Thursday, December 27, 2007

Baseball on the Radio

Baseball is cracking down, according to this radio report.

Merry Electionmas

Did you see the inane kerfuffle over Mike Huckabee's "Merry Christmas" ad?

The best (and most oft-quoted) expression of people's distaste for the ad comes from conservative softy Peggy Noonan:
I wound up thinking this: That guy is using the cross so I'll like him. That doesn't tell me what he thinks of Jesus, but it does tell me what he thinks of me. He thinks I'm dim. He thinks I will associate my savior with his candidacy. Bleh.
John McCain, however, also ran an ad with a cross in it:

McCain's ad distills the powerful story from his time as a POW in North Vietnam. Huckabee's people probably left the cross-shaped bookcase in the ad because it looked artistic and gave the ad depth. McCain's people wrote an ad around a cross. The question is, can a particular non-universal symbol bring people together? The Huckabee kerfuffle says no; the McCain ad and its response say yes.

Used openly and unapologetically, McCain's lines in the sand have left pundits as quivery as the Christmas pudding.

It's not that the irony is lost on the nattering class - Glenn Greenwald and others point that out loudly. But the simple truth is that Huckabee's ad was ineffective - it was political - but McCain's ad is brilliantly brave.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Free-for-All 2008: Christmas Rush?

It's December 14th; do you know where your candidate is?

This is crunch time. Voters who haven't given levers and chads a thought since November, 2004, will tune in for the first time during the next four weeks. Can the candidates generate any more attention than they already have? The evidence I'm gathering indicates "no" - particularly for the leaders.

From the Chatter Rankings' inception in May 2005, total chatter hovered between 10 and 20,000 per month until November 2006. In December 2006, however, it spiked to 70,000. Apart from a lull over the summer, chatter has remained of that order of magnitude, often lower. Here are the numbers for Hillary and Rudy over the last year:


Basically, the news reached saturation point a year ago, and candidates haven't gotten more (online, print) exposure than they did before. Perhaps there is more TV-time than a year ago - but wouldn't you have assumed the same about print media as well?

This is bad news for the Clintons and Giulianis of the race: they had high early name recognition and exposure, but they haven't been able to extend that lead at all. Instead, other candidates are getting a share of the news pie. Look at Mike Huckabee's numbers over the same period. He had a few big months, but mostly was garnering a fraction of the attention of the big candidates. Now, all of a sudden, "Huckaboom" is on everyone's tongue.


Perhaps the "Long Campaign" has its limits. And perhaps we, the news-reading electorate, have a limit as to how much political flak we'll read.

This month's data:

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Rudy Giuliani 5,8300
R.2 Gov. Mitt Romney 5,051+1
R.3 Sen. John McCain 4,052-1
R.4 Gov. Mike Huckabee 3,685+2
R.5 Fred Thompson 3,213-1
R.6 Rep. Ron Paul 2,182-1
R.7 Rep. Duncan Hunter 321+2
R.8 Rep. Tom Tancredo 2760
R.9 Sen. Sam Brownback 153-2
R.10 Newt Gingrich 1380
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 9,7800
D.2 Sen. John Edwards 6,679+1
D.3 Sen. Barack Obama 6,404-1
D.4 Sen. Christopher Dodd 1,6130
D.5 Gov. Bill Richardson 1,392+1
D.6 Sen. Joseph Biden 850-1
D.7 Al Gore 8130
D.8 Rep. Dennis Kucinich 6330
D.9 Mike Gravel 3030

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. Tested but not qualifying is Alan Keyes (84).

See recent graphs of the Chatter Rankings plus Chatter Rankings from November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January, December 2006, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December 2005, August, July, June, and May.

The monthly prediction...

Dec '07: Clinton & Richardson over Giuliani & Thompson
Nov '07: Clinton & Richardson over Giuliani & Thompson
Oct '07: Clinton & Richardson over Giuliani & Thompson
Sep '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Richardson
Aug '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jul '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jun '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
May '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
Apr '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Giuliani
Mar '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Feb '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Jan '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Dec '06: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Nov '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Oct '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
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

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quality Opponents

Winning in the NFL is hard, unless you're visiting South Florida. But not all playoff-bound teams can necessarily compete once they arrive. Looking at the above-.500 teams in the NFL, here's where they rank against one another.

Strongest schedule? Only the Patriots and Jaguars will play (likely) above-.500 opponents 8 times. This is really remarkable with the Pats, since this type of metric always underestimates the quality of the opponents of good teams and overestimates the quality of opponents of bad teams. Given that the Pats have faced 3 of the top 4 other teams, it's hard to argue that any team had a tougher season than the Pats.

Weakest schedule? Only the Seahawks will slide through their season facing good teams just 3 times (Miami, by comparison will play 7 above-.500 teams).

Flimsiest record? The Giants have 9 wins against weak opponents and 4 losses against strong opponents. The Bills also haven't beaten a good team - and will need to beat at least one of the two more they face to get into the playoffs.

Friday, December 7, 2007

We Would Grow Too Fond of It

Footage of the war in Afghanistan.

Watch at least the last minute of the video (start at 4:45).

Some say that the terror of war has been lost on Americans; combat becoming like no more than a violent video game - Doom or something. But Doom has blood. This is more like Duck Hunter.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Turning the Corner

Has the U.S. turned the corner on CO2 emissions?

Jack at Watchblog highlights new government statistics that show a decrease of 1.9% in CO2 emissions in 2006 from 2005. A Department of Energy report from May, 2007 finds roughly the same conclusion with preliminary data, and offers details.

CO2 use dropped across the board - most steeply in residential use (it was a mild winter), but also in industrial, commercial, and even (by 0.1%) in transportation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Iran and Uncertainty

The biggest news this week is the new National Intelligence Estimate that says CIA has "high confidence" Iran stopped trying to weaponize nukes in 2003.

Obviously, if true it's a good thing. But what if it's false? Or they re-started the program recently? Is it better for the civilized world to assume the worst or the best?

Privately, of course, each government needs to be prepared for the worst. But as we have seen, there is precious little we can actually do about the nuclear development, so the benefits to assuming the worst are slim.

Assuming the worst, however, does come with significant costs: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and possibly others in the region have decided they need to develop nukes to maintain the regional balance of power. If the common knowledge is that Iran is not working towards nukes, that will let the Arabs slow down, breathe easier - and keep the world safer for longer. And that's worth something.

Perceived Returns to Education

Economist Michael Kremer lectured at my department yesterday, reviewing the literature on evaluation of health and education aid in the developing world. It's an exciting literature, and one I may try to get in on. Among the points he made, not originally his own, one caught my notice.

Is it possible, wondered an economist, that people systematically underestimate the value of education? And how could that happen?

Well, we know people tend to live in neighborhoods and municipalities sorted by wealth. Thus, a poor child (in a poor neighborhood) is likely to know poor people. Some of them will have college degrees - but are more likely to be low-end outliers in income, and perhaps other measures. That is, the child's estimation of the return to college is biased by his implicit sampling method (those whom he lives near).

Does the same hold in a wealthy neighborhood? Yes! A child growing up in a wealthy neighborhood will know some non-college-educated people, but they are the ones who made good. Thus, he perceives less difference between college- and non-college-educated workers than he would if he sampled correctly.

If this story is true, than there is a positive externality to mixed-income neighborhoods and take-your-kid-to-work days. We already recognize that it's good to take poor children to educated workplaces - but maybe it's also valuable to take middle-class children to unskilled workplaces.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Four More of the Same?

Ask Democrats if they would like four more years of George W. Bush, and you risk bodily injury. But according to polls, the candidate most similar to Bush in leadership style and attitude could win the Democratic primary.

Policy content aside, the style, transparency, and decision-making process of an administration are vital. Poor process and an adversarial relationship with observers led the Bush administration into misguided and dishonest decisions with depressing regularity. Yet Americans seem to believe that no Democrat could ever make the same misjudgments. Enter Hillary Clinton.

The paranoid attitude of the Hillary campaign is well documented. The latest indictment is from Howard Kurtz in WaPo:
Such is life spent trailing the Clinton juggernaut, where reporters can generally get close enough to watch but no further, as if separated from the candidate by an invisible sheet of glass.
Michael Crowley writes in the New Republic:
It's enough to make you suspect that breeding fear and paranoia within the press corps is itself part of the Clinton campaign's strategy. And, if that sounds familiar, it may be because the Clinton machine, say reporters and pro-Hillary Democrats, is emulating nothing less than the model of the Bush White House, which has treated the press with thinly veiled contempt and minimal cooperation. "The Bush administration changed the rules," as one scribe puts it--and the Clintonites like the way they look.
The most repeated anecdote this season relates to Hillary killing a negative piece in GQ - which she accomplished by threatening to cut GQ's access to "cover boy" Bill Clinton. Ben Smith draws the same parallel:
The campaign’s transaction with GQ opens a curtain on the Clinton campaign’s hard-nosed media strategy, which is far closer in its unromantic view of the press to the campaigns of George W. Bush than to that of Bill Clinton’s free-wheeling 1992 campaign.
Stephen Braun, in a generally positive article, recalls Hillary's disastrous attempt at governing in 1993.
[H]er gates-drawn stance raised concerns that shadow her presidential bid today -- that she reacts with a siege mentality under pressure, retreating behind a restrictive wall of presidential and attorney privilege.
Former Governor and nominee Michael Dukakis used Hillary's failed health care push as a classroom example of poor political process. The secrecy, the unwillingness to get input, and the inflexibility all emanated from Her Eminence.

Hillary's campaign and her former positions of public trust indicate that she would run a cagy, uncompromising administration, willing to alienate constituencies and allies in order to achieve a policy goal. While she would make a great Inspector General, a presidency with Hillary at the helm could quickly become the worst of the 21st century. After all, for all the secrecy and mendacity of the Bush Administration, it has one great redeeming virtue: incompetence. You won't find much of that in a Hillary White House.

Bush is leaving office in 13 months, and Democrats can actively debate whether or not their nominee should run "against" Bush. But is there any question as to whether a Democratic nominee should run as Bush?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Winning Strategy

Dear Chops,

I have kissed babies and hugged grandfathers. I have lied glowingly about my love for ethanol. I have conducted push polls, opposed free-trade agreements with key allies, and pandered to the far *****. I have spent $50 per caucus-goer in Iowa. Yet I'm still mired in *th place in the polls. What do I need to do to really pull away from the pack?
Dear *****,

You could be honest with the voters, but look where that's gotten John McCain, Joe Biden, and Ron Paul. You could spend $100 per Iowa caucus-goer, but your rivals probably will too. Or you could pull an end-run around the entire primary process and create a new paradigm for American elections.

Like most candidates, you are tied to your home state and your experience as a *****. That benefits you in some regions and hurts you in others. Imagine if you could transcend that - and appear more serious about governing at the same time.

Specifically, you need to pick a vice president. A good Veep-select will add regional and ideological balance to your run, and give you double coverage in the Mad Rush of December 26th - February 5th. Having chosen a VP will show that you are electable and ready to govern. And the controversy from having done so earlier than anyone in American history will give you two or three days of blanket media coverage - most of it positive.

A well-balanced ticket is now far more valuable in primaries than in the general election. Vice Presidents have lost much of their cachet as "ticket balancers" in recent general elections, as polarity and national party machines overwhelm regional loyalty. It's possible that a selection from Ohio or Florida could swing a close election your way - but close elections are the exception, not the rule. Besides, the way you're going, you won't get the chance to run in the general election. But in the primaries, name-recognition is low and voters get to vote their hearts. Your VP selection will allow voters to swallow objections to your support for *****. It will also help them take your "change of heart" on ***** seriously. And if they're worried about your lack of ***** experience, a good VP has you covered.

Choosing a VP at this stage also signals electability and leadership. It's like an endorsement, but with real commitment. There's an old saw that in a ham-and-egg breakfast, the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed. An endorser is involved, but a VP is committed. Voters who respect the VP will take his or her commitment as a strong signal that you are electable. Picking a VP - provided the choice is not silly - also shows that you are thinking about January 2009 as well as January 2008. While your opponents are trying to distill their policy proposals into soundbites, you can decisively make one of the most important and digestible judgments of your presidency and submit it to the voters

Subverting an aspect of the nominating process will earn you plenty of criticism - and that is a reason in favor of doing so. Trenchant traditionalists will bemoan your decision or deride it as expediency. But you hold the trump card: you are giving more say to the voters, not less. The old system resembles the VP selection from 1792 - 1800, when voters picked the president but could end up with an unwanted VP. The new system - which everyone will adopt in 2012 after you win this nomination - promotes positive aspects of democracy, like compromise and balance, instead of the polarity of the old solo-primary system. Besides, the longer the controversy lasts, the longer you'll dominate the news. Voters who won't be listening until the calendar says "2008" will hear your name (and your Veep's) early and often, and they'll hear it from pundits, editorialists, and politically active friends.

Whether you take my advice or not, someone will, maybe not until 2012 or 2016, but eventually. That candidate may not win the general election, but if he picks a good VP at the right time, he'll win the nomination. And that's more than you're going to do without a revolutionary strategy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Free-for-All 2008: Primary Games

With more and more states holding early primaries, pundits are baffled as to how the primaries will play out.

Does the overload on February 5th give early states more power or less? Will any candidate have the time needed to dispatch some of his or her opponents before the 5th? And if not, will the frontloading paradoxically lead to a protracted battle between two candidates in one (or both) of the parties.

While I can no better predict the individual outcomes, I am aiming to apply some basic methods of estimation, which would help us understand what really motivates primary voters. Do their own preferences formed over the Long Campaign matter most? Or are they swayed by a candidate's recent successes and their own desire to pick a winner?

Thus, I posit a model of primary vote share determination where candidate i's vote share in state s (vi,s) is a linear function of pre-primary polling data (pi,s), results of previous states' (1,2...s-1) primaries weighted by size and date (f(vi,1,...,vi,s-1)), and delegates already locked up by the candidatate (deli).
vi,s = alpha1*pi,s + alpha2*f(vi,1,...,vi,s-1) + alpha3*deli
With the data from previous elections available, a model such as this one could be estimated to yield the coefficients (alpha1, alpha2, and alpha3); then, with polling data and election dates from this cycle, the entire primary season could be simulated. (If any readers have access to that type of data, I would be very grateful for help on this project).

The latest media chatter is almost constant from October. The big gainers are Hillary and Huckabee. The Republican side continues to be a dogfight between the Big Three, with Fred Thompson slipping and out of contention in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Rudy Giuliani 5,4600
R.2 Sen. John McCain 3,469+1
R.3 Gov. Mitt Romney 3,402-1
R.4 Fred Thompson 2,9190
R.5 Rep. Ron Paul 1,6110
R.6 Gov. Mike Huckabee 1,283+1
R.7 Sen. Sam Brownback 285+2
R.8 Rep. Tom Tancredo 276+4
R.9 Rep. Duncan Hunter 212+2
R.10 Newt Gingrich 98-2
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 9,4390
D.2 Sen. Barack Obama 5,7800
D.3 Sen. John Edwards 5,5150
D.4 Sen. Christopher Dodd 1,145+5
D.5 Sen. Joseph Biden 940+2
D.6 Gov. Bill Richardson 9370
D.7 Al Gore 763-3
D.8 Rep. Dennis Kucinich 548+2
D.9 Mike Gravel 231+2

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. Tested but not qualifying is Alan Keyes (28). Purged this month are almost all non-contenders; the only ones who remain are distinct vice-presidential possibilities. The purged are Condi Rice (who said she will not be VP), Chuck Hagel, Howard Dean, and John Kerry. Al Gore remains.

See recent graphs of the Chatter Rankings plus Chatter Rankings from October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January, December 2006, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December 2005, August, July, June, and May.

The monthly prediction...

Nov '07: Clinton & Richardson over Giuliani & Thompson
Oct '07: Clinton & Richardson over Giuliani & Thompson
Sep '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Richardson
Aug '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jul '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jun '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
May '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
Apr '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Giuliani
Mar '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Feb '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Jan '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Dec '06: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Nov '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Oct '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
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

Fisking the Krug

The pundit wars continue. In today's Post, Ruth Marcus eviscerates the Times' Paul Krugman for his moralistic flip-floppery.

She's right. To change one's mind about an issue may or may not be intellectually honest; but to insult those who are not in lockstep with one's own vicissitudes is childish at best.

In Krugman's case, the puffery is transparent. Marcus quotes:
Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security -- declaring that the program as we know it can't survive the onslaught of retiring baby boomers -- is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are... In fact, the whole Beltway obsession with the fiscal burden of an aging population is misguided.


Where is the crisis? Just over the horizon, that's where. . . . Responsible adults are supposed to plan more than seven years ahead. Yet if you think even briefly about what the Federal budget will look like in 20 years, you immediately realize that we are drifting inexorably toward crisis; if you think 30 years ahead, you wonder whether the Republic can be saved.
The first quote? Krugman, 2007. The second quote? Krugman, 1996.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Free Rice Challenge

See if you can donate more rice than I did by playing FreeRice - a word definition guessing game that donates 10 grains of rice to UN food agencies. I was stumped on "kine" - after getting the previous 20 entries right.

Good luck!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Urgently Needed Flip-Flop

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Though no one would dare suggest that President George W. Bush has a little mind, current events in Pakistan force the U.S. to adopt an inconsistent position. We must either desert our ally - General Pervez Musharraf - or discard our consistent (if distant) support of democratic movements (such as those in Burma, Ukraine, Georgia, and Lebanon).

Global Review, and almost every other Western observer, believes that continuing to support Musharraf is the more foolish consistency here.

Fate has handed Pakistan - and all those who want Pakistan to be peaceful and productive - a golden opportunity to turn crisis into triumph. Consider the history:
  • Musharraf's "temporary" regime is weaker and weaker in the face of opposition.
  • He invites former P.M. Benazir Bhutto to return from exile and share power.
  • Bhutto returns, and a bomb kills 145 of her entourage - but misses Bhutto.
  • Musharraf dissolves the Supreme Court and suspends the constitution, using the attack on Ms. Bhutto as rationale for martial law.
  • Bhutto leads protests against Musharraf
But wait - isn't this supposed to be a confrontation between a pro-American kleptocrat and Taliban Islamists? Then how is the leader of the opposition a Harvard-educated woman?!

For the past six years, Musharraf has wielded the Taliban as a Ring of Power. With the consistent enmity of Islamists, he has held the West in his sway. We have been incapable of pushing him away from us, so well has he exploited our common enemies.

Now he has outsmarted himself: he wanted to make Ms. Bhutto a martyr in the cause of anti-Islamism. Instead, she survived and has called Musharraf's bluff. Her survival lends the West an imperfect (she has a history of deep corruption) but serviceable ally, someone who can free us from our dependence on Musharraf and potentially fend off the Taliban. The material question for Western policymakers should not be whether, but how, to support Bhutto's populist protests.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

According to the Daily Mail, the Ministry of Defense's own "Q" - Professor Sir John Pendry - has come up with a Bondsian gadget that will revolutionize warfare: an invisible tank.
The new technology uses cameras and projectors to beam images of the surrounding landscape onto a tank... [Pendry] said the only drawback was the reliability of the cameras and projectors. But he added: "The next stage is to make the tank invisible without them - which is intricate and complicated, but possible."
Global Review has shocking new photos of the invisible tanks, deployed in Tehran:

And in Moscow:

And here is a British tank in action in Beirut:

Keep your eyes open for invisible tanks in your neighborhood!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How Good Of a Sports Year Is It in Boston?

Check out five of the last eight Sports Illustrated covers:

For those of you keeping score at home, that's two full Papelbons and one-cover-plus-two-sub-heading Bradys, two Red Sox sub-headings, with a Randy Moss and a Three Headed Green Monster for good measure.

Craig's List

I don't know if the author of this Craig's List ad intended her posting to come out as verse, but it did.
One of those machines that
will make a grilled cheese
or other sandwich.
It works however somehow 1 leg
is missing.
I have not used this in years
but did plug it in to make sure
it worked.
If your creative I am sure you
can come up with an idea for a leg.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I discovered recently that I was misquoted in an article in the UR Campus Times. Gripping reading, though.

Monday, October 22, 2007

How To Talk About Wine Pretentiously

I drew stares in the 'office' today chortling at this Joel Achenbach gem. Will make you have second thoughts about becoming a home vintner.

An excerpt:
Valle Puttooti White Zinfandel This is to fine wine as Dan Brown is to Shakespeare. Ideal for the damaged palate. Serious oenophiles will want to let this breathe in the glass for at least an hour, then pitch it into the flowerpot when no one is looking.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I love Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) new approach to fighting earmark allocations, outlined in this Robert Novak column.

The Deathtrap of a Scientific Meritocracy

Today, Drudge highlights the comments of a Nobel Prize-winning geneticist, Dr. James Watson, who said:
[I am] "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really".
This comment is clearly politically incorrect and probably scientifically incorrect. As Joseph Conrad points out in Heart of Darkness, the difference between European and African civilization is a matter of years, perhaps centuries - but not of evolutionary time.

But it remains highly probable (for reasons related to the Law of Large Numbers) that at least one scientific study, correctly executed, will show that one race is genetically superior to another on a dimension such as intelligence. We already know that races differ in physical dimensions, such as height and hairiness. What effectively prevents the scientific community from finding genetic differences in intelligence, criminality, alcohol-proneness, etc., is that it really, really doesn't want to.

Something must give. Either we engage in science dishonestly, construing results to fit our prejudices (however noble), or we submit our values to scientific evaluation. This Morton's fork could literally lead to the dismantling of one or another of the pillars of our Enlightenment civilization.

However, it need not. By subjecting our values to a standard higher than scientific objectivity, we can maintain civilization as we know it.

Only recently have standards higher than science been eroded in human civilization. To a great extent we still practice them: we protect the sick and disabled rather than abandoning them; we do not discriminate (openly) between the children of smart people and the children of dumb people; we do not practice euthanasia. Any of these could be discarded in the name of science: spending valuable resources giving a classical education to children regardless of their genetic potential is a huge waste, statistically, to offer one example.

Why do we - and why should we continue to - protect and honor all of humanity? Because some values are informed by a conscience greater than science.

We as a civilization need not agree the source or content of all these values, provided we agree they exist and come to some compromise on a subset of them. When we are secure in our underlying conscience, we can look research in the eyes - even if it tells us something very unpleasant.

Suppose, counterfactually, that Dr. Watson (insert, "elementary, my dear" joke here) is correct. We can openly discuss and acknowledge the findings. Then, after testing and re-testing the hypothesis many times, we may be forced to alter our social policies in order to attain the goals dictated by our conscience. But we need never alter our conscientious values: that people are responsible for their own self-government, that they are equal in dignity and rights, and that their thoughts should be free and freely expressed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Free-for-All 2008

Since this experiment has been running for over two years and has attracted new readers, let me recapitulate the science behind the idea.

Principally, my goal in doing this is to create raw data on an important aspect of the American democracy. This election offers a very unique opportunity: with no sitting president or vice president, none of the candidates has a prohibitively large news-making advantage.

The secondary goal is to investigate whether news coverage influences the result of the primary elections. The rankings have no pretense of offering a prediction of the result. However, regression analysis after the results of the first primaries might show that news coverage yielded greater results - controlling for the state's political makeup, early poll averages, and advertising dollars spent. If I can successfully separate the effect of news coverage (which is usually favorable) from the many other factors that drive primary popularity, I will have a valid contribution to our understanding of presidential campaigns.

This month, both campaigns have begun to heat up after a quiet summer. On the Democratic side, Hillary's numbers have climbed toward the crucial 50% mark, while Obama has slid away. Barring a major comeback, she has her nomination locked up.

The Republican race remains far more interesting. The most influential spot might be SNL's Fred Thompson, which has contributed to Thompson's underwhelming entry. Meanwhile, Giuliani and Romney have been exchanging salvos and McCain has the look of a man desperately trying to start a lawnmower.

I switch back to a Hillary victory in the (totally unscientific) monthly prediction. Why, when Giuliani is clearly the more centrist of the two? Because Ron Paul raised $5.2 million in the third quarter and has a growing cadre of supporters. He'd be able to run the best Third Party campaign in years against the two New York hawks, and is a credible libertarian with a respectable record in Congress. Nothing would scuttle a Giuliani run faster than a Third Party bid by a serious (and well-funded) conservative.

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Rudy Giuliani 5,414+2
R.2 Gov. Mitt Romney 3,6290
R.3 Sen. John McCain 3,577-2
R.4 Fred Thompson 3,1220
R.5 Rep. Ron Paul 1,469+1
R.6 Gov. Mike Huckabee 582+1
R.7 Sen. Chuck Hagel 476-2
R.8 Newt Gingrich 293+1
R.9 Sen. Sam Brownback 285+1
R.10 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 272-2
R.11 Rep. Duncan Hunter 2160
R.12 Rep. Tom Tancredo 1820
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 7,9310
D.2 Sen. Barack Obama 4,9070
D.3 Sen. John Edwards 4,3960
D.4 Al Gore 3,054+4
D.5 Sen. John Kerry 1,386+1
D.6 Gov. Bill Richardson 1,263+1
D.7 Sen. Joseph Biden 1,018-3
D.8 Howard Dean 574+2
D.9 Sen. Christopher Dodd 560-4
D.10 Rep. Dennis Kucinich 325+1
D.11 Mike Gravel 151+1

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. Purged this month is withdrawee Russ Feingold (86). Tested but not qualifying is Alan Keyes (67). Non-contenders are kept on the rolls as Vice-Presidential possibilities (e.g. Rice) and benchmarks (e.g. Dean).

See recent graphs of the Chatter Rankings plus Chatter Rankings from September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January, December 2006, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December 2005, August, July, June, and May.

The monthly prediction...

Oct '07: Clinton & Richardson over Giuliani & Thompson
Sep '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Richardson
Aug '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jul '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jun '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
May '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
Apr '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Giuliani
Mar '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Feb '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Jan '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Dec '06: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Nov '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Oct '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
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

Monday, October 15, 2007

This Is Why I Love My Job

After 11 hours (mostly) in front of my computer working (mostly... sort of... sometimes), I finally figured out what was wrong with my MATLAB code. And restored it to how it was two weeks ago before I started working on it. Then I promptly re-diagnosed the first problem that I had originally diagnosed two weeks ago. And I started to "fix" it. The same way as before.

Do Not Eat

If you are having a reasonably good day, do not read this, from the Supersized Meals blog ("Foodstuffs of Epic Proportions"). If, however, your day is already pretty much shot, go ahead. Read it; how much worse can your day really get? And maybe this guy's misery will make you feel a little better.

On a related note, if you ever get the urge to eat Fat-Free Pringles, don't.

Indirect hat tip to Pau.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stupid Chileans

My classmate from Chile was reading over my shoulder, so I went to Google and typed in
stupid chileans
Google responded:
Did you mean: stupid chinese
Friggin' prejudiced search engine.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Free Thinker

John Yoo for OpinionJournal offers a broad defense of Justice Clarence Thomas. He reaffirms the view of court-watching lawyers that Thomas is an independent thinker and one of the sharpest and most internally consistent minds on the bench.

The vitriolic criticism of Thomas is based in ideological difference, and often expressed through the nasty cultural frame of the "uppity black". With the publication of his memoir, an outpouring of ad hominem grime has been meted out in the press, perhaps best exemplified by Maureen Dowd's NYTimes column. She (like others) argues that someone who has used the ladder of Affirmative Action has no right to deny it to others. This line of reasoning is invidious. The implication is that he - as a successful black American - is beholden to the liberal establishment, and has no right to his own opinions.

If the education provided by Affirmative Action led a poor, black Georgian with a sharp mind to come to his own conclusions about the world, isn't that his right? Doesn't that mean Affirmative Action was successful? If, as liberals claim, one's views are largely formed by one's environment, then Thomas' views should be revered: after all, he's lived on both extremes.

Nor is he, as Dowd strongly implies, a favored household slave of the Bush family. Aside from the utter inappropriateness of the language Dowd uses, Thomas' Supreme Court position is guaranteed for life by the same Constitution he rigidly upholds. Had there been a quid-pro-quo for the Court's decision in Bush v. Gore (as Dowd also claims), wouldn't Thomas (or Scalia) have been elevated to Chief Justice?

Dowd believes that any black American should be allowed to participate actively in all areas of American politics - but only if their views agree.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Yogi All Over Again?

"You can't say that. You can say what you didn't say because if you say what you didn't say, then y'all print what is said. That's how you got me on the Bird stuff. Whenever you say something, it just twists it."

--New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, quoted by the Associated Press, Oct. 6

Via James Taranto's BOTWT.

Not Enough, But Something

In the glacial evolution of negotiating positions between Israel and Palestine, this news (thanks to Drudge) qualifies as a seismic shift.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Manny Being the Man

The Soxaholix discuss the LAAAAA Angels decision to walk David Ortiz ahead of Manny Ramirez in the 9th on Friday:
- Walk Papi to get to Manny 9th inning of a tie game. Brilliant!
- I've never understood that when opposing managers do it. It's like saying, you know, I've got a bad feeling about this Titanic, think I'll try the Hindenburg instead. Gotta be safer.
Next up: Schilling, Weaver, Clemens, and Westbrook each pitch today to determine playoff outcomes or delay them. Go Sox!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Stupid is...

Two emails today deserve to be blogged.

From Stas, check out photographs of rural Russia.

From Sniper, check out this Craig's List exchange in the New York City personal ads:
What am I doing wrong?

Okay, I'm tired of beating around the bush. I'm a beautiful (spectacularly beautiful) 25 year old girl. I'm articulate and classy. I'm not from New York. I'm looking to get married to a guy who makes at least half a million a year. I know how that sounds, but keep in mind that a million a year is middle class in New York City, so I don't think I'm overreaching at all.

Are there any guys who make 500K or more on this board? Any wives? Could you send me some tips? I dated a business man who makes average around 200 - 250. But that's where I seem to hit a roadblock. 250,000 won't get me to central park west. I know a woman in my yoga class who was married to an investment banker and lives in Tribeca, and she's not as pretty as I am, nor is she a great genius. So what is she doing right? How do I get to her level?

Here are my questions specifically:
- Where do you single rich men hang out? Give me specifics- bars, restaurants, gyms
- What are you looking for in a mate? Be honest guys, you won't hurt my feelings
- Is there an age range I should be targeting (I'm 25)?
- Why are some of the women living lavish lifestyles on the upper east side so plain? I've seen really 'plain jane' boring types who have nothing to offer married to incredibly wealthy guys. I've seen drop dead gorgeous girls in singles bars in the east village. What's the story there?
- Jobs I should look out for? Everyone knows - lawyer, investment banker, doctor. How much do those guys really make? And where do they hang out? Where do the hedge fund guys hang out?
- How you decide marriage vs. just a girlfriend? I am looking for MARRIAGE ONLY.

Please hold your insults - I'm putting myself out there in an honest way. Most beautiful women are superficial; at least I'm being up front about it. I wouldn't be searching for these kind of guys if I wasn't able to match them - in looks, culture, sophistication, and keeping a nice home and hearth.
There are a number of responses that come to mind. Here's one that someone dared post:
Dear Pers-431649184:

I read your posting with great interest and have thought meaningfully about your dilemma. I offer the following analysis of your predicament.

Firstly [sic], I'm not wasting your time, I qualify as a guy who fits your bill; that is I make more than $500K per year. That said here's how I see it.

Your offer, from the prospective of a guy like me, is plain and simple a crappy business deal. Here's why. Cutting through all the B.S., what you suggest is a simple trade: you bring your looks to the party and I bring my money. Fine, simple. But here's the rub, your looks will fade and my money will likely continue into fact, it is very likely that my income increases but it is an absolute certainty that you won't be getting any more beautiful!

So, in economic terms you are a depreciating asset and I am an earning asset. Not only are you a depreciating asset, your depreciation accelerates! Let me explain, you're 25 now and will likely stay pretty hot for the next 5 years, but less so each year. Then the fade begins in earnest. By 35 stick a fork in you!

So in Wall Street terms, we would call you a trading position, not a buy and hold...hence the rub...marriage. It doesn't make good business sense to "buy you" (which is what you're asking) so I'd rather lease. In case you think I'm being cruel, I would say the following. If my money were to go away, so would you, so when your beauty fades I need an out. It's as simple as that. So a deal that makes sense is dating, not marriage.

Separately, I was taught early in my career about efficient markets. So, I wonder why a girl as "articulate, classy and spectacularly beautiful" as you has been unable to find your sugar daddy. I find it hard to believe that if you are as gorgeous as you say you are that the $500K hasn't found you, if not only for a tryout.

By the way, you could always find a way to make your own money and then we wouldn't need to have this difficult conversation.

With all that said, I must say you're going about it the right way. Classic "pump and dump."

I hope this is helpful, and if you want to enter into some sort of lease, let me know.
I live on the lower West Side... of Rochester. Does that count for anything?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

C'est Plus Cher Pour Les Americains

Checkez-vous out this NYTimes article before you buy your next airfare to - and especially within - Europe.

Shocking! Multilateral Diplomacy Works

Despite North Korea's demands to negotiate bilaterally with the U.S., the Bush administration stuck to its guns (figurative in this case) and remained committed to negotiations that include China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. Those talks paid off today in a oil-for-disarmament deal to be consummated by year's end.

Of course, enforcement remains a problem, as it was with the failed Clinton-era deal, but unlike that agreement, this one involves all of North Korea's neighbors. By token of their inclusion they are more likely to help the U.S. and UN monitor disarmament than otherwise.

Monday, October 1, 2007

OUTRAGE! Massacres In Burma

The world is outraged. Maybe Americans don't know what Myanmar is, but people everywhere must be sickened by the news coming from Southeast Asia (via Drudge:
Thousands of protesters are dead and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle, a former intelligence officer for Burma's ruling junta has revealed...

The 42-year-old chief of military intelligence in Rangoon's northern region, added: "I decided to desert when I was ordered to raid two monasteries and force several hundred monks onto trucks. "They were to be killed and their bodies dumped deep inside the jungle. I refused to participate in this."
This is a test of the mandate of the United Nations. If there were ever a crisis that the UN was built to deal with, this is it. Get to it!

Friday, September 28, 2007


Drudge's splash headline informs us that Hillary Clinton wants to create a new government welfare program: $5,000 for every new baby. The story goes:
"I like the idea of giving every baby born in America a $5,000 account that will grow over time, so that when that young person turns 18 if they have finished high school they will be able to access it to go to college or maybe they will be able to make that downpayment on their first home," she said. The New York senator did not offer any estimate of the total cost of such a program or how she would pay for it. Approximately 4 million babies are born each year in the United States.

Clinton said such an account program would help people get back to the tradition of savings that she remembers as a child, and has become harder to accomplish in the face of rising college and housing costs.
Hillary does not understand economics. This should be fairly obvious: if you save money for people, it decreases their propensity to save more. This program is unlikely to make people more self-reliant (saving because they need to). Instead, it will make us more government-reliant, spending every penny we have now (and running up credit card debt) because we know the government will be there to take care of us if things go wrong. This is called social insurance, and it's not a bad thing, if your goal is to increase lifetime utility through higher consumption.

There are better ways to induce more savings. A tax break or a subsidy on savings would increase savings. In the long run, dismantling the social insurance structure would also make people save - but at the cost of decreasing lifetime utility and leaving some people destitute.

Or maybe the government should stop trying to tell people how to live their lives.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Bush Legacy

President Bush may have a largely disastrous legacy when he leaves office a few years from now. But there are some bright spots, most notably his swift application of pressure in support of pro-democracy movements in autocratic countries. The latest is the new sanctions on Burma announced today on the heels of the biggest protests Burma's military junta has seen since 1988. Burma is a country ripe for democracy: it has a credible opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a strong and nonviolent civil-religious movement, and peaceful neighbors with functioning democracies (Thailand, Bangladesh, and India).

Growing democracies in Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon, Afghanistan and weakening autocracies in Libya, Sudan, Palestine, North Korea and now Burma could be the most warming part of an otherwise tepid legacy for the 43rd president.

A Spotlight In the Right Place

Dana Milbank for WaPo nails it:
Without listening to Ahmadinejad, how can the world appreciate how truly nutty he is?
Absolutely. As President Bush said yesterday, "an institution in our country gives him the chance to express his point of view, which really speaks to the freedoms of the country". Ahmadinejad's speeches tell us two things. First, he is not beholden to the truth (Milbank really gets into this). Second, he is not accustomed to the embarrassment of a free press. His means of dealing with hard questions is to flatly deny the accusations - even when we have video of him saying the opposite in a Farsi news conference!

So accustomed to being worshiped and so unaccustomed to being questioned, he really stands to lose whatever scant credibility as a critic of America he formerly had.

Ahmadinejad has also stolen a page or two from Borat's script:
Borat: "You telling me the man who try to put a rubber fist in my anus was a homosexual?" (src)
Mahmoud: "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country"

Borat: "Democracy is different in America. For example: women can vote but horse can not!"
Mahmoud: "The freest women in the world are women in Iran."

Borat: "Although Kazakhstan a glorious country, it have a problem, too: economic, social, and Jew."
Mahmoud: "It is quite clear that a bunch of Zionist racists are the problem the modern world is facing today". (src)

Borat: [narrating] "He insist we not fly in case the Jews repeated their attack of 9/11."
Mahmoud: "If the root causes of 9/11 are examined properly - why it happened, what caused it, what were the conditions that led to it, who truly was involved, who was really involved..." (src).

Borat's chorus: "Kazakhstan friend of all except Uzbekistan"
Mahmoud: "For hundreds of years, we've lived in friendship and brotherhood with the people of Iraq."
I could go on.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Failed Experiment Ends

The NYTimes website has discovered that its readers are unwilling to pay to read its opinions. After two years, TimesSelect has been discontinued.

Global Review readers can celebrate by reading the incisive commentary of New York's finest: Paul Krugman, the Times economics writer, says Republicanism is racism. Jerome Karabel reveals the shocking news that rich kids go to elite colleges. Maureen Dowd uses the words uxorious and casuistry, but the Times fortunately lets you double-click on any word for its definition. How accommodating these titans of the mind are of us mere mortals! Of course, for opinion balance they do have a conservative writer, John Tierney. But wait, he's been shunted off to the Science Times. Balance... never mind.

Hat tip on the Times editorial glasnost to BrownPau.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Free-for-All 2008: The High-Water Mark of the Hagel Presidency

With the political campaign as boring as it has ever been and lots of other things to do in life, here are the (late) Chatter Rankings. Note that Hagel's bounce is because he announced he's stepping out of the race and retiring from the Senate. Hey, all publicity is good publicity, right? This is the high-water mark of the Hagel presidency.

The monthly prediction...

Sep '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Aug '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jul '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jun '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
May '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
Apr '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Giuliani
Mar '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Feb '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Jan '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Dec '06: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Nov '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Oct '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
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 3,9150
R.2 Gov. Mitt Romney 3,267+1
R.3 Rudy Giuliani 3,199-1
R.4 Fred Thompson 2,6280
R.5 Sen. Chuck Hagel 1,141+8
R.6 Rep. Ron Paul 747-1
R.7 Gov. Mike Huckabee 6100
R.8 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 310-2
R.9 Newt Gingrich 293+3
R.10 Sen. Sam Brownback 237-2
R.11 Rep. Duncan Hunter 2020
R.12 Rep. Tom Tancredo 142-2
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 6,8430
D.2 Sen. Barack Obama 5,0200
D.3 Sen. John Edwards 3,7870
D.4 Sen. Joseph Biden 1,892+1
D.5 Sen. Christopher Dodd 1,738+1
D.6 Sen. John Kerry 1,689+1
D.7 Gov. Bill Richardson 949-3
D.8 Al Gore 4990
D.9 Sen. Russ Feingold 336+4
D.10 Howard Dean 2990
D.11 Rep. Dennis Kucinich 266-2
D.12 Mike Gravel 130-1

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. This month tested but not qualifying are John Cox (interference 204) and Jeb Bush (56). Purged this month are withdrawees Jim Gilmore (180) and Mark Warner (624; both will seek Virginia's senate seat), Wesley Clark (60) and Tommy Thompson (75). Non-contenders are kept on the rolls as Vice-Presidential possibilities (e.g. Rice) and benchmarks (e.g. Dean).

See recent graphs of the Chatter Rankings plus Chatter Rankings from August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January, December 2006, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December 2005, August, July, June, and May.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rochester: Made For Living?

Rochester consistently scores high on quality-of-living surveys. The latest, by Expansion Management Magazine puts the ROC at #1.
Among metros with populations of over 1 million, Rochester, N.Y., ranked No.1, followed by Pittsburgh, Pa., Austin, Texas, Boston, Mass., and San Jose, Calif.
In order to get Rochester's metropolitan population above 1 million, I assume that Expansion counted snowmen as residents. More seriously, the metro area apparently includes Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, and Wayne Counties, as well as Monroe County (pop. 735,000). That's a pretty generous definition of "metropolitan".

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Successful Draft

With the fourth pick in my fantasy football league this year, I think I had a pretty successful draft. Here's what the starting lineup will look like:

QB Tom Brady
RB Shaun Alexander
RB Willis McGahee
WR Deion Branch
WR Anquan Boldin
TE Todd Heap
K Neil Rackers
D New England

The NFL season starts in a couple days... bring it on!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Separated At Birth

He's outed! Disgraced Senator Larry Craig is the evil twin of LA Dodgers coach Dave Jauss.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Developing, an Understanding

With guidance from a visiting professor, I explored the field of development economics this month. If macroeconomics is the Wild West, development is Antarctica: barely charted. The few methodologically sound papers are cited over and over again; most practitioners work outside the realm of tested science.

The two great books I read, however, will give anyone with a passable knowledge of the world a deep sense of what is right - and what is wrong - about development.


Perhaps the most foundational economics book I have ever read is Development As Freedom by Nobel prizewinner Amartya Sen. His is a philosophical look at the field, and gives a cogent answer to the niggling question at the back of my mind, "Why should we pursue development?" Most of his readers, unlike me, are true believers, so most of his effort is in refining the often hazy views of precisely why and how development is worthwhile. Rather than concentrating on the popular metrics (such as GDP), Sen makes a convincing argument that development is important inasmuch as it expands human freedom.

'Freedom', which I think Sen uses a bit freely, is often confused with 'liberty', particularly by Americans, for whom both words can be no more than jingo. However, strictly speaking, freedom is generally freedom from something bad, whereas liberty is liberty to do something. Armed with this understanding, we can appreciate Sen's appeal to free humanity from infirmity, scarcity, and non-agency.

The 'Freedom' approach is more than an excuse for Sen to write another book. Focusing on freedoms puts in sharp relief the distinction between the constitutive and instrumental role of freedoms. He appreciates both. Thus, democracy is both (constitutively) freedom from oppression and (instrumentally) it fosters and enables the development of other freedoms.

Sen avoids being tagged a 'rightist' or 'leftist', at least in this connection. He can appreciate markets as a freedom in themselves, and also appreciate the instrumental effects of well- and poorly-functioning markets in fostering or inhibiting development of other freedoms.

You can purchase Development As Freedom on Amazon for $8.50, or ask your local college library.


Less philosophical and more irreverent is Bill Easterly's The White Man's Burden. Easterly, like most other American economists and foreign aid practitioners, is white. And, like a very few other foreign aid practitioners, he recognizes that he is an heir to the colonists of Kipling's poem. Also like the colonists of yesteryear, his ilk has been monstrously ineffective at helping what he calls "the Rest".

Easterly speaks of two tragedies of world poverty. One is that so many live in poverty - or die prematurely of it. The second is the tragedy "in which the West spent $2.3 trillion and still [has] not managed" to prevent the first tragedy (p. 4, Penguin Press, 2006). That's a lot of money, and Easterly says most of it has been wasted.

The book chronicles myriad failures and successes in foreign aid, with the clear theme: Big Plans fail, piecemeal efforts can succeed. I am incredulous at the willingness of the World Bank, USAID, UN and others to work with the same thuggish regimes, warlords, and gangsters - despite watching their money disappear in corruption again and again and again.

Less convincing is his argument that Big Plans have altogether failed. After all, smallpox, guinea worm, polio and other diseases have been largely eradicated. Infant mortality has dropped precipitously and life expectancies are much higher than fifty years ago. His sometimes bombastic style leaves a doubt as to whether his appraisal of Big Plans as failures is not oversimplified. Additionally, he does not address the question of whether piecemeal efforts can expand to sufficient scope and equity to be the principal vehicle of foreign aid.

However, Easterly does convince me that donors will see less poverty for their buck if marginal steps are taken in the direction of realistic goals, feedback, accountability, evaluation, and local control. He also chronicles the absurdities of the aid industry, and the way that aid agencies manage to pay lip service to ideas like "local control" without changing their actual autocratic methods.

He is at his most poignant in describing the deafness of aid agencies to the poor for whom they are supposedly in business.
I once had a pothole in front of my house in Takoma Park, Maryland... I called my city councilwoman, Kathy Porter... the next day, the Takoma Park Public Works bureaucracy was out there filling in the pothole.

Now consider a poor person in Tanzania who wants to get a pothole repaired in front of his house... This poor person somehow communicates his desire to "civil society representatives" and/or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who articulate his needs through the government of Tanzania to the international donors. The national government solicits a "poverty reduction support credit" (PRSC) from the World Bank (IBRD) and a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

To get loans from the IMF and World Bank the government must complete a satisfactory Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), in consultation with civil society, NGOs, and other donors and creditors...

The World Bank then follows a series of internal steps to approve a PRSC, including preparation of a Country Assistance Strategy (CAS), a pre-appraisal mission, an appraisal mission, and board approval, all in accordance with the Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF), Operational Directive (OD) 8.60, Operational Policy (OP) 4.01, and Interim PRSC Guidelines. The government also seeks qualification for the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Country (Enhanced HIPC) Debt Initiative...

[Easterly continues cheekily in this vein for a page]...

If IBRD, IMF, UNDP, FAO, WTO, EU, WHO, AfDB, DFID, and USAID approve the PRSP and release new funds to the national government, then the government will allocate the money in accordance with the MTEF, PER, CDF, PRGF, PRSC, and PRSP, after which the money will pass through the provincial governments and the district governments, and the district government may or may not repair the pothole in front of the poor person's house. (p. 166, 173-175)
Potholes in Tanzania typically remain unfixed.

One glaring omission in The White Man's Burden is the success of Uganda in combating HIV/AIDS in the early 1990's. This represented not only the only significant country-wide drop in new HIV infections, but has been a lasting success. However, Easterly is dogmatically anti-religious, and the fact that Uganda's "Zero Grazing" sex policy succeeded where a phalanx of condom-and-education programs have failed must rankle him terribly. In fact, the story fits right into Easterly's argument: a home-grown, locally led program yielded success, but the fall in new HIV infections ceased when the condom-pushers arrived, and the edge of dangerous urgency dulled. There are other interpretations of this story, which is often blurred by looking at the stock variable (people living with HIV) rather than the flow (new HIV infections), but for Easterly to omit it entirely from his chapter on AIDS shows that there is some conventional wisdom even he lacks the courage to question.

Nonetheless, the book is worth reading, primarily for its willingness to tackle tough questions and admit a lack of answers, all couched in readable prose from someone who knows the World Bank and aid industry as both a practitioner and a scholar. The White Man's Burden is available for $5 at Amazon.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Live From The Middle East

Cory has all the action live from Morocco, once again. A sample here, but go read the rest at 35'N,5'W.
the train was a grudge match between the old women who claimed to be fragile but threw mean elbows and the Brotherhood guys who didn't want to touch the women, but weren't about it give up their spots either. the old women mostly won. i mostly ducked and covered. in any other country, you'd probably have to catch the action on pay-per-view. nope, in Morocco it's free and live!
Also, congrats to Cory on having a girlfriend.
PPS. i almost forgot: when i got back to my house, someone had defecated all over my doorstep. when i got inside, i realized that i had left my bathroom window open (always close windows when you travel, kiddies!) someone had killed a cat, slit it open, and tossed it in my window. welcome back!!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Re-Birth Control

Thanks to James Taranto for this gem:
China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Watchblogging Again

After a two year hiatus, I've begun writing for Watchblog again. My first post is to introduce that august forum to the Chatter Rankings... we'll see how well it goes over.