The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Krugman v. Okrent

Update: Tom Maguire thinks that Okrent could have done better, and offers to help out. Here are a few examples:

(2) What Were Once Bubbles Are Now Baselines - Krugman has fretted
on many occasions about the loss of jobs under Bush. Eventually, even Brad Delong felt obliged to admit that maybe, just maybe, setting the employment baseline at the high-water mark of the tech bubble may not be appropriate. Jon Henke returned to this theme recently when Paul Krugman discovered signs of "stagflation".

(3) Don't Cry For Me, Argentina - Paul Krugman likes to use the phrase "banana
republic
" and compare the US fiscal situation to Argentina. He does not like to remind people that, unlike Argentina or a typical banana republic, almost all of the US debt is denominated in our own currency. We will wave in Brad Delong again to explain the difference.


Marginal Revolution has a round-up of the running debate, as well as commentary. Don't miss Brad DeLong and Don Luskin.

Question of the day.

What event prompted one organizer to say the following:

Organiser Richard Jefferies said: "It was a very good day and went very smoothly. There were a lot less casualties than normal.


Answer: Here.

How to raise voter turnout.

From Professor Tufte:

[George Washington] distributed "28 gallons of rum, 50 gallons of rum punch, 34 gallons of wine, and 46 gallons of beer" to the 400 eligible voters while campaigning for election to the House of Burgesses in 1758.

That works out to 9 shots of rum, 3 glasses of punch, 2 glasses of wine, and a pint of beer for everyone. With that much hooch in them, they probably voted for Christine Gregoire too.

State caves on CTA

You're going to love this. The CTA is the Chicago Transit Authority, AKA my Archnemisis. They were having budget problems. They are currently suffering a $55 million shortfall in their operating budget. They're swimming in construction and maintenance money, but they are forbidden from diverting those funds and asked the state to bail them out. The state is going to bail them out:

The Blagojevich administration said the deal will channel at least $46.7 million to the CTA and enable the cash-strapped transit agency to avert its cash crisis, prompting statements of optimism from the agency but no assurances to riders of what comes next.

"I am not aware of the details of what is under discussion," CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said. "What I can tell you is the chairman and president . . . were encouraged by what they're hearing."

The state is not exactly rolling in cash either. I wonder where they came up with the money...

Gov. Blagojevich and top Democratic lawmakers struck a budget deal Thursday that will pump cash into the Chicago Transit Authority and fill a $1.2 billion deficit by slashing payments into state pension systems. (Emphasis added.)

Oh yeah. That won't cause any problems.

So basically, the CTA has hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for new construction and maintenance, but instead of using that money to fill their operating budget, they're going to raid pension funds.

Wegmans

I've read about Wegmans before, and it always sounds fantastic. For the next 3 days 19 hours and 21 minutes I will live in a neighborhood which contains, for all practical purposes, one single solitary communist grocery store (The Hyde Park Co-Op). I like to cook, and having a nice (or even adequate) grocery store sounds almost too good to be true after 2 years in Hyde park. Whenever I read about Wegmans it just blows my mind. I have italicized portions of this description that are particularly appealing:

Start with the assault on the senses that is its "Market Cafe." Open entering, you'll feel a little as if you've stumbled into an open-air European market. Commerce bustles all around you. It has all the fresh goods, delightful smells, and vivacious colors of an ageless community market, but at a variety and depth only modern advances in technology, agriculture, and shipping can provide. The place is a living poem to capitalism.

It's often said that you shouldn't go grocery shopping while hungry. Not a problem, here. Choose from a hot Asian bar, a pizza bar, a buffalo wing bar, a salad bar, and shops with prepared soup, sandwiches, pizza, or an entire meal. Try the fruit bar, the grain bar, or the cappuccino bar. There's a Patisserie (an authentic French pastry shop), a sushi bar, and a bakery. Elaborate deserts beckon, trimmed with riveted curls of shaved chocolate, or dark swirls of reduced fruit toppings. Chefs regularly put on cooking demonstrations. And yes, there are occasionally samples available for tasting.

Move past the hot foods, and find a deli stocked not only with your basic hams, salamis, and turkey breast, but also with the most exotic and obscure French, Italian, and German meats a shopper can conjure. Each store boasts 500 types of cheese. There also 700 varieties of fresh produce, from heirloom tomatoes to truffles that go for hundreds of dollars a pound. The store tries to buy locally, to keep down shipping costs and keep things fresh. There's a mozzarella bar, an olive bar, a pepperbar, and a hummus and Middle Eastern bar. There's a wine section, and a wine-tasting room. The store's prepared foods section is run by a former chef at the Ritz-Carlton. There are rows and rows of fresh meat of all kinds, at all levels of preparation -- every cut, basted in dozens of marinades, stuffed, half-cooked, and fully cooked.

Wegmans is a grocery store, of course. So it stocks all the usual toiletries, packaged foods, spices, kitchenware, and the like we've come to expect from a mega-grocery. But despite its considerable high-end and hard-to-find offerings, Wegmans prices on most day-to-day goods are actually on par with or lower than its competitors.


So when can I get one? Probably never. Unfortunately, my city often enacts regulations like this.

Mark Felt claims to be Deep Throat.

More here.

(Hat tip, Orin Kerr)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Paul's Brat Recipe

Since you're all presumably grilling out at least once this weekend, I thought that I would pass along my recipe for brats. If you follow this recipe it will increase brat tastiness by at least 300%.

First, buy some brats. Make sure that they are not pre-cooked, as pre-cooked brats will have the same flavor cooked as they do right out of the bag, and therefore subjecting them to a recipe is silly.

Get a nice medium heat going on the grill and cook them until cooked through. Do not let the heat get too high, as this will result in the outside becoming charred and the inside staying raw. This will make people sick and ruin your weekend. If that is going to happen, beer should be responsible, not sausage.

While you're doing that, step into your kitchen and get out a large pot. Poor in some beer. You need to use enough so that the brats will be completely submerged when they are placed in the pot. Many cookbooks will tell you to use dark beer for this process, but they are filthy liars attempting to convince you to waste dark beer. Yellowish American domestic beer will do just fine. Try to find something that conforms to the Reinheitsgebot. The important thing is that it needs to taste like beer.

Add to the beer:

A. 3 cloves of garlic,
B. 1/2 an onion, diced,
C. 1/4 stick of butter,
D. Optional: 1 cup of sauerkraut. I prefer this on the side.

Bring contents to just below boiling temperature (a par-boil). Take fully cooked brats and submerge them in the pot for 8 minutes.

Serve on a bun or roll with kraut, ketchup, mustard, onions, and if you can get it, Secret Stadium Sauce.

There are many recipes for par-boiling brats that have you boil them before grilling. Do not believe them. Follow my recipe and you will end up with the most delicious brats in history, happy friends, and a kitchen that smells like a dive bar at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

That reminds me. Pick up a Lysol aerosol spray can too. And some candles. And maybe some Febreze. But trust me, the smell is a small price to pay for a successful barbecue.

Have a good weekend.

Update: My brother, in the comments section, makes an excellent point:

I par-boil them after grilling too, but what is this kitchen shit? Take a metal casserol pan, it has to be a pretty deep one, and put it right on your grill. It works better at ball-games and won't stink up your kitchen.

I do agree with not using dark beer though. Miller High Life works great for grilling.

Fun Friday, Pt. 2

One of the best V-logs out there is Rocketboom. Today, just in time Memorial Day, they feature some British troops in Iraq making the best of it:

Sgt Parr, speaking from Munster, said: "We did the video towards the end of our six-month tour in Iraq.

"It had been a lot of hard work and we just wanted to get a bit of a laugh and lift morale."

He was aware that the MoD computer system had crashed but said: "I didn't get into trouble.

"I was told it had done no harm and that everyone - the lads and everyone else - had loved it."

He said Christie had rung to congratulate him.

Christie told the BBC the video "did turn out fantastically".

"I thought it was fantastic, it's really funny. It's a song that's very uplifting and the lads are out in a dangerous place."

Watch it here.

Fun Friday

I'm not really sure how to describe Fun Friday this week. My brother's classmate, who goes by the handle Moral Turpitude, has been staging an elaborate case of assault on her blog. Start here (although you should feel free to go back a bit farther), then try this one, then hit the main page and just scroll up from the bottom. Like I said, I'm not sure how to describe this, but it's pretty funny.

Krugman, Cowen, Krauthammer

Since Arnold hasn't written anything today, Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen will be subbing for him in our regular Friday feature.

I've recently been discussing Pauly K with a friend who is more sympathetic to his views than I am, in the wake of rips by Dan Okrent and Greg Mankiw, (for an opposing view click here). However, today Krugman's column is filled with interesting points on the housing bubble:

Nobody thought the economy could rely forever on home buying and refinancing. But the hope was that by the time the housing boom petered out, it would no longer be needed.

But although the housing boom has lasted longer than anyone could have imagined, the economy would still be in big trouble if it came to an end. That is, if the hectic pace of home construction were to cool, and consumers were to stop borrowing against their houses, the economy would slow down sharply. If housing prices actually started falling, we'd be looking at a very nasty scene, in which both construction and consumer spending would plunge, pushing the economy right back into recession.

That's why it's so ominous to see signs that America's housing market, like the stock market at the end of the last decade, is approaching the final, feverish stages of a speculative bubble.

Some analysts still insist that housing prices aren't out of line. But someone will always come up with reasons why seemingly absurd asset prices make sense. Remember "Dow 36,000"? Robert Shiller, who argued against such rationalizations and correctly called the stock bubble in his book "Irrational Exuberance," has added an ominous analysis of the housing market to the new edition, and says the housing bubble "may be the biggest bubble in U.S. history"


I think he's right. All signs point to this bubble bursting in the near future, and if it does happen the consequences could be more severe than they were during the tech bubble burst. Read the whole thing. And think about becoming a landlord.

On to Charles who is simply whining about the filibuster compromise:

The second sure thing is that the seven Republicans who went against their party are the toast of the Washington establishment. On Monday night they came out of the negotiations beaming. And why shouldn't they? They are being hailed as profiles in courage, prepared to put principle ahead of (Republican) party. We will soon see glowing stories in the mainstream press about how they have grown in office. (In Washington parlance, the dictionary definition of "to grow" is "to move left.") After that, the dinner-party circuit, fawning articles about their newfound stature and coveted slots on the Sunday morning talk shows.

Mike DeWine, one of the Magnificent Seven, was heretofore best known for the fact that one of his staffers (subsequently fired) published accounts of her sexual escapades while working in DeWine's Senate office. Now he might be known for something else.

Did Charles Krauthammer just mention the Washingtonienne Scandal? That's just weird.

Wrapping things up we have Tyler Cowen quoting the Chronicle of Higher Education:

A study by John M. de Figueiredo of the University of California, Los Angeles and Brian S. Silverman of the University of Toronto, which will soon be published in The Journal of Law and Economics, finds that universities receive a high return on their lobbying dollars. The researchers related the amount each university received in earmarks to its lobbying expenditures from 1997 to 1999, and other factors.

Professors de Figueiredo and Silverman found that a $1 increase in lobbying expenditures is associated with a $1.56 increase in earmarks for universities in districts that do not have a senator or congressman on the crucial Appropriations Committees, and more than a $4.50 gain in earmarks for universities with a representative on one of the Appropriations Committees.

Even among universities that do not lobby, those that have a congressman or senator on the Appropriations Committees tend to be awarded more earmarked funds.

A university's fortunes also tend to rise or fall when senators from its state join or exit the Appropriations Committee. For example, the year after Senator Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, a member of the committee, was defeated by John Edwards, who did not become a member, earmarks to universities in North Carolina fell by half.

Wow. $1.56 for every dollar? Maybe I'll start up a university...

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The 50 Book Challenge

The 50 Book Challenge

#16 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
#17 Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

#16. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I read this book specifically because it contains the original use of the phrase "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" (abbreviated as TANSTAAFL). It's about a moon colony made up of Earth criminals and their children (now several generations removed from Earth) staging a revolution and becoming independent. It is very libertarian in tone and closely echoes the sentiments of the founding fathers of the Unites States (they even use an old copy of the Declaration of Independence as their declaration of independence).

Messages aside, the story is very good. The creative way in which they manage to fend off Earth is compelling, as is the notion that a sentient computer would have more difficulty creating a visual representation of a face than it would coordinating all the functions of a giant settlement. I have two minor issues:

1. Despite the fact that Heinlein repeatedly states that women on the Moon have most of the power (because there are about half as many women as there are men women set the rules based on supply and demand principles) it still seems a bit misogynistic, but maybe I’m just overthinking this a bit.

2. The main character speaks in an odd lunar dialect that apparently lacks articles, making him sound a bit like Frankenstein's monster. Eventually you get used to it, but it's irritating for a while. I think Heinlein does this to establish the Moon as its own land with its own culture, just as we don't speak the Queen's English anymore. He may also be attempting a Russian accent here, which also would make some sense. Whatever the intended message, it is not worth the resulting awkward prose.

It is still an excellent read, and it has been influential in countless sci-fi books since its publication.

#17 Blink

Blink succeeds on two separate fronts. First, it is a joy to read. Malcolm Gladwell is a fantastic storyteller, and I suspect that he could write about almost anything and it would be compelling. Second, as a bonus, Blink is also informative and enlightening.

The subject is snap decisions, and the science behind them. Gladwell contends that somejudgmentnap judgement is better than an reasoned one, and that we often suffer paralysis by analysis. Anecdotal examples abound. How does an art expert correctly determine that a sculpture is a fake immediately upon seeing it when scientific analysis to that point had determined that it was real? Can I make you walk more slowly by having you read a list of words? How can a seasoned tennis pro predict a double fault before it happens with over 90% accuracy? And what is your face telling other people, and telling you?

Gladwell makes a strong case that the snap judgment of an expert is often very reliable, but that snap judgments can fool us too. He asserts that we can get better with practice, and that we lose this ability in excited situations essentially becoming autistic. It will make you consider why you made certain unconscious decisions, and why you're in a certain mood right now.

This book also features a surprising and rather brilliant analysis of unconscious racism that will have you thinking about how you think for a while.

Gladwell is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. Highly recommended.

On Deck:

Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon (on page 200).
Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond.
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.

This guy wants to be a teacher?

I read this New York Times article the other day and had the exact same reaction as Virginia Postrel. She puts it perfectly:

Blevins sounds like a fine man, the kind of person who makes communities--and supermarkets--work. Too bad the Times won't honor him for his real accomplishments, including finding a demanding career he's good at. (Most of his buyer colleagues have college degrees.) Instead, he's portrayed as a victim and the "happy ending" is that he's going back to college so he can get a job he's totally unsuited for. A guy who hates school this much doesn't belong anywhere near a classroom, least of all in front of one.

Read the article and ask yourself if you would want Blevins to teach your children.

The Worst Interview Question, The Best Answer.

Finally. From Orin Kerr, via Marginal Revolution:

Orin Kerr of The Volokh Conspiracy asks: "A standard question lots of employers use in job interviews asks the candidate, "What is your greatest weakness?""

Best answer from his readers: "Kryptonite."

Self-referential runner-up: "I lie in interviews."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Carnival of the Vanities

is at Alarming News. Check it out. Thanks to Karol for the link

The Freako-Steves,

that's Steve Levitt and Steve Dubner, have a great article in The Slate. This is how it begins:
Consider, for instance, an incendiary argument made by the economist Amartya Sen in 1990. In an essay in the New York Review of Books, Sen claimed that there were some 100 million "missing women" in Asia. While the ratio of men to women in the West was nearly even, in countries like China, India, and Pakistan, there were far more men than women. Sen charged these cultures with gravely mistreating their young girls—perhaps by starving their daughters at the expense of their sons or not taking the girls to doctors when they should have. Although Sen didn't say so, there were other sinister possibilities. Were the missing women a result of selective abortions? Female infanticide? A forced export of prostitutes?

Sen had used the measurement tools of economics to uncover a jarring mystery and to accuse a culprit—misogyny. But now another economist has reached a startlingly different conclusion. Emily Oster is an economics graduate student at Harvard who started running regression analyses when she was 10 (both her parents are economists) and is particularly interested in studying disease. She first learned of the "missing women" theory while she was an undergraduate. Then one day last summer, while doing some poolside reading in Las Vegas—the book was Baruch Blumberg's Hepatitis B: The Hunt for a Killer Virus—she discovered a strange fact. In a series of small-scale medical studies in Greece, Greenland, and elsewhere, researchers had found that a pregnant woman with hepatitis B is far more likely to have a baby boy than a baby girl. It wasn't clear why—it may be that a female fetus is more likely to be miscarried when exposed to the virus...

You will never guess how it ends. Read it all, right here.

This is creepy,

but definitely worth mentioning. Two kids were murdered in their home on May 12th, but the last blog entry of victim Simon Sek Man Ng (19) helped to catch his murderer:

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Today I missed my Japanese class again, since I have gotten a bad throat. I only went to the class once this week, so I am probably so far behind now. I will catch up in the summer tho so no worries hehe. Anyway today has been weird, at 3 some guy ringed the bell. I went down and recognized it was my sister's former boyfriend. He told me he wants to get his fishing poles back. I told him to wait downstair while I get them for him. While I was searching them, he is already in the house. He is still here right now, smoking, walking all around the house with his shoes on which btw I just washed the floor 2 days ago! Hopefully he will leave soon, oh yeah working on the jap report as we speak!

Read the whole thing here.

(Hat tip, Instapundit)

Congratulations to my Milwaukee Bucks

for landing the number 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. Now, please, please, please, do not select Utah center Andrew Bogut. Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul is the way to go.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

There are no words to describe

how stupid this is:

A federal agency has begun notifying all 50 states that they don't have to offer Medicaid-funded Viagra to sex offenders, a step taken after it was discovered that more than 400 convicted sex offenders in New York and Florida were reimbursed for the erectile dysfunction drug.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services acted swiftly Monday, one day after the New York comptroller's office said audits from 2000 through March found that 198 rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in the state received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions.


Well, I'm glad we've got that straightened out.

What is going on here?

First tailgating, now this?

Filibuster Roundup

A compromise has been reached:

The compromise on Monday night was reached by an assortment of moderates, mavericks and senior statesmen just as the Senate was headed into a climactic overnight debate on the filibuster. Judge Owen and two other previously blocked appeals court nominees - Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor - will get floor votes under the last-second agreement. No commitment was made on the fate of two others, William Myers and Henry Saad.

In addition, the seven Democrats in the deal vowed that they would filibuster future judicial nominees only under "extraordinary" circumstances. Their Republican counterparts promised to support no changes in Senate rules that would alter the filibuster rule, effectively denying the votes it would take to enact such a rules change.


For reaction try the following:

Stephen Bainbridge, I think, gets it right, and takes his fellow conservatives (most of whom have truly overreacted to this deal) to task:

The filibuster is a profoundly conservative tool. It slows change by allowing a resolute minority to delay - to stand athwart history shouting stop. It ensures that change is driven not "merely by temporary advantage or popularity" but by a substantial majority. Is it any wonder that it has usually been liberals who want to change or abolish the filibuster rule?

Proponents of the "nuclear option" claim to believe that abolishing the filibuster could be limited to judicial nominations. It's a coin flip as to whether this is naive or disingenuous. It's a slippery slope to abolishing the filibuster as to Presidential nominations or even legislation. Would the GOP be tempted to abolish the filibuster if necessary to put John Bolton at the UN? Or to ram through social security reform? Even if the GOP resisted that temptation, what happens the next time the Democrats control the Senate? A GOP-established legislative and institutional precedent for abolishing the filibuster as to judicial nominations would make it all that much easier for the Democrats to do the same as to nominations or legislation.


I'm with Glenn:

As I've said before, I'd probably care more about this issue if Bush looked likely to appoint some small-government libertarian types to the bench. Since he doesn't, I don't.


Andrew Sullivan is worth reading.

As is Noam Schreiber, who's not happy:

Once again, the Republicans have shown their skillfulness when it comes to resetting parameters. Until recently, the perception had been that Bush had consistently filled the courts with extreme conservatives, with only a handful of truly batty nominees failing to meet the standards of Democrats. Now, facing the threat of the "nuclear option," Democrats have backed down on these as well. Thanks to the "finest traditions of the Senate" (Robert Byrd's words yesterday), there's a new agreement under which, presumably, only the certifiably insane can possibly be blocked--or, to put it as the senators did, nominees can "only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances." That way, if Bush's pick for a judgeship finally goes too far even for Republicans--if he nominates, say, an Irish setter who, during confirmation hearings, runs up and bites Orrin Hatch in the leg, then Democrats will be allowed to play the bad guys and employ their filibuster. Otherwise, they'd better hold off, since, if they don't, Republicans might have to take the filibuster away for real.

Kos has a fairly pragmatic take:

In order to save face, Republicans have gotten up or down votes on most of the handful of judges who are currently being filibustered. It's a price, but a relatively small one to pay to protect the filibuster during the next Supreme Court battle.

Given that we have a 10-seat deficit in the Senate, that's no small feat.

Brian Leiter...not so much.

I think that both parties have been big babies about this issue, and frankly I'm glad to see that they resolved it without any scratching or hair pulling.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Ace of Shea

While I was at one subway series, Ace Cowboy saw the Yanks and Mets:

I did, however, get stuck next to five stereotypical Jersey Trash D-Bags in their late 20s or early 30s (in full Yankee regalia, giving us a bad name) that were so annoying I thought I was filming some terribly predictable movie in Asbury Park. You know the type, guys with muscle shirts and guido goatees yelling things like "Duuude, I'm so drunk right now, did we kick all the Schnapps?" and "You broke my finger, you dick" and "Where did I steal this fork from, man?"

I mean, that's cool if you're 16 and wasted off-a blackberry brandy, but c'mon fellas, it's time to move out of your mom and step-dad's basement, trade in the Camaro and make something of yourselves. Juiced, semi-drunk and real stupid is no way to go through life, sons.

Plus he witnessed this exchange:
Drunk Mets Fan: Yo! What's the scoreboard say, yo?
Yankees Fan That Says "Youze Guys": Typical Mets fan...can't read.

A good time was had by all.

Copying the Dodo

Who is the Teacher of the Year? Everyone! That's the way it is in the Lucia Mar Unified School District:

All 575 instructors in San Luis Obispo County's largest school district are winners, he said. "We all help children in our own special way."

The name of the winner was to have been announced at tonight's school board meeting. Instead, Leach will read a statement explaining why the union has decided not to pick a single winner this year.

Leach said Monday that the council of teachers from every campus in the district was in the process of selecting a winner in January.

That coincided with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first pitch for merit pay for public-school teachers. His proposal has met with strong opposition from some teachers around California and from a key state education official.

"We decided that choosing one among us as the best is similar to merit pay," Leach said.

Without getting into the teacher-merit pay debate, is this really the best way to draw attention to your cause? They are correct in that recognizing excellence with this award would be acknowledging merit, but is this really the best way to illustrate that merit pay is a bad thing? There is a longstanding tradition of recognizing good teachers. It provides an incentive to be the best and gives others an example of how to be a good teacher. Does equating merit pay with a "Teacher of the Year" award really advance the cause of these teachers? Does it not make them look foolish?

Let's go to Lewis Carroll:

Why,' said the Dodo, `the best way to explain it is to do it.' (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (`the exact shape doesn't matter,' it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no `One, two, three, and away,' but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out `The race is over!' and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, `But who has won?'

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, `Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.'

`But who is to give the prizes?' quite a chorus of voices asked.

Who indeed?

Dan Okrent Signs Off.

Dan finished his stint as the NYT Public Editor (or Ombudsman, as it were). He leaves with this zinger:

2. Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales "called the Geneva Conventions 'quaint' " nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. Before his retirement in January, William Safire vexed me with his chronic assertion of clear links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, based on evidence only he seemed to possess.

No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards.

I didn't give Krugman, Dowd or Safire the chance to respond before writing the last two paragraphs. I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist.

Drunks v. Thugs

The Cubs are a bad baseball team. They've suffered countless injuries, they did not adequately replace Moises Alou, and there's a new attraction outside of Wrigley Field called "Hit a Home Run off of Latroy Hawkins: $.50."

It is, therefore no surprise that the southsiders took 2 out of 3 from the Cubbies this weekend, including the game I attended on Friday in which Freddy Garcia outdueled Greg Maddux. This is a fun series because the teams actually hate each other. Maddux started the game by hitting Tadahito Iguchi (he chose not to drill Scott Podsednik for obvious reasons. Podsednik did successfully steal a base later in the game). In the bottom of the first Garcia threw at Jerry Hairston, Jr. (not to be confused with Jerry Hairston, Sr. whoever he is), and eventually hit Derrek Lee, at which point the benches were warned.

After that the game was fairly pedestrian with the Cubs showing their typical lack of offense and the White Sox manufacturing a few runs, and getting solo shots from Joe Crede and Jermaine Dye. The true fun at a Cubs/Sox game is in the stands. I personally observed the following:

1. The bathroom setup at Wrigley is a bit odd. The men's room consists mainly of "urinal troughs" which is pretty standard for an older stadium, however, in the bathroom that I frequented that day the trough ran in a rectangle around a center island, and the island did not extend to the ceiling so you were always staring at someone else while doing your business. While this is not terribly disconcerting (especially after a few beers) it did lead to a lot of cross-urinal trash taking between the warring factions. In the top of the eighth inning a large frat-boyish cubs fan and a white sox fan with a rather large gut, probably in his early thirties, started yacking at each other over the island (a real pissing match, if you will) and eventually the dispute came to fisticuffs and "spilled" outside into the atrium where security guards pounced on both of them. They continued to talk trash all the way down the ramp, although it was too slurred to understand.

It's not really a Cubs/Sox game unless you see one of those.

2. I am a Brewer fan, of course, but I was with Cubs fans, so I was labeled as such by the southsiders in attendance. One member of our group is the friend of a Sun-Times reporter who was looking for Sox fans to interview. We had a few obnoxious Sox fans next to us (whenever they got up to get a drink or use the bathroom they would yell "Sox fans, coming through!) so we asked them if they wanted to be interviewed by the Sun-Times. They clearly associated us Cubs fans with the reporter that we had been talking to, and they smartly replied, "We only do interviews for the Trib."

The Trib owns the Cubs. Dumbasses.

3. In order to get in some pre-game priming we went to the Cubby Bear, which is an excellent sports bar across the street from Wrigley Field. You would think that a bar called "The Cubby Bear" would offer die-hard support for all things Chicago, especially the Cubs and Bears. It is not so. The Cubby Bear's dirty little secret is that it is in reality a Packer bar.

4. Old Style is a great baseball beer, and the Old Style cans at Wrigley feature the Cubs' logo.

5. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen got lost on the way to the game.

6. Henry Blanco, who may be the worst offensive player in baseball, was responsible for the Cubs' only run when he reached second on an error committed by Tadahito Iguchi, and later scored on a single by Jerry Hairston, Jr. Blanco also hit a solo home run yesterday for the Cubs, which turned out to be the decisive run in the game.

7. The food at Wrigley was pretty good (I give their hot dog a solid "B"), but nothing at Wrigley can even compare to Miller Park's Secret Stadium Sauce, the greatest condiment ever invented.

8. The White Sox fans made it through the entire series without assaulting an umpire or an opposing coach. Kudos.

9. Jennie Finch sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." Nice.

(Note: Will Ferrell sang it as Harry Carey last time I was there, and it was great.)

10. The White Sox are a superior team, at least right now, and Dustin Hermanson is doing a great job as the closer, but does anyone else think that his facial hair makes it look like he as a butt on the end of his chin?

In about 2 weeks I'm moving to a new apartment, 2 blocks away from Wrigley Field. I can hardly wait.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I'm glad to learn that I've been engaging in civil disobedience.

It is our duty to disobey an unjust law.

A Quick Note About Star Wars.

By the way, I'll be out of the office tomorrow to attend the Cubs White Sox game, so blogging will be light/nonexistent. It should be a blast.

Anyway, while Chris at L&N liked Star Wars quite a bit, his blogmate Kennelworthy...didn't (Warning! SPOILERS!). To put it lightly. Here are the headings of each paragraph of his list of criticisms:

- The Anakin and Padme dialogue was beyond annoying.
- Horrible Acting.
- Freaking Yoda's speech pattern.
- Whack Lightsaber duels.
- Yoda's weak-ass duel.
- The Jedi that accompany Mace to arrest Sidious/Palpatine go out like complete chumps.
- Padme "secretly" pregnant.
- Wookies.
- The freaking retarded COUGHING robot!!!
- R2D2 at one point says "Uh-Oh."
- Logic gaffes.
- Also, how the hell does Obi Wan go from a thirty-year-old to freakin 68-year-old Alec Guiness...all in only 20-25 years between trilogies?!?!
- Jedi can sense things sometimes...but not when the script calls for them to be ambushed.
- THE HIGH GROUND!!!!!

I cut some that I thought would reveal too much, and remember, if you click over, there are spoilers, but it's pretty amusing, and worth a read.

Some one tell the Arizona Cardinals

That they would be even worse if they were the Blue Jays.

Have I mentioned lately that Marginal Revolution cool?

Well, I'm doing it again. Just check out this spoiler free Straussian Review of the new Star Wars movie, by Tyler Cowen:

6. The prophecy was that Anakin (Darth) will restore order to the force. How true this turns out to be. But none of the Jedi can begin to understand what this means. Yes, you have to get rid of the bad guys. But you also have to get rid of the Jedi. The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys. Anakin/Darth manages to get rid of both, so he really is the hero of the story. (It is also interesting which group of "Jedi" Darth kills first, but that would be telling.)

Then, if you're really, really, really bored (really) check out this quiz by Jim Propp, courtesy of Alex Tabarrok. Here's the first question:

1. The first question whose answer is B is question
(A) 1
(B) 2
(C) 3
(D) 4
(E) 5

David Brooks gets it right.

Brooks' column in today's NYT is a must read:

Many of my friends on the right have decided that the Newsweek episode exposes the rotten core of the liberal media. Dennis Prager, who is intelligent 99 percent of the time, writes, "Newsweek is directly responsible for the deaths of innocents and for damaging America." Countless conservatives say the folks at Newsweek were quick to believe the atrocity tales because they share the left-wing, post-Vietnam mentality. On his influential blog, Austin Bay writes that the coastal media "presume the worst about the U.S. military - always make that presumption."

Excuse me, guys, but this is craziness. I used to write for Newsweek. I know Mike Isikoff and the editors. And I know about liberals in the media. The people who run Newsweek are not a bunch of Noam Chomskys with laptops. Not even close. Whatever might have been the cause of their mistakes, liberalism had nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile, the left side of the blogosphere has erupted with fury over the possibility that American interrogators might not have flushed a Koran down the toilet. The Nation and leftish Web sites are in a frenzy to prove that the story is probably true even if Newsweek is retracting it.

This, too, is unhinged. Would it be illegal for more people on the left to actually be happy that a story slurring Americans may turn out to be unproven? Could there be a few more liberals willing to admit that prisoners routinely lie about their treatment? (Do we expect them to say their time in captivity wasn't so bad?)

Then I click my mouse over to the transcripts of administration statements and I can't believe what I'm seeing. We're in the middle of an ideological war against people who want to destroy us, and what have the most powerful people on earth become? Whining media bashers. They're attacking Newsweek while bending over backward to show sensitivity to the Afghans who just went on a murderous rampage.

Talk about the bigotry of low expectations.


Read the whole thing...while it's still free.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

McArdle on Obesity Among the Poor

Megan McArdle takes this quote from a NYT article:

It's like diffusion of innovation: whenever innovation comes along, the well-to-do are much quicker at adopting it. On the lower end, various disadvantages have piled onto the poor. Diet has gotten worse. There's a lot more work stress. People have less time, if they're poor, to devote to health maintenance behaviors when they are juggling two jobs. Mortality rates even among the poor are coming down, but the rate is not anywhere near as fast as for the well-to-do. So the gap has increased.


and tears it apart:

There's a lot wrong with this. some of this isn't true--in America, the rich work longer hours than the poor, and a postal worker is less likely to have a stressful job than an investment banker. And note the use of the passive voice: "Diet has gotten worse". It's like how in Spanish, no one ever breaks everything; everyone says "se rompio. Diets have gotten worse because poor people are eating crappy food, not because the diet fairy left them with the pork rinds rich people didn't want.

[Doesn't the poor quality of inner-city markets make good food hard to get?-ed. I shop at a market in a housing project, and while it's not exactly Wegmans, I manage to put together a balanced diet on a budget so tight the nickels squeak. Plus, as the man says, "diets have gotten worse", but supermarkets, even in poor areas are only getting better. People are eating fattier, more sugary diets because as food has gotten cheaper, they have chosen to consume more of the things that aren't good for us.]

This is nitpicking, but that quote is absolutely typical of the way obesity among the poor is presented in the media: low-income people are framed as hapless victims rather than agents. This is bad for two reasons. First, it distorts people's beliefs about what sorts of policy interventions are likely to succeed--if you believe the average news article, it would be easy to decide that the best way to lick obesity would be to air-lifting rhubarb and radishes into East New York, and pay doctors to harangue people. Whereas if you spend some time with actual people in, say, assisted housing, you'll find that they, like everyone else know

a) what makes you fat
b) that being fat is unhealthy
c) that you can easily buy fresh fruit if you cut out the slurpees

They're not stupid, and they're not particularly ignorant, though they're probably not as up on the ins-and-outs of saturated fats and Omega-3's as your average food-obsessed young professional. They are choosing to eat the way they do.


The whole post is quite good.

Marquette Nickname Idea

here.

Karlson on Freakonomics

Like Gordon, he has a few problems with the section on parenting, and he explains regression analysis:

Sometimes the researcher will set up a more complicated model, in which there is one slide switch for size of library and another slide switch for the size of library in a Black household and another slide switch for the size of library in a Latino household; that's called "interaction" and that becomes hazardous for two reasons. First, additional terms in the regression analysis use up degrees of freedom, which can be fatal to the project if there are more effects to estimate than there are observations to infer from, and which increases the standard error of the estimate, which can be fatal to sign and significance, and that's hard to get even on your six columns of specifications that worked best. Second, all statistical inference using a computer involves approximating rational numbers in base 10 (that's true even with exponential and logarithmic specifications; Mr. Spock had the right way to distract a computer years ago) with integers in binary or some other power of two, and more complicated switchboards such as my multiple-slide-switches create what we call "sparse" matrices with lots of zero values. The effect on the machinery is a combination of rounding problems and conditioning problems. Specification is thus a tradeoff of sufficient richness against economy of computing resources. It's possible to make inferences all the same, but it is not as easy as Levitt and Dubner make it sound. And to compare it to a golf handicap -- which is not that easy to work out -- is still to oversimplify.

What's the matter with Thomas Frank?

A friend and I took in a lecture by Thomas Frank the other day. He’s the author of “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” the premise of which is that Kansans vote against their economic interests and instead concentrate on meaningless culture war issues, and this is the fault of slick Republican media manipulation.

Frank is an engaging speaker with a good sense of humor, and he is never boring. There were a lot of head nodders at the lecture, but I had some issues with a few points.

Franks claimed that Republicans have succeeded in casting Democrats as elitists. He then proceeded to cite Paul Krugman (actually he cited this questionable Paul Krugman column), and imply that Kansans were underinformed because of the conservative presence in the editorial section of the New York Times (Tom Friedman, for instance). There are so many problems with these two statements that it caused me physical pain.

He blamed the media for labeling Kerry as a rich elitist while the equally rich Bush was viewed as a “regular guy.” I agree that Bush is not a regular guy, but the constant attempts to label bush as “stupid” probably helped his credibility in this department, and certainly set off Kerry as an egg head (and yes, I do find it disturbing that the former is seen as good and the latter is seen as bad). Basically, turning Bush into regular guy seemed to me to be the Democrats’ plan.

He made a good point that Republicans often preach against the culture of victimhood while simultaneously portraying themselves as victims of the judicial system, the main stream media, and anti-religious bigotry. Then he screwed up his good point by claiming, just two sentences later, that Kansans are victims of Republican economic policies, and only vote for Republicans because, get this, they convince Kansans that they are victims of liberal policies. This logic is truly dizzying.

He stated that corporations have unprecedented power today, (I disagree, the robber-baron era had more), and maybe he has a point, but his prescribed treatment was to enlarge the government. How does that help people gain power? Government, Mr. Franks, does not equal “the people.”

He was also in favor of more stringent campaign finance laws to get the money out of politics. It worked so well last time.

I didn’t expect Franks to be balanced, but I was looking for a more in-depth explanation. How do you know that Republican policies have been bad for Kansas, other than casual observation? How do you know the free market won’t work in a certain situation? Why do you focus on Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh as the most influential carriers of conservative thought? Why do you stick to mentioning the extremely right wing Gary Bauer and Rick Santorum as examples of Republican legislators?

Franks seemed to dance around the fact that he has genuine disdain for his home state, and this forces him to play the victim game. After all, if winning the Red States is as simple as appealing to the tastes of hicks and rednecks on culture war issues, what is to stop the Democrats (the southern Democrats, anyway) from adopting those culture war stances? Franks insists that garnering any change on issues like abortion or gay marriage is impossible, a red herring to lure in the unsophisticated.

But it is Republicans that have convinced Kansans that Democrats are elitists.

Right.

Update: Reason, on class warfare.

Update II: Book review here.

The Carnival of the Vanities

is at the Commonwealth Conservative. Thanks to John for the link.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

At least we can all agree on something...

From the Telegraph:

Europe unites in hatred of French

Language, history, cooking and support for rival football teams still divide Europe. But when everything else fails, one glue binds the continent together: hatred of the French.


Read the whole thing, it's pretty froggin' funny.

A big decision on the Wine Wars.

I'll have more to say about this tomorrow (plus a summary of a talk by Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter With Kansas"), but for now, here's law professor and wine connoisseur Stephen Bainbridge:

Indeed, it's not at all certain that consumers in the 24 states that had banned direct to consumer sales will soon be able to buy wine on the internet and have it shipped to their home or office. If the states chose to change their laws so as to ban direct-to-consumer sales by both out-of-state and in-state wineries, those laws almost certainly would be upheld as within the states' powers under the 21st Amendment. Given the considerable power wielded in most of those 24 by the wholesalers and retailers who benefit from bans on direct-to-consumer shipments, as well as lingering Prohibitionist sentiment in some of the more Southern and rural of them, I expect many of the 24 to enact nondiscriminatory bans on direct-to-consumer shipments.


Read the whole thing.

Ouch.

Just...Owwww.

Drezner on Fox

Dan Drezner has an interesting post on Vincente Fox's recent foray into the politically incorrect:

An intriguing angle about this story is the ability of Jackson and Sharpton to go global with.... that thing they do (though in this case they have a pretty valid point).

Readers are heartily encouraged to predict the next world leader who will be required to mau-mau Jackson and Sharpton for something they say. I think it's a toss-up between Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin.

This Star Wars may not be so bad.

Chris at the L&N Line has a positive review:

I'll tell you, I imagined a world full of Jedi and Sith having to fight each other, and I would have much preferred to have seen the focus of those first two films directed towards the "religion," the balance of The Force, the mythology of it all. Instead, we got scientific explanations for Jedi with midi-chlorians, and we got Senate debates, and a loss of that classic Star Wars environment--not only through the CGI-ing to death of everything not human, but those nuggets like the cantina, or the underground duel at Jabba the Hutt's place, or the creature in the asteroid. I felt like the backdrop for Anakin's fall was too hum-drum. I understand the political parallels and how that's all well and good, but we weren't clobbered to death by politics in the original series like we have been here. In sum, not enough Jedi action. We had to wait until the end of Episode II to finally see Yoda fight.

Episode III is what you've been waiting for.
Read the whole thing

Ace is the place

for wacky Jason Stark baseball stats:

First, the Dodgers scored 10 runs in the first inning against the Reds on May 6. Then, two days later, the Cardinals put up 11 against the Padres in the first. So when was the last time two teams scored that many runs that fast in games that close together? How about NEVER.

The previous closest gap between double-digit first innings, according to Elias, was four days. And even that was kind of a while ago -- on May 13-17, 1887, when Pretzels Getzien's Detroit Wolverines scored 10 in the first in Chicago and Toad Ramsey's Louisville Colonels matched them four days later in Baltimore."

How do they know I'm not?

Tyler Cowen asks the tough questions:

Why aren't you a zombie?

Zombie agents control your eyes, hands, feet, and posture, and rapidly transduce sensory input into stereotypical motor output. They might even trigger aggressive or sexual behaviors when getting a whiff of the right stuff. All, however, bypass consciousness. This is the zombie you.

So why did consciousness evolve? Could a "zombie you" suffice to get one through life and pass on genes? I often have the feeling that my zombie self is driving to work in the morning...

And while we're talking about how certain things developed...


Monday, May 16, 2005

Monday Morning Roundup

Start with Ebert's review of Star Wars:


Back within the sphere of the Jedi Council, Anakin finds that despite his heroism, he will not yet be named a Jedi Master. The council distrusts Palpatine and wants Anakin to spy on him; Palpatine wants Anakin to spy on the council. Who to choose? McDiarmid has the most complex role in the movie as he plays on Anakin's wounded ego. Anakin is tempted to go over to what is not yet clearly the dark side; in a movie not distinguished for its dialogue, Palpatine is insidiously snaky in his persuasiveness.

The way Anakin approaches his choice, however, has a certain poignancy. Anakin has a rendezvous with Padme (Natalie Portman); they were secretly married in the previous film, and now she reveals she is pregnant. His reaction is that of a nice kid in a teenage comedy, trying to seem pleased while wondering how this will affect the other neat stuff he gets to do. To say that George Lucas cannot write a love scene is an understatement; greeting cards have expressed more passion.


Despite these small complaints Ebert liked it quite a bit. Which is good, because he will avoid having his trachea crushed.

Arnold Kling has a fun TCS article on The Law of Proportionate Belief:


The Law of Proportionate Belief states that one should believe in a certain proposition or policy prescription in proportion to the arguments for that position. The Law is a core ideological principle with me. I have problems with anyone -- liberal, conservative, libertarian, or otherwise -- who violates the Law.

Consider the issue of gay marriage. I do not find the arguments either for or against gay marriage to be overwhelming. If I were forced to choose a position, I would favor allowing gay marriage, because my best guess is that two gays who choose to marry are not causing harm to anyone else.


My favorite part:


One indication that someone is violating the Law is when that individual has taken such a strong position that there is no graceful way to back down. For example, it seems to me that there is no graceful way for someone like Michael Moore or Ted Rall to back down from their positions in support of the Iraqi insurgency. And yet it is at least conceivable that the vast majority of Iraqi people will come to appreciate their elected government and come to hate the insurgents.

I used to think that studying economics helped promote humility. However, that may have been an accident. I now realize that the economists who made the strongest impression on me when I was younger -- Bernard Saffran, Alan Blinder, and Robert Solow -- all happened to be humble. But other economists are rather arrogant. Paul Krugman can hardly bring himself to compose a paragraph without violating my Law.


Heh.

After you're finished at TCS, check out The Conglomerate, where Gordon Smith has one of the best criticisms of Steve Levitt's Freakonomics that I've read anywhere. He takes apart what I felt was the weakest part of the book:

If neglect and abuse leads to bad results, then attentive, caring parents must matter a great deal. How much can such parents accomplish? I would think the answer should be: a tremendous amount. But this isn't the answer the authors are seeking. They want to find "the hidden side of everything," and such an obvious conclusion is not interesting. So, just after telling us that experts of all kinds exaggerate their claims because "an expert whose argument reeks of restraint and nuance often doesn't get much attention," the author press on with the implausible claim that parenting really doesn't matter all that much.

How do they support this claim? Here they find the sledding a bit rough. They begin with a provocative comparison between two boys, one from a model white family in the Chicago suburbs and the other from a dysfunctional and abusive black family in Daytona Beach, Florida. That last fact suggests that these are real people, but we don't find out until the epilogue that the black boy grew up to be Levitt's co-author (Roland G. Fryer, Jr.) while the white boy grew up to be Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. How ironic that a book claiming to be about data rests one of its main claims on anecdote.


and:

I think I am being quite generous here by counting education as something parents "are" rather than something parents "do" (and the same might be said for "high socioeconomic status," which is often dependent on effort rather than status), but even giving them that one, it seems pretty clear that their "overgeneralization" isn't much of a generalization at all, but a distortion. To be sure, the list of uncorrelated factors is all about things parents do, but that only tells us that many things we do are not likely to influence test scores. No big surprise there. The main point the authors are trying to make is that child-rearing "technique looks to be highly overrated." Perhaps that is true, at least when the only thing you measure is test scores.



I would still recommend Freakonomics because the abortion/crime link, and the "cheating teacher" stories were quite interesting, but the book is choppy. It is a collection of short vignettes, and a few of them seem inserted specifically to push the book to an acceptable length. There are a still good lessons in the book, but the biggest lesson for me is still that Levitt and Dubner excel at the art of self promotion. (Not that that is a bad thing.)

Now, let's get serious. You've probably heard that a false Newsweek story resulted in the deaths of many people in Afghanistan. Just hop on over to Instapundit and keep on scrolling. I have a feeling that his story will be sticking around the internet for quite a while, and deservedly so.

Ann Althouse correctly asserts that the Huffington Post parody site, Huffington's Toast, is much better than that which it lampoons, especially if you're up on all of the little foibles of the blogospheric big-wigs.

And, finally, Drezner on George Lucas:


I'm glad to hear that Lucas agrees with me about the quality of his last two films... except that Lucas didn't cop to this when the Episodes I and II came out. And the promotional campaign for Episode III has been just as heavy as the roll-out for Episode I. So I'm not getting close to a movie house for this one unless there's multiple independent confirmations that the movie is good. [But in the Jensen story the Star Wars-obsessed Kevin Smith is quoted saying, "Sith will not only enthrall the faithful, but it'll pull the haters back from the Dark Side."--ed. Two words: Jersey Girl.]

Friday, May 13, 2005

Krugman, Caplan, Krauthammer

Pauly K shows concern for the less fortunate. He also compares apples to oranges. First, the apples:

In 1968, when General Motors was a widely emulated icon of American business, many of its workers were lifetime employees. On average, they earned about
$29,000 a year in today's dollars, a solidly middle-class income at the time.
They also had generous health and retirement benefits.

Now, the oranges:

The average full-time Wal-Mart employee is paid only about $17,000 a year. The company's health care plan covers fewer than half of its workers.

This comparison did not make me think that Wal-Mart workers are underpaid. It made me wonder whether the average middle class worker was better off now than in 1968, or if Wal-Mart jobs were in any way comparable to blue collar factory jobs. Why not include grocery store workers or short order cooks, if we're going to include Wal-Mart cashiers and stock boys along with assembly line workers?

Also, $29,000 in today's dollars? I'm willing to bet that a higher percentage of people these days make more than 29K than in 1968 (and that the mean and median incomes are both higher today). I'm also willing to bet that their work is less back-breaking and their quality of life is better.

Next we turn to Arnold Kling's blogmate Brian Caplan:

Some Nobel prize-winning economists keep investing foolishly even though they know better, according to a recent L.A. Times article. Here are their statements, ordered from bad to worse:

Harry Markowitz, father of modern portfolio theory, put half of his assets in stocks and half in low-risk assets. Now he says "In retrospect, it would have been better to have been more in stocks when I was younger." OK, maybe the equity premium puzzle had yet to be discovered.

Clive Granger: "I would rather spend my time enjoying my income than bothering about investments." Isn't there some connection between the two?

Daniel Kahneman is more culpable: "I think very little about my retirement savings, because I know that thinking could make me poorer or more miserable or both."

But George Akerlof aggressively seizes the booby prize. He apparently keeps his wealth in money market funds and the like. His justification? Less than zero: "I know it's utterly stupid."

The whole article reminds me of a quote I wrongly attributed to Einstein instead of Thomas Szasz: "Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence." It's sad that such eminent economists know the smart thing to do but fail to follow through.



And let's finish up with Charles, on the "nuclear option":

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist seems intent on passing a procedural ruling to prevent judicial filibusters. Democrats have won the semantic war by getting this branded "the nuclear option," a colorful and deliberately inflammatory term (although Republican Trent Lott, ever helpful, appears to have originated the term). The semantic device reminds me of the slogan of the nuclear freeze campaign of the early 1980s: "Because nobody wants a nuclear war." (Except Ronald Reagan, of course.)

Democrats are calling Frist's maneuver an assault on the very essence of the Senate, a body distinguished by its insistence on tradition, custom and unwritten rules.

This claim is a comical inversion of the facts. One of the great traditions, customs and unwritten rules of the Senate is that you do not filibuster judicial nominees. You certainly do not filibuster judicial nominees who would otherwise win an up-or-down vote. And you surely do not filibuster judicial nominees in a systematic campaign to deny a president and a majority of the Senate their choice of judges. That is historically unprecedented.

A Different Take on Vote Fraud

Paul Brewer makes some excellent points:

Fourth, allow that any requirement placed on voters—such as producing an ID—will create at least the possibility for selective enforcement. Selectivity need not be intentional, let alone coordinated. For those who believe that the voting process is so well-governed as to rule this out, I refer you to the report’s account of Election Day chaos. For those who believe that people in authority will never, ever, discriminate on the basis of race, I refer you to the Bratton and Jude cases (and those were much more dramatic instances of discrimination; selective enforcement would merely require repeated but small acts of subtle discrimination on the part of voting officials, acts of which the officials themselves might not even be aware). For those who believe that voter ID will, beyond doubt, be applied with equal scrutiny to city and suburb, I ask that you explain why the vote fraud investigation is only now turning to the suburbs.


He is correct that selective enforcement becomes easier when barriers are added. My only response is that we do need some barriers, or the system would be a total farce. I think we've done reasonably well dealing with problems of potential selective enforcement to this point. If there is a dispute the election board will send a worker to settle it (this was overtaxed last election, but that is a separate issue) and provisional ballots are also an excellent safeguard.

But this issues does require balancing concerns, and I still think that voting in Milwaukee is too easy.

Fun Friday

If only you knew the true power of the dark side of the blogosphere...

That's right. Darth Vader has a blog. And if you're in need of a new Sith Lord, he also has a resume.

(Hat tip, Stephen Green)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

You know, we haven't banned anything in a while...

This is the thought process of a Chicago city alderman. Yesterday they banned talking on cell phones while driving.

Here's a novel idea: Ticket bad driving! Regardless of the cause! There are so many things that we do in our cars that are just as "distracting" to us or to other people as talking on a cell phone. These include, but are not limited to:

1. Talking to a passenger. Let's ban passengers!
2. Listening to the radio. Especially early U2.
3. Eating.
4. Drinking.
5. Putting on makeup. I don't wake up looking this good y'know.
6. Wedgie removal
7. Gathering toll money. Let's ban tolls!
8. Turning on heat/air conditioning.
9. Flipping off guy in H2 with those hubcaps that spin even when you're not moving.
10. Putting on and removing hands free cell phone devices.
11. Smoking.
12. Latroy Hawkins
13. The smell of Gary, Indiana.
14. The smell of Gary, the guy who sat next to me on the bus today. That guy should not be allowed in any type of motorized vehicle.
15. Pondering the idiocy of building a toll booth a few feet in front of the spot where two freeways merge on I-90. I have much time to ponder this as no cars actually ever move at this spot on I-90.
16. Listening to the guy in the Ford Galaxy next to me who really really wants everyone to know how much he likes the Fat Joe song, Lean Back.
17. Billboards.
18. Cars that are double parked next to open parking spots.
19. Shaving.
20. People.

Do we really want to ban all of these things (I mean, besides Gary, and toll booths)? I'll bet you do at least a few of these things in your car on a regular basis. The bottom line is that cell phones are not a problem if you use them responsibly. Bad driving is the problem, and bad driving is not ticketed enough because patrolmen are forced to concentrate on offenses that are completely unrelated to bad driving. I'm glad we've added another.

At first I thought that this was going to be about Michael Jackson

but actually it's pretty cool:

They are definitely not rats or squirrels, and are only vaguely like a guinea pig or a chinchilla. And they often show up in Laotian outdoor markets being sold as food.

It was in such markets that visiting scientists came upon the animals, and after long study, determined that they represented a rare find: an entire new family of wildlife. The discovery was announced yesterday by the Wildlife Conservation Society and described in a report in the journal Systematics and Biodiversity.

Green Fisks Buchanan

over at the soon-to-be VodkaDaddy's place. Some choice moments:


Buchanan: In 1938, Churchill wanted Britain to fight for Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain refused. In 1939, Churchill wanted Britain to fight for Poland. Chamberlain agreed. At the end of the war Churchill wanted and got, Czechoslovakia and Poland were in Stalin's empire. How, then, can men proclaim Churchill "Man of the Century"?

Green: Because, unlike certain columnists, they were willing to stand
up against Fascism?

and:

B: When one considers the losses suffered by Britain and France – hundreds of thousands dead, destitution, bankruptcy, the end of the empires – was World War II worth it, considering that Poland and all the other nations east of the Elbe were lost anyway?

G: I dunno, – let's use Buchanan's Formula For Victory and ask a Briton or a Frenchman. If they answer "Bloody 'ell" or "Oui!" we'll call it a "yes." And if they reply "Ja!" we'll chalk it up as a "no."



Heh.

Jonathan Chait takes on Big Government Conservatism

I think that focusing on Republican spending is a winning issues for the Democrats. I hope they pursue it. Someone should.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Gold No More.

What took you guys so long? From the JSonline Daywatch Blog (How about some permalinks?):

Marquette University is starting the process of picking a nickname all over again.

According to an e-mail sent out this afternoon to students and faculty, the board of trustees "unanimously reaffirmed its position not to reinstate the Warriors nickname and announced that it would establish a process for stakeholders to select the new Marquette athletics nickname."

"The Trustees made the decision after reviewing feedback received in the past week from students, alumni and fans expressing surprise and frustration that their voices were not adequately heard in the decision to change from Golden Eagles to Marquette Gold."


I predict that they go back to "Golden Eagles." If "Warriors" is off the table, I'm a fan of "Explorers."

Update:

Christine Hurt has set up a forum for nickname suggestions at The Conglomerate. Check it out, and see if you can do better than "Explorers."

A few notes on vote fraud.

The Public Brewery has a few links to some vote fraud commentary, and I want to offer this clarification because I think a lot of people are focusing on the wrong things.

One fellow is stating that this is not an excuse to requires IDs to vote, and a few of them chalk this up to sloppiness more than fraud.

There was definitely sloppiness here, but that does not mean that there was no fraud. In fact the opposite correlation is true: more sloppiness leads to more fraud. As an example, if you leave your car unlocked it is much more likely to be stolen. The robber is still at fault even though you helped him out a bit. That being said, the city's sloppiness does need to be fixed, however, I believe that the lack of good record keeping is related to the fraud (let's say, more fraud leads to more sloppiness). Private businesses that keep poor records are often beset with fraud (See every recent corporate scandal) and this sloppiness does not get cleaned up because those in power have the most to lose. Put a less incendiary way, if vote fraud (or at least sloppiness) was having a negative effect on the current incumbents, they would fix it. Therefore, the internal problems are less likely to be fixed.

As for the ID question, I really don't understand how you can oppose requiring a photo ID on principle. I do understand how you can oppose it based on self interest. One blogger believes that requiring a photo ID will not help. This assertion is silly. I again refer you to the unlocked car. While a thief that is really driven to steal your car will not be deterred by a simple lock, the casual thief will be. This measure would eliminate the casual thief at very little cost, and there are a lot of casual thieves if you give them an opportunity.

Moreover, assertions that this would disenfranchise minorities and the elderly strike me as racist and ageist. Basically you're arguing that requiring white voters to have an ID would pose no problems, but requiring black voters to have an ID would cause a massive drop-off in turnout. That is a racist assertion. Obtaining an ID is not the same as requiring a poll tax or a literacy test, which can be arbitrarily rigged to deny someone the right to vote. Everyone can easily obtain an ID. If you are poor, they are free.

One last thing. I'm sure the Republican talking heads up there are going on and on about how Democrats are dishonest and they support fraud because it helps them. I do not mean to assert that Democrats are supporters of fraud. What I do think is that when you put people in a situation where fraud is likely to occur, it will usually occur. Usually the party in power will be responsible. The reason for this is that it is easier to cheat when most people support you, and when you are doing most of the monitoring.

I believe that most of the fraud in Milwaukee was committed by Democrats, but only because there are so many Democrats in Milwaukee. A Republican trying to steal an election in Milwaukee would be insane. He would be exposed in a second. If the "Milwaukee scenario" was reconstructed in a heavily Republican area, I have little doubt that the same shenanigans would occur. And they probably do.

Update:

I should clarify a few more things.

First of all, I think that requiring photo ID's could affect minority turnout in one of two ways. First of all, requiring an extra step will undoubtedly drive down turnout in general. This happened with anything that is made more difficult of expensive. What I'm not convinced about is that it will drive down minority turnout more than any other demographic. I think that it is feasible that it may drive minority turnout up, relative to the rest of the population, if said minority populace does in fact feel threatened by the new requirement. With a poll tax or a literacy test, black voters were powerless. In this scenario they would have the opportunity to be very powerful.

Secondly, I'm quite sure that there are republicans in Wisconsin who want this provision enacted with the specific intent of driving down the minority vote. That is certainly not a good thing, but it also doesn't make it a bad idea. In politics people often do good things for the wrong reasons (more often they do the wrong things for the wrong reasons, but that's neither here nor there), and dealing with the motives of the proponents of an idea will often lead you to discount too much.

Thirdly, I am of the opinion that voting is too easy. This may sound elitist of me, and maybe it is, but I would rather have someone who really cares about voting actually voting than someone who walks in and registers on the same day with no ID. It is important to strike a balance between citizen participation and election integrity. These two issues are in conflict. I simply think that Wisconsin has veered too far towards encouraging citizen participation, and sacrificed integrity.

I'm open to opposing views, but I have yet to hear anything too convincing.

Things that make you go hmmm.

So much economic debate takes place only in the world of theory. Fortunately we have a nice real world example in Alex Tabarrok's astute observations on the United Airlines termination of its employee pension plan:

Now, let's review. A large organization counts on its younger workers and continuing high revenues to fund the pensions and medical care of its retired workers but finds that rising health care costs, longer life-expectancy, and its own inability to control spending force it to cut pension benefits and switch to personal accounts.
Kinda makes you go hmmm...doesn't it?


Hmmm.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Vote Fraud in Milwaukee

Lots of it:

U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic likened it to trying to prove "a bank embezzlement if the bank cannot tell how much money was there in the first place."

Biskupic announced the preliminary findings at a news conference today, along with Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann, who is also overseeing the probe.

The announcement comes in the wake of Journal Sentinel reports that revealed widespread problems with the election in the city and could breathe new life into the photo ID debate and renew a push for other reforms to the system.

Mayor Tom Barrett, who from the start said he welcomed the probe, attended the news conference. At several points in recent months, he said he had seen no hard evidence of fraud in the system.

Today, he acknowledged the findings pointed to fraud and said again "any individual who committed fraud (should) be prosecuted."

In all, about 277,000 people voted in the election in Milwaukee. Thus, the cases identified in the investigation constitute a small portion of the total vote. The findings, however, carry extra significance in a state that had an 11,000-vote margin in the presidential contest, one of the closest in the nation.


Read the whole thing. Some people are acting shocked at this revelation. Others have known about this sort of thing for a long time.

Four Big Stories

from Sam Jaffe. You'll have to read the whole thing, but here's a teaser:

1. Now that we have him, we can ask him: Did Saddam order you to liase with Al Qaeda?
2. Either it's a makework program for North Korean pep squads or...In fact there is not other explanation besides the one that says: They're going to test a bomb. This has been mentioned in many news sources, but the gigantism of this fact is understated. North Korea is about to test a nuclear bomb!
3. Downgrading corporate bonds to junk status is not done lightly.
4. Sure, it drops the price of an HD monster TV to less than $500 (that's a factor of 10). But the more important implication is that this will be the first consumer killer app that can be attributed to nanotechnology research (no, pants that stain less don't count).


(Hat tip, Instapundit)

Bad Stats

I'm not a big "media bias" believer, at least in the conspiratorial way that most conservatives and some liberals seem to be. By and large I think the good ol' Main Stream Media(TM) are just lazy.

I stumbled upon two related examples of this phenomenon today. One of my favorite blogospheric film critics, Chris at the L&N Line wrote an excellent post on the current Hollywood apoplexy over decreased ticket sales at the cinema, specifically regarding an Entertainment Weekly article:


But then they bring up the 10-week (now 11-week) drought comparative to last year, citing that there hasn't been a drought like this since 2000 comparative to 1999. This is the sleight-of-hand in crunching numbers. Last year, The Passion of the Christ came out, and it made tons of money. This year, the biggest hit is Hitch, which is a very large hit but will not be the hit TPOTC was. Numbers are always misleading in this regard. Then, it seems like everyone in the know believed XXX: State of the Union was going to be a tremendous hit. The first XXX, I recall, made way less money than everyone thought it would at the time--so why is it a surprise when the sequel, which looks dumber and didn't even retain it's original star, became a huge flop?

Then the article has the audacity to mention movie theatres themselves. They bring up that the only improvement in the last 10 years has been stadium seating and digital sound--what the hell else do you want? Smells? Tactile stimulation? 360 degree screens? They bring up the prices and the noisy customers and bad service--I'll agree that's something that needs to be changed and is a big reason why some people don't go to theatres, but that's been a part of movie-going since before the time I became a movie theatre worker in 1993, and we've seen record-breaking money come in in the following years.


He also offers this gem:

It all comes down to product. And just like the awful, stupid, waste-of-life people who believe that 2-D animation is dead just because it's 2-D animation and not because the 2-D cartoons lacked any story depth or great characters, here again is a lame argument and really, a lame subject. If we guffaw about 2000's terrible streak, we forget that 2001-2004 must have been pretty damn good years. The argument solely relies on a previous year's earnings to make the case. I don't blame people for not wanting to come out to see the product that is out right now--it's horrible. Simply, it's like putting feces in a box and putting it on a shelf at Wal-Mart, and a Wal-Mart executive saying, "Wow, we sold a lot more PS2's on that same shelf last year...I wonder why people aren't going for the feces?"


And what should I happen to find in the NYT today?

Hollywood Worries as Decline Continues

The poor box-office performance last weekend of the first major film of the summer, "Kingdom of Heaven," released by 20th Century Fox, made for 11 weeks in a row of declining movie attendance and revenue compared with last year, adding up to the longest slump since 2000 and raising an uncomfortable question: Are people turning away from lackluster movies, or turning their backs on the whole business of going to theaters?

No, the blockbusters just haven't come out yet. Meanwhile, at ESPN, they're in a big steroidy huff over the drop in power numbers this year:

Florida Marlins pitcher Todd Jones doesn't think it's a coincidence. He's convinced there's a connection.

"Unfortunately I do. I hate it, but there has been a correction made in the system, and the numbers are going to suffer for a couple of years," he said Monday. "I hate to admit it because I didn't want to. I'm as disappointed as any fan would be that it's going to end up showing to be the truth. But it's got to be good for the game to get back to an even playing field. I just didn't realize how deep it was."


To ESPN's credit, they do mention a few other explanations like the absence of Jim Thome and Barry Bonds, and the unseasonably cold weather on the east coast. But my point here is not to talk about steroids. You all know how I feel about that. Just look at the numbers they use:


HRs per game through the season's first first weeks
Year Games HRs HRs/Game
2005 460 908 1.97
2004 459 990 2.16
2003 461 953 2.07
2002 456 878 1.93
2001 454 1,047 2.31
2000 457 1,183 2.59
1999 457 1,016 2.22
1998 437 862 1.97
1997 398 742 1.86
1996 423 989 2.34



Does this tell you anything at all? Bonds set the record in 2001 and experienced a noticeable drop in power thereafter. Moreover, McGwire and Sosa had their career years in 1998, which featured a HR/Game ratio identical to that of 2005. Now these are just the most famous steroid suspects, and this analysis isn't any better than the one ESPN is using, but starting with Mac and Sosa's suspicious run in 1998 through 2005, the 2005 total doesn't seem that out of the ordinary. If this tells us anything, it tells us that 1999-2001 showed an increase in early season power. What it really shows is the limits of a small sample size.

The steroid crackdown may very well be responsible for a drop in power this year, but this year doesn't seem to be that much different from any other year. It is worth keeping an eye on this trend to see if it continues, but it is too still to early to jump to any conclusions.


 
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