15 March 2015

It's Only an Approximation, Anyway

I didn't celebrate Pi Day yesterday. For one thing, Jaws is not fond of the all-organic-and-natural crusts found on the pies in this area from stores with little or no chance of insect accompaniment (and my kitchen doesn't allow me to bake anyway). For another, yesterday wasn't really Pi Day unless you're an ignorant, self-centered American with no military background, or perhaps a resident of Belize; the date yesterday was either 15.03.14 or 14.03.15 everywhere else. The eldest remora had a good time trying to explain this where he is now...

  • The NYT today managed to print two articles at opposite ends of the intelligence spectrum on non-NYC-related issues.

    (note the poor journalistic-convention paragraphing?)

    On the one hand, there's a decent discussion of the not-at-all-surprisingly poor record of mutual fund managers against the market, which is an inevitable consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the exploding, insane compensation structure of the securities/investment industry. The article fails to take the next step — the irresistable pressure on fund managers (from low to high levels) to do something to justify their pay, combined with a transaction-cost structure right out of seventeenth-century mercantilism — but that step is just sitting there to be taken. The article also fails to mention that its conclusions are inevitable consequences of Szilard's work from the 1920s to the 1940s — work that is studied by every advanced chemistry undergraduate and chemical engineering student, and most physics (and some life-sciences) undergraduates.

  • And then there's another example of Frank Bruni's ignorance, this time concerning "elite" (that is, selective-admission) colleges and their alleged lack of value (n.b. Bruni himself is a graduate of the University of North Carolina in journalism...). What I find most telling about his shriek is that not one of the examples he lists is a student from engineering or the sciences, or who went into government or other public service. His examples are all entrepreneurs — even the "teacher" actually just runs a charter school, not a classroom in southeast Chicago (and nonetheless went to an undergraduate institution that — in the sciences — is considered selective). Indeed, his "money shot" measures an undergraduate institution's success level by how many of its graduates successfully managed to make a tech start-up take off in the opinion of one venture-fund Ivy-League sleazebucket manager, in a startling example of the manner of the question predetermining the answer.

    Perhaps Mr Bruni's article has some psychological value, and it's just the evidence (and his own perspective as a non-elite!) that's flawed. Perhaps he's right to implicitly neglect that "highly selective" extends all the way across the curriculum at only a dozen or so undergraduate institutions (and, I should add, that means only three, or perhaps four, of the Ivies). Neither failure supports his conclusion... and that's supposed to be a characteristic of good, or even competent, journalism.

    One wonders just how much decades-old savor of sour grapes there is in Mr Bruni's screed... or perhaps just unself-aware sympathy for outraged bacteria.

  • And then there's the issue of baronial accretion as a cause of inequality. Wait, "baronial"? Just follow the history and the money... and remember that it wasn't a popular revolt that forced John to sign That Document at Runnymede in 1215, but grumblings among the barons he relied upon to finance (and enforce) his lifestyle.
  • And if you need further proof that both the legal profession and the delegation of justice to elected officials has become unworkable, consider the violation-of-legal-ethics-rules attempts to shun an elected Orange County judge for doing his job in a different case. If the California Bar was doing its job, it would immediately open an ethics investigation of every Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 170.6 petition filed in Orange County against Judge Goethals. Some of them might be legitimate... but "papering" as an unwritten policy is unethical, although an inevitable consequence when — at the behest of elected officials like their bloody boss — prosecutors forget that their only acceptable goal is justice and not convictions.