Wednesday, November 07, 2012

FEMA Closes, Due to Weather

After the Election: Five Things I Think Are True

1.  Barack Obama is a pretty bad president.  Not apocalyptically, George W. Bush bad, but bad.  And he will be remembered as a bad president.

2.  Barack Obama is a pretty effective candidate.  Certainly better than Mitt Romney.  But then George W. Bush was a pretty good candidate, too.  Bush was a failure as a President, and Obama's failures have much (though not everything) to do with his being coopted by the defense-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex.  There are ways in which Obama is no better than Bush, because he is no DIFFERENT than Bush.  Obama lied about Gitmo, no wars, and drug policy.  Just flat lied.  As a candidate, you can do that.  As a leader...well, he got away with it.  Because....

3.  Romney is the Republican Kerry.  They are both even from Massachusetts.  Kerry was richer, of course, because he slept his way to great wealth.  But in both cases there was a weak, largely ineffective incumbent who had some campaign skills and was not afraid to lie in order to win. And in both cases, the Kerry / Romney character in this little play lost a race he should have won.  And lost a race that a competent campaigner would have won easily.  If you think I am saying that this makes Obama the Democratic George Bush... I'm not ready to be THAT insulting.  Obama is only incompetent and woefully uninformed about policy, and the way economies work outside of Chicago.

4.  Gary Johnson did NOT cost Romney the election.  There is no story you can tell, even assuming 100% of Johnson voters would have voted for Romney (which is asinine!), where Romney could win the Presidency.  Maybe Florida.  But not Ohio.  Romney lost this by being a goofball, not because of Gary Johnson.

5.  Now, it is quite true that I wish that Johnson had gotten 5%, and that the race had been close enough that Johnson did plausibly cost Romney the election.  Because I still don't think the Republicans get it.  They think that people actually agree with their bigotry, their religious prudery, and their barbaric foreign policy.  And they got enough votes this time to allow them to continue to believe that.  Darn it.

The Best is Yet to Come

For those playing at home, that's around a 2.5% drop so far this morning.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day Ritual

It's Election Day!

And since I do go out and vote, unlike some trolls, it's important to have a ritual.  First, watch a beautiful man sing a truly terrible '80s song:  Europe gives us "The Final Countdown."

And, then, since I already had a colonoscopy this year, I go to the dentist to get in the mood.  With any luck, I'll need some drilling work done!

Check the results tonight!  I'm hoping Barbara Howe beats 3.5% in NC, and that Gary Johnson passes 1% nationally.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The election blues

We are besieged by messages about voting. It's our duty, don't you know. It's important, right?

After all, people will proudly parade around tomorrow wearing inane "I voted" stickers and buttons like they've accomplished something.

The closest we get to a negative message is some folks saying you shouldn't vote unless you are informed.

I'm here to say it's ok. If you don't want to vote, don't worry about it. It's not your duty and it's not important.

And I'd say that the more informed you are, the harder it should be to get out and vote.


Drone strikes, the TSA, the Patriot Act, Messiah complexes, the War on drugs, idiotic trade policies, idiotic immigration policies, a huge bloated military, arrogant intervention into areas where it doesn't belong, bills that run thousands of pages long, big policy changes slipped into law via reconciliation, an almost complete unwillingness to face some aspects of reality.

These are not bugs. These are not the flaws of one particular party. These are bi-partisan FEATURES of the Federal government in the 21st century, and few if any will change based on the outcome of this election.

About the only thing this election will settle is where our government will most keep sticking it's illegitimate nose.

The authoritarian streak in Washington grew under Obama and will continue to grow whether it's Obama II or Mittens at the helm.

So tomorrow, I'll be getting quizzical looks and hostile remarks from folks who see my home-made "I Didn't Vote sticker".

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Our "leaders" missed the Econ 101 Prereq

Lots of basic classes have prerequisites.  Why not public office?  As in, you can't be governor of a state unless you have taken (and PASSED) basic economics.

Anonyman sends this delightful tidbit:

Drivers in New Jersey faced 1970s-style gasoline rationing imposed by Gov. Chris Christie, while in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the Defense Department would distribute free fuel from five mobile stations. But that effort backfired when too many people showed up.

Rationing makes sense, given that Gov. Christie has decided to prevent the price system from allocating resources.  Like all Republicans, his authoritarian and life-arranging instincts come out in times of crisis, and like all Republicans he'll make up crises if he has to, justify state control of pretty much everything.  But at least that's possible.

Governor Cuomo just has no conception of how things work, though.  Knowing that people really, really need this stuff, we'll...give it away for free!  What could possibly go wrong?  We don't NEED no stinkin' rationing.  Except that if the price is zero, the costs of non-price rationing are very high.  There is no saving, and there is no reason to believe that the people who need gas actually get it.

And Mayor Bloomberg?  Completely hopeless, a statist to the core. 

Officials said they were trying to get help where it was needed. “One of the problems is that when you have lots of different agencies, it takes a while for them to get coordinated,” Mr. Bloomberg said at his briefing, adding that he understood how high the tensions were in the Rockaways. “Somebody this morning screamed at me that they could not get coffee.”

Because they were waiting for "lots of different agencies" to "get coordinated" to provide coffee.  If only there were a system that would allow people to get the things they need without those things being provided by government.  We use that system every day during normal times, and we get lots of stuff from groceries, gas stations, and drug stores.  But when there is an emergency, we use a whole dog's breakfast of different laws to prevent the market system from helping us when we need it most.

Lincoln Logs

I don't watch SNL, I just rely on Twitter to tell me what's good, and this is GOOD!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Scarcity is the Problem. Price Rationing is One Answer

So, I've been getting quite a few incredulous, scornful, and even insulting emails from folks who object to the idea that prices should be allowed to rise to "solve" the gas problems in the northeastern U.S.  The majority of my argument has been to claim that price will (1) induce people to buy less, thereby leaving some for everyone else, instead of the first few people in line getting all of it at an artificially low price; and (2) induce other people to find ways to supply more, by  renting generators and rushing gas to the stricken area.

Obviously, I think this argument is persuasive, and even sufficient.

Suppose, though, that you aren't convinced.  And a lot of you aren't convinced (I'm thinking of YOU, Hutter!)  Let's do this your way.

More after the jump...

Gas Gouging!

Great video.  There's nothing complicated here.  We prevent markets from working, by restricting price.  And then we blame markets for failing, because at that price there's a shortage.  Amazing.


Contagion Meme: Is Mental Health/Disease Communicable?

Social contagion of mental health: Evidence from college roommates

Daniel Eisenberg et al.
Health Economics, forthcoming

Abstract: From a policy standpoint, the spread of health conditions in social networks is important to quantify, because it implies externalities and possible market failures in the consumption of health interventions. Recent studies conclude that happiness and depression may be highly contagious across social ties. The results may be biased, however, because of selection and common shocks. We provide unbiased estimates by using exogenous variation from college roommate assignments. Our findings are consistent with no significant overall contagion of mental health and no more than small contagion effects for specific mental health measures, with no evidence for happiness contagion and modest evidence for anxiety and depression contagion. The weakness of the contagion effects cannot be explained by avoidance of roommates with poor mental health or by generally low social contact among roommates. We also find that similarity of baseline mental health predicts the closeness of roommate relationships, which highlights the potential for selection biases in studies of peer effects that do not have a clearly exogenous source of variation. Overall, our results suggest that mental health contagion is lower, or at least more context specific, than implied by the recent studies in the medical literature.

I don't know about this "contagion" thing.  First murder, now mental health?  Phone call for Jonny Anomaly...

UPDATE:  John Thacker's comment is what I meant.  Jonny Anomaly is working on just that problem.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Price Gouging as a Rationing Device: Sandy Edition

Zoe Chace did a nice job with this, I thought.  I wish she would have given a little more of my explanation, but the stories are good.  She gets it.

What Money Can't Buy, Because It's Illegal to Buy

John Goodman has a nice piece on markets and on stuff we don't like, though we can't explain why.

Some people on the left have an aversion to money, as reflected a lengthy list of goods and services they don’t think should be exchanged for money. Some people on the right have an aversion to unconventional sex and recreational drugs.

You might think that these two groups of people are very different. Certainly there is a difference in the activities that they abhor. Beyond that, they have something in common: a visceral desire to outlaw activities that disgust them.

I would only note that the term “moral” is often a thinly disguised attempt to erect a cloak of ethical justification around what people really want to do: outlaw behavior they don’t like.

Nod to Angry Alex

Bad Analogies Cause Even Worse Science

Homicide as Infectious Disease: Using Public Health Methods to Investigate the Diffusion of Homicide

April Zeoli et al.
Justice Quarterly, forthcoming

Abstract: This study examined the spatial and temporal movement of homicide in Newark, New Jersey from January 1982 through September 2008. We hypothesized that homicide would diffuse in a similar process to an infectious disease with firearms and gangs operating as the infectious agents. A total of 2,366 homicide incidents were analyzed using SaTScan v.9.0, a cluster detection software. The results revealed spatio-temporal patterns of expansion diffusion: overall, firearm and gang homicide clusters in Newark evolved from a common area in the center of the city and spread southward and westward over the course of two decades. This pattern of movement has implications in regards to the susceptibility of populations to homicide, particularly because northern and eastern Newark remained largely immune to homicide clusters. The theoretical and practical implications of the findings, as well as recommendations for future research, are discussed.

Suppose murder were like a rutabaga.  Then, it would be mostly dirty and underground, with a green leafy top.  And you could stop murder with herbicide.  If murder were like a rutabaga, that is.  It's not.  But then it's also not an infectious disease.  As Röyksopp  put it, "brave men tell the truth; the wise man's tools are analogies and puzzles."

Nod to Kevin Lewis

Thursday, November 01, 2012


It has happened to every dog owner.

It happened to us here in the woods.  Hobo saw a deer and was gone in 30 seconds.  He was gone for almost a day, coming back all bedraggled.

But, could have been worse. He could have done it in a park in London, and I could have been caught on video, yelling at him.

Thanks to Richard S. 

Poor Little Rich Kids

Is Growing Up Affluent Risky for Adolescents or Is the Problem Growing Up inan Affluent Neighborhood?

Terese Lund & Eric Dearing, Journal of Research on Adolescence, forthcoming

Abstract:  Community studies indicating that affluence has social-emotional consequences for youth have conflated family and neighborhood wealth. We examined adolescent boys' delinquency and adolescent girls' anxiety-depression as a function of family, neighborhood, and cumulative affluence in a sample that is primarily of European–American descent, but geographically and economically diverse (N = 1,364). Boys in affluent neighborhoods reported higher levels of delinquency and girls in affluent neighborhoods reported higher levels of anxiety-depression compared with youth in middle-class neighborhoods. Neither family affluence nor cumulative affluence, however, placed boys or girls at risk in these domains. Indeed, boys' delinquency and girls' anxiety-depression levels were lowest for those in affluent families living in middle-class neighborhoods.

After the Zombie Apocalypse: Estate Tax Implications

While members of our do-nothing Congress bicker, we are faced with a real problem:  What are the estate tax implications of the zombie apocalypse?

I mean, are they dead, or undead?  Do lost body parts count as "partially included assets," or something else?  And how do you figure the unified credit if I blow up my zombie uncle's head, and then get the gold teeth?  Are those heritable, or are they gifts?  The IRS has no answers.  And you can't very well ask your accountant, if he looks like this:

But Professor Chodorow has answers.

With thanks to the LMM, who doens't really like zombies very much.

Save the Balls!

The "save our balls" campaign from Bucky Balls.  Those little magnetic balls, you know.

Are we really going to outlaw everything in the world that's poison, or small?  If so, Harry Reid's brain will be outlawed, on both counts.

Nod to Anonyman


Lockhart's Lament

Raoul sends this nice bit.  It contains a link to "Lockhart's Lament," which is worth reading at length.  You have likely read it before (I did), but it rewards new study.

Background from Keith Devlin:

Lockhart is a mathematics teacher at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, New York. He became interested in mathematics when he was about 14 (outside of the school math class, he points out) and read voraciously, becoming especially interested in analytic number theory. He dropped out of college after one semester to devote himself to math, supporting himself by working as a computer programmer and as an elementary school teacher. Eventually he started working with Ernst Strauss at UCLA, and the two published a few papers together. Strauss introduced him to Paul Erdos, and they somehow arranged it so that he became a graduate student there. He ended up getting a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1990, and went on to be a fellow at MSRI and an assistant professor at Brown. He also taught at UC Santa Cruz. His main research interests were, and are, automorphic forms and Diophantine geometry.

After several years teaching university mathematics, Paul eventually tired of it and decided he wanted to get back to teaching children. He secured a position at Saint Ann's School, where he says "I have happily been subversively teaching mathematics (the real thing) since 2000."

He teaches all grade levels at Saint Ann's (K-12), and says he is especially interested in bringing a mathematician's point of view to very young children. "I want them to understand that there is a playground in their minds and that that is where mathematics happens. So far I have met with tremendous enthusiasm among the parents and kids, less so among the mid-level administrators," he wrote in an email to me. Now where have I heard that kind of thing before? But enough of my words.