Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pamuk Interview

The New Republic interviews one of my favorite novelists, Orhan Pamuk, here. I supposed I shouldn't be surprised that Snow is his most popular novel among Americans; it's my favorite as well.

Monday, July 29, 2013

From Old Reader to Digg Reader

Well, that didn't last long. The good folks at Old Reader have admitted they had been overwhelmed by refugees (like me) from the now defunct Google Reader, and basically have warned us newbies that we will be kicked off the site soon. I immediately took their advice and exported all of my saved searches to Digg Reader, which has an interface quite similar to Reader. I hope to be able to stick with this one for a while.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wenger's Singing the Same Old, Tired Song

Sky Sports reports (here):
Arsene Wenger has revealed he is prepared to wait for his transfer targets as he claims Arsenal can win the Premier League title with or without new signings.
Have the last seven seasons taught him nothing? He's becoming like the Chicago Cubs fan, who every April thinks, "This year's gonna be different." Very sad.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What About Cycling's Other Doping Champions?

A terrific article (here) by Matthew Beaudin at Velonews.com addresses the hypocrisy of the ASO (the organization that runs the Tour de France) in stripping Lance Armstrong of his titles while leaving those of other confessed or convicted dopers intact.

  • Oscar Pereiro, winner of the 2006 Tour (after Floyd Landis's disqualification for doping) admitted to using a variety of banned substances in 2010. 
  • The late Marco Patani, a virtual poster child for doping in cycling, kept his 1998 yellow jersey.
  • Jan Ullrich, who has confessed to doping throughout his Tour years, is still champion for 1997.
  • The 1996 winner Bjarne Riis confessed to doping during the Tour, but is still listed as champion.
  • Jacques Anquetil, the first five-time winner of the Tour, confessed to doping in a television debate with a French government minister.
The list goes on and on, all the way back to the beginnings of the Tour de France (see here). In a few cases, (e.g., Landis in 2006 and Contador in 2010) titles were stripped and given to the second-place finishers. In only one case, that of Lance Armstrong, were titles retroactively stripped and give to no one because all of the other GC contenders for those years were also confessed or convicted dopers. 

Don't get me wrong: Armstrong is a liar, a cheat, and all-around jerk. But this is not about Armstrong; it is about fairness and consistency in the rules, and the equal treatment of similarly-situated individuals. Armstrong should not be treated more harshly than others simply because he was more aggressive in lying or simply less well liked. The bodies that govern cycling (and individual cycling events) need to develop a less arbitrary, more certain and predictable set of enforcement standards and norms. If Armstrong did not win seven Tours de France because of doping, then the likes of Patani, Riis, and Ullrich (along with all other TdF champions who doped, at least after France banned use of PEDs in 1965) should also have their names stripped from the books. 

Perhaps the Tour de France should learn from other sports, like baseball, where dopers get an asterisk next to their records. Actually, in the case of cycling, it might make more sense to put the asterisk next to the names of the few (if any) champions who did not dope. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Problem More Troubling Than Climate Change?

Consider antibiotic resistance. The journal Nature sounds the warning, here.

Higuain to Napoli

Arsenal's effort to sign Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain has ended in failure, as he has finally signed for Napoli (see here). That leaves the mad-biter Luis Suarez as the only big name striker currently on Arsenal's to-buy list. Good thing no one can see me shaking my head in dismay.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Arsenal's Master Plan

Do they have one? Or is Wenger simply going insane? With Gonzalo Higuain still available, Arsenal have doubled-down on their effort to buy mentally-deficient striker Luis Suarez from Liverpool. Having been convicted of racist abuse and twice biting opposing players (and still facing a six-game ban for the most recent biting incident), the Gunners offered a team record 40 million pounds (plus one) for the biting striker (or should that be striking biter?). The offer exceeds by a factor of 2.5 Arsenal's previous record signing of Andrei Arshavin. How'd that one work out?

Goodness knows what's going on inside the brain trust (if that's the proper name for it) at the Emirates Stadium. Only three weeks til the start of the season, and still no big name signings. If Suarez is brought in, I'll still support the team, but I won't be happy about it.

What I've Been Reading

I just finished Daniel Dennett's excellent Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking (Norton 2013). I've been a fan of Dennett's since I first read his Brainstorms (Bradford 1978) just before I started college (a long, long time ago). He's among the most brilliant, creative, and controversial, philosophers of the last half-century. His work reminds us that philosophy - particularly the philosophy of mind - continues to be highly relevant in today's world. His latest book displays Dennett's characteristic use of ingenious thought experiments (a.k.a., "intuition pumps"). He takes head-on the supporters of mind-body (and mind-brain) dualism, and (in my view at least) prevails comprehensively.

I'm in the midst of reading William Twining's Karl Llewellyn and the Realist Movement (Cambridge 2012), an excellent survey of the legal-realist literature and defense of Llewellyn's interdisciplinary approach to legal studies as found in his major works, including  The Bramble Bush (Oceana 1930), The Cheyenne Way (Oklahoma 1983), and The Common Law Tradition (Little, Brown 1960). As a sympathizer with legal realism and an interdisciplinary scholar myself, I view Llewellyn as a groundbreaking forerunner. Twining's book about him is very insightful.

I've just begun reading Akhil Amar's America's Unwritten Constitution (Basic Books 2012), which presents a neo-realist critique of the kind of facile, narrow textualism of certain jurists, which cannot possibly explain so much of well-settled and uncontroversial constitutional practice, including, for example, application of the First Amendment to prohibit executive-branch constraints on free speech, despite the fact that the plain text of the Amendment applies its stricture only to Congress. The book is chock-full of examples of (inevitable) implication of positive rights and duties, based not on the text of any particularly constitutional provision, but the overall structure and purpose of the constitution. Though Amar is certainly Liberal politically, this book is not so much a normative defense of Liberal constitutional interpretation as a positive defense of a more holistic approach to constitutional interpretation, which does not necessarily cut in favor of more progressive political values on every occasion.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Justice Stevens Slams the Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act Decision

He files a brilliant dissent here in the New York Review of Books, confirming that into his 90s he still retains one of the finest (if not the finest) constitutional minds in the country. Here's a tidbit:
The Court’s heavy reliance on the importance of a “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty among the States,” while supported by language in an earlier opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, ignored the fact that Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution created a serious inequality among the states. That clause counted “three fifths” of a state’s slaves for the purpose of measuring the size of its congressional delegation and its representation in the Electoral College. That provision was offensive because it treated African-Americans as though each of them was equal to only three fifths of a white person, but it was even more offensive because it increased the power of the southern states by counting three fifths of their slaves even though those slaves were not allowed to vote. The northern states would have been politically better off if the slave population had been simply omitted from the number used to measure the voting power of the slave states.
The fact that this “slave bonus” created a basic inequality between the slave states and the free states has often been overlooked, as has its far-reaching impact. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Harry Reid Threatens to Deceive

Finally, it seemed like filibuster reform might happen in the Senate, until Harry Reid lost his nerve and compromised on a Republican offer to allow up-or-down majority votes on a few of President Obama's executive-branch nominees (see here). Opportunity lost, not so much for the Democrats, but for Americans. Between rising filibuster abuse in the Senate and gerrymandered districts in the House, it's no wonder that Congress barely functions anymore.

And for those who might think that increasing abuse of the filibuster is a myth, take a look at this:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Arsenal fans have been waiting for months for the promised big-name signings to appear. The Gunner's preseason tour of Asia got underway today, and still no big signings who would make an immediate difference in the first team. As usual, Arsene Wenger and Co. are dragging out the transfer process and operating in complete secrecy. One troubling sign already is that Wenger has signaled that he believes he already has a team that can win the Premiership, which is highly doubtful, and the Champion's League, which is ridiculous. They desperately need a quality striker, such as Higuain, as well as a true defensive midfielder - a position Mikel Arteta tried hard to fill last year, but with only limited success. It's not just a matter of adding depth, as Mr. Wenger has suggested. Arsenal need to add quality to its first team. The clock is ticking, and Arsenal fans are, for good reason, starting to get nervous.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cyclingprof's Third Rule of Cycling

3. Except for those who race (and even for many who do), there is no such thing as a "junk mile." Every mile on the bike is a good mile. (This rule even applies to riding indoors on a trainer or rollers.)

I originally entitled this post "Cyclingprof's First Rule of Cycling," but quickly realized that two other rules had to take precedence: 

1. Never ride without a helmet (except on a trainer).
2. Enjoy riding (even if you're just doing hard and tedious hill repeats). 

Needless to say, several other rules exist, but I have not yet taken the time to order them. They include (among others): 
  • If you must compare yourself with better cyclists, then as a matter of fairness you must also compare yourself with weaker cyclists (or even couch potatoes).
  • For endurance cyclists, "Bag Balm" might be the greatest invention ever.
  • Avoid riding in groups with cyclists who don't know how to ride safely in groups - this is especially important for older cyclists, who take (much) longer to heal after crashes.
  • If someone from "Team Treachery and Deceit" (other than me) announces that his legs are tired and he's just going to sit in, that rider will attack.
  • Most older cyclists do not ride super-light carbon bikes to get a performance edge but because we can afford them.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Another Step in the Evolution of a Curmudgeon

I'm getting close to turning down all future offers to contribute chapters to volumes edited by others. Increasingly, I find that, having accepted such an offer, I am unable to draft a chapter that matches the editor's "vision." That vision, more often than not, is either poorly communicated or not communicated at all; if and when I finally come to understand it, I frequently do not find it compatible with my own ideas. In consequence, the writing process becomes a series of uneasy negotiations between author and editor, which can hardly be good for the end product.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Nice Piece in The Economist About the American Government's Anti-Democratic Secrecy Fetish


"The Problem of Shared Irresponsibility in International Climate Law"

That's the title of my new working paper, which is now available here on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
States have treaty-based and customary international law-based responsibilities to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions emanating from their territory do not cause transboundary harm. However, those international legal responsibilities conflict with the observed behavior of states, which suggests a general rule of irresponsible treatment of the global commons. This paper, written for a conference (and eventual book) on shared responsibility in international law, examines that conflict and two potential mechanisms for resolving it: (1) international litigation and (2) various types of polycentric approaches to climate governance. 
Several international legal scholars have been advocating litigation as a means of compensating victims and creating incentives to mitigate emissions and negotiate more forceful international agreements. But they are like lawyers in search of clients. To date, no climate cases have been brought before the International Court of Justice (or any other international tribunal). The reason is that obstacles to successful international litigation are even more formidable than those that have caused all domestic (US) climate-related tort claims to fail. Even if international climate litigation could be successful, it could well have perverse impacts on international climate (and other) negotiations.
Contrary to the facile notion that "global problems require global solutions," this paper suggests that more substantial mitigation efforts are likely to be spurred by linkable actions taken at national and sub-national levels. This argument is supported by an emerging literature on polycentric climate governance using various (compatible, rather than mutually-exclusive) approaches, including "regime complexes," "building blocks," and "tipping sets."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Posner Makes the Perfect (Carbon Tax) the Enemy of the Good (Carbon Regulations)

Over at the Becker-Posner Blog (here), Judge Richard Posner makes the by-now familiar case that a tax on carbon would be superior to regulation of carbon emissions. A clear majority of economists agree, as do I, as a matter of theory. However, Posner makes a mistake in treating a carbon tax as a realistic option at this point in time, despite purporting to recognize political obstacles to its enactment. The fact of the matter is that a Congress that cannot pass a bill to subsidize farmers (see here), who are probably the most successful lobbying group in US history, can not possibly enact a tax on anything, let alone on carbon.

This is not the fault of President Obama, but the consequence of the evolution of the filibuster in the Senate, gerrymandering of House Districts, which have solidified the power of Tea Partiers in that body, and the electorate that put them in office in the first place. To accomplish anything on climate change, President Obama had to bypass the Congress, which meant using statutory authorities already in place, i.e., the Clean Air Act. That Act allows the President, through EPA, to promulgate quantity-based regulations, but not to impose anything like a carbon tax. So, simply put, a dysfunctional Congress left the President no option. The only presently feasible path to controlling climate change in the US is regulatory, Posner's (and my own) preference for a carbon tax notwithstanding.

So, the question for Judge Posner is whether he believes the regulatory approach President Obama is taking is better than nothing because that is the only real option.

One more quibble relating to Judge Posner's argument favoring a carbon tax over emissions regulations: he notes, quite rightly, that once emitters meet the regulatory standard they possess no additional incentives to cut emissions, even where doing so might result in net social benefits. But he fails to observe that carbon taxes have problems of their own that require foresight in structuring a tax-based program. Specifically, to the extent carbon taxes raise the price of carbon-based goods (fuels, etc.), presuming demand is reasonably price elastic, demand will fall. But what happens when price falls? All else being equal, we would expect demand to rise. This is known as the "rebound effect." It can be dealt with by inserting a ratchet into the carbon-tax program, which raises the level of tax every so often to minimize demand rebounds. But the fundamental point is that a carbon tax would not be a simple set-it-then-forget-it mechanism.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hors Categorie

Just like last year, Team Sky seem to be in a different league from the other teams in the Tour de France. That became abundantly apparent today in the first big mountain stage of the race, when Chris Froome, Richie Porte & Co. blew away the other GC contenders in a display of utter domination. Before today's stage, time differences were measured in seconds; after today's stage, Chris Froome leads his teammate Porte by nearly a minute, and holds the following leads over his main rivals: Alejandro Valverde (1:25); Alberto Contador (1:51); Andy Schleck (4:00); and Cadel Evans (4:36). Unless something truly dramatic happens (e.g., a crash or a positive doping result), Schleck and Evans are toast. Valverde and Contador still could make the GC contest interesting, but as of now Team Sky look set to repeat last year's one two finish. Instead of a Wiggins-Froome podium; it could well be a Froome-Porte podium.

With just over a week of racing behind us, there doesn't seem much drama left in the green jersey (points) competition either. Given the sizable lead he has built already, and his ability to get over the hills that relegate other sprinters to the gruppetto, Peter Sagan looks to have that contest all but locked up. Sorry Cav.

That leaves the polka dot jersey (mountain) and white jersey (young rider) competition as the only two left to be seriously contested. But even if there's not much doubt about the ultimate outcomes of the GC and points competitions, there's still plenty of drama left in this year's race, starting with tomorrow's stage, which features four first category climbs. Look for Contador and Valverde to try to regain some of the time they lost today. Look for Team Sky to blunt those efforts (probably with success).

Finally, with Schleck and Kloden out of the GC race for Team Radio Shack, look for Jensy to be given the freedom to fly, starting with tomorrow's stage and not ending until the race reaches Paris.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Problem of "Under-fishing"

We've all heard about problems of over-fishing, harvesting (delicious) fish stocks almost to or beyond the point of population collapse and extinction. It turns out, fishing is not only a threat to fish but a possible solution to the problem of invasive species that are decimating other fish in the process. A point in fact: the Lion Fish, a prolific and poisonous fish with a voracious appetite, which is experiencing a population and habitat explosion up and down the East Coast of the US, into the Caribbean, and all along the Gulf of Mexico (see here).

Scientists have struggled to find a way to stem the invasion of the Lion Fish, which lay as may as 30,000 eggs every four days (see here). But the answer is obvious: humans are fully capable of over-fishing the edible species to more manageable levels. Cooked to 400 degrees, the Lion Fish is rendered non-toxic and delectable (see photo below).

We just need an aggressive marketing campaign to get people to demand Lion Fish at their local eateries. That shouldn't be a problem. After all, lobster, monkfish and Chilean sea bass (a.k.a., Patagonian toothfish) all used to be considered "trash fish," fit only for serving to prisoners. The history of the seafood industry is one of over-fishing preferred species, followed by aggressive marketing of (relative) "trash" fish, which then become the new in-demand delicacies. Monkfish that used to be thrown back as an unwanted by-catch now fetch $9-13/pound at the fish monger (see here). It should be a cinch for marketers to sell the very cool-looking Lion Fish as a sustainable food source.

What if the Muslim Brotherhood Win Egypt's Next Elections?

Just wondering.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tour de France Kicks (Out) American Rider, When He's Down

Shame on the Tour de France for failing to exercise compassion to keep Ted King in the race. King finished Tuesday's team time trial 7 seconds outside the elimination time. Ignoring the fact that King was riding with a separated shoulder, injured in a crash he did not cause earlier in the race, the Tour organization's decision is more than harsh. Especially on the heels on the organizers' decision not to strictly enforce the rules on the first stage, after a crash collected several riders, including GC contenders, giving them all the same time as the rest of the peloton even though the crash occurred outside the final 3 km, the elimination of King seems both arbitrary and heartless.

Here's a question for you: Suppose King were a French rider, do you believe he would have been eliminated?