Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tickets and Surplus

In purchasing tickets for Spring Training Red Sox games, I'm experiencing firsthand the poor allocation of surplus that occurs in many ticket markets. Whereas the Red Sox have been selling out home games for years, and have therefore developed a reasonable system of random allocations. In most markets, however, ticket resellers have clever methods: they let the team market low-demand games at given prices, but they buy up the tickets to high-demand games, and resell them at market value, which is often two or three times the original price.

Never mind that this is flagrant corporate scalping (there's nothing economically wrong with that), but there's no reason that the team or its fans should have to share the surplus of their transaction with middlemen.

I'm not a mechanism-design theorist (as some of my colleagues are), but even I know that there are simple, efficient mechanisms for selling tickets. The most obvious of these is auctions: let fans pay whatever they're willing to pay for game tickets. Inefficiencies will arise with the timing of the auction, but not too much inefficiency. There are probably better mechanisms (and somebody has probably proven this already), but for now, team owners just thinking about it would be an improvement.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Convenient Fiction: Pursuit and Happiness

Every year (or every month), it seems some author publishes yet another book for Christian singles. A Google Book Search turns up 637 titles. The popular "Wild At Heart" and "Captivating" titles were popular a few years ago; by now, there's probably some new pop psychotheology distracting young people.

Plenty of tripe is pushed as Christianity in these books, and the pendulum swings back and forth between various poles; the common fallacy is that there is some set of attitudes, actions, or principles that can demystify what Agur in his wisdom "did not understand". Among the most egregious of these myths is the pervasive idea that women want to be pursued.

The 'pursuit ideal' is seen in non-Christian culture as well - in chick flicks and novels - but it is especially popular in Christian pop culture, where pre-modern European culture is best preserved.

You read it here first: women don't want to be pursued. In fact, "pursue" is a word used almost exclusively in literature. In real life, it's called "stalking". Having friends at R.I.T. (where the awkward male is in his natural habitat), I get to hear plenty of amusing, and occasionally disturbing, stories of infatuated guys and their "pursuit" of young women. The young woman invariably calls this "stalking".

Most women, of course, do want to end up with a man, and they want to believe it's very romantic, etc., much as men do. They want to be "pursued" - but only by a guy they already like. In that context, it's not really pursuit anymore, since a guy doesn't have to pursue someone who's not running away from him. Instead, it's attention, a much less romantic-sounding and much more universal way of showing affection. People of both sexes want those to whom they are attracted to show them attention. But when they run away, they don't want to be followed.

This isn't to say pursuit never works. Harry Truman asked Elizabeth Wallace to marry him. She turned him down, but they continued to correspond. Nine years later, he asked again, and she accepted. That's pursuit - and outside the knightly context, it's a form of manipulation, getting a woman to change her mind. This does not strike me as a terribly godly thing to aim at, since it's founded on the notion that a woman is not sufficiently self-aware to know what she wants.

So throw away the pop-psychology books, cancel your Facebook account, give those flowers to your mother, and save the binoculars for birdwatching. That's not her playing "hard to get"; that's her saying, "get away from me".

Monday, February 26, 2007

For the Record

Martin Scorsese won't be winning any Oscars for "The Departed."
- Opening sentence, Boston Globe movie review, by Ty Burr, 10/06/2006.

Economic Girlymen

Remember the hubbub last year over the coming recession because of the cooling housing market? About that...
Greenspan also said he has seen no economic spillover effects from the slowdown in the U.S. housing market. "We are now well into the contraction period and so far we have not had any major, significant spillover effects on the American economy from the contraction in housing," he said.
That's from the AP, via Drudge, a footnote at the bottom of an article in which Greenspan says another recession is coming soon - for no particular reason.

At least Greenspan doesn't appear to have predicted a crash from the housing contraction, based on one article from last year.

A Convenient Fiction: "Living In the Moment"

"Always live in the present"... "Now is eternal"... "There's only one moment"... "You can't stop time"... "Now is all there is"...

These and the many similar aphorisms one hears from today's peddlers of platitudes are more than inane tautologies. They represent an important aspect of postmodern humanist thought, and reflect the deconstructive impulse of postmodern philosophy. This idea is at odds with Christian philosophy and is destructive as well as deconstructive.

Philosophers of our day emphasize the tenuousness of links between moments in time. What is it, exactly, that links "me" today to "me" tomorrow. If I lost my memory, would I be the "same person"? Can "me" tomorrow be held accountable for the actions of "me" today? In economics, our models of behavior bring this home: people ('agents' we call them) are utterly anonymous, and exist only as a set of momentary 'states', or circumstances. This stylization of humanity conforms to the postmodern view of man.

Christian philosophy, however, links the observable, temporal human being to an unobservable, eternal soul. This foundation of the doctrine of man underpins the Christian's understanding of himself and frames his actions and attitudes. In fact, the eternity of souls binds the Christian's actions to a framework that includes but is not limited to time as we experience it. This is tremendously at odds with "living in the moment" philosophy.

Those who follow the pop philosophy of the era, which includes most people I encounter, have difficulty dealing with change. When "the moment" is all you have, faith - in the human or the divine - is washed away by each flash flood of circumstance. If "the moment" is unbearable, then life is unbearable. If cogito ergo sum is the full measure of man, then my perceptions now of my entire existence are its truest evaluation.

"Imagine all the people living for today." Depressing, huh? Suicide is a logical extension of the Beatles.

Contrast this tyranny of the second to Biblical injunctions. A search of "remember" turns up 233 results in the NIV. Nowhere is the Biblical attitude clearer than in the Psalms and rites of Jewish worship, which constantly recall the relationship of their forefathers to God, and God's deliverance of the Israelites from slavery. Likewise, God emphasizes that His own relationship to them is based not on their present state but on remembering His covenant with Abraham.*

Likewise, our salvation and standing before God is completely independent of the "now". Christ intercedes for our salvation based on His past, complete sacrifice on our behalf; we maintain faith in God's faithfulness not blindly, but in remembrance of his faithfulness in time after time; the consummation of our salvation is an object of hope - and we hope for what we do not see.

Tautologically, we can only act in the present. But we do not have to "live in the moment". We have the privilege of memory and of hope, and we can join our forbears from the age of martyrs to the abolition movement is despising the sufferings of the present time because we are not shackled to its vacillations.

* Note that I discuss God here in His relation to us; 'memory' for Him is not a fading function of time as it is for us. His own existence is outside space-time, though He relates to us in time and space. Our limited freedom from time is a function of His complete freedom from it.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sadr and the Surge

The tragedy of the day in Iraq was a female suicide bomber at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. She killed forty students.

The NYTimes combines this story with a report that Moqtada al-Sadr is rejecting the idea of the surge. While his message is veiled, it may be accompanied by more explicit instructions to his underlings. If so, we may get opposition to the surge - which, in the long run, is probably to America's benefit, since we need to defeat the enemy's army, and it's a notoriously amorphous entity. If Sadr's Mahdi Army comes out to fight, U.S. and Iraqi troops could actually have a worthwhile battle - and possibly show to Iraqi Sunnis that we are indeed committed to defending Iraq from Shiite militias as much as from Sunnis.

The side story here is the NYTimes' decision to play these stories as one. It's hard to separate the bombing from the Sadrists after reading the news story, but as far as I know there's no actual connection between them. This suicide bomber (what's she going to do with 72 virgins?) was almost certainly Sunni.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Conservative Virginity?

The NYTimes has a concise article on the king-making of the Christian conservative leadership: not moneyed, they're more like black leaders, able to deliver a significant number of votes to favored candidates. Little in the article is surprising, but it ends on a dramatic note:
He argued that with the right promises, any of the four could redeem themselves in the eyes of the conservative movement despite their past records, just as some high school students take abstinence pledges even after having had sex.

"It's called secondary virginity," he said. "It is a big movement in high school and also available for politicians."
This analogy needs to stop right there.

Legal Review: Phillip Morris USA v. Williams

The Supreme Court had an interesting 5-4 split this week overturning a tobacco award appeal, a civil suit from Oregon in which a jury awarded Mr. Williams' widow $800,000 in damages and $79.5 million in 'punitive damages', for 'fraud' in the state at large. I asked Ali Baba, Global Review's legal consultant to explain the decision - and whether it signals the arrival of a 'centrist' coalition on the Court.

The documents surrounding the case are available from, and another in-depth discussion is online at SCOTUS Blog. Ali Baba takes it from here:

The Majority's (Breyer, Roberts, Kennedy, Souter, Alito) opinion represents their common desire to avoid changes to prior Supreme Court decisions. The substantive part of their decision clarifies the prior rule on punitive damages by making explicit the principle that Defendant’s cannot be punished for harms inflicted on persons other than the plaintiff. This seems to be making explicit an unspoken rule that many other states are probably already using. However, as they are trying to avoid changing the standards for punitive damages they attempt to reconcile this with the 'reprehensibility' requirement in prior cases. Determining whether conduct was reprehensible requires considering harm the company was willing to inflict on others and/or the public at large. Thus the majority focuses on how this can be done without jurors deciding to punish Phillip Morris for injuries to every smoker in the US. They fail to come up with a very good solution (else they would have announced it. IMO deference is often another way of saying I don’t want to deal with a tough question) and end up saying "State courts cannot authorize procedures that create an unreasonable and unnecessary risk of any such confusion occurring." This basically tells state courts to come up with their own solution. This issue is very likely to come back to the court in the form of testing whether ensuing state procedures do this adequately.

The reason for the unusual alignment is that these justices, particularly Roberts, Alito, and Kennedy, do not want to rock the boat by dramatic changes in punitive damages standards. If we want to make future predictions, on issues on which the point being contested is how to apply prior SC decision, look for these justices to join in decisions that clarify a very small part of the question being asked and then send it back to federal circuit courts or state supreme courts to avoid changes in established SC jurisprudence.

Ginsburg, Scalia and Thomas focus on the problems in this approach, the main one being that if Supreme Court precedent is confusing then the Supreme Court should make an honest attempt to address the issue, rather than clarify the smallest point possible and hope the problem goes away. The other option is to allow state supreme courts lots of leeway in interpreting confusing Supreme Court precedent. They seem to agree that the latter option is more appropriate in this case and say the Supreme Court should have focused solely on Phillip Morris’s suggested jury instructions and specify whether or not they would accurately implement current law on punitive damages. The fact that they all agree on this point reflects their willingness to broadly clarify and event depart from precedent when it is clear current law is not working. On most issues they will disagree on what the changes should be, but are all willing to make changes.

Stevens states that the majority's "nuance eludes him" in their attempt to describe how jurors can consider harm to third parties when determining reprehensibility but not when determining the amount of damages. I wholeheartedly agree on this point. As soon as jurors hear something, they will rely on it; the only solutions are to not let them consider third parties at all or make that the basis for punitive damages. Stevens argues for making damage to third parties the basis for punitive damages. You can make what you will of that argument. The majority operates under the assumption that this would be inappropriate, but avoid discussing it.

Thomas writes "reiterate his view" which he does quite often. However, not many people (myself and most law professors included) understand his views despite his constant explanations for them. Thomas is by far the most ridiculed SC justice on campus, including among conservatives who like him but have no idea what he's up to).

This ruling clearly shows how the justices view the importance of following precedent and how receptive they are to making changes and clarifying prior Supreme Court rulings. Scalia, Thomas, and Ginsburg are more than happy to do this. Breyer, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, and Souter are much less comfortable doing the same thing.

Friday, February 23, 2007

On Christian Unity

This is a response to Ali Baba's demand for a further essay into "orthodox Christian unity" following Global Review's post on the Anglican resubmission proposal last week.

"When Christ returns it will be to a bride, not a brothel."

This is my misquote, of forgotten origin, which I heard more than once from my priest, to whom is due much of the distillation of these thoughts.

Christ is the head of the Church - His church. When He consummates all time, that Church - that Bride - will be One and headed by One. There will be no division in the Church Victorious.

Today, Christianity is not one. It is splintered into countless pieces. Wikipedia attempts something of a listing of Christian denominations, but even this does not capture the atomization of Christ's church. How do we account for this flagrant discrepancy? Muslims cite it as evidence that Christianity has corrupted God's truth. Atheists cite it as evidence that Christians have created God in our own various images. Westerners cite it as evidence that Christians are independent thinkers, children of the enlightenment. Are these outsiders correct?

God says that His church is One. The world says the church is splintered. Likewise, God says that His children are pure, forgiven, immortal, holy, children of God. We look in the mirror and see corrupt, sinful, selfish mortals. Part of the process of sanctification is to recognize our identity before God and, humbled by the discrepancy between that identity and our daily filth, to conform our attitudes and actions to the former. We should act likewise toward the church.

The Church is One, as God is One (John 17). To the extent that we recognize and practice this, we validate God's view over that of the world. In light of this, we should strive for the unification of the Church however we can within the bounds of orthodoxy.

How is the Church unified? This may be an administrative and authoritative act, as the Anglican proposal would be. More deeply, however, it is a revolution of attitudes and actions at every level. Christians are one when we pray and worship together, when we support one another's efforts, and when we give to those parts that are in need. This begins with a heart attitude of humility. If God has not rejected a fellow believer, who are we to reject him? Too many churches pride themselves on the arcane detail of their theology. But will they not 'know we are Christians by our love'? For 'knowledge puffs up, but love edifies' (I Corinthians 8:1). Our unity is of love, not of theology.

Unity occurs in the context of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy has been defined (again, a misquote) as "what was believed by most Christians at most times". This is not really a definition, though; it is a litmus test. A truer definition is, that which is Biblically grounded and essential to the Christian faith. Pragmatically, an adherence to orthodoxy allows us to distinguish between those who are Christians and those who are not. Any group that rejects the divinity of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the trinity of God, and the inspiration of scripture, inter alia, is not orthodox. We do not seek unity with those who reject the fundamental doctrines.

If unity and orthodoxy are indeed so vitally important, how can a Christian continue to worship and serve in any denomination? As it is written, "what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9). Why did God allow denominations? Because, and here I quote Peter Kreeft, God is good. God loves the church too much to let her languish under corrupt Popes or agnostic pastors. Unity qua unity is not the virtue we seek, but unity under Christ. To be unified apart from Christ is the arrogance of ancient Babel and apocalyptic Babylon.

A central and indispensable aspect of Christian worship, therefore, is the unity of the Bride of Christ. Unity is of love, not of imposition; it comes from humbling oneself before other believers. Unity is an act of worship, and must be under the One Head. Unity is a fact, not a goal: we were saved into one faith, we are One in our worship of Christ, and we will be the one Bride He claims.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


In the discussion of the recent nuclear deal with North Korea, an important detail has escaped my notice until George Will mentioned it in today's WaPo. With all the storm und drang emanating from Pyongyang, this is a valuable reality check:
[T]he administration believes it found, in Banco Delta Asia, a lever that moved Pyongyang. The Macau bank was pressured into freezing 52 accounts holding $24 million -- yes, million, not billion -- of North Korean assets because Pyongyang has been using them for illicit purposes. If Pyongyang flinched from being deprived of $24 million -- less than Americans spend on archery equipment in a month -- Pyongyang's low pain threshold suggests how fragile, and hence perhaps how containable, that regime is.
A fuller version of the story is here, from USA Today. The writer notes that "North Korea earns $15 million to $25 million a year from counterfeiting".

This enemy is more reminiscent of America's overseas opponents in 1794 than any later year.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Obama Enigma

Courtland Milloy weeps eloquent in today's WaPo:
[N]early 400 years after the first Africans arrived in Jamestown and were put to work as slaves, Obama is being shackled by racial categories.
While I agree with Mr. Milloy that the compulsion to classify politicians (and others) by race is a sign that we have not moved completely away from our sad history, let's not shed tears for Senator Barack Obama. There are several freshman senators in the United States Senate right now. Including Obama, an old WaPo piece profiles the Senate's Class of 2004: Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mel R. Martinez (R-Fla.), Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and David Vitter (R-La.). Only one of these men was pushed toward the presidency by acclamation. He's not a seasoned leader, he did not have a deep network of donors, is not known for great legislative accomplishments. He's "articulate, bright, clean, and nice-looking", according to his Senate colleague, Joe Biden. And he has dark skin.

The color line is alive and well in America - Mr. Molloy is right on that - but it can help a black man like Obama just as it hurts many others, black and white. So cry if you want, but not for Barack.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


You wouldn't know it from the mainstream media, but President Bush's troop surge in Baghdad is actually occurring. The CS Monitor has a full-length take from a Baghdad correspondent, with quotes from several Shi'ite locals. So far, things are positive, but not stunning:
[M]any Iraqis say they have seen some positive steps in the days since the surge officially came into effect last Thursday. And not just because several hundred Iraqis are reported to have been able to return home, or that the daily average of 50 dead bodies on the streets has dropped to single digits in recent days.
Some stories are particularly heartening:
[I]n the southeast district of Zafaraniyeh...[i]t is the new Iraqi commander who is making the difference. "He came and took the Shiite and Sunni clerics to lunch and told them: 'I am not a sectarian man, and all should be under the law, Sunni and Shiite,' " says [a] resident, quoting the new commander. " 'If you help me, we will help you. If you don't cooperate with me, you will be breaking the law, and I will crush you.' "
However, the key opponent - Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army - has not been engaged or disarmed by the Iraqi Army, which is likewise Shi'ite.
The cleric himself, this resident says, has ordered his followers – who battled US forces twice in 2004 – not to take on the Americans. Mahdi Army fighters confirm those orders. "We are following Moqtada's orders, and if he says don't fight [the Americans], we won't," says a Mahdi Army fighter who took part in those 2004 uprisings, and asked not to be named. "We know America wants to make a mass killing of Sadrists, so we should avoid this, by following Moqtada's orders."...

US officers say they expect both sides to have hidden their weapons or drifted away for the time being, until the surge passes.
The U.S. is walking a fine line in the amount of pressure it puts on the Shi'ite government. This may be the last chance, though, to really turn the pressure up. With Sadr allegedly in Iran, and his army lying low, government troops can start to build up a presence and full networks in the Sadrist neighborhoods. When the time is right - before the end of the surge, certainly - the U.S. needs to apply greater and greater pressure on the Iraqi regime to search, destroy, and disarm throughout the Sadrist neighborhoods. Then Sadr has two choices: lie low, and lose a great deal of his arsenal and apparatus, or fight back from an already weakened position. What's more, his command structure risks splintering, as local groups decide to fight or flee on their own.

The Mahdi Army is the single biggest obstruction to peace in Iraq. If the U.S. misses this opportunity to crush it, the surge can be considered a failure.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Introducing: Eclectic Karen

Karen is an old friend of mine from college, and she's stormed onto the blogoscene with not one, not two, but three new blogs. Karen enjoys veggie burgers, cartoon characters, people who are public about their faith, SciFi, and Bollywood films.

Her main blog, Think Virtue! will appear in the blogroll; but if you're into vegetarian cooking or science fiction writing, you're in luck too.

Will Murtha Be Drafted?

According to Robert Novak in today's WaPo, Rep. John Murtha has the reins of Congress' Iraq policy. This could be good for Democrats: he's a moderate and a decorated veteran, and was not - until Pelosi's elevation - a strong party insider.

Naturally, this raises the question: will Murtha be drafted to run for president in 2008? He is the natural successor to the Democrats' electoral victory in 2006, when moderates knocked off pro-administration Republican incumbents. Murtha probably can't win: he's too old, and doesn't have the star power of Hillary or Obama, but the same sudden muscularity that has led him to take the driver's seat in Congress could easily lead him to throw his weight into the raucous presidential fray.

Today, he clocks into Google News with 862 chatter. According to yesterday's Chatter Rankings, that puts him on the radar, but not among the serious Democrat contenders. More pointedly, none of the stories mentions him as a candidate yet.

Global Review will keep an eye on Murtha going forward.

One Holy Catholic Church

There is a proposal afoot, reports the Times of London to undo the damage done by Henry VIII's creation of the Anglican Church. Bringing the Anglican Church back into the Catholic fold and under the Pope's authority would end what has been little more than a 500-year rebellion, a la Avignon, since it was not (largely) accompanied by a reformation or awakening.

Presumably, this will be hailed by some Protestants as proof that the Pope will be the antichrist. I find this highly unlikely, and applaud movement toward orthodox Christian unity.

Hat tip to Drudge.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Free-For-All 2008: The Leaders Emerge

This month's chatter shows the huge increases in volume that will continue through this time next year. Who emerges victorious then is still very much up for debate, but the chatter indicates that not too many candidates are being seriously considered.

This is apparent not so much from the top end - plenty of apparent frontrunners have stumbled long before a vote is cast - but at the low end. The scale of this election (almost unprecedented) means that it will be enormously difficult for a dark horse to emerge from either party. That is especially true on the Democratic side, though events in Iraq and elsewhere could conceivably cause seismic shifts in Republican support, and the lack of an obvious leader among social conservatives means that one of the pack could emerge and overtake McCain, Giuliani, and Romney. But it is not likely.

Also, the Democratic side continues to garner more chatter: the announcement of Obama's candidacy this month has fueled his rise, overtaking Hillary in a media-coverage dogfight by one-tenth of one percent. Still, instead of drowning out the rest of the field, these two brought the rest up with them, so that even the inexplicably competitive John Edwards outperformed every Republican. Charitably, this is because the Democratic primaries have gotten a lot of attention this month. More darkly, this is evidence of a media bias that has caused coverage of the parties to move steadily away from parity since the cycle began (graph).

What's interesting (and gratifying) is that the current chatter lines up closely with scientific polling results from the past week or two. The helpful website Polling Report shows that in the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll, the Democrats who garnered support were Clinton, Obama, Gore, Edwards, Richardson, and three with 1% or less. On the GOP side, Giuliani, McCain, Gingrich, Romney, Brownback, and seven with 2% or less.

However, a FOX News/OD poll offers deeper insight, showing that while Gingrich (for instance) has a few hard-core supporters, an overwhelming 64% say they would never vote for him. Among those considered, Obama and Giuliani have the lowest negative ratings. In addition, Giuliani beats Hillary head-to-head 49 to 40. More interestingly, when Nader is thrown into the mix, he saps Giuliani's support, not Hillary's, though the 3% drop may be within the margin of error.

On to the rankings!

The monthly prediction...
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 7,1980
R.2 Rudy Giuliani 4,496+2
R.3 Gov. Mitt Romney 4,088-1
R.4 Sen. Sam Brownback 2,353+2
R.5 Sen. Chuck Hagel 2,3260
R.6 Gov. Mike Huckabee 1,071+4
R.7 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 994-4
R.8 Newt Gingrich 936+1
R.9 Rep. Tom Tancredo 680+3
R.10 Rep. Duncan Hunter 6730
R.11 Gov. Jeb Bush 361+4
R.12 Sen. George Allen 301-5
R.13 Gov. George Pataki 289-5
R.14 Tommy Thompson 244-1
D.1 Sen. Barack Obama 12,520+1
D.2 Sen. Hillary Clinton 12,502-1
D.3 Sen. John Edwards 7,280+1
D.4 Sen. John Kerry 4,414-1
D.5* (new) Rep. Dennis Kucinich 3,232+10
D.6 Gov. Bill Richardson 3,106+3
D.7 Sen. Christopher Dodd 3,1000
D.8 Sen. Joseph Biden 2,612-3
D.9 Gov. Tom Vilsack 2,059-1
D.10 Al Gore 1,9470
D.11 Sen. Harry Reid 1,816-5
D.12 Howard Dean 1,025-1
D.13 Sen. Russ Feingold 544+1
D.14 Wesley Clark 466-1
D.15 Gov. Mark Warner 3060

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 Ron Paul (440), Al Sharpton (670), Jim Gilmore (633) and Mike Gravel (566). To qualify, a candidate should separate himself from the just-hanging-on types of his own party. Purged from the rolls this month are non-contenders Evan Bayh (117) and Bill Frist (128). Other non-contenders are kept on the rolls as Vice-Presidential possibilities (e.g. Warner and Rice) and benchmarks (e.g. Reid and Dean).

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

Friday, February 16, 2007


Apparently somebody at Dow Jones, Inc., is tasked with following up on mentions of James Taranto in the blogosphere: after yesterday's post, Global Review received a few visits from someone logged in through DowJones who was searching the Technorati tags for James Taranto.

So how ya doing today? Or do you have weekends off?


It's not even 7pm on Friday, and I'm already done with Macro and International homeworks! I have the entire long weekend to party and relax do Political Economy homework, read papers, and start some real research.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

It's All About the Washingtons

James Taranto runs an incisive criticism of the new George Washington dollar coins. It's his last item in today's column (under the title Plus Ça Change):
No doubt you, like us, have had a conversation like this with a cashier or bartender:
"That'll be $4."

"Here you go."

"I said four dollars. This is four quarters."

"Those are dollars. See, they have Sacagawea on them." "Sack-a what?"
But everyone recognizes George Washington. Now that his face is on the dollar, there's no way anyone will mix it up with the quarter.
Perhaps the U.S. Minters need to visit fewer coin-collecting conventions and more dive bars. Also, is it just me, or does John Adams look like a well-to-do Portuguese fishmonger on his coin?

Monday, February 12, 2007

North Korea Agrees to Nuclear Disarmament

We've heard this before

An Exit Strategy Project?

Global Review has followed the downward trajectory of the war in Iraq over the past four years. On March 11, 2003, I explained my opposition to military action. On On May 9, 2003, I reprinted the UN resolution restoring Iraq to its place among nations. August 19, 2004, I noted that the U.S. was preparing to annihilate Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Najaf. On July 18, 2005, I was optimistic about Iraq's chances, noting "Shi'ite forbearance" toward Al-Qaeda violence. On November 21, 2006, Global Review adopted the term 'civil war' to describe Iraq's current state.

And today, Global Review calls for the beginning of a serious discussion of exit strategy. Some will say we should have discussed this one, two, three, or four years ago. Perhaps so. But what's certainly true is that very few have made this part of the public debate. Most of the war-related discussion is unproductive nattering about whether and when to end it. But how? That's rarely discussed.

Some discussion starters: Casey and I saw the documentary Iraq in Fragments last week. Somewhat outdated, the film portrayed Sunnis as disengaged and depressed, Shi'ites as messianic and unchecked, and Kurds as happy mountain shepherds. I will leave to Casey the task of a full-length review, but will add to the movie's intensely personal perspective the broad view, as provided by U.S. statesman Richard Holbrooke, writing in Irbil.
This peaceful city is disorienting: Am I in war-torn Iraq or booming Kurdistan? Will Irbil eventually become the capital (or part) of an independent Kurdistan? Or will this region become a battleground for another war, this one between Kurds and Turks?

You can call this place Kurdistan, as its citizens do, or northern Iraq, as the Turks do. But either way, the overwhelming majority (98 percent in a 2005 referendum) of its 4 million people do not want to remain part of Iraq. Who can blame them? Nothing here feels like the Middle East. The Iraqi national flag is banned; only the Kurdistan flag flies.
Kurdistan has two faces. To America, it shows the happy, smiling face of Wilsonian progress. To its neighbors - all of them - it shows the face of Salah ed-Din, conqueror and Kurd. A key element of any exit strategy will be keeping the Kurds from going to war with their neighbors.

Holbrooke suggests something approaching a condominium with Turkey. There's no way that is going to be acceptable to the Kurds: too much bad blood. Who do the Kurds love? America. Believe it or not, there are a few places where Americans are loved and welcomed. "New Europe" is one of them; Kurdistan is another. American troops can protect Kurdistan and help it slowly build up its ties to Turkish ports and markets. When the fate of southern Iraq is known, we can either ease the Kurds back into a peaceful Iraq, or support their secession from a failed or dictatorial state.

That's the easy part. Any ideas for how America can extricate herself from the South?

Continental Values

This year's Bank of Sweden Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Edmund Phelps, has an interesting thesis about why Continental Europe's economies are lagging behind those of the Anglosphere. His prose, however, is exceeded in its bright ideas by its lousy prose, as Global Review previously noted.

Here's his idea, and this is as clear as it gets:
[T]he Continental economies' root problem is a dearth of economic dynamism--loosely, the rate of commercially successful innovation. A country's dynamism, being slow to change, is not measured by the growth rate over any short- or medium-length span. The level of dynamism is a matter of how fertile the country is in coming up with innovative ideas having prospects of profitability, how adept it is at identifying and nourishing the ideas with the best prospects, and how prepared it is in evaluating and trying out the new products and methods that are launched onto the market.
Read the rest at your own risk.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sustaining the Sahel

The great narrative of the African Sahel throughout my lifetime has been that the Sahara Desert is expanding precipitously, forcing an increasing number of subsistence farmers into a decreasing patch of arable land. That's no longer true, reports the NY Times:
Another change was the way trees were regarded by law. From colonial times, all trees in Niger had been regarded as the property of the state, which gave farmers little incentive to protect them. Trees were chopped for firewood or construction without regard to the environmental costs...

But over time, farmers began to regard the trees in their fields as their property, and in recent years the government has recognized the benefits of this by allowing individuals to own trees. Farmers make money off the trees by selling branches, pods, fruit and bark. Because these sales are more lucrative over time than simply chopping down the tree for firewood, the farmers preserve them.

The greening began in the mid-1980s, Dr. Reij said, "and every time we went back to Niger, the scale increased...The density is so spectacular," he said.
The market solution here - giving people full ownership of their land and its produce - is not nearly as spectacular as the French colonial nearsightedness. The belief that a central government (of Europeans at first, then of Western-educated Africans) was more competent to ensure the livelihood of farmers than the farmers themselves were is a stupendous idiocy.

Government or NGO-imposed solutions were not the answer, notes the Times:
Better conservation and improved rainfall have led to at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres in Niger, researchers have found, achieved largely without relying on the large-scale planting of trees or other expensive methods often advocated by African politicians and aid groups for halting desertification, the process by which soil loses its fertility.
The article offers a few sops to collectivism at the village level. But the backstory to the collectivism is that its purpose is really to protect private property rights.

Left alone, the people of an oft-patronized, oft-criticized society are establishing and protecting private ownership and securing their own survival. That's a beautiful human story.

Don't Miss Truck Day

It's Boston's answer to Punxatawney Phil, and it's much more reliable: the Red Sox equipment truck will leave Fenway Park at 1:00 pm on Monday.
According to the Sox press release today, the truck will depart from Fenway Park at the players’ parking lot entrance on Van Ness St. The truck will be followed in procession by Fenway ambassadors, Red Sox staff, and Wally the Green Monster tossing gifts to fans from a flat-bed truck.
Don't miss it!

Friday, February 9, 2007


So I'm too immodest not to recount this episode. Our International econ professor had us working on replicating some results he recently published. His coauthor, a Harvard econ professor is teaching the same course to the Ph.D. students at Harvard's econ department; they assigned the same homework to both classes.

Talking on the phone recently, our prof told us, the Harvard prof had expressed concern that they'd made the assignment too difficult: her students were having real difficulty with it. He told her, "Oh, my students aren't having any trouble at all".

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Ice Bowl

According to the weather people, today was the coldest day in 2 or 3 years in Rochester. With a high of 11 and a windchill of -11, what else could we do except play another game of tackle football? For the third week in a row, we've had our teeth frozen in place in our mouthguards and played a hard-hitting, easy-fumbling version of the game that has us spitting blood that freezes before it reaches the snow.

What better to do on a day like today? (OK, skiing a few miles would be nice, and skating would be awesome... maybe later, maybe next week).

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Times Imitates Zak

The New York Times is apparently hard up for its own copy leading into Super Bowl weekend, so it resorted to stealing old material from Casey Zak's Mighty Blog. These liberals have no shame, even adding fake quotes and made-up detail to the story to make it longer (but no more interesting).

Casey, what happened to your original? I can't find it in on your blog.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Overpaid Underperformers

The stylized facts about American education:
  1. Students do not receive an adequate education
  2. Teachers do not receive adequate salaries
Most people would agree to these statements, especially relative to cities and high cost-of-living regions. But what if the only the first statement were true? Jay Greene and Marcus Winters argue in today's Opinion Journal that this is the case; and the numbers back them up.
Who, on average, is better paid--public school teachers or architects? How about teachers or economists? You might be surprised to learn that public school teachers are better paid than these and many other professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public school teachers earned $34.06 per hour in 2005, 36% more than the hourly wage of the average white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty or technical worker
But what about in the cities?
Metro Detroit leads the nation, paying its public school teachers, on average, $47.28 per hour. That's 61% more than the average white-collar worker in the Detroit area and 36% more than the average professional worker. In metro New York, public school teachers make $45.79 per hour, 20% more than the average professional worker in that area. And in Los Angeles teachers earn $44.03 per hour, 23% higher than other professionals in the area.
Those aren't cities known for their high student performance.

Public school teachers rank highly on my list of despised professions. Like bureaucrats, sugar planters and oilmen, these folks fleece the taxpayers by siphoning off a little of their booty to a hogpen of pliant lawmakers. Meanwhile, American children born into poor neighborhoods are trapped there as hostages of the American Federation of Teachers, whose bosses shed streams of crocodile tears at the fate of their own prisoners.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

German Gray Giants

I can't do justice to this WaPo story, so I'll just have to quote it:
How, exactly, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea intends to parlay the small herd of German Flopsies into hunger relief for its 23 million citizens is unclear.

If I Were A Betting Man

I would not put any money down at Long Bets. You can't win anything, and - win or lose - you have to put your money down up front. If you win, your benefit is not money - it's pride... if you're still alive.

That said, I'm glad someone had the inspiration to create Long Bets. While it doesn't rise to the high stakes dignity of those it has imitated - who made real bets on the future of the world by trading long commodity futures - it provides a lasting record of accountable predictions and thinking about humanity's future.

Since it costs $50 just to make a prediction, the Long Bets website is not overloaded with predictions. And since only 50/50 odds are allowed, few of the predictions become bets. Many of the predictors and notables are influential people - CEO's, authors, publishers, innovators. Some of the predictions are fairly mundane:

By 2010, the use of dial-up modems will represent less than 5 percent of all Internet access (represented as a percentage of all households) in the United States. As part of this prediction, I expect that at that time, dial-up service will cost significantly more than the slowest alternative, which will be substantially faster than dial-up.02006 - 02010 (4 years)Glenn I. Fleishman

Some are wildly weird:

By the year 2150, over 50% of schools in the USA or Western Europe will require classes in defending against robot attacks.02002 - 02150 (148 years)Alex K. Rubin

And only a handful are already settled, though it seems Long Bets has some work to do on timely and clear adjudication:

The US men's soccer team will win the World Cup before the Red Sox win the World Series.02002 - ? (? years)$1,000 eachMike Elliot v. Ted Danson