERY problematic.

I'll discuss why in the future.