Friday, May 30, 2008

Anti-drug ads

Nick Gillespie summarizes some of the funnier drug ads/shows of our time. For me, Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue will always win out. In it, a gang of cartoon heroes including the Smurfs, Winnie the Pooh, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, the Ninja Turtles, Bugs Bunny, and many more help get a kid off drugs. God bless America:

Read more.

You are likely to be eaten by a grue

The Gamer's Quarter (and accompanying forums) shows a random banner at the top of the page. Some of them are really great, and we even have a neato banner identifier that lets you know what's what.

I love things like this, because it allows room for such creativity from the community. Observe:
Read more.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sylvia Browne, always good for a laugh

I'm ever-amused by videos of bad psychics and mediums, and fascinated by how they defend themselves when they're wrong. They typically become aggressive: I'm the one talking to the dead here, so no matter what you know about the circumstances, you should trust my judgement.

Watch this video of Sylvia Browne on Montel. The couple's initial reaction is priceless. Montel tries to justify Sylvia, but oddly, the couple offers suggestions as well, after they've gotten over their befuddlement.

Read more.

Public choice cynicism

Politically, I'm about as cynical as you can get. The reason is that I put my money behind Public Choice theory, which maintains that government actors respond to incentives the same way economic actors do--genuine, people-oriented change requires not exchanging politicians but exchanging incentives, changing entire systems. This time around, I've been rooting for Obama, if only because I think he will prove outlooks like this one entirely naive.
Obama stands against bad governing not only in his support of specific practices like open data standards and basic network neutrality, but in his work against corruption from day one. He’s sponsored legislation to restrict gifts to Congress by industry representatives (which also carried a whole slew of anti-corruption measures that were a breath of fresh air). He’s fought against vote fraud. He’s been pushing for election and lobbying reform from the start, and in his campaign he’s refused to take lobbyist money.

I'm almost positive that Obama's presidency will be marked by as many blunders and panders as anyone else's. Special interest politics has nothing to do with the character of the politicians engaging in it. So when Obama says that he's going to waste money and possibly endanger children's lives by supporting further research into the vaccine-autism link, it's par for the course. And when he says,
We need to stand up to the special interests, bring Republicans and Democrats together, and pass the farm bill immediately.

I just get a big econ-nerd grin on my face (though I promise I'm sad on the inside). Obama: standing up to special interests by supporting even their most blatantly harmful of bills.

Read more.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pattern-seeking

Are roguelikes and tabletop RPGs fun because of a common cognitive bias?

Probably! Read more.

I judge you when you're ignorant of your own pet cause

A popular Facebook group, now with over 250,000 members, is titled I judge you when you use poor grammar. Users post photos of "poor grammar" sightings, ranging from internet posts to signs in restrooms. Even awkward Engrish labels are properly Judged. The administrators have even made t-shirts.

It's funny for the same reason these things are always funny. The group members make no distinction between grammar errors and errors of spelling, punctuation, usage, etc. Many of the grammar "errors" are violations of completely imaginary rules. (I know I spotted at least two less/fewer examples in only the first few pages of over 4500 pictures.)

Also funny is the small-time group war going on. If you do a quick group search for "judge grammar", you can find such groups as "I judge you for judging me for using bad grammar" and "I judge you when grammar is your sole claim to intellectual superiority." Read more.

Persona 3 Sprites

I didn't really like Persona 3, but I love Paul's spritework of all the characters.

And on the subject of the Mechafetus Visublog, you should bookmark it, along with Persona's youtube channel. Don't forget to watch Paul's Kings of Power 4 Billion %. Best sprite movie you'll see all year. Read more.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Shock Doctrine

I don't know many people who take Naomi Klein very seriously*, and if you're wondering why, Johan Norberg just wrote a critique of last year's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. He's as thorough as always, and it only takes him 20 pages to show that Klein has about the same respect for accurately quoting sources as Fox News.

*Then again, maybe I don't get out enough. Read more.

I've said it before, I'll say it again

The terrorists won. Read more.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What's the Harm?

In the last entry, I noted that there are many documented cases of people forgoing traditional and life-saving medical treatment in favor of various forms of quackery. Turns out, there's a website keeping track of them. It's called What's the Harm? Read more.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A million penguins

Penguin has put out a wiki-created novel, written by over 1500 people. Of course, it's terrible.
The deep waters, black as ink, began to swell and recede into an uncertain distance. A gray ominous mist obscured the horizon. The ocean expanse seemed to darken in disapproval. Crashing tides sounded groans of agonized discontent. The ocean pulsed with a frightening, vital force. Although hard to imagine, life existed beneath. It's infinite underbelly was teeming with life, a monstrous collection of finned, tentacled, toxic, and slimy parts. Below its surface lay the wreckage of countless souls. But we had dared to journey across it. Some had even been brave enough to explore its sable velveteen depths, and have yet to come up for precious air...."

Yes, that's the first paragraph. Yes, it has a glaring grammatical error. Yes, it's just a paragraph of a character's writing, but the next one isn't any good either. It's a cute project, but it seems silly from the start to me. You know, creative processes, cognition, etc. 1500 people are less likely to have a singular, brilliant vision. Right?

(HT Julian Sanchez) Read more.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Libertarians for Justice

Speaking of presidential candidates demanding new studies into long-resolved science, almost all of the Libertarian party candidates have signed a pledge demanding new inquiry into 9/11. Including Mike Gravel. Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root did not.

So I say to Barr and Root: thank you. To the rest, go to hell, and if you win the nomination I won't even give you the sympathy vote I might give the others. Read more.

Faith healing

Robin Hanson:
Regular docs are mostly in it for the money, and are also hard to evaluate. If we on average get near zero health from our last units of medicine, we are better off replacing those units with anything cheaper, at least if it also gives near zero net health effect and similar non-health benefits. Faith healing seems to fit this bill.

Sure, we vary in how much medicine we get, and in how much we would substitute legal faith healing for medicine. So yes a general trend toward more faith healing would no doubt produce a few people who sometimes get too little medicine. But that harm should be far outweighed by a reduction in harmful overtreatment.

Middle ground time: as a libertarian, I'm opposed to laws against quackery. As Ben Goldacre put it, at the very least nutjobs are too fun to watch to regulate them strictly. But there is a risk. Hanson says in the comments of his post,
If asked to evaluate whether candy should sold at schools, it would be reasonable to note that students already get too much sugar in their diet. It would not be reasonable to say some students would then eat only candy and die.

Except that there have been many, many documented cases of people who have foregone medical treatment in favor of faith healing, or people who have had that decision made for them. Faith healing is fine as a placebo, and great if it prevents people from being harmed by overtreatment, but people do die.

I say, we need some sort of prosecution for those deaths, either criminal or civil. Yes, people will complain about the oppression of their religion. But if their religion kills people, too bad. What we want isn't the complete dissolution of faith healers, but more responsible faith healers--people who will give their patients the adrenaline rush to temporarily get over their arthritis, but will eventually decline to "treat" more dangerous diseases.

"But it doesn't work that way! They need the power of God to look absolute for people to believe them." Not necessarily. Any skilled deceiver can learn how to weasel out, when to say, "It isn't in God's will for you to be healed this way. I'm sorry." Read more.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Automatic SMW music video



I'm pretty sure the creator selectively removed a few sound effects, but this is still the most amazing Automatic Super Mario World level I've ever seen. Read more.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Tullock Effect

I just caught last week's episode of House (413 - No More Mr. Nice Guy). It appears House knows some economics!
If you want people to drive safer, take out the airbags and attach a machete pointing at their neck. No one will drive over three miles per hour.

This is called the Tullock Effect, named for GMU's Gordon Tullock. In general, safety precautions--physical and economic--cause us to feel safer, making most of us act more dangerously. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it has implications for cost/benefit analysis in a lot of public policy debates, from mandatory seat belt laws to the Bear Stearns bailout. Read more.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

GTAIV

I've been watching my roommate play Grand Theft Auto IV. It's interesting, because it's pretty much the exact same game as GTAIII, except the protagonist is now a believable person rather than an avatar, and the more realistic graphics make all the violence much more horrible. In a good way. I enjoy cringing.

They could go for a similar effect with the new Splatterhouse--make the concepts and creatures just as cartoony, but use the enhanced graphics to make every damaging move cringe-worthy--but instead it looks like this. Read more.

Spider-Man 2

I've been revisiting Spider-Man 2 for the PS2, and I have no idea why.

The idea is that it's a sandbox game, a superhero GTA. Instead of being able to kill people everywhere you go, you're able to stop crimes or disasters in progress everywhere you go. Like the secret packages in GTA? Well, Spider-Man 2 has several hundred collectible thingamajiggers! Collect them! And oh yeah here's a storyline that's just like the movie but with Mysterio and Black Cat and the Shocker for some reason.

And at first, it's great. Not because it's all sandboxy and cool, and stopping crimes is so much fun, but because it was the first Spider-Man game to actually treat web-slinging as a mode of transportation seriously. In the old 2D games it was just a quick escape from attacking enemies, and in the 3D games Spider-Man was able to sling high above buildings, apparently attaching his webs to the magic rocks in the sky. Spider-Man 2 gets everything right. You can swing in huge arcs along buildings, you can't attach webs where there are no buildings, the analog stick works perfectly in angling your next shot. You can play "the ground is hot lava" and make it across the entire scale replica of Manhattan without ever touching it.

But then the lazy creeps in. All this effort to make web-slinging perfect, and it pretty much is, but then the combat is terrible, the graphics are ugly, the 10-or-so stock crimes you can prevent extremely repetitive, and the token collecting boring as sin. And don't forget the worst boss fights ever!

I didn't get a chance to play Spider-Man 3, but from what I understand it's the same game but prettier and glitchier.

It's a shame. Web-slinging, which is fast-paced grappling, is really exciting compared to flying in a straight line, which usually lacks the proper feeling of momentum. Here's hoping the new Bionic Commando will have a similar feeling. It looks like they're actually trying to build a good game around it. Read more.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A curiosity

William Baumol (econ professor at NYU) is a competent artist.

HT YouNotSneaky! Read more.

The Gas Tax Holiday

Greg Mankiw shares some thoughts. Read more.

Vaccines and autism

Megan McArdle has the right idea. When Clinton and Obama joined John McCain in pandering to anti-vaccine activists, it was not just a harmless political gesture. They are feeding the delusions of the people who think vaccines cause autism, strengthening the movement, and possibly contributing to the death of children who don't get vaccinated, or those too young to get vaccinated who are exposed to unvaccinated children. Read more.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

In case you didn't already know

Ben Stein is really high:
When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers, talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed.

Dear Mr. Stein,

These are Nazi SS soldiers at a concentration camp:



Notice the Nazi uniforms and guns. These are the people who ran concentration camps and ordered Jews to march to their own deaths.

This is a scientist:



Notice the lab coat, safety goggles, and beaker filled with mysterious liquid. These are the people who sit in lofty ivory towers and come up with theories you don't like based on evidence you don't believe in.

Once again, Nazis:



Scientist:



We understand your confusion; you were probably just dropping some acid in mourning and couldn't tell the difference. In the future, just remember, the Nazis wear military uniforms and scientists wear lab coats. Hope that clears it up for you! Cheers.

(Humor points to my friend Cate, who upon seeing this quote remarked, "Hey, Mengele was a scientist. Come on, science is evil." Touché. The Nazis had real doctors, and even believed in germs!) Read more.