Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bachelor Getaway

So I had a great surprise this weekend - my buddies flew me to D.C., and met me there for a 48-hour bachelor getaway. Some highlights:
  • Ali Baba's dog eating Craig's toothbrush.
  • "YOU DIDN'T LET MY DOG OUT OF IT'S F***ING CAGE!?!?!?" Sorry, Ali.
  • Dubya and I ambushing Ali Baba in the snow in his t-shirt... and getting tackled in a foot of powder.
  • Dubya sinking into depression as he won game after game Monday night... while watching his Fantasy Football playoff lead trickle away into ignominious defeat on MNF.
  • "It's afternoon, why aren't we drinking beer?"
  • Sucking at Wii MarioKart.
  • Alhambra, La Citta, Thurn and Taxis, Antike - all great games
  • Embarrassed New Englanders trying to talk about sex.
  • One astounding revelation.
  • "Hey Jon, what are you doing for dinner - I'm in Baltimore".
  • More snow in DC than in Western NY. Say what?!
  • M&M's, Pub Mix, corn chips, salsa, kosher franks, cheeseburgers, asparagus, beers, ice cream, peanuts, coffee.
  • The junkfood hangover on Tuesday. I barely ate all day long. OK, that's a lowlight.
Thanks, brothers!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Three Cheers

Three cheers to Arne Duncan for starting to cut the financial middleman out of the federal college loan business. Subsidizing higher education for needy students is an appopriate use of taxpayer money, in my opinion (drawing on research by Gonzalo Castex, among others), and I'll take the Sec. of Ed. at his word that the new way is more efficient and gives less welfare to bankers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Gore Effect

The Gore Effect is hitting Denmark with a vengeance. Odin is rolling his eyes as Freyr plays his jokes on the earnest scientists and unctuous politicos in Copenhagen. This is the funniest prank in Valhalla in the last several centuries!

Bonus silliness: The Danes have so much time on their hands that they have a government definition of "white Christmas".

Hat tip to Drudge.

Attn: Haters

To all those who see a 1 reception, 1 fumble game from an athlete with a bad reputation and come to the conclusion that he wasn't giving it effort, here's a spirited defense of Randy Moss from some serious football people:
Both Hoge and Cosell lauded Moss for blocking and running routes that freed up Wes Welker, who had 10 catches in the game.

“I saw a dozen big-time blocks by Randy. They ran the ball more in that game than they’ve run it all year,” Hoge said. “That guy had more blocks in the running game, and even for Wes Welker and those screens, than I’ve seen all year . . . so I’m watching this game, and I’m seeing a guy freeing up other guys, making blocks.
Contrast this with conspiracy-theory rantings of some commentators. What better way to make an athlete a selfish ball-hog than to lambaste him as a quitter every time he plays a supporting role in the game. Go Patriots, and go Randy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Selfish Obama or Selfish Norwegians?

Remember when the world scratched its collective head at the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama? He still had that new-president smell! Now with a hard decision about Afghanistan behind him, he's lost some of his 'Age of Aquarius' cachet with Europeans. And with the prize almost in his hands, another possible reason for the Nobel committee's choice is apparent:
Peace prize laureates traditionally submit to [events] including a dinner with the Norwegian Nobel committee, a press conference, a television interview, appearances at a children's event promoting peace and a music concert, as well as a visit to an exhibition in his honour at the Nobel peace centre.
They just wanted to get face time with Barack!

But Obama, on his busy presidential schedule, doesn't have time to pal around with Norwegians. So he cancelled most of the events except receiving the prize. Of course, he could have scored a lot of points with Americans by declining the prize. After all he is - or should be - too busy dealing with two wars, a major recession, and global carbon talks to spend time being congratulated for presumed future accomplishments.

Instead, Obama's trying to be all things to all people, but ends up pleasing no one. Americans aren't impressed that he got a Nobel Peace Prize (4 or 8 years from now might have been another story), and Norwegians are bummed that he doesn't think their prize is worth a three-day junket. And with the real-life decisions he has to make as president, he's attracting a crowd of 5,000 anti-war protesters to Oslo.

This isn't working out well for anyone.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mr. Bailout

WaPo has a great spread on how Neel Kashkari, executor of the $700 billion bank bailout, escaped Washington and saved his sanity and his marriage. It's personal, but it's also an instructive look at the interaction of politics and bureaucracy.

The Draw

The groups have been picked! The luck of the draw put France and Mexico in Group A with host South Africa, so there's no true Group of Death. Group G has three excellent teams, but the fourth is North Korea, who will be brutalized as Brazil, Portugal, and Cote d'Ivoire run up the score to win tiebreakers. That's not, IMHO, a real Group of Death, where all four teams deserve to advance.

Americans have a sweet opening match against England to look forward to. Nederlanders zijn blij over een echte gemakkelijke groupje, en Paraguay of Slovakia in de Rond van 16.

More analysis here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Guest Post: Immigration and the Gracchi

This post was written by C.L.D., a Global Review reader. While Global Review believes that immigration should be increased, we also believe that opposing views should be juxtaposed. I have added headings and formatting.

Slavery and the End of the Roman Republic
Today one in eight Americans receives food stamps; of these, around 40% have earned income. We enter a brave new world, one in which impossibly low wages force us to create institutional subsidies for the working poor. There are disturbing parallels between this and Rome’s grain dole, which was one of the major factors in ending Roman democracy.

After the Third Punic War, Rome entered a period of rapid economic change. This was rooted in their practice of taking slaves as spoils of war, a practice that rapidly intensified during the late Republic and into the Empire. (55,000 slaves were carried home at the end of that war; a century later, Julius Caesar in one day sold 53,000 slaves—the entire population of a Gallic district he conquered.)

By the middle of the second century BC, Rome was awash in cheap slaves, causing terrible dislocation for its freedmen. Commodity prices slumped and bankrupted small farmers; slaves displaced urban tradesmen. The aristocracy bought up bankrupted landholdings at discounted prices, consolidating them into ever-growing latifundia worked by ever-increasing armies of slaves. Masses of unemployed, hungry people flooded into the stews and hovels of Rome.

Starting in 133 BC, the populist Gracchi brothers initiated a program of land reform to reverse these changes. It was opposed and then violently suppressed. The only Gracchi reform that survived was the grain dole. It was probably the one reform in their package that should have been spiked, since it fuelled the wild political oscillations that killed the Republic.

The grain dole became the usual tool for buying plebian votes and the rallying cry for reactionary aristocrats. Marius used it to consolidate his last consulship, during which he knocked Rome’s civic institutions to the mat. (Crassus had his own take on the matter—being enormously wealthy, he just bought and distributed enough grain to feed all of Rome for three months.) But Julius Caesar brought the grain dole down to a whole new level, using it to pass the Leges Clodiae, which (among other unsavory changes) unleashed mob rule on Rome. Democracy in Rome was dead in the short space of 75 years.

American Stories
How does this relate to 21st century America? Substitute ‘high levels of immigration’ for slavery, and we’re standing where the Gracchi were in 133 BC.

Nobody knows how many slaves there were in late republican Rome. So we can’t look at the percentage of immigrant Americans—about 11% of the total population—to tell us how close we are to a tipping point. But we do know that we’re at historically high levels of immigration, unmatched—by a long shot—by any other period in our nation’s history. We also know that the percentage of uneducated immigrants is increasing at the same time as wages for unskilled labor are dropping.

I know too many people who have been unemployed for over a year in the current recession. A former paralegal friend is now homeless. Another friend, a small-town accountant, experienced a drop in business just as her husband was laid off from his trucking job last fall. He’s doing contract driving (irregular and without benefits) and they struggle along with a sharply reduced income and no health insurance. They are just one disaster away from bankruptcy.

These friends live out of state. But there are two local stories I’d like to share with you.

I have a friend who cleans houses. Her husband had a stable factory job. Both are very hard workers and honest as the day is long. They’ve never been rich but were always able to provide for themselves and their child.

Last fall he was laid off. For the past several months, he’s worked through a temporary agency for a large locally-owned company. Although this company is famous for its excellent employee benefits, he sees none of them.

Their COBRA coverage expires this week. Health insurance would cost $1200/month. But they now earn so little that they qualify for Medicaid. They have cut so close to the bone that they are now budgeting a paltry $30 for groceries for two adults and a child.

Here’s the second example, and it really infuriates me. I know a recent non-English-speaking immigrant who works in an area restaurant. Last summer I was floored to learn that her boss takes half of his employees’ tips. She didn’t know this was illegal, but even with that knowledge, what can she do? She needs the job to survive.

Qui Bono?
So who benefits from these American tragedies? Business owners, of course—in the first case because the government subsidizes labor costs through Medicaid and food stamps, and in the second because the owner knows his immigrant employees are helpless.

In fact, I contend that the primary beneficiaries of massive unskilled immigration into America are the wealthy—those who hire others at less-than-survival wages and rely on government to make up the difference. The primary losers are our unskilled laborers. And the middle class subsidizes this transfer of wealth from poor to rich.

My friends share a deep resistance to taking government aid and shame that they are forced into it. But inevitably they will lose that—they will have to, to survive. We all understand how the grain dole corrupted politics from the top. But it’s equally true that the grain dole corrupted from the bottom, by robbing poor Romans of their sense of civic responsibility. Since democracy rests on the premise of ‘commonwealth’, such a theft is fatal.

The grain dole was a sop in the place of real labor reform. Food stamps and other benefits are sops in lieu of immigration reform.

Further Reading C.L.D. is an artist and active citizen in Rochester.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

History Repeats Itself

At the end of the third century, the impotent Roman Emperor Honorius was holed up in his court at Ravenna as the Gothic army of Alaric pillaged Italy. An aide breathlessly informed Honorius that Rome had fallen. According to popular gossip afterwards, the emperor was distraught at hearing this until he was informed that it was the great city of Rome that had fallen, not, as he had presumed, his favorite chicken, Rome. (Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Ch. XXXI)

Sixteen hundred years later, courtesy of NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" and the Globe & Mail.
Some 1,700 luminaries, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were in the middle of dinner Tuesday night when smart phones throughout the room began to buzz with the news: “Lady Thatcher has passed away.”

Dinner chatter abruptly veered to expressions of shock and reminiscences of Margaret Thatcher, the 84-year-old former British prime minister, as news of her apparent passing spread like wildfire...

Turns out it was Transport Minister John Baird's beloved 16-year-old cat who had ceased to be.
There must have been another repetition somewhere in between, because this latest occurrence was definitely farce.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tough Government

LA's finest, at the Los Angeles United School District, are facing up to adversity:
In the face of a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines ordered an immediate hiring freeze Monday and cut other expenses, including travel, conferences and food at district meetings... "Despite the pressure of a severely curtailed budget, despite the challenge of meeting our education mandate, we will live up to our responsibility to educate the children of LAUSD."
It's rare to see a unionized profession capable of contracting when necessary. Of course, there is a little flexibility:
The only exceptions to the hiring freeze will be for classroom teachers, principals, assistant principals, cafeteria managers, school police officers, bus drivers[,] teachers' assistants, education aides, special education assistants and plant managers.

According to the district, other exceptions will only be considered for requests that are considered essential to school and district operations.
The burning question now is, who are they hiring besides classroom teachers, principals, assistant principals, cafeteria managers, school police officers, bus drivers, teachers' assistants, education aides, special education assistants and plant managers??

Hat tip to BOTWT.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Handball Henry

French metric football striker Thierry Henry has admitted to using a handball to score against Ireland's plucky side in a winner-goes-to-the-World-Cup qualifier. The isles are in an uproar, and even the French papers are clear that their World Cup berth was dishonestly gained. The front page of Ireland's Independent newspaper is running the latest update on the scandal: the Football Association of Ireland is asking for the match to be replayed.

Come on FIFA - just think of the ratings this would draw!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Patriot Way

The Patriots are the only team in the NFL using double-sided mouthguards, which reduce the risk and severity of concussions. Kudos to the Pats and team dentist Gerald Maher for designing a mouthguard players could accept, and for prioritizing long-term health.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Right Call, The Wrong Call

Global Review fully supports Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on 4th down from their own 28 last night [play-by-play here]. A punt offers the possibility of a serious runback, and Peyton Manning probably had a 50% chance of completing the two-minute drill to win the game. Likewise, the Patriots had converted 5 of 10 fourth downs this season. This was fourth-and-two, and the play worked perfectly - for 1.5 yards. Only a perfect tackle prevented the Pats from icing the game.

The defense took the call as disrespect, which is understandable. But given the situation, it made sense.

The bigger coaching mistake came one down earlier. On 3rd-and-short, Brady passed, incomplete. If Coach knew he was going to go for it on 4th, he should have run on 3rd. That would have allowed the possibility of a small gain even without a conversion, making the 4th-down attempt easier. More importantly, it would have caused Indy to immediately burn their third timeout. Instead, Belichick burned his own timeout, leaving him helpless to prevent Indy's 29-yard slow motion drive which ate up all but 13 seconds. Brady and co. would have had at least a chance of getting into field goal range with 30 more seconds to use.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

De Grote Broer Kijkt Je Aan

Hello, Holland: the big brother will be watching you.
"Each vehicle will be equipped with a GPS device that tracks how many kilometres are driven and when and where. This data will be then be sent to a collection agency that will send out the bill," the transport ministry said in a statement.
Levying per-kilometer taxes on autos is a laudable way to internalize the wear of a car on the roads. But what's wrong with odometers? Or gas taxes, which penalize SUV's more than compact cars? Why does Amsterdam need to know "when and where" every citizen is driving. Dystopia is now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Krugman: All the Wrong Lessons

In today's column, Paul Krugman doubles down on his support for Depression policies. He points out that Germany has had a much milder recession than the U.S. with regards to employment. And he suggests that we have something to learn from the Germans.

Smart - though he's three months behind Global Review, which suggested the same thing in August. But he wants to imitate the wrong things. Here's his logic:
Consider, for a moment, a tale of two countries. Both have suffered a severe recession and lost jobs as a result — but not on the same scale. In Country A, employment has fallen more than 5 percent, and the unemployment rate has more than doubled. In Country B, employment has fallen only half a percent, and unemployment is only slightly higher than it was before the crisis. Don't you think Country A might have something to learn from Country B?
He also points out that Germany came into the Great Recession with strong employment protection legislation, which has been amped up even more. He attributes Germany's low unemployment rate to this legislation. But he leaves out three key facts:
  • the entire recession has been more mild in Germany than in the U.S., not only the jobs picture
  • Germany refused to do a big stimulus package, which Krugman eviscerated them for here and here
  • despite the recession, Americans earn 34% more than Germans
Thus, who should be imitating whom? The data suggests that America is doing things right in the long run, hence our big advantage in earnings. But Germany is doing things right in the short run, hence their relatively mild losses during the recession.

That logic leads one to the following conclusions:
  • Germany should imitate the U.S.'s more free, less protective labor laws
  • the U.S. should imitate Germany's response to the recession: no stimulus package, just a boost to assistance for marginal workers
  • Krugman should find a different career
And as far as implementing that assistance for marginal workers, wouldn't it have been easier to find the money for that if we hadn't spent it on a trillion dollar stimulus package that hasn't worked at all? Krugman even admits that the trillion dollar stimulus hasn't worked, and wishes for a bigger one. After all, it can't be that his 1930's economic theory is wrong!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Theft's Labours Lost

WSJ notes today the coda to the tragedy of Kelo v. New London. (In case you forgot, the 2005 Kelo decision was the most corrupting rulings handed down by the Supreme Court in decades. It authorized an expansion of the power of government to include 'public purposes' as vague as tax collection rather than 'public use', which is the literal statement of the 'takings clause' of the Fifth Amendment. Dissenting Clarence Thomas called this a "deferential shift in phraseology" and noted that the city's 'public purpose' was "suspiciously agreeable to the Pfizer Corporation".)

Now, Pfizer is leaving New London:
While Ms. [Susette] Kelo and her neighbors lost their homes, the city and the state spent some $78 million to bulldoze private property for high-end condos and other "desirable" elements. Instead, the wrecked and condemned neighborhood still stands vacant, without any of the touted tax benefits or job creation.

That's especially galling because the five Supreme Court Justices cited the development plan as a major factor in rationalizing their Kelo decision. Justice Anthony Kennedy called the plan "comprehensive," while Justice John Paul Stevens insisted that "The city has carefully formulated a development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including, but not limited to, new jobs and increased tax revenue."
Whoops! It turns out Washington bureaucrats, even the ones in long robes, are not the best judges of how to manage a local economy. It also turns out that selling out your lower-class residents to curry favor with a large corporation is a losing game for municipalities. Pfizer is a pfickle lover, and was never committed to New London.

Susette Kelo, on the other hand, was committed. But I'm guessing New London lost her love, too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Friedman's Mojo

I don't know where he found it, but Tom Friedman has his mojo back, at least briefly. He's got a new prescription for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process: Get the U.S. out until they really want us. This is a recent conversion for Tom: on August 9th, he called for more U.S. engagement, likewise August 2nd and February 7th. Perhaps his current conclusion is just an angry fit, which would be understandable after 20 years of solid peace-process-ism:
This peace process movie is not going to end differently just because we keep playing the same reel. It is time for a radically new approach. And I mean radical. I mean something no U.S. administration has ever dared to do: Take down our “Peace-Processing-Is-Us” sign and just go home... Indeed, it’s time for us to dust off James Baker’s line: “When you’re serious, give us a call: 202-456-1414. Ask for Barack. Otherwise, stay out of our lives. We have our own country to fix.”
Of course, some would say this has exactly been the case for the last eight-and-a-half years: the American diplomatic efforts are either very detail-oriented (which is always good) or just window-dressing (which fools precisely no one).

Global Review doesn't take a strong stance on U.S. involvement. If the U.S. can improve some small-scale things, like the National Security Force Friedman was touting heavily in February, that's probably worth the expense. On the other hand, serious "permanent solution" efforts are impossible without punching Israel in the face a few times, something the Obama administration couldn't get away with.

For now, we'll have to settle with having a creative columnist back.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Research Paper Saves Baby's Life

Molybdenum cofactor deficiency is a genetic condition which can retard brain development, or kill within months of birth. Only 100 people have ever been diagnosed with it. It had never been cured - until now. reports:
Soon after she was born in 2008, Baby Z's toxic sulphite levels were almost 30 times higher than normal and were dissolving her brain. After three weeks looking for answers, biochemist Dr Rob Gianello found a research paper by German plant biologist Prof Gunther Schwarz describing how he had developed an experimental drug that was able to save mice with the disease in 2004. The drug had hardly been used in animals and nobody had more than an educated guess at what it would do in a human.

But Monash's Dr Alex Veldman contacted Prof Schwarz in Cologne and appealed to the hospital's ethics committee to use the drug on Baby Z. The long shot was backed because the only other option was a painful death.

Within hours of receiving her first daily dose of cPMP (cyclic pyranopterin monophosphate), tests showed Baby Z's sulphite levels immediately dropped from near 300 to below 100. Within three days they fell to the normal level of about 10. Baby Z's neurological development is delayed due to some brain damage in the weeks it took to find the cure, but she is now [at 18 months of age] improving.
Praise God, and humanity's thanks go to Drs. Schwarz, Gianello, and Veldman for their intrepidity.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tokyo Vice

Jake Edelstein has a tremendous preview of his forthcoming book Tokyo Vice, on the Japanese mob. He and his family have death threats out from the Goto crime family:
I'm not entirely objective on the issue of the yakuza [mafia] in my adopted homeland. Three years ago, Goto got word that I was reporting an article about his liver transplant. A few days later, his underlings obliquely threatened me. Then came a formal meeting. The offer was straightforward. "Erase the story or be erased," one of them said. "Your family too."
Japan still allows possession of child pornography, which is the mafia's bread and butter, and refuses to share information with U.S. law enforcement. This story is begging for a movie to be made - and to be used to embarrass Japanese officials into action.

Fire Snyder

Hey Washington Redskins fans - make sure you get yourself into the FIRE SNYDER sign on November 15th.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Silent Scream

A Planned Parenthood director in Texas has resigned in response to a spiritual conversion:
Johnson said she realized she wanted to leave, after watching an ultrasound of an abortion procedure. "I just thought I can't do this anymore, and it was just like a flash that hit me and I thought that's it," said Jonhson.
She not only got out of the abortion providing business, but got signed up with an abortion alternatives center down the street.

What might be most interesting about the story, outside of Johnson's personal story, is Planned Parenthood's response to the recession:
According to Johnson, the non-profit was struggling under the weight of a tough economy, and changing it's business model from one that pushed prevention, to one that focused on abortion. "The money wasn't in family planning, the money wasn't in prevention, the money was in abortion and so I had a problem with that," said Johnson. Johnson said she was told to bring in more women who wanted abortions
PP likes to pitch itself as an advocate for women's independence. It shouldn't be a shock that Big Abortion is like any other business - the bottom line trumps the tagline.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Economy Car Watch

Washington Post writer Neil Irwin hasn't been following Global Review very closely. Neither does he know much economics. If he did, he'd know that the economy is not a car!

Irwin's big front-page article regurgitates the nauseating metaphor:
While the government has successfully jump-started the U.S. economy, there are emerging signs that its engine still isn't running very well, and may even sputter out.
He accepts as fact the silly notion that the government can manage the economy like a car owner, unsubtly settling the debate over the role of fiscal policy for his readers. Do yourself a favor and take a drive outside in your own economy car instead of wasting time on Irwin's voodoo economics.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gross National Happiness

What ought economists to measure? We want to know why people produce and trade scarce resources, and we want to know what are the most efficient ways to do those things. Some have noted that the traditional method - summing the price of all the traded goods and services produced by an economy - is a poor method, since it is measuring production instead of utility. This is an especially strong critique of Keynesian policy, which seeks to raise production even if that means lowering consumption. Philosophical types, myself included, also note that consumption seems to have very little to do with happiness (that is, utility) in real lives.

It should not be lost that economists study economy. Non-scarce goods, such as friendship or righteousness, may be vital to happiness but fall outside the realm of economy. What economy does contribute to people's lives is, essentially, trade. I have something that is of more value to you than it is to me, and if we can trade, we can increase world happiness. In order to measure the contribution of economy to happiness, we would like to measure the gross surplus in all exchanges.

Obviously, that is impossible. We can often measure price, which must fall between the two valuations in an exchange, but gives us no information on the size of the surplus. The convenient thing about measuring surplus, like consumption or utility, is that it can only accrue to individuals. Firms or governments don't feel and cannot enjoy surplus (although they can help create or destroy it). So, focusing on individuals, we should look at all the trades that they make. The most obvious are the sale of labor and the purchase of goods and services. There are others: taxes and government services, for instance. In addition, the screwy issue of externalities arises when an exchange reduces a third party's happiness.

Nonetheless, if we are to measure surplus as the contribution of economy to happiness - specifically in its fluctuations or in the differences between countries - we do well to focus on the biggest components. Those, in turn, are well-measured by the traditional measures of consumption and income. In order to fully justify classical economic analysis, we need the additional assumptions that the surplus from each type of exchange is roughly constant across time and location and that surpluses across different types of exchanges are roughly proportional to their total value.

I would be interested to know if these assumptions have been tested anywhere; lacking evidence for or against them, I will proceed using classical economic analysis - but remembering that this approximates not total happiness but the contribution of economy to happiness.

Friday, October 16, 2009

On Recoveries

It's well-known among economists, and often known by politicians and even journalists that employment is a lagging indicator. When the economy sinks, jobs are lost a few months later. When the economy recovers, job creation is often the last step.

Why, then, do journalists and Keynesian economists insist that demand drives business cycles? How can consumer demand increase while unemployment is high? Something always ends recessions; we've never suffered a persistent recession. Even the Great Depression didn't "bend the curve" of long-run growth.

There are a lot of mysteries in economics. It shouldn't be a mystery that the economy will recover, and when it does, it won't be because of consumer demand rising unbidden like the sphinx.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This Explains the Nobel Prize

What did Obama do to deserve the Peace Prize? Jen Sorensen explains all.

Hat tip to Mikey.

Sir Tim Lives!

"There are some who call me... Sir Tim." - Monty Python & the Holy Grail

It turns out those "some" include the Daily Mail. Go figure.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Video Mash-Up

I can't do video-editing, but this is a video I want to see on YouTube:
President Barack Obama: I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee... And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call--
Kanye West: Yo Barack, I'm really happy for you and I'mma let you finish, but Morgan Tsvangirai was one of the best democrats of all time. Of ALL TIME!
BO: Kanye... he's a jackass
Granted, it might be hard to find video of Kanye West pronouncing Mr. Tsvangirai's name (correctly or otherwise), but with a little dubbing, this could be great!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Court and the Cross

As every politicized Christian in America knows, the Supreme Court is deciding whether or not a cross is allowed to stand on Federal land in the Mojave Desert. As a Christian, my usual response to these cases is 'let the jerks be jerks'. If secular people (here, it's one Frank Buono) really want to lead a witch hunt against symbols of faith, let them. History deals harshly with witch-hunters. There are many alternatives: if the Town Square won't host a creche, the church or coffee shop across the street probably will.

In this case, the argument is even sillier. The cross was there before the land ever became National Park. The notion that Mr. Buono (or anyone else) is materially harmed by the cross is a stretch. Removing the cross - which is a relic of the religious beliefs of those who used the Mojave before the Federal government - would be similar to sandblasting Navajo art off of "Federal" rocks because it depicts deities, or blowing up 6th-century statues of Buddha. Oh wait, that was the Taliban, not the Feds. Oops.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The Patriots play the undefeated Broncos this week, which will be the last in a string of five games in which they've played a team without a loss. That means the combined record of Patriots opponents at game time is 15-0. The next week, however, the Pats draw Tennessee, which has a good chance of being winless coming in.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Krauthammer's Law, Revisited

In 2006, Charles Krauthammer expounded his Law, everyone who is anyone is Jewish until proven otherwise. But even Charlie himself must be astounded by this one: according to the Telegraph, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the despot of Iran and would-be scourge of Israel, was born to Jewish parents.
A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver... The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia.
Well, stranger things have been alleged.

Hat tip to James Taranto (who is, of course, Jewish).

Fan Appreciation

The Sox had fan appreciation during their victory lap series this last week. Beth has great photos and anecdotes.

Colonel Kez

My sister is extraordinary, which is not news to those of you who know her. The latest of her exploits - serving a U.S. Army medical team in Haiti as its go-to person, and serving their patients as a fluent and bold advocate with the Army - is chronicled on her blog in several parts. Naturally, she was appreciated:
And then [the U.S. Ambassador] asked for Madame Keziah F. I walked up, shook his hand, and as he passed me the plaque, I heard the US soldiers.

Throughout the entire ceremony, they had been silent, applauding politely when they saw everyone else applauding. When Colonel Hershey was awarded 2 plaques, they clapped. When a plaque was announced for the entire MEDRETE team, they clapped. But when my name was announced, they leapt to their feet and gave me a shout-out. If you've never experienced an Army shout-out, I'm sorry, I can't do it justice. Imagine a score of deep male voices shouting out a secret code of Army brotherhood, something that you can't imitate and you can't fully understand. But when you look at their faces, you realize that you don't need to. And it's all you can do to keep from crying.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Who knew? Of the 45 American League outfielders, the highest two in OPS are (drum roll) Jason Bay and J.D. Drew. Or so says the Herald's John Tomase. The Yahoo! numbers beg to differ: Bay is third in the AL, Drew is fifth. What data was John reading? Or maybe he didn't notice Adam Lind (#1) who belted a homer against Tim Wakefield last night.

Monday, September 28, 2009


I'm going to see this in Rochester on Halloween night. Who's in?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ice Cream Truck

Gothamist reports that the ice cream truck wars in Manhattan have gotten nasty.
Reached for comment, Benjamin Van Leeuwen tells us that his driver, Travis, was being followed by three Mister Softee trucks as he tried to find a place to park near Lexington and 55th Street. When he pulled over, they surrounded him and "threatened to kill him" if he didn't leave midtown. Van Leeuwen tells us, "They do that all the time," but so far this is his company's first brush with the Mister Softee mafia in midtown. He tells us that Travis considered calling police, but in the past they've been "really unhelpful" and reluctant to file a police report, and Travis wanted to get back to work.
If this sounds like fiction, it's probably because you've read The Pushcart War. What makes the ice-cream truck war more plausible is that (a) it pits competitors in the same niche against each other, and (b) it's actually happening.

Hat tip to BOTWT.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Qaddafi at the UN

Obama's speech was forgettable. Not so "king of kings and leader of the revolution" Muammar Qaddafi's. An excellent FT blog reaction was noted by Drudge.

Friday, September 18, 2009

An Explanation for Wilson

Joe Wilson has a great excuse for his unclassy outburst last week:

Courtesy of Saturday Night Live

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Party Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

With the election of President Barack Obama, rumors abounded of a "post-racial" era. These were overstated. Now, with the president finding his partisan agenda rejected by public opinion, Democrats have begun to shout "RACISM!" in Obama's defense. This is not helping Obama.

Presidents are parodied, insulted, mocked, hated, and often shot at. This has never been blamed on race before. By running for the presidency, Obama (and his co-competitors in 2008) were volunteering to become a receptacle for vitriol. We chose Obama; we didn't have to.

When Democrats - in Congress or the media - refer to criticism of Obama as "racist", they hurt the cause of blacks in politics.

Those who play the race card are rarely colorblind; they are typically actively interested in the promotion of racial equality, or simply in the promotion of their own race. Either way, they think about race a lot. Most white Americans (and thus most voters) don't think about race a lot. If they do think about race, it's as a distraction from real business, from people doing their jobs. They - we - want a president who does his job, who makes no excuses, and who treats us voters as worthy of his respect.

When critics of the president are dismissed as racist, they will conclude that their accusers have no rejoinder of substance, and aren't ready for the rough business of Washington. This came into play during Hillary's campaign: her defenders played the "woman" card, and voters recoiled. Who wants to be tarred as chauvinist for criticizing the president? Voters instead chose Obama, who (then and now) has done an admirable job at taking punches without whining.

Democrats outside the White House, however, continue to diminish the president by defending him on racial grounds.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Teaching Economists Economics

Paul Krugman is a former economist, and he sets out to describe the state of economic inquiry in the context of the current recession. He correctly notes that there's a sharp division among economists in terms of how to respond to the financial crisis and ensuing recession. But it's his too-clever-by-half attempt to discredit the "freshwater" side of the debate that gets the laughs. He begins with an amusing anecdote:
Consider the travails of the Capitol Hill Baby-Sitting Co-op.

This co-op, whose problems were recounted in a 1977 article in The Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, was an association of about 150 young couples who agreed to help one another by baby-sitting for one another’s children when parents wanted a night out. To ensure that every couple did its fair share of baby-sitting, the co-op introduced a form of scrip: coupons made out of heavy pieces of paper, each entitling the bearer to one half-hour of sitting time. Initially, members received 20 coupons on joining and were required to return the same amount on departing the group.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the co-op’s members, on average, wanted to hold a reserve of more than 20 coupons, perhaps, in case they should want to go out several times in a row. As a result, relatively few people wanted to spend their scrip and go out, while many wanted to baby-sit so they could add to their hoard. But since baby-sitting opportunities arise only when someone goes out for the night, this meant that baby-sitting jobs were hard to find, which made members of the co-op even more reluctant to go out, making baby-sitting jobs even scarcer. . . .
And then returns to the world of economists:
Freshwater economists are, essentially, neoclassical purists. They believe that all worthwhile economic analysis starts from the premise that people are rational and markets work, a premise violated by the story of the baby-sitting co-op. As they see it, a general lack of sufficient demand isn’t possible, because prices always move to match supply with demand. If people want more baby-sitting coupons, the value of those coupons will rise, so that they’re worth, say, 40 minutes of baby-sitting rather than half an hour — or, equivalently, the cost of an hours’ baby-sitting would fall from 2 coupons to 1.5. And that would solve the problem: the purchasing power of the coupons in circulation would have risen, so that people would feel no need to hoard more, and there would be no recession.
Why was the freshwater efficiency ideal "violated by the story of the co-op"? Because the prices didn't adjust. Why didn't prices adjust? Because the co-op fixed them! Krugman even describes how price change would have looked in that case, but it was precisely the rigidity of the system that prevented efficient prices and caused a 'babysitting recession'.

Krugman, of course, is a proponent of government regulation and price-setting.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

We Get Results: A Republican Plan

Yesterday, Global Review published a complaint that Republicans have squandered the opportunity to offer a clear alternative to the quasi-socialization of medicine.

We complain, they respond. Congressmen John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) have an excellent policy memo in the Journal today, laying out clear rationale and a smart plan for reform.
Thousands of foreigners come to America to get care each year; in 2008, some 400,000 people traveled here for treatment... The problem is that some in America cannot access this care. Republicans and Democrats agree that we should cover all Americans.
They highlight cost control, pre-existing conditions, and non-insured Americans as the key areas of reform. The most interesting feature was the GOP approach to the pre-existing condition problem:
In 2006, the Republican Congress and President Bush passed legislation encouraging states to create "high-risk" pools where those with pre-existing conditions could receive coverage at roughly the same rates as healthy Americans. State-based high-risk pools spread the cost of care for those with chronic diseases among all insurers in the market. The additional cost of their care is subsidized by the government.

Unfortunately, some states have not created high-risk pools, and some need to be restructured to ensure timely access to care.
This system has been insignificant so far because the market for health plans remains uncompetitive; the first part of Shadegg & Hoekstra's proposal would start to address that problem.

The congressmen also propose government vouchers spent by low-income consumers in the marketplace as a means of covering the uninsured. This certainly seems to me the most sensible idea (it's similar to how Medicaid works in some states), and it would give the poor access to the same health care as the rest of us.

This brief article doesn't go far enough in describing how means-testing would work for the new Medicaid, or whether penalties would be levied against people who want to slide by without health insurance.

Nor does their proposal for increasing competition by removing the self-insurance penalty seem like it will be enough to actually get competitively priced individual plans. I think that it's probably necessary to do away with employer-provision altogether, and put the onus on consumers to buy their own health insurance - just like they buy their own car insurance and home insurance.

The next step for Shadegg, Hoekstra and friends is to take the message beyond the friendly readership of the Wall Street Journal. The best way to move beyond the Town Hall anger of August and resolve the public debate over health care is for voters to see some alternatives and be able to choose among them through their elected representatives.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Republican Agenda

I'll bet you have no idea what this post is about. "The Republican agenda": what does that bring to mind in 2009?

I'll give you some time...

Need more time?

Ok, time's up.

So what do we have? A leading GOP governor takes time to make the platform clear: the president shouldn't speak to schoolchildren! Are you serious? Given a chance to say something about the public school system or civic responsibility, all that Tim Pawlenty has to say is that Obama shouldn't say anything?

This month has been one of the great opportunities in the past three years for the articulation of a clear conservative agenda, particularly on health care. Instead? The Republicans are the Party of 'No'. They're right: Americans don't want the creeping socialism of Obamacare. But just like the Democrats on Social Security reform 4 years ago, "no" is not enough: Americans do want marginal reforms and they do want to find representatives who can evaluate an idea for its policy merits as well as its political ones.

Nothing to see here, America, move along.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

NHS Death Panels

Sarah Palin, call your office. Drudge's splash headline today is a Telegraph article detailing a critique of Britain's relatively new "Liverpool Care Pathway", which is an oxymoron in which medical care is withdrawn when the doctors judge that a terminally ill patient is near death. Basically it works like this:

Doctor 1: Bring out yer dead.
Doctor 2: Here's one.
Doctor 1: That'll be ninepence.
NHS Patient: I'm not dead.
Doctor 1: What?
Doctor 2: Nothing. There's your ninepence.
NHS Patient: I'm not dead.
Doctor 1: 'Ere, he says he's not dead.
Doctor 2: Yes he is.
NHS Patient: I'm not.
Doctor 1: He isn't.
Doctor 2: Well, he will be soon, he's very ill.
NHS Patient: I'm getting better.
Doctor 2: No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.
Doctor 1: Well, I can't take him like that. It's against regulations.
NHS Patient: I don't want to go on the cart.
Doctor 2: Oh, don't be such a baby.
Doctor 1: I can't take him.
NHS Patient: I feel fine.
Doctor 2: Oh, do me a favor.
Doctor 1: I can't.
Doctor 2: Well, can you hang around for a couple of minutes? He won't be long.
Doctor 1: I promised I'd be at the Robinsons'. They've lost nine today.
Doctor 2: Well, when's your next round?
Doctor 1: Thursday.
NHS Patient: I think I'll go for a walk.
Doctor 2: You're not fooling anyone, you know. Isn't there anything you could do?
NHS Patient: I feel happy. I feel happy.
[Doctor 1 glances up and down the street furtively, then silences the Patient with his a whack of his club]
Doctor 2: Ah, thank you very much.
Doctor 1: Not at all. See you on Thursday.
Doctor 2: Right.
Doctors everywhere have been deciding when patients are beyond their care since the beginning of doctors. The Liverpool Care Pathway is a uniform lowering of that standard and, like other NHS decisions, was imposed on the people of Britain without their consultation or consent.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Vick, Dogs, and Race

Much has been made of Michael Vick's return to the NFL this year after two years in prison. Two years! How did he get that much when another NFL star got just 30 days for manslaughter. First, he managed to get snared in federal racketeering charges instead of local laws. Second, he was uncooperative and was "made an example" by an angry judge.

Meanwhile, Brett Favre likes to kill animals for sport, too. But his animals are bear and deer. Moreover, I and you, tender reader, enjoy eating hamburgers, chicken wings, and other pieces of dead animals bred in captivity and killed at will. It's hard to see the difference in treatment as anything other than social fiat: we, as a society, like dogs, and don't want to see them killed. We, as a society, believe that animal bloodsport (including bullfighting and bear-baiting as well as dogfighting) is unbecoming of our humanity and detrimental to social peace, but that slaughtering cattle is just fine. That's all well and good: I don't question the content of those decisions.

But race plays a role. It's not racism per se that's at play here. The white American majority did not set out to make "black" sports illegal because we dislike blacks. Nor would the law have let Favre walk if he chose dogfighting instead of bear-hunting. Rather, the majority has outlawed that which it finds inhumane, and the tastes represented by that majority must be the tastes of most whites: there's no other way to construct an American majority.

So what's a majority to do? Should we allow behavior we think inhumane? Should we outlaw behavior that anyone thinks is inhumane (PETA, we're looking at you)? Or should we have different standards for different races? No; separate was never equal. So we find no clear alternative to democracy (in one form or another), which will always elevate the tastes and sensibilities of a majority.

And then what's a Vick to do? By his own lights, he did no worse than Brett Favre with a hunting rifle. He could have accepted the standards of others' consciences, like a foreigner would; but he's no foreigner. Instead, he accepted the harsh punishment of a society in which he enjoys the futility of full individual representation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

NYTimes posts the final numbers on that clunker of a government giveaway. This was supposed to be a corrupt, inefficient give-away to the corrupt, inefficient American car makers, right? Well, Washington can't even do pork very well. The program successfully took American clunkers off the road and replaced them with Asian-brand sedans.
Top 10 New Vehicles Purchased

1. Toyota Corolla
2. Honda Civic
3. Toyota Camry
4. Ford Focus
5. Hyundai Elantra
6. Nissan Versa
7. Toyota Prius
8. Honda Accord
9. Honda Fit
10. Ford Escape FWD

Top 10 Trade-in Vehicles

1. Ford Explorer 4WD
2. Ford F150 Pickup 2WD
3. Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD
4. Ford Explorer 2WD
5. Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 2WD
6. Jeep Cherokee 4WD
7. Chevrolet Blazer 4WD
8. Chevrolet C1500 Pickup 2WD
9. Ford F150 Pickup 4WD
10. Ford Windstar FWD Van
The government, of course, is labeling this clunker "wildly successful". Just like the British victory at Bunker Hill, I guess, or the victories of Pyrrhus over the Roman Republic.


Mary Jo Kopechne was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the only child of insurance salesman Joseph Kopechne and his wife, Gwen. The family moved to New Jersey when she was an infant. She attended parochial schools growing up.

After graduating with a degree in business administration from Caldwell College for Women in New Jersey in 1962, Kopechne moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to teach for a year at the Mission of St. Jude as part of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, she moved to Washington, D.C., to work as secretary to Florida Senator George Smathers. Kopechne joined New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy's secretarial staff, following his election in 1964. There she worked as a secretary to the senator's speechwriters and as a legal secretary to one of his legal advisers. Kopechne was a loyal and tireless worker for Robert Kennedy, in March 1967 having stayed up all night at his Hickory Hill home to type a major speech against the Vietnam War as the senator and his aides such as Ted Sorenson made last-minute changes to it.

During the 1968 U.S. presidential election, she helped with the wording of Robert Kennedy's March 1968 speech announcing his candidacy. During his campaign, she worked as one of the "Boiler Room Girls", an affectionate name given to six young women who worked from a central, windowless location in Kennedy's Washington campaign headquarters. They were vital in tracking and compiling data and intelligence on how Democratic delegates from various states were intending to vote; Kopechne's responsibilities included Pennsylvania. Kopechne and the other staffers were politically savvy; they talked daily with field managers and also served as conduits for policy statements being distributed to strategically-located newspapers.

Kopechne was devastated by the June 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy and could not return to work on Capitol Hill. However, as her father later said, "Politics was her life," and in December 1968 she used her expertise to gain a job with Matt Reese Associates, a Washington, D.C., firm that helped establish campaign headquarters and field offices for politicians and was one of the first political consulting firms. She was on her way to a successful professional career.

She lived in the Georgetown neighborhood with three other women. She was a devout Roman Catholic with a demure, serious personality, rarely drank much, and had no reputation for extramarital activities with men.

On July 18, 1969, Kopechne attended a party on Chappaquiddick Island, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, held in honor of the Boiler Room Girls. It was the fourth such reunion of the Robert Kennedy campaign workers.

Kopechne left the party at 11:15 p.m. with Robert's brother Ted Kennedy, after he — according to his own account — offered to drive her to catch the last ferry back to Edgartown, where she was staying. Kennedy stated he made a wrong turn on the way and came upon a narrow, unlit bridge without guardrails. Kennedy drove the 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off the bridge and it overturned in the water. Kennedy extricated himself from the submerged car but Kopechne died.

'Borrowed' from Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fairy Tale Nazi

NYTimes film review has a fascinating look at the surprising star of Quentin Tarantino's latest bloodbath.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stimulus: Making the Recession Longer

The news this week that France and Germany grew at a 1% rate in the second quarter - ending the recession there - was surprising to many, but not so much to Global Review. After all, France and Germany did the least of all the major countries to "stimulate" their economies, despite heavy pressure from U.S. policymakers to drink the Kool Aid and join the stimulation orgy. James Taranto sets it up perfectly, with former economist and Nobel prizewinner Paul Krugman as the fall guy:
* "There's a problem: conservative politicians, clinging to an out-of-date ideology--and, perhaps, betting (wrongly) that their constituents are relatively well positioned to ride out the storm--are standing in the way of action. No, I'm not talking about Bob Corker, the Senator from Nissan--I mean Tennessee--and his fellow Republicans. . . . I am, instead, talking about Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and her economic officials, who have become the biggest obstacles to a much-needed European rescue plan."-- Paul Krugman, New York Times, Dec. 15, 2008

* "Why is Europe falling short? Poor leadership is part of the story. European banking officials, who completely missed the depth of the crisis, still seem weirdly complacent. And to hear anything in America comparable to the know-nothing diatribes of Germany's finance minister you have to listen to, well, Republicans."--Krugman, New York Times, March 16, 2009

* "The European economy bounced back with unexpected strength in the second quarter, buoying hopes that a worldwide recession was drawing to a close. The sharp improvement from the first quarter underscored just how far Europe and indeed the global economy had come since a harrowing free fall in late 2008. Underlying the strong reading were solid performances in France and Germany, each of whose economies grew slightly in the second quarter, according to government data released Thursday."--news story, New York Times, Aug. 14, 2009
Japan, which did have a large stimulus package, grew very slightly in the second quarter, so the correlation isn't perfect. But it's certainly inconsistent with the facts to claim - as Krugman, Obama, and Christina Romer do - that government stimulii shorten recessions.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Progress on Two Fronts

Who wrote this?
Imagine an annual economic growth rate of 7%, declining unemployment, a thriving tourism industry, and a 24% hike in the average daily wage. Where...? The West Bank.

The West Bank's economic improvements contrast with the lack of diplomatic progress on the creation of a Palestinian state. Negotiators focus on the "top down" issues, grappling with legal and territorial problems. But the West Bank's population is building sovereignty from the bottom-up, forging the law-enforcement, civil, and financial institutions that form the underpinnings of any modern polity.
Emphasis added, but what kind of anti-Israeli peacenik would speak so glowingly of West Bank 'sovereignty'?
Mr. Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States.
Oh. Huh. So not only is responsible Fatah leadership in the West Bank leading to swift economic growth, but Israeli leadership can see a peace with honor in a self-governing, sovereign West Bank.

Now if only Israeli leadership would respond as they have promised to Palestinian good faith and stop expanding the settlements!

Real Health Care Reform

Economist John Cochrane (whom I tried to invite for a prestigious lecture at my school) weighs in on the health care reform debate:
Health care and insurance are service-oriented, retail businesses. There is only one way to reduce costs in such a business: intense competition for every customer. The idea that the federal government can reduce costs by negotiating harder or telling businesses what to do is a triumph of hope over centuries of experience.
He identifies the "pre-existing condition" catch-22 as the biggest failure in the lousy current system, and proposes a fix:
A truly effective insurance policy would combine coverage for this year's expenses with the right to buy insurance in the future at a set price. Today, employer-based group coverage provides the former but, crucially, not the latter. A "guaranteed renewable" individual insurance contract is the simplest way to deliver both. Once you sign up, you can keep insurance for life, and your premiums do not rise if you get sicker... And insurers are getting more creative. UnitedHealth now lets you buy the right to future insurance—insurance against developing a pre-existing condition.
But what about the big, evil corporations?
How do we know insurers will honor such contracts? What about the stories of insurers who drop customers when they get sick? A competitive market is the best consumer protection. A car insurer that doesn't pay claims quickly loses customers and goes out of business. And courts do still enforce contracts.
What the anti-Obamacare movement needs is a clear, well-stated alternative. House Republicans should use the break to distill ideas like Cochrane's into a digestible proposal that makes a serious effort to reform the system. In a time when voters need to see their alternatives clearly, a clear alternative has yet to arrive in Washington. The time for that would be now.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tito's story

The Herald recalls Terry Francona's greatest moment as a ballplayer: getting ejected during an intentional walk. Therein lies a tale...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Deficit

The projected deficit for the 2009 fiscal year (which began October 1, 2008) is $1,841,000,000,000. That's more than the seven unacceptably large deficits of the first seven years of the Bush presidency combined.

Will any politician ever have the courage to stop stealing from his children?

Town Halls

Three cheers for the fracas ongoing in the "town hall" meetings across America. Instead of being dominated by narrow, local interests as usual, the August recess is gripped by voters who are concerned about national issues: health care reform and government debt. It's good to see congressmen grapple with voters. The "you work for us" slogan has to be particularly stinging, because congressmen know it ought to be true.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Unemployment Falls! Wow!

So the media, desperate to portray Obama in a positive light, is falling over itself to declare the recession over because unemployment fell this month for the first time in over a year. So it's true, the stimulus must be working. How else could unemployment possibly fall?

But wait, the reports also note that 247,000 jobs were lost in July. So how did unemployment drop? Well, a lot of people must have given up looking for work. According to the BLS release, a net 422,000 people left the labor force, including 267,000 net from unemployment.

So the conclusion is: 247,000 jobs disappeared, and 267,000 people who were actively looking for work decided to give up. That doesn't sound like a recovery to me. To its credit, the Obama Administration is not believing its own hype: they still predict 10% unemployment sometime this year. On the other hand, they continue to push discredited Keynesian policies despite their obvious failure to make a dent in the recession.

The same media who were skewing data trying to declare a recession last year are now skewing data trying to declare a recovery. What changed? Only the man in the White House.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Students versus Teachers

In yet another two examples, teachers' unions are doing their best to crack down on innovation and efficiency. They have no problem with New York or Baltimore's many, many failing schools - only with the cities' few successful ones.

Is there still any doubt that school freedom - chartering, vouchers, school choice - is the best route to improving education among the poor? And if "education is the civil rights issue of the twenty-first century", doesn't that make the United Federation of Teachers the new Jim Crow?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Introducing: Quotations of Kristin

Having abandoned (or supplemented?) the trusty journal-notebook, friend Kristin is committing the funny things she and her friends say to zeros and ones. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Brownpau took photos of a "Ghost of My Friends" book from 1900. This is a clever little volume that exploits the splotchiness of fountain pen ink and the florid personal signatures of the times.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I like my coffee...

(this is what I was trying to think of when I wrote the below post... came up with it yesterday):

I like my coffee the way I like my divine love: stronger than death.

I like my mango juice the way I like my bank tellers...

_________ and _________. (you finish the joke).

Meanwhile, I like my tacos the way I like my webcomics: cheesy and over the top.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Good Victim

Good victims make good movements possible.
That's Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff at UCLA, chiming in on the Cambridge racial profiling incident. And he's right. But it is clearer and clearer that the "good victim" in this case is Sgt. James Crowley. Crowley could have been just another white cop. And then who would know: maybe he really is a racist?

Instead, it turns out that Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., picked on the wrong white cop. Dr. Gates profiled Crowley immediately, responding to the officer's initial request for I.D. with a tirade.

But Crowley doesn't play to type. Sgt. Crowley was handpicked by a black police chief to teach the racial profiling course at Lowell Police Academy for the past five years. Crowley's better spoken (and written) than the average cop: his public comments have been confident but not rancorous; his incident report is lucid. Also, it turns out Crowley already had his 15 minutes of fame - trying desperately to revive Reggie Lewis when the Celtics star's heart stopped in 1993. Crowley grew up in Cambridge, has black friends on and off the force, and knew protocol for working in and around Harvard.

Gates chose the wrong cop to write a "racial profiling" documentary about.

Crowley can be the "good victim" for a "good movement": restoring the presumption of innocence to crimes of political incorrectness.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Just Another Harvard Ego

Responding to a report of breaking and entering, Cambridge police arrested celebrity Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. outside his own home.

Why did they think he was breaking and entering? Well, he tried for 15 minutes to break down the door, so a neighbor called the cops. Why was he arrested? Because he yelled at cops for a while. According to Dr. Gates, the cop who saw Gates' ID wouldn't give his own name in return, as Gates hectored him about the injustice of it all. Gates was free to remain within, but once he stepped outside, lecturing, questioning, and probably yelling at the police, they arrested him for disorderly conduct and put him through the usual hassle.

Dr. Gates now says "this is outrageous and that this is how poor black men across the country are treated everyday in the criminal justice system. It's one thing to write about it, but altogether another to experience it." He obviously thinks this wouldn't have happened to a white professor; and maybe he's right. But his judgment of injustice preceded and contributed to the actual incident of unjust treatment!

Let's recap: police get a call reporting "two black men" breaking and entering. They show up and find only a middle-aged nerd. He happens to be black. No injustice so far. They ask the nerd for ID. Would they have asked if he was white? Absolutely: they ask for ID of any person they interact with; I've been asked by police for ID both as a witness and as a victim. So still, no injustice.

Here, Gates' own anti-police prejudice kicked in. He refused to come out on the porch. He did show his ID to one (white) officer who (obviously unafraid) entered the house with him. Then, in Gates' own telling,
he began to ask the officer this question, repeatedly. "I said 'Who are you? I want your name and badge number.' I got angry."
Then he followed the officer (who claims to have given his name) outside and was promptly arrested for disorderly conduct. The police should not have arrested him; they could have just driven away. Maybe they would not have arrested a white professor doing the same thing - it's hard to know. The officers here ought to gut-check whether they projected a bunch of stereotypes onto this black man. They should also realize that anger does not always entail danger.

Back to Dr. Gates. Why was he angry? Because police had responded to his neighbor's call? Or because they asked for ID? If they mistreated him otherwise, it's not reported in the very favorable WaPo story.

The impression one gets of Dr. Gates, who reportedly yelled "You don't who you're messing with" as he was arrested, is of a man who carries a chip on his shoulder, assumes he's better than those around him, and doesn't take the time to get to know his neighbors. In short, he's just another overinflated ego from Harvard.

USAID as Kenya's activist librarian

The FT reports on one of the most daring activities USAID has ever initiated.
It’s Our Turn to Eat, by British writer Michela Wrong, is the story of the man who blew the whistle on multimillion-dollar corruption at the heart of the Kenyan government. Most Kenyans cannot get hold of a copy.

Kenyans who want a copy go to hawkers such as Mr Ngure, who fishes a battered mobile phone out of his pocket and slips away to call his supplier. This indirect route for the book to reach its readership exists only thanks to an unlikely collaborator: the US embassy in Nairobi. It has masterminded a guerrilla distribution programme to challenge the political elite by promoting an exposé of its failings.
With Mr. Obama as president of the U.S., one imagines the U.S. has a great latitude to act in Kenya even outside the norms of diplomacy. Here's hoping the book gets all over Nairobi - and ends the careers of the most corrupt "public" officials.

Friday, July 17, 2009

(Unborn) Babies Remember

Experiments confirm what parents have known for a long time: unborn children are capable of memory. A Dutch research team released their results yesterday.
The team also found that the tiny test subjects actually improved these skills as they grew older, with those who were 34- or 36-weeks old clearly showing that they had become familiar with the hum outside the womb...
Tellingly, though,
A call to NARAL Pro-Choice America for comment on the implications of the research were not returned.
Hmm. I can't imagine why. Hat tip to James Taranto at BOTWT.

Tek Talks Pitches

Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek is cagy about his pitchers. So when a sportswriter asks for details on how a particular pitcher designs strategy, 'Tek dishes on the methods of Mike Timlin - now retired.
"There are different ways you can go," said Varitek. "Take [Mike] Timlin: he could four-seam away, sink away, and cut away, so he’s created this."

Now, as if chopping the side of one hand with the other, Varitek formed an 'X' to mark one corner of the plate.

"One [pitch] goes beneath the barrel [of the bat], one goes over the barrel and one goes across the barrel," Varitek continued. "That's basically three varieties of one pitch - a fastball."
Mazz goes on to talk about Jon Lester's turnaround (he found control inside to lefties), Pedro's dominance, Derek Lowe's growth and mastery of the corners (especially inside to lefties), Justin Masterson's problems (he lost control inside to lefties), and Buchholz's prospects for pitching inside to lefties tonight.

In the midseason break, most baseball reporting is silliness; if you've been dying to sink your teeth into some serious baseball reading, here it (finally) is.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Cost of Living

Peter Singer makes a point in the NY Times Magazine that I've been making for years: we'll soon be faced with one of the greatest questions of applied philosophy ever to face mankind. That question is, How much is a year of life worth? When expensive medical treatments can extend and extend life, we - either individually or as a society - will be in the uncomfortable position of deciding approximately when we will die.

It's easy to project this forward to a dystopia: Brave New World residents stay young until 60, then die rapidly. More chillingly, the British health agency that has made one of the first notable decisions in this line is the NICE, named in apparent ignorance of the British agency NICE in C.S. Lewis' dystopia, That Hideous Strength.

In Lewis' novel, NICE is a government-financed but independently run British organization that seeks 'scientific' dominance over nature, valuing humans for utility and obliterating moral senses. In modern-day Britain, NICE is a "government-financed but independently run [British] organization set up to provide national guidance on promoting good health and treating illness". By "national guidance" it is apparent from the story that what is meant is in fact incontrovertible orders.

Of all the dystopias I've read, I wouldn't have predicted That Hideous Strength as the first to come true. Yikes.

*Bleep* the National League

What's the secret to American League All-Star game dominance?
[T]he greatest pregame speech since Rockne invoked the Gipper, one laced with profanity and delivered to the American League All-Stars every year.
Huh? A profanity-laced anti-NL tirade? What old-schooler still has the gonads to bring that?
Ichiro Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners’ wisp of an outfielder, a man who still uses a translator to do interviews with English-speaking reporters – and happens to be baseball’s amalgam of Anthony Robbins and George Carlin. Every year, after the AL manager addresses his team, Ichiro bursts from his locker, a bundle of kinetic energy, and proceeds, in English, to disparage the National League with an H-bomb of F-bombs.
Sportswriters got the secret out last year in New York.
The exact words are not available. Players are too busy laughing to remember them. Ichiro wouldn’t dare repeat them in public. So here’s the best facsimile possible.

“Bleep … bleep bleep bleep … National League … bleep … bleep … bleeeeeeeeep … National – bleep bleep bleepbleepbleep!”

Ichiro was asked how much he believes the speech has contributed to the AL dominance that has stretched more than a decade now. "I've got to say over 90 percent," he said.
Apparently, he didn't get a chance to give the speech this year, but no difference: the AL still won (as they did for the four years preceding Ichiro's presence).
The NL's losing streak is as long as Ryan Franklin's beard, and just as mangy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Price Movement Predictor

Check this new Microsoft service out: they'll predict whether a flight price will move up or down, and thus whether you should buy or wait. I'm looking forward to trying this out next time I fly.


If this kind of excitement doesn't make you a fan of cricket, nothing will:
I can only think Doctrove thought there was a little nick on that, but if so it should have been a catch. A life, no doubt about that. Siddle digs one in and KP swivels on it and picks up one to square leg. Siddle strays onto Colly's pads and England pick up four leg-byes. Short from Siddle, and Colly, who's seeing it like a planet now, whip-cracks him through point for four more.

For a more accessible world sport, check out the Tour de France.

Monday, July 6, 2009


This blog falls quiet when little of note is occurring in the world or when a great deal of note occurs in my life. The present stillness is due to the latter.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

From a student:
I got a nice solar-powered watch. It died two months after I moved to Rochester.

Monday, June 29, 2009

This Study Was Done By A Woman, It Can't Be Correct

Harvard-bound econ student Emily Sands did a discrimination study for her senior project at Princeton. The NYTimes reports on her methods and results: like resume studies, she found that by sending the same script to a sampling of directors for their ratings, she could show gender bias in the recipients. Directors systematically rated a script with a female name at the top lower than they did when a male name appeared above the same script.

So directors are sexist. But wait: only female directors showed sexism. Male directors rated scripts attributed to men and women equally. Sands attempts to explain this as women directors passing along what they perceive the opinions of the men around them to be.

This leads James Taranto at BOTWT to argue that, to him, 'the study suggests that sex discrimination and the "awareness" thereof are one and the same thing.'

Plausible, perhaps. However, I'd criticize Sands' original interpretation: given that she has evidence that male directors do not discriminate, it would behoove her not to blame men here. Being generally ignorant of the field, I won't suggest an alternative explanation for Sands' data, but I would be interested to hear others' ideas for why women-against-women discrimination exists.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Miracle on Grass

A banged-up U.S. soccer team yesterday defeated Spain, the best team in the world, in the semifinal of the Confederations Cup.
Spain had set an international record with 15 straight victories and tied Brazil’s record unbeaten streak of 35 games from December 1993 to January 1996.

[American Jozy] Altidore scored in the 27th minute and [Clint] Dempsey added a goal in the 74th as the Americans became the first team to defeat Spain since Romania in November 2006.
The U.S. will now play the winner of Brazil v. South Africa in the Confed Cup final - America's first FIFA final ever.

2010, here we come!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Custer's Last Stand

With the puns and government allusions splashing thickly across the Boston sports pages this week (the Red Sox are playing in Washington, DC, for the first time since 1971), Soxaholix has the best lines out there:
"Wow. Is Ellsbury on fiah lately or what?"

"Seriously. Washington hasn't taken such a beating by an Indian since the late 19th Century."
Tonight the Sox will look to continue the torching of Washington at 7:05.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This Was Delicious

Cranberry-apple pie, with raisins. I left out most of the sugar so it tasted more savory than sweet - perfect.

Hat tip to Gukka for the cranberries.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It Worked

Whatever we did to remake the German military into a non-threat after World War II appears to have worked.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Finisher

Tony Massarotti runs down five possible scenarios for the call-up of future Hall-of-Famer John Smoltz to the Red Sox active roster. None of them is perfect, and the one that makes the most baseball sense (demoting Matsuzaka) would be hard to get past Dice-K himself. Mazz considers a six-man rotation, or a bullpen role for Smoltz, but frowns on both.

But how about a different approach altogether: make Matsuzaka and Smoltz "co-starters". Or to phrase the idea better, give Smoltz the role of "finisher" for Matsuzaka. Dice-K hasn't been getting past the 5th inning. Smoltz is 42 and coming off shoulder surgery: neither one is going to be throwing a lot of complete games. The argument against sending Smoltz to the bullpen is that he'd lack the every-five-games routine of a starter and the slow prep toward each start. But as Matsuzaka's "finisher", he could have that routine. Every five days he'd prepare, knowing he'd be brought in sometime during the game - the 2nd inning would be a good time in most Dice-K starts this year, but the 5th or 6th is what the Sox would hope for.

So Dice-K starts the game. He nibbles and throws 95 pitches through 4 innings, and Tito lifts him before the heart of the opponent's order gets their third look at him. Then Smoltz comes on and throws his 70 or 80 pitches and finishes the game or hands it over to the true bullpen in the 8th or 9th.

Now the bullpen won't be heavily taxed every five games to clean up Dice-K's mess, and both pitchers will be kept active, healthy, and fresh in case an injury occurs somewhere in the rotation, at which point the Sox can go back to a conventional rotation... or call up Clay Buchholz.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Imaginative Economics

One of my colleagues had posted the question, "Is Imagination more important than knowledge?" He's a good friend, so I asked him about it. He expressed an interesting answer to his own question, which is that the two are complementary, and (at least for research purposes) you need a minimum of both to get anywhere.

He expressed this mathematically, and I corrected a minor error in his math to get:
result = (maximum{imagination - minimum1, 0})^alpha * (maximum{knowledge - minimum2, 0})^beta
That is, if either the imagination or knowledge falls short of its minimum, the net result is zero. If both are above the minimum, then they work together in some proportions, and can partially - but not fully - substitute for one another. Within some constraint, the result will be highest when imagination and knowledge exist in the proportions (alpha, beta) respectively.


America likes big. So kudos to a mayor who can find value in shrinking his domain: Flint's is apparently on board, following the lead of country treasurer Dan Kildee. With much of the city falling vacant, Flint and possibly Detroit will be returning some land to nature. Writing of Flint:
The local authority has restored the city's attractive but formerly deserted centre but has pulled down 1,100 abandoned homes in outlying areas. Mr Kildee estimated another 3,000 needed to be demolished, although the city boundaries will remain the same. Already, some streets peter out into woods or meadows, no trace remaining of the homes that once stood there.
This is at least a partial answer to the suburban sprawl caused by former Flintians moving to Las Vegas and Orlando, and it could also make Flint a pleasant place to live again.

Hat tip to Drudge.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hassaan, hassaan! Mumlukati b'hassaan!

Check the NYTimes theatre review of an Arabic-language adaptation of Richard III. It seems more interesting as an analysis of Arab governments than of Shakespeare. This is precisely the type of self-critical art of which the Arab world needs more.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cluster Sick

My friends aren't doing well. This morning I learned that S. has Lyme Disease, J. has a cold, and E. broke his ankle. Be careful out there, kids, and wash your hands before eating.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hint: It's Not A Car

For those who want to fix the economy, here's a clue:

It's not a car.

You can't rev it up (34,300). You can't jump-start it either (1 million). Nor is it a motorcycle, so you can't "kick-start the economy", as 73,600 have attempted.

The poor analogies for "economic management" go beyond vehicles: 430,000 want to reboot the economy. These analogies fail because they are analogous to nothing. Economies are not 'rebooted', 'kick-started', or 'revved'. Tim Geithner isn't in the driver's seat, pushing levers and steering around chicanes. He's in a big office chair, squinting at tables of figures that reflect the agglomerated decisions of millions of car drivers, computer users, construction workers, soccer players, insurance estimators, and pantyhose salesmen.

So how should we talk about the economy? We can't expostulate theory every time we speak, so we need some shorthand. Here are a few analogies that could mean something:
  • Tying the hands of taxpayers/local gov'ts/businesses. Regulations or endogenous constraints can narrow the number of choices available to economic agents, worsening their well-being.
  • Herding cats. Timmy G. can relate to this one, I'm sure.
  • Mending wall. Externalities can create perverse incentives; good fences make good neighbors.
  • Losing the milk money. People in positions of trust can abuse their power with carelessness or malice.
  • Pushing a car up a hill. For those of you who love car analogies: the fact that GM is dead as a Chevy Vega hasn't stopped the government from trying to huff and puff it back to life.

Lebanon Election Wrap-Up

The March 14 Forces won yesterday's elections in Lebanon decisively but not overwhelmingly. They'll remain a slim majority in Parliament, but be obliged to form another national unity government with their opponents.

The Daily Star notes that Christians were the swing vote in this elections, while Sunnis and Druze stayed with March 14 and Shi'ites anchored the pro-Syrian coalition. Less than 30 of the 128 seats were really contested, and the most hotly contested of these were in the Metn and Zahle, where I have family. The Metn's seats ended up splitting, while Zahle's seven seats went to the March 14 Forces.

Al-Jazeera editorializes its 'news' report with a photo of "March 14 supporters celebrat[ing]", which shows a scantily clad Lebanese brunette draining a large beer. The Arab media frames Lebanese politics as a contest between supporters of Hezbollah and the "Western-backed" March 14 coalition. The Western media is more likely to call the opposition "Syrian-backed" or "Iranian-backed" and note that the March 14 Forces rallied around the assassinated Rafiq Hariri.