Saturday, September 30, 2006

Muffy for Governor

The Republican Party of Massachusetts sent me an application for absentee ballot today. How thoughtful. And how'd they get my out-of-state address? I filled it out and put it in the mail.

But whom to vote for? Deval Patrick is a great story (and lives in my hometown), but he went to Milton Academy and Harvard, and I've despised the supercilious snobs from those institutions since I could walk. South Side or no South Side, he's made his home in Milton, and that says a lot. He's also way the heck out in left field on the issues. Charley Manning in the Globe:

The voters agree with Healey on most important campaign issues, such as tax cuts, education reform, and illegal immigration. Patrick is on the wrong side of all three issues -- and others, such as crime.
The Massachusetts primary system is really messed up: liberal Dems show up in September and nominate wingnut lefties instead of the bread-and-butter pols like Tom Reilly; consequentially, they haven't won a guber since Dukakis left office.

My early voting favorite was Christy Mihos: he's legitimately independent, a little bit flashy, and had a show-stopping debate performance which has Healey bent out of shape. But I took the time to read his platform, and he's awful. He supports big payouts to the cities and towns, and lower usage fees for the Mass Pike, MBTA, etc. Other spending items are big priorities. Yes, he's been a bulldog on the Big Dig, but the savings there aren't going to be enough to cover all the revenue losses. The result? Income taxes won't come back down to 5% as promised.

Then there's Kerry 'Muffy' Healey, who has sensible, conservative positions, but the personality of mildew, no business experience, and it takes a lot of spin to make her sound likable. I like her proposals to raise the dropout age to 18 and to bring more competition to our worst-in-the-nation auto insurance cartel; in addition, she's far more likely than either competitor to see the mandated health insurance compromise through to functionality. Patrick would collude with the legislature to raise costs and hammer businesses; Mihos would torch the compromise out of spite for Romney.

The nickname Muffy comes from penslinger Howie Carr, a Deerfield Academy grad who does the man-of-the-people routine with panache. But even Carr is panicking that Patrick may win this race and set Massachusetts back 20 years. If enough people tell each other how bad it will be with ultraliberal Patrick, maybe we can dump Mihos like Howard Dean and get Muffy as governor.

Update: Another Howie Carr article filling voters in on Deval Patrick.

Free-for-All-2008: Four thousand words

Chatter Rankings data since May, 2005, in pictures. You can see the axis labels by clicking on each image to open it in a new window. See the Chatter Rankings from September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December, August, July, June, and May.

Enforcement Only?

Critics are calling the last-minute border fence bill passed by Congress an "enforcement only" measure. With the problem continuing and a recess looming, however, lawmakers couldn't reach a compromise on the other elements of legislation, so rather than do nothing they went with "enforcement first". Good.

Precisely what else do opponents of the bill want? At a border that no one is supposed to cross except at controlled points, what's so bad about a fence? This isn't the Berlin Wall, dividing a long-unified city; it's more like the giant concrete barrier set up by Saudi Arabia to stop weapon-smuggling-homing-mules. Yeah. All legitimate trade can continue, and honest people won't be affected (except in positive ways for farmers near the border).

Immigration is one of the best things about America, and I think we need more of it. But that should come through a liberalization of laws, not through breaking them. And it should be equally applied to all in the world who have the American Dream: Africans, Asians, and Europeans who want to build a better life shouldn't be held at a disadvantage. In the long run, this is good for Mexican-Americans and other latino immigrants: if they are the only poor immigrants (as opposed to the scientists and engineers coming from India and China), they will find themselves as a distinct underclass facing an ugly glass ceiling. But by accepting the tired and poor from all nations, the U.S. will continue to stir the melting pot and allow second and third generations to be Americans, no hyphen necessary.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Worst Insult of My Life

"When you start talking, it's like going shopping for shoes with a woman." Ouch.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Honest Abe

I don't much like the sound of Japan's new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Change happens slowly on the islands, and the NYTimes profile makes him seem too young, too fast, and too power-hungry for the good of his country. The new worldwide breed of "big-government conservatives" worries me.
As Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War II, and the first to be born after the war, Mr. Abe’s ascension appears to mark a changing of the guard in a country that has kept a low-profile in international affairs since its defeat in 1945. After winning the vote in parliament, Mr. Abe (pronounced AH-bay) immediately began making changes aimed at strengthening the prime minister’s office, which in the past has been a weak center in a nation dominated by powerful bureaucrats and entrenched special interests... “The prime minister’s office should be built into a control center for the whole nation,” said Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the newly appointed chief Cabinet secretary. “The office will put forward policies based on strategic thinking.”
Yikes! That's what I'd expect to hear from a socialist bureaucracy. With a dominant-party democracy and elections held within the cloisters of Parliament, there's no way to know whether this new administration accurately represents the people of Japan. Overall, a worrisome development.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Benedict's Rule?

No, not St. Benedict's Rule, but a potential new principal for Christendom in approaching relations with the Muslim world.

Meeting with Muslim diplomats today, the Pope quoted John Paul II, the first pope to have positive relations with Islam, saying "'Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres,' particularly religious freedom," according to the NYTimes. This strikes me as a reasonable principal, and one that allows the Vatican and other political forms of Christianity to have good relations with reasonable Muslims without turning a blind eye to persecution and extremism.

Some use the Crusades and Inquisition to shrug off violence today. Some say that religions should reduce to goopy lowest-common-denominators. Some say Christians and Muslims can never - or should never - get along. "Benedict's Rule" would give us a reasonable, attainable basis for building religio-political relationships across a stark divide.

Krauthammer's Law

Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise.

Charles Krauthammer puts in print a pet theory that seems to have some legs.
Krauthammer's Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise. I've had a fairly good run with this one. First, it turns out that John Kerry -- windsurfing, French-speaking, Beacon Hill aristocrat -- had two Jewish grandparents. Then Hillary Clinton -- methodical Methodist -- unearths a Jewish stepgrandfather in time for her run as New York senator.

A less jaunty case was that of Madeleine Albright, three of whose Czech grandparents had perished in the Holocaust and who most improbably contended that she had no idea they were Jewish. To which we can add the leading French presidential contender (Nicolas Sarkozy), a former supreme allied commander of NATO (Wesley Clark) and Russia's leading anti-Semite (Vladimir Zhirinovsky). One must have a sense of humor about these things. Even Fidel Castro claims he is from a family of Marranos...

There are 13 million Jews in the world, one-fifth of 1 percent of the world's population. Yet 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, a staggering hundredfold surplus of renown and genius. This is similarly true for a myriad of other "everyones" -- the household names in music, literature, mathematics, physics, finance, industry, design, comedy, film and, as the doors opened, even politics.
And now, of course, there is George Allen. The real test would be to see if Jewish ancestry can be dredged up for any of our recent presidents. Maybe Clinton, who was adopted? Maybe Eisenhower, who came from German immigrant stock?

Saturday, September 23, 2006


I am almost done with question 3 of Labor homework 1 after spending 30 of the last 37 hours at school. During that stretch, in addition to problems 2 and 3 of Labor, I read and commented on five papers, sat through two meetings, did a little bit of the Macro homework, and posted regularly to this blog to convince myself that I was still alive.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Request For Proposals

In most services and industries, the various sectors fulfill differing and complementary roles. The private sector ensures availability to those who can pay; the public sector provides necessities to all citizens; international organizations (such as the UN) pool resources but generally fail to respond quickly; and not-for-profits cover the gaps, often acting as the first responders in a crisis until better-equipped and more efficient providers show up on the scene.

One vital service, however, has a complete blank in the non-profit sector. Recent crises around the world have cried out for lightning fast responders to save lives and protect property, but governments are ponderous and international organizations even more so. And in most of these crises - Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, East Timor - the victims are not wealthy enough to enlist a private service provider.

It is with this in mind that Global Review issues a Request For Proposals for the founding of a not-for-profit army.

Student Poets: Rkiya Bouya

Original in English. This poem was written as a goodbye note to one of the teachers at the Centre Tariq Ibn Zyad this summer, in keeping with the Moroccan tradition of expressing gratitude to teachers.

My Best Teacher

Let me say this modest word
That you are my best teacher
When you laugh you look like a flower
You know? You have the nicest smile in the world

You know how to treat your students
You consider them as your brothers and sisters
Really I passed with you an unforgetable thirty days
But I feel these days are very short, like thirty seconds

I wrote this poem to express my deep feelings
That I could not support your separation
But this is life, I wish you good luck and good situation
And that God keep you when the sun lies down and when it rises

Previous posts in this series include one by Rkiya, one by Mohamed Mehra, and two by Khadija Aamari.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Deus Ex Walmart

Nobody saw this coming. Wal-Mart could completely remake the pharmaceutical debate in this country. At a time when big business (and Walmart and pharmaceuticals especially) are being blamed for the evils of the world, the world's largest retailer is poised to sell generic drugs at drastically low prices.

The NYTimes editors finds a way to make Wal-Mart sound bad even now. Their front-page article summary implicitly faults Wal-Mart for not doing this earlier, instead of lauding them for being the first to try it, and resting their criticism on the absurd notion that market power is necessary for a retailer to underprice competitors, which runs counter to economic theory and common sense.*
Wal-Mart to Offer $4 Generic Prescriptions: The pilot program appeared to mark the first time that Wal-Mart has used its unrivaled influence in the U.S. economy to lower health care costs.
Of course, the article presents facts as well as the spin:
Wal-Mart will test the lower prices at 65 stores in the Tampa, Fla., area and, depending on consumer response, is likely to expand the program next year.

The drugs covered by the program treat common conditions like allergies, cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. In some cases, the company said, customers could save more than 60 percent over typical generic drug costs. The lower prices will be available to the insured and the uninsured...

Wal-Mart said it obtained the lower generic drug prices by squeezing costs out of its already efficient supply chain, rather than pressuring drug manufacturers to lower costs.
In other words, Wal-Mart continues to do more to help the poor than any other force in the U.S., including the government, and does it all for capitalistic reasons and without breaking the law or strong-arming other businesses. What's not to love?

* It's a nuanced but vital distinction. Size allows Wal-Mart to buy in bulk and "in-source" many functions to reduce costs. But market power ("influence" as the Times puts it) generally makes a supplier raise prices. What should be obvious from both theory and data is that Wal-Mart has no market power, but does have size advantages. The result we should see is more stores trying to move in the same direction.

George Allen and the Race Card

The whole 'macaca' scandal might boomerang in George Allen's favor, both in his bid for reelection and in his 2008 presidential run. The macaca talk turned a corner this week with a reporter asking combative questions about Allen's background. Apparently, Allen is half-Jewish, but his mother hid her background from him. The Post has an interview of the mother, which has an awkward roundup of the backstory, and the Allen family emerges looking like heroes.
Allen's mother, who is 83, said she told her son the truth [this August]: That she had been raised as a Jew in Tunisia before moving to the United States.... Her father, Felix Lumbroso, was imprisoned by the Nazis during the German occupation of Tunis. "What they put my father through. I always was fearful," Etty Allen said in a telephone interview. "I didn't want my children to have to go through that fear all the time. When I told Georgie, I said, 'Now you don't love me anymore.' He said, 'Mom, I respect you more than ever.' "...

Etty Allen said Wednesday that she had never used the word "macaca" before and had to go to a dictionary to look it up when she heard of the controversy. She said the word did not exist in her dictionary. "I swear to you, I have never used that word," she said. "I must have used a lot of bad words, but not that word."
Now, Virginia voters would feel guilty to turn against this guy: he's an all-American, with a quirky old mother and a dark but noble family history. He's come to terms with Jewishness publically and gracefully, and all the connections to North Africa make him seem worldly and make it harder to stick the 'macaca' connotations to him. Of course, this is all perception: European colonists like his forebears in Tunisia were no multiculturalists, but that won't occur to voters.

The Future Is Now

Jules Verne wrote the futuristic "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in 1870. The first real submarines were launched thirty years later. The futuristic movie Gattaca was made in 1997. Less than ten years later, we have already taken strides towards genetically engineering our children. Hat tip to Drudge.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Time for the UN to Leave?

Is it time for the UN to find a new home? Listening to incendiary blowhards like Hugo Chavez makes me want to give him what he wants: a socialist paradise, as wonderful for workers, as, say, North Korea. Failing that, maybe the U.S. should take a step back: see how the UN would like being located in a developing country instead of New York. The easiest place in the world to criticize America is from within, and maybe UN diplomats would find the U.S. easier to like if they had the slums of Caracas or Khartoum to look at from their hotel windows.

democratic Republic of Yemen?

Yemen's first political revival occurred when the communist and non-communist halves of the country reunited in 1990. Since then, a presidency-bordering-on-monarchy has subsisted with Western and Saudi support, despite a strong Islamist underground. Now, the Washington Post reports, the sham election has been made a real contest by the entry of longtime politician Faisal bin Shamlan, a reformist, into the presidential race. As WaPo reports, it's doubtful he would win, but his own tenuous candidacy - the product of a truce between Islamists, socialists, and others - is emblematic of the divisions that would likely occur if he won. Perhaps he could sufficiently unify the country and execute his reforms to leave behind a multi-party system. But with the underlying antagonism between Islamists, socialists, and nationalists, it's hard to see how a repressive dictatorship of some kind can really be avoided.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Free-for-All 2008: Why the Downturn?

From the way the chatter over the 2008 election has gone over the summer, you would think the election had been called off. Hillary Clinton is down to just 1,320, her lowest level since the poll began, and she's never been out of the top Democratic spot. A few politicians are prospering: McCain ticked back up after a weak August, Frist, Jeb Bush, and Condi saw modest gains probably unrelated to the election. On the Democratic side, only Mark Warner and Barack Obama saw gains, but they burgeoned indeed. Warner's numbers come from an excellent showing in a recent poll of Virginians, and his unashamed campaigning across the country. Obama has also been to Iowa and calls for a presidential run in 2008. With more and more Democrats realizing that the empress has no clothes, either Obama or Warner could become the DLC-wing candidate in 2008.

The monthly prediction...
Sep '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Aug '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Jul '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Jun '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
May '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Apr '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Mar '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice
Feb '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Sen. John McCain 1,5700
R.2 Gov. Mitt Romney 8490
R.3 Sen. George Allen 562+3
R.4 Sen. Bill Frist 557-1
R.5 Rudy Giuliani 4890
R.6 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 384+3
R.7 Gov. George Pataki 231-3
R.8 Gov. Mike Huckabee 202-1
R.9 Gov. Jeb Bush 200+2
R.10 Newt Gingrich 175-3
R.11 Sen. Chuck Hagel 126-1
R.12 Sen. Sam Brownback 680
R.13 Rep. Tom Tancredo 210
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 1,3200
D.2 Sen. John Kerry 9530
D.3 Al Gore 6970
D.4 Sen. John Edwards 6260
D.5 Gov. Mark Warner 599+6
D.6 Sen. Barack Obama 588+7
D.7 Howard Dean 496-1
D.8 (tie) Gov. Bill Richardson 3710
D.8 (tie) Sen. Evan Bayh 371+1
D.10 Sen. Joseph Biden 368+2
D.11 Sen. Russ Feingold 273-1
D.12 Sen. Harry Reid 271-7
D.13 Gov. Tom Vilsack 195-8
D.14 Wesley Clark 470
D.15 Tom Daschle 220

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. Tom Tancredo and Tom Daschle will be purged if they continue to perform at abysmal levels for another month. Tested but not qualifying: Sen. Chris Dodd.

See the Chatter Rankings from August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December, August, July, June, and May.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Get Down on Your Knees and BLOW!

Grandma is healthy, and by way of celebration we had a blowout birthday bash for my Uncle Danny. The food was good, the liquor was better, and we played touch football in the mud, mafia in the living room, and... BLOWBALL around the kitchen table. If you've never played, this is the best party/drinking game ever. You need a clean, flat table, a piece of masking tape, and a ping-pong ball.

The Blowball competition was sportscast. Click here for video!

Update: the other two Blowball videos were delayed, but are now available for your athletic analysis on YouTube. Here and here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Down to DC

I'm off to Washington, D.C., for the weekend to see my grandmother (home from the hospital), my aunt and uncle and cousins (home from France), and my other uncle (happy 39th birthday, again), plus lots more family and friends. Unfortunately, I won't be there long enough to catch up with everyone, so I apologize if I don't see you, dear reader.

You Know It's Time to Leave the Lab...


"Is your p-vector the same as mine?"
"No, my p-vector is longer than yours."

Nietzche's Pantheon

Best of the Web Today readers have followed up on a Baylor University study and created a littany of Gods in their own image. Among them:
  • Noncommittal God. Loves his children, but isn't "in love" with them.
  • Unitarian God. Nice enough guy, but doesn't really seem to believe in himself.
  • Jewish mother God. "My children--I gave them life, but do they pray?"
  • Reuters God. "One God's terrorist is another's freedom fighter."
  • United Nations God. Reaffirming that you are a sinner, he calls upon you to repent and decides to remain actively seized of this matter. If you ignore his call to repent, he will call upon you to repent again.
  • Enterprise Rent-a-God. He'll pick you up.
  • Visa God. He's everywhere you want him to be.
  • MasterGod. Priceless.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Frank Frank

A d'etante between the United States and her earliest ally appears possible, and is tied up in the candidacy of Nicolas Sarkozy. The NYTimes profiles Sarkozy's current visit to the States, where he came to pay homage at Ground Zero. He awarded NYC's police commissioner with la L├ęgion d'Honneur (wiki) and went jogging in Central Park.

Detractors call him "Sarko l'americain", to which he must admit, c'est vrai: he's an immigrant's son, an ethnic mutt, followed an unconventional route to power, is blunt, conservative, pro-business, and willing to use the little anglais he knows. In other words, he's more of an americain than John Kerry (for instance, both of them have Jewish blood; Sarko said so himself, Kerry concealed it).

Hat tip to BOTWT.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Maryland's Senate Race, Now Black and White

In what could have been an interesting contest between two black candidates, Rep. Ben Cardin beat out Kweisi Mfume for the Democratic nomination to in Maryland's senatorial race yesterday. Cardin is white, Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is the first black to be elected to statewide office, and wants to be the first black senator.

Previous stories in the Post have highlighted the gains Steele has made among blacks, by simply going out and asking for their votes. There is a powerful appeal to his first-black-senator bid that is hard to ignore. Hopefully, America will have a moderate conservative black Senator in January instead of yet another liberal white guy. If Steele does win, of course, we'll have to endure the immediate buzz for him to become a presidential candidate, a form of 'soft racism' that we currently see with Barack Obama.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Early Hours

The President's address to the nation last night will no doubt elicit partisan banter. But what real substance is there here?

First, Bush has become steadily more subdued in his optimistic presentation of the War on Terror. He talks about "mistakes" in Iraq, 3,000 soldiers giving their lives, and he describes the last five years as "the early hours" of a conflict which he quotes his nemesis (not Chirac, Bin Laden) as calling "World War III". But he maintains his neo-conservative vision of America as a benevolent, almost-all-powerful, and determining force in the world:
We are now in the early hours of this struggle between tyranny and freedom. Amid the violence, some question whether the people of the Middle East want their freedom--and whether the forces of moderation can prevail. For 60 years, these doubts guided our policies in the Middle East. And then, on a bright September morning, it became clear that the calm we saw in the Middle East was only a mirage. Years of pursuing stability to promote peace had left us with neither. So we changed our policies, and committed America's influence in the world to advancing freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and radicalism.
Bush's vision, as clear and clearly controversial as it is, won't be guiding this country much longer. What will the next administration make of this view of our nation? Will it continue to be our manifest destiny to uphold the Pax Americana throughout the 21st century? Or, as I suspect, will each successive president promise disengagement, humility, and benign neglect, only to be drawn into the shrinking, accelerating world that likewise doomed his predecessors?

Saturday, September 9, 2006

It's All True

My cubicle is inconveniently located one uninsulated wall away from the girls' restroom. Initial data indicate that all the stereotypes are true.

To Buy or Not to Buy

Last year, I put off buying a computer because I knew I didn't need one for school, and not having one would help me save time at home. This year, I'm just not sure if I want to buy one at all!

I will have computerized work to do, but I have a dedicated iMac in my Writing Center office, and a whole bank of new (but not top-quality) machines in the Economics computer lab, which have all the software I'll need on them. If I do buy a computer, I'll either be unable to use it for work, or stoop to breaking copyright laws to get the software; there's no way I can afford all the software needed for the number-crunching we do. Of course, I could go whole hog and buy a discount-priced, probably-stolen-goods computer off Craigslist and then juice it up with stolen software.

It would be nice to have a computer to play music, DVD's, check my email at home, etc. But that's the very reason I shouldn't buy one: at home this morning, I worked for hours uninterrupted. Since coming to the office, I haven't even started the work I came here to do!

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Islam may have a girl crisis

Worse even than the "girl crisis" in the U.S. Supreme Court is the potential crisis within Islam as the news from Saudi Arabia is that the Kingdom may bar women from praying at the Kaaba, Islam's holiest place. AP reports in the NYTimes:
Overcrowding in the Grand Mosque, one of the few places where Muslim male and female worshippers can pray together, has become a chronic problem since the government began issuing open-ended visas several years ago for the minor pilgrimage called omra in Mecca. Mecca is the birthplace of the 7th century Prophet Muhammad.
I doubt this proposal will be carried out; even Saudi Arabia has some sensibilities as to the role of the state in religion. If it is, the Kingdom may lose even more legitimacy as the central voice of Islam.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Like a Virgin

With apologies to Madonna, my International Economics professor - a renouned old-school trade theorist - was very pleased to go around the room this evening and learn that only two or three in his large class had taken any Trade before. The rest of us, he said happily, are virgins. Or, more precisely, were. He began as the embattled expert always does, boxing at the shadows of the New Trade Theorists he has been warring with since the early 1980's. Little did he know... we barely knew what he was talking about! Without first having read Krugman (once a leading economist, now a second-rate blogger, basically) or Brander or Helpman, how were we to know that the good-old-fashioned theories of trade were under assault? It makes Old Snapping Turtle seem like he's fighting straw-man arguments. The same thing happened last semester under the last of the Warriors of the Real Business Cycle, who was so combative in lectures that I'd sometimes look over my shoulder half expecting to see the ghost of John Maynard Keynes wearing a Harvard sweatshirt.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Ready, Steady...

I'm getting ready to slingshot into orbit in the new semester. I'll be taking three courses (Macro, Labor, and International) and teaching one ("the class on class"). It so happens that all of these classes are jammed into a 50-hour marathon from 2:00 on Monday to 4:00 on Wednesday. The rest of the week will be a battle to read reams of papers - of the erudite variety and of the freshman variety.

So far this weekend I've moved back to my home in Rochester from Boston, finished the grocery shopping graciously begun by my mother, gone to church, cleaned the house (which probably hasn't been done since my mother did that in May, also graciously), and fixed my bike's rear wheel. The last was a real accomplishment: it's the first time I've replaced spokes or trued a wheel, which I did using the equipment across the street at Ant Hill. Still to do: talk to a professor, buy some clothes, and get ready to look and act like a professor.

Friday, September 1, 2006

Introducing: Steve

My former classmate Steve, affectionately known as Uncle Steve, has recovered from a midlife crisis which led him to open a MySpace blog. Now he's back on the wagon, and blogging at He's got some interesting narrative on his life in Southern California, where he is considering leaving academia to star in an inane sitcom or something. That's what Cali will do to you.