Posts Tagged ‘Blogging’

Ernest Hemingway was a Mathematician

May 3, 2011 3 comments

Self-criticism is essential for a good blogger. My previous post could have been written with half the words. I’d achieve more clarity with no loss of nuance. To improve my writing, I’ve decided to relearn math. Mathematical form and good writing share similar qualities. They’re rigorous, logical, and free of embellishment.

For others who would like to cross-train, I recommend Khan Academy. I’d like to thank Andreas Kluth of The Economist and The Hannibal Blog for convincing me to try it out. After I take my math courses, I’ll move on to physics. E=mc2 might be the most beautiful sentence ever written.

Guest Posts

October 12, 2010 Leave a comment

The Renaissance Roundtable Group originally began as a project to get people together to discuss their divergent views on a variety of topics and to push all sides to make better arguments in an unending quest to get closer to the truth. I began this blog as a forum to introduce members of that group to interesting things I found and to help facilitate deeper conversation at the live meetings. Soon enough it turned into just my personal blog, but I’d like to incorporate more of that founding philosophy by adding occasional guest posts. The views expressed in those posts are the guest’s own, not mine. Many of the guest bloggers may have never blogged before so we’ll see how this project goes. I encourage any poster to disagree with me as strongly as they like, to take a new approach to an issue even if they agree, or to explore virgin territory with their own favorite topics.

Categories: Blogging Tags:


October 7, 2010 5 comments

Here is the official new site for my blog. Make sure everyone updates their bookmarks! I’m hopeful this server will provide a better experience for readers. Please leave a comment or contact me with any transitional problems you’re experiencing and any things you like or dislike about the change. Suggestions to improve the site of course are always welcome.

Away for the Weekend

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ll be away for the weekend. Here’s some stuff to read.
Contrary to myth, Reagan raised taxes.
Mark Zandi’s plan to save the economy.

Conor Friedersdorf on “The Shortcut To Serfdom.” 
Ending the war on drugs would save $88 billion a year

Categories: Blogging, Various Tags:

A Model Argument

September 4, 2010 2 comments

Imagine a series of strongly constructed arguments. Each is on the same topic, each is arguing to the same conclusion, all of them are correct. Now your job is to pick what you believe would be the most persuasive argument to the majority of readers. Now of course, if one argument is clearly better it’d be the easy choice. But let’s stipulate that if we have 100 arguments in our contest they are practically indistinguishable from one another. Everyone has the same task, they have to decide which argument most people think that most others will think that most others will think is the most persuasive. Get that? 

As a judge and reader in this contest would you choose which argument happens to be most persuasive to you personally, even if it’s barely indistinguishable in logical cogency from the other arguments? What would your Treffpunkt (meeting point) be for deciding on what others will decide?

Now imagine that one of the arguments contains a small but noticeable flourish in style. It distracts from the efficiency of the logic – it is unnecessary to the case at hand: in a sense it is a flaw. After all, why would a distraction make an argument  better? But as you may be realizing, if that flaw distinguishes the argument you may be better off choosing it. Assume that if everyone picks the same argument, you all get paid. A deviation from consensus results in empty wallets. 

Does this happen in practice? Well, as far as I know this experiment has never been run. But allow me to extrapolate from Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff in their game theory book, The Art of Strategy. In the chapter on Nash Equilibrium and focal points in games, they recount a beauty contest that used to be run in newspapers. 

The aim becomes not to make any absolute judgement of beauty but to find a focal point of this process of thinking. How do we agree on that? The reader must figure out the realized convention without the benefit of communication. “Pick the most beautiful” might be the stated rule, but that could be significantly more difficult than picking the redhead, or the one with an interesting gap between her two front teeth (Lauren Hutton) or the mole (Cindy Crawford). Anything that distinguishes becomes a focal point and allows people’s expectations to converge. For this reason, we should not be surprised that many of the world’s top models do not have perfect features; rather, they are almost perfect but have some interesting flaw that gives their look a personality and a focal point. (my emphasis)

John Maynard Keynes applied this to the stock market traders; does it apply to editors of opinion columns? They’re looking for arguments that they think will appeal to the most readers after all.

The other day Matthew Yglesias complained about “pitches” in journalism.

This is something I’ve always found problematic about traditional journalism business models. You often find solid information or analysis buried or twisted by the search for neat framing or catchy conceits.

Contrast this with math. In its arguments (e.g. formulas, proofs) no superfluous information is presented. Simplicity is their elegance, not “expensive and cumbersome” mathematical plumage like that on a peacock’s tail. Math might be the most persuasive language of argument, but formulas don’t often distinguish themselves from each other very easily. Opinion editors aren’t often fighting to seduce onto their payrolls the professionals who can make the most persuasive arguments, but those that can make persuasive arguments with distracting peacock tails. Why? John Nash’s math shows them that is the best strategy. 

Certain qualities make arguments stand out more than others. Andreas Kluth over at The Hannibal Blog shares with us one of John Steinbeck’s creative motivators: anger. Kluth also finds that anger focuses and energizes his storytelling. I find that anger often sharpens my writing as well. Human nature seems to have paired anger and argument. Picture a person arguing – you’ve probably pictured them as angry. Notice that many of the most popular opinionators are also the angriest. Anger focuses, but is anger also a focal point (there can be more than one) for argument? Have I distracted from my argument with this discussion of anger? 

(images from wikipedia; here & here)

Fantasy Football

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

I want to apologize for my recent hiatus. Other than regular work, it’s been draft week for fantasy football for me so I’ve spent most of my free time doing that. I’ve read a lot of good policy stuff too – I just haven’t had the time to properly comment on it. My problem with time management is that when I get into something I tend to spend almost all my time concentrating on that particular activity even if it’s largely trivial like fantasy football. By golly, I want to be the best at it. I’m super competitive. Some people think I’m angry when playing games; honestly I’m having a great time! I promise I get back to blogging soon; my free time should increase now that I’ve drafted in both my leagues.

Networking can improve both your career and your fantasy football team.

I’m in a league with Radley Balko of Reason Magazine and The Agitator – I’ll be pretty excited for my team, the Panmictic Partyers, to beat him in week 2. 


6 Stitches

August 16, 2010 4 comments

Well I injured my hand trying to polish a wine glass today. 

I want to thank the helpful and kind nurses and doctor who patched me up. I wanted to share my thoughts on a variety of different issues today and tomorrow but I’m going to play it by ear since it is really hard to type. Soon enough I’ll be back in action…

Categories: Blogging, Personal Tags:
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