I’m moving my blog to Github (Pages). Here is the link: I really like how clean, simple, and ad-less it is. I look forward to making a mess of it.

Some stuff is still broken as I fiddle with settings or figure things out.

My mom and Ian and a few other people should update their bookmarks.


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more subsumption





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zozan’s academic photos

2015-02-07 07.08.29

This is Zozan’s “Why yes! I was busy doing research because I’m such a productive faculty member but please do come into my office because there is nothing I like more than interacting with students and colleagues just like everyone else in this welcoming academic community” photo for a college website.

2015-02-07 07.08.52

This is Zozan’s “The fate of the world may just rest on this conversation because academics on this campus are always on the cutting edge of deep and important research with immediate applications to questions of global concern” photo for a college website.

This also works as a Zozan telling a student that “Yes you are right; the ladybig is not only red, but it is true to say it is red and many of the other intro students are not ready for multiple color attributes. I’m impressed with your insights this semester and I hope you take some of our upper level courses where we will talk about the fact that the ladybug is also black as well. The end of our textbook does cover a panda bear described as ‘white and black’ but I doubt we will get there this semester, but really you do show promise in this field” photo for a college website.

rejected academic photos

2015-02-07 07.10.57

This book tastes incredible.

2015-02-07 07.08.59

Get the **** out of my office.

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confusing “war on terror” game mechanics

I’ve been reading some commentary this week, and apparently there are so many different events and reactions that could trigger “victory for the terrorists” that I have a hard time maintaining any optimism or keeping anything straight.

If the Chicago Bulls have more points than the Miami Heat they win. Now that is something I can handle. Simple and straightforward. No bullshit like – If the Miami Heat call a time out now, then the Chicago Bulls have really won! If Pau Gasol swears in Spanish, then the Miami Heat have won! If Vinny Del Negro ever coaches in the NBA again, the terrorists have won! Just one simple victory condition. Points.

We don’t need to oversimplify. In a game like basketball there is essentially one way to get points. Maybe the terror game can have some more complexity with different ways of acquiring victory points, but instead of having to constantly check all these various conditions sufficient for victory, we just tally everything up. Whether we race for a certain amount of victory points (if the terrorists get 20 points first, they win) or add up and compare after a predetermined amount of rounds, I don’t know. Those weighty decisions should probably be made by terrorism experts on cable news.

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The dog has advantages in the way of uselessness as well as in special gifts of temperament. He is often spoken of, in an eminent sense, as the friend of man, and his intelligence and fidelity are praised. The meaning of this is that the dog is man’s servant and that he has the gift of an unquestioning subservience and a slave’s quickness in guessing his master’s mood. Coupled with these traits, which fit him well for the relation of status—and which must for the present purpose be set down as serviceable traits—the dog has some characteristics which are of a more equivocal aesthetic value. He is the filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the nastiest in his habits. For this he makes up is a servile, fawning attitude towards his master, and a readiness to inflict damage and discomfort on all else. The dog, then, commends himself to our favor by affording play to our propensity for mastery, and as he is also an item of expense, and commonly serves no industrial purpose, he holds a well-assured place in men’s regard as a thing of good repute.

(Veblen. The Theory of the Leisure Class)

Anyone know good articles on Veblen and social media? Maybe it is just too easy.

Like many of the classics, Veblen’s work has places that could use updating, but much of it remains not only relevant but increasingly so. It is probably easier to teach The Theory of the Leisure Class (TLC) today than it ever was.  This article about a famous world-traveling instagram dog shows that Veblen was on to something.

John Stortz is an illustrator from Los Angeles with a passion for travel. And he doesn’t go it alone. Stortz brings along his closest pal, a rescue husky named Wolfgang who stars in gorgeous photos taken on the road. Stortz shares the pictures of Wolfgang’s travels with his more than 45,000 fans on Instagram. Some of the places he has visited with his loyal pup are the Mojave Desert, “Prada Marfa” in Texas, and the mountains of Arizona.

Followers on Instagram are stunned. “That dog is the world’s greatest!” writes one commenter, while another calls the photos an “amazing idea and way to show the beauty of the world.”

Social media provides endless examples of conspicuous consumption, and has even made forms of conspicuous leisure practical again – check of this photo of my feet as a chill poolside!

Engaging in my own unproductive leisure I came across this album of a meal that took days of preparation and lifetimes of enculturation. While the preparation and consumption are impressive indeed, it is not unique on the internet. It is part of a common genre. And while I’m not condemning anyone or anything – who doesn’t have their guilty leisure class pleasures – these contributions always make me think of this passage from TLC:

The quasi-peaceable gentleman of leisure, then, not only consumes of the staff of life beyond the minimum required for subsistence and physical efficiency, but his consumption also undergoes a specialisation as regards the quality of the goods consumed. He consumes freely and of the best, in food, drink, narcotics, shelter, services, ornaments, apparel, weapons and accoutrements, amusements, amulets, and idols or divinities. In the process of gradual amelioration which takes place in the articles of his consumption, the motive principle and proximate aim of innovation is no doubt the higher efficiency of the improved and more elaborate products for personal comfort and well-being. But that does not remain the sole purpose of their consumption. The canon of reputability is at hand and seizes upon such innovations as are, according to its standard, fit to survive. Since the consumption of these more excellent goods is an evidence of wealth, it becomes honorific; and conversely, the failure to consume in due quantity and quality becomes a mark of inferiority and demerit.

This growth of punctilious discrimination as to qualitative excellence in eating, drinking, etc. presently affects not only the manner of life, but also the training and intellectual activity of the gentleman of leisure. He is no longer simply the successful, aggressive male,—the man of strength, resource, and intrepidity. In order to avoid stultification he must also cultivate his tastes, for it now becomes incumbent on him to discriminate with some nicety between the noble and the ignoble in consumable goods. He becomes a connoisseur in creditable viands of various degrees of merit, in manly beverages and trinkets, in seemly apparel and architecture, in weapons, games, dancers, and the narcotics. This cultivation of aesthetic faculty requires time and application, and the demands made upon the gentleman in this direction therefore tend to change his life of leisure into a more or less arduous application to the business of learning how to live a life of ostensible leisure in a becoming way. Closely related to the requirement that the gentleman must consume freely and of the right kind of goods, there is the requirement that he must know how to consume them in a seemly manner. His life of leisure must be conducted in due form. Hence arise good manners in the way pointed out in an earlier chapter. High-bred manners and ways of living are items of conformity to the norm of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption.

I did some quick googling for Veblen and various social media terms. I found this on instagram fame, this on the rich kids of instagram (??? I believe this what a thing or something), and this on the (perverse) incentives of media. If you have more, let me know.

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learning names

I have difficulty learning names. More precisely, I have difficulty gaining confidence that I know people’s names, which leads to second-guessing, social anxiety and general name-recall dysfunction. (I have a similar problem giving correct change to cashiers.)

I thought the internet might be able to help me out. It might, but I certainly will not be doing this (link):

Some instructors draw their students to help them remember who is who. The sketches can be quick, 20 second scribbles capturing the most prominent features of the student. These sketches can be placed in the class roster next to the student’s name for quick identification.

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expedient reconciliations

Marx on vulgar economics:

“In France and in England the bourgeoisie had conquered political power…It sounded the knell of scientific bourgeois economy. It was thenceforth no longer a question, whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested inquirers, there were hired prize fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic. Still, even the obtrusive pamphlets with which the Anti-Corn Law League, led by the manufacturers Cobden and Bright, deluged the world, have a historic interest, if no scientific one, on account of their polemic against the landed aristocracy. But since then the Free Trade legislation, inaugurated by Sir Robert Peel, has deprived vulgar economy of this its last sting.

The Continental revolution of 1848-9 also had its reaction in England. Men who still claimed some scientific standing and aspired to be something more than mere sophists and sycophants of the ruling classes tried to harmonise the Political Economy of capital with the claims, no longer to be ignored, of the proletariat. Hence a shallow syncretism of which John Stuart Mill is the best representative. It is a declaration of bankruptcy by bourgeois economy…

Under these circumstances its professors fell into two groups. The one set, prudent, practical business folk, flocked to the banner of Bastiat [think Mankiw], the most superficial and therefore the most adequate representative of the apologetic of vulgar economy; the other, proud of the professorial dignity of their science, followed John Stuart Mill [think Stiglitz, Picketty] in his attempt to reconcile irreconcilables.”

This was written in 1873. It should have been the last word on Picketty (or, if you prefer critiques of the Picketty phenomenon written after Picketty, this from Thomas Palley).

Twitter had a notion I wanted to hear more and they notified me of this discussion with Dorian Warren, Shamus Khan, and Suresh Naidu on Beckert’s Empire of Cotton (interesting) and Picketty and how awesome his influence has been (not again!). I watched primarily out of self-doubt. Maybe I’m too dismissive. Maybe I engage in the straw manning of mainstream economics I’m critical of in other heterodox economists. So I watch. (Let me point out that this is a discussion between three University of Columbia University professors. It is nice to see MSNBC finally reaching out to coastal cultural elites in the top 10% of the income distribution.)

Now, I know this is produced and distributed by good people so I’m just supposed to smile and retweet, but it seems basic respect and decency involves actually listening. And this is what we hear (starting at 5:51):

“Actually Greg Mankiw had a pretty interesting contribution…If you really only care about improving the wages of workers…you should just give everything to capitalists…well, if workers are more productive when they work with more capital, if you give capitalists more you’ll give workers a larger capital stock to work with and they’ll actually make higher wages…

But then he points out that if you actually care about inequality you should actually favor a tax on capital.”

What are the Picketty-inspired cutting edge radical ideas I’m supposed to be in awe of? A combination of stupidity and banality. If you are a tenured neoclassical economist at Harvard, shouting “supply-side economics!” and pointing out that taxing rich people might lower inequality counts as “pretty interesting.”

And they wonder why some economists are hesitant to abandon the “Zombie” traditions of radical political economy to join the dignified ranks of the DeLongs and Mankiws.

Let me add, because I honestly hate to be provoked into such snarkiness, that if you are interested in finding interesting social science, forgot all the nice stuff that Warren, Khan, and Naidu have to say about Picketty’s writing and read what they’ve written themselves.

(edit: Proving I do not have sufficient cultural capital to be in MSNBC’s target audience I stupidly called Columbia University the University of Columbia. It is difficult for us public school kids!)

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