Sunday, July 30, 2006

Imports are always a good, by definition

Mercantilist thinking lives on, 230 years after it should have died.

The Flemish Beerdrinker lays out the truth.

Adam Smith had it right:

Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation. The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver, the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a very distant part of the country! how much commerce and navigation in particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers, must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners of the world! What a variety of labour too is necessary in order to produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen! To say nothing of such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner, the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the feller of the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the smelting-house, the brick-maker, the brick-layer, the workmen who attend the furnace, the mill-wright, the forger, the smith, must all of them join their different arts in order to produce them. Were we to examine, in the same manner, all the different parts of his dress and household furniture, the coarse linen shirt which he wears next his skin, the shoes which cover his feet, the bed which he lies on, and all the different parts which compose it, the kitchen-grate at which he prepares his victuals, the coals which he makes use of for that purpose, dug from the bowels of the earth, and brought to him perhaps by a long sea and a long land carriage, all the other utensils of his kitchen, all the furniture of his table, the knives and forks, the earthen or pewter plates upon which he serves up and divides his victuals, the different hands employed in preparing his bread and his beer, the glass window which lets in the heat and the light, and keeps out the wind and the rain, with all the knowledge and art requisite for preparing that beautiful and happy invention, without which these northern parts of the world could scarce have afforded a very comfortable habitation, together with the tools of all the different workmen employed in producing those different conveniencies; if we examine, I say, all these things, and consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we shall be sensible that without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided, even according to what we very falsely imagine, the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated.

If someone else can provide you with stuff you want more cheaply than you can make it for yourself, it makes you better off if the government allows you to buy it from that other source.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Stop me if you have heard this one....

A husband and wife go to a counselor after 15 years of marriage.

The counselor asks them what the problem is and the wife goes into a tirade listing every problem they have ever had in the 15 years they've been married. She goes on and on and on.

Finally, the counselor gets up, walks around the desk, embraces the wife and kisses her passionately. The woman shuts up and sits quietly in a daze.

The counselor turns to the husband and says, "This is what your wife needs at least thre e times a week. Can you do this?"

The husband thinks for a moment and replies, "Well, I can drop her off here on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on Fridays, I fish."

(my wife normally doesn't tell jokes, but for some reason loved this one and told it. Me, I fish on Saturdays. Perhaps I should come home early and see what's going on this weekend. She has been awfully QUIET lately...)

The Dean of Embarrassments

Can this be true?

You can support Israel even if you aren't Jewish.

You can think that Israel is acting badly, or mistakenly, without being an anti-Semite. But the head of the DNC had this to say:

"The Iraqi prime minister is an anti-Semite," the Democratic leader told a gathering of business leaders in Florida. "We don't need to spend $200 and $300 and $500 billion bringing democracy to Iraq to turn it over to people who believe that Israel doesn't have a right to defend itself and who refuse to condemn Hezbollah."

Howard Dean is an embarrassment. If not for one misplaced "I have a scream" speech, he might have been President. (Of course, JMPP likes a real screamer, so maybe it's all good!)

Do As I Say, Not As I Do....

Rosemary Roberts, of the News and Record, launches a strange and logically incoherent attack on the President. Interestingly, the News and Record wants letter writers to obey a rule of: It's fine to disagree with one another's opinions, but please attack ideas, not people

Excerpt from the RR piece:

[GWB's] tacit endorsement of Israel's massive bombing of Lebanon is winning him no friends in most of the world.

The air strikes, moreover, are the source of more White House hypocrisy. On the one hand, Bush refuses to urge Israel to halt the bombing; on the other hand, he has offered to send Lebanon humanitarian aid because it's being bombed. Hmmmm.

Right or wrong, President Bush is supporting Israel's attempt to dislodge an entrenched, Syrian-backed puppet government that is occupying Southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has dug in, amid a dense civilian population.

President Bush is also advocating aid for the Lebanese civilians who suffer terrible collateral damage in this attack.

Ms. Roberts accuses Mr. Bush of "hypocrisy" for supporting an attack on the Hezbollah army, and then helping innocent Lebanese civilians caught in the crossfire. I understand that ad hominems are more fun than logic (also easier, when you are facing a deadline and have nothing substantive to say!).

But it seems to me the only hypocrisy here is that of the international community, which has refused to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions that required Hezbollah to leave southern Lebanon.

Israel, and Mr. Bush, may well be mistaken. Personally, I think the attack is a mistake, inflicting terrible damage on civilians without damaging the Syrian stranglehold on Lebanon. But why call them hypocritical? If you are going to attack Hezbollah, shouldn't you help the civilians that the bad guys use as cover?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Just Get Prices Right...

People don't like scarcity. Resources they like should be available in infinite quantity at a zero, or an "affordable" price.

Me, I don't like gravity. Let's legislate that away. I'm 6'1". I should be able to dunk. Sure, I'm fat and out of shape. But the REAL problem is physics. As Sinead said: "Fight the real enemy!", in this case: gravity. I'm being denied an important civil dunking right here. There ought to be a law.

Okay, gravity is a physical law, not a statute. But we have no more chance of solving the problem of scarcity by outlawing it. Reminds of Winnie Churchill's line: You can't promote peace simply by praising its virtues. You can't promote cheap, infinite supplies of stuff simply by saying how nice it would be if we had cheap, infinite supplies of stuff. Even though it's true that it would be nice.

But if you allow markets to work properly, you can get lots more stuff, and lots cheaper stuff.

Take electricity....please. We cap price, give producers incentives to pad their rate base with nonproductive assets, and then whine when we run short. Sean at Catallarchy makes a nice comparison: what other business tries to tell its customers to use less of its product?

The solution is to let electricity producers price discriminate, by time. If they could charge the full marginal cost to customers, then peak load problems go away. Yes, lots of people might go without AC, but they wouldn't leave their AC running because the cross-subsidized rate is too low to make them care.

And, if prices could rise to their market-clearing level, all those other technologies that tree-hugging bed-wetters love so much (solar, geothermal, squirrels on little wheels hooked to generators (unless this happened), generators run by violent wave motion in my waterbed, etc) would actual become economically feasible. Charging the market price for electricity is the best thing that could happen for the environment.

Just get prices right. Everything else falls into place without direction, or orders from the nanny.

UPDATE: To RL in Canadiana...we subsidize GASOLINE even more, pumpkin. We would have electric cars in just a couple of years if we charged market prices for gas. But we don't. It wasn't the automakers who killed the electric car, they just pulled the trigger. Our tax policies and foreign policies, the ones that keep gas prices at least a dollar or more below the true price...that is what aimed the gun at the electric car and cocked it. Why would you blame corporations for trying to make profits? It's what they do. But when government enables corporations to misuse market power, because the UAW is such a strong voting bloc in a few states, and because oil companies make big contributions....just get prices right. If gas prices rise to their natural level, consumer demand for electric cars will overwhelm automaker opposition. I'm not sure why CNN got that so wrong. Wait...I am sure. They have no clue about how markets work, and they love the nanny.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Must Have Been a Slow News Day for the Grey Lady

On Sunday, the NYT took a strange shot at Elizabeth (Call me Libby, and I'll kick your ass!) Dole.

I'm not Dole's biggest booster, but I think it must have been a pretty slow news day.

They do (rightly) point out that she raised more $ last cycle than this. But they didn't point out that the reason Schumer has raised TWICE as much is because big donors stopped giving to the Democratic party once Dean took over as chief warlock at DNC.

NYT also says Senator Dole has a "distinctive" southern accent. Maybe if you are from New York, it's distinctive. I happen to find the New York accent "distinctive", myself. Southern people sound normal. That's what accents ARE, bunkie: they distinguish where you are from. And whether you learned enough manners from your mama to write about actual news rather than talk people down. It always amazes me how parochial New Yorkers are: any detail of NYCity geography you don't know, it shows you are a yokel. But they are proud of their ignorance of THE ENTIRE REST OF THE COUNTRY. You have seen the map...they aren't kidding. But then if ignorance is bliss, why aren't all New Yorkers HAPPY? They should be ecstatic.

Notice that the name "Howard Dean" did not appear in the NYT story, which is supposed to be about people who are having trouble doing their fund-raising job. I would have thought HD would have merited his own paragraph.

(nod to Anonyman, who knows things)

Are You Handy?

If Jimi Hendrix had played hand music like this, the album title would have been "Are You Handy?"

My college roommate, old friend, best man at my wedding, and all around musically talented guy, RLH, used to play the hands (though he also played the trumpet, and very well). But this guy on NPR is amazing.

Listen to a sample, if you are not at work, or syncopated flatulence sounds is okay at your workplace.....Hail to the chief, if your boss walks in.

Monday, July 24, 2006

When I Escaped I Didn't Feel Like I Got Away

I had not seen this.

My man Coturnix provides that link to a....well, I don't know what you would call it. Conscientious objector of a sort, I suppose.

SEATTLE (July 23) -- When First Lt. Ehren K. Watada of the Army shipped out for a tour of duty in South Korea two years ago, he was a promising young officer rated among the best by his superiors. Like many young men after Sept. 11, he had volunteered “out of a desire to protect our country,” he said, even paying $800 for a medical test to prove he qualified despite childhood asthma.


Lieutenant Watada said that when he reported to Fort Lewis in June 2005, in preparation for deployment to Iraq, he was beginning to have doubts. “I was still prepared to go, still willing to go to Iraq,” he said. “I thought it was my responsibility to learn about the present situation. At that time, I never conceived our government would deceive the Army or deceive the people.”

He was not asking for leave as a conscientious objector, Lieutenant Watada said, a status assigned to those who oppose all military service because of moral objections to war. It was only the Iraq war that he said he opposed.

Military historians say it is rare in the era of the all-voluntary Army for officers to do what Lieutenant Watada has done.

“Certainly it’s far from unusual in the annals of war for this to happen,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in military affairs at the Brookings Institution. “But it is pretty obscure since the draft ended.”

Mr. O’Hanlon said that if other officers followed suit, it would be nearly impossible to run the military. “The idea that any individual officer can decide which war to fight doesn’t really pass the common-sense test,” he said.

An impossible choice. Of course officers have to follow orders. Yet the "I vass chust following ze orters!" didn't carry much water at Nuremberg. I guess I am on the side of the military here. But you have to admit that Lt. Watada is not a coward, not by any stretch.


Blog Death: Is it just entropy?

So many blogs I like, and used to read, have gone silent, or nearly so. It is an epidemic; is it just summer?

Ex Nihilo
Freedom from Faith
Whacking Day

Fortunately, Peaktalk is back. And the hot chick SEEMS to be back, though it may just be another tease. (You all know how she is...)

But I may have to strike half a dozen from my list of links. Moribund, without explanation. Sad.

Of course, I took a hiatus myself. But I said I was going to.

Now, noboby OWES us posts. But give us a hint you are okay, for heaven's sake.

Friday, July 21, 2006

There Ain't No Good Guy, But There Are Some Bad Guys

A friend, a smart friend, wrote to ask me my thoughts on the Israeli attack on Lebanon. In particular, said friend asked, "why does the U.S. get to have all these weapons of mass destruction...Israel gets to have 300 nuclear warheads...and we drop weapons of mass destruction on other countries but yet...they aren't supposed to have any WMD's themselves. And the logic is? If you were an Arab country near Israel, would you want one nuclear weapon perhaps?"

I find this question remarkable. The difference in our world views is so great that...well, we must be looking at different worlds. Let me take a shot at this.

1. Israel has not pledged to destroy ANY of the nations surrounding it.

2. Hezbollah (controls Lebanon), Hamas (controls Palestinian Territory), Syria, Iran, and Iraq (until three years ago) have all openly sworn that they will do all in their power to destroy Israel, and kill all the Jews in the middle east.

As in: Kill. All. Destroy. Everything.

3. That asymmetry seems to me to explain the asymmetry in our policy. Israel has weapons, does not claim to want to destroy other nations and kill their entire populations. Countries that DO want to destroy other nations and kill their entire populations, we should try to keep them from getting nuclear weapons. So, no, I don't think we should give one nuclear weapon to each nation. I think we should try to convince extremists (i.e., Hezbollah) to stop attacking Israeli civilian populations with rockets and mortars from the cover of another innocent civilian population (i.e., Lebanon).

4. Further, I don't see how anyone could blame the Israelis for what is going on in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a group of Syrian-backed thugs, and the international community has allowed Syria to overthrow the legitimate Lebanese authority.

5. The Lebanese, understandably, are saying "a pox on BOTH your houses" to the Israelis or Palestinians. But how do they feel about the gangsters, thugs, and theocratic soldiers in Syria? The cowardice of the French, the erstwhile mandatory power in Lebanon, and current pussweiler Security Council taker-up-of-space, is what brought on this disaster. When someone blames Israel, I am genuinely amazed.

6. The solution is for the UN (using those crack French troops) to occupy Lebanon, for real this time, and throw out the Syrians, confiscate the rockets, and seal the Syrian border. Then force the Israelis to pull back and stop attacking, which they will be happy to do since Hezbollah will no longer be a threat. And then everyone can live happily ever after. (Okay, no, since the French won't actually commit any troops, and Syrian border is much too long to seal, or even supervise, and Hezbollah is actually becoming more popular in Lebanon, for reasons that totally escape me. U.S. and England don't really have any troops to spare, and Russia and China...well, don't hold your breath. It's the fire this time for Lebanon).

I have a number of friends in the Israeli military, and press. They are all pacifists, some of them extreme pacifists. They are horrified at what they are doing. But there is nothing else to do....Sometimes things just get caught up in an inexorable logic of destruction, and the world watches in horror. There ain't no good guy.

(UPDATE: Interesting post from DD. I don't see this as just / unjust. I see this in terms of alternatives. I think Israel is making a mistake, and Hezbollah is winning the war of public opinion. I just don't see that Israel has any alternative)

Damon, Apparently, Really DOES Suck

More evidence that Scott Boras is the living agent of Satan.

A baby bib.

It seems Johnny Damon (my homie!) thinks he owns all the rights to the word "Damon."

So, it actually makes sense for Boras to act this way. Damon.....Daemon.... Demon....Daddy of Boras.

(Nod to JJ, who knows stuff. He certainly knows that Boras is Satan, for example).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

And, I **liked** the title

Dan Drezner has an interesting post on the political power of "big models."

As if size matters. And, it does, it DOES.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Recovered Space vs. Real Political Space

I am sick up and fed with reading papers in poli sci that confuse the recovered space of political action in legislatures with the actual space of political conflict in the society.

This problem has been analyzed in various ways, but two of the most orthodox are Hinich and Munger (1994, Michigan), Ideology and the Theory of Political Choice, and Poole and Rosenthal (1997, Oxford) Congress: A Political Economic History of Roll Call Voting.

Hinich and Munger argue that any empirically recovered space will have dimension one less than the number of effective parties, if those parties are coherent. That is, imagine a complex n-dimensional space of “real” preferences. Now, imagine two parties are points in this space. The line intersecting the two points (and that is what a recovered space is) will have dimension one, like any line.

Poole and Rosenthal back this up, and add quite a bit more useful information about changes over time. If a party is NOT coherent, or cohesive, there may be factions, and so more than one dimension, even in the recovered space.

(Now, let's be fair: the technique of Poole and Rosenthal is much older than the H&M contribution, and Keith rightly attributes the original idea of "what if there are just different spaces?" to Peter Ordeshook, in the 1960s. Here is a very cool, and intellectually honest, history of the idea)

Now, the underlying “true” space can be very complex indeed, and interest groups and outside forces constantly try to get past the filters imposed by agenda control of calendars and committees in the legislature.

If they do, or if the legislators’ own beliefs intrude, the recovered space may reflect these tensions.

The money point: I would expect scholars to recognzie the problem of using the recovered space (and NOMINATE is certainly one such) as a metric for understanding national politics. What it is, is a measure of the voting patterns of legislators on issues that are allowed to come to the floor for a roll call vote. The author will need to point out the shortcomings of recovered measures, and explain the mapping from real issues into NOMINATE space.

Then, it will be easier to discuss the difference (made much of here) between introduction of “new” dimensions as heresthetic manipulation or genuine cross-cutting cleavages. The gate-keeping roll of the majority party, legislative calendars, and the Rules Committee are key factors in keeping out the contagion of new issues just for heresthetic purposes. But it is much harder to isolate the chamber from the “real” pathogen of genuine cleavages within the party.

I do not mean to minimize the P&R contribution. To be fair, they make no claim to be measuring the OVERALL ideology of the society. And their technique is rightly accorded great respect as the primary measure of legislative voting patterns over time in the U.S.

But I wish that users of that measure would be as careful as its creators.

How to Be Web Smart

KKM's new web site (the middle "K" stands for "Kuppa", by the way).
It's "How to be Web Smart"

It is a really WONDERFUL web site.

I found three sites I was unaware of, and which I will likely use often. Fascinating.

Check it out.....

Sunday, July 16, 2006

All Externalities are Local...And also Reciprocal

What Tip O'Neill should have said is this: all externalities are local. Turns out that deer deterence also enfuriates neighbors.


Jim Boswell, a third-generation Christmas tree farmer in central Montgomery County, insists that he's tried just about everything to stop the deer from devouring his evergreens.

But his neighbors didn't like his shooting, much less crouching in the bushes with a crossbow. Deer-repellent spray didn't work. And the local deer population, he says, has a knack for scaling six-foot fences.

In desperation, Boswell shelled out $500 for the CritterBlaster Pro, an electronic device that emits "harassment sounds" that promise to "irritate animals and bird pests so they leave - for good!" The screeching, beeping, whistles and noises that mimic animals in distress worked perfectly.

Too perfectly.

His neighbors in Skippack Township became as irritated as the deer - resulting in a $674 fine last month for Boswell for disturbing the peace. It also has triggered a court challenge that promises to test the state's Right to Farm Act and how far municipalities can go in regulating noise intended to protect crops.

"I am just trying to make a living the old-fashioned way - by farming." said Boswell, 45, whose family has been growing Christmas trees in the Skippack area since the 1940s. "I just want to sell my trees."

Like other farming states, Pennsylvania has laws aimed at protecting agriculture. In 1982, as housing developments began eating away at suburban farmland, the state enacted the Right to Farm Act to protect farmers from new residents who might complain about the smells and sounds of farming in their developing neighborhoods.

The law states that any municipality with a nuisance ordinance must exempt agricultural operations that do not have a "direct, adverse effect on the public health and safety."

Then, last year, the Agricultural, Communities and Rural Environment (ACRE) law was passed, giving farmers and the state attorney general the right to bypass local courts and go directly to Commonwealth Court to try to invalidate ordinances that unfairly restrict agricultural operations....

Boswell said farmers need the ability to protect themselves not just from crop predators, but from local officials and pesky neighbors. "It's like the Hatfields and the McCoys in this township," he said.

Boswell has nothing but praise for CritterBlaster, and he hopes to resume using it for a second season by the time the deer become a problem again in the fall.

"This thing has worked better than anything we've tried," Boswell said of CritterBlaster, which can be set to emit up to eight different "harassment sounds" at varying intervals from four speakers.

Mona Zemsky, marketing manager at Bird-X Inc., which manufactures the device, said the CritterBlaster can be played at decibel levels of up to 112 - but she said owners should be considerate.

"Not only do we have to share the environment with the deer, we have to share it with our neighbors," said Zemsky, who pointed out that many of their customers are in completely remote areas.

Boswell said that he kept the device at 55 decibels or below - at about the sound level of an air-conditioner - and that he couldn't hear it when his windows were shut.

"I was out there, and I heard it, and it certainly is annoying to me," said Skippack Township Manager Theodore R. Locker Jr., who filed the complaint against Boswell.

Neighbors said the device kept them up at night, scared their children, and drove dogs crazy.

"It sounds like hell," said neighbor Wayne Arena, who lives near the back of the 11-acre tree farm.

Arena and another Grange Avenue neighbor, Philip Burke, said the animal-in-distress sounds were the worst.

"It's a very annoying, disturbing sound that goes on all night long - I mean from dusk to dawn," said Burke, who said he sent Boswell a letter signed by 13 neighbors asking him to stop....

Burke said they all would relish some peace. But he said that Boswell shouldn't get "blanket protection" under farm-protection laws because he had encroached on their neighborhood.

"He's not the only one with rights," said Burke.

What is the right solution? That is, what would the Coase theorem dictate if there were not high transactions costs? I have always thought there is an interesting relation between Coase and Kaldor-Hicks (or Potential Pareto, or the Compensation Principle, or Cost-Benefit Analysis). The difference is that Coase makes the prediction that people bargaining will FIND the correct solution, if they are not thwarted by transactions cost. Kaldor-Hicks requires government action.

In this case, given the profit margin on a tree farm, I bet that the harm to the neighbors would be greater than the benefit of the noisemaker to the tree farm. But it would be interesting to see if the neighbors would pony up the amount of damages caused by deer. And that is what would have to happen, if the law is held to mean that the tree farmer is exempt.

In other words, maybe there should not be a tree farm there, if the noisemaker is the only feasible way to keep deer out (though I like the "crouching in the bushes with a crossbow" solution). But it is not clear that the farmer should bear the costs of the externality. Externalities are reciprocal; if the tree farm had no neighbors, there would be no problem.

So...what is the right thing to do here? Tell the neighbors to shut up? Force the farmer to turn off/down the noisemaker?

(Nod to RL, a human externality. A positive one, mind you)

Durham Bulls Game

Extremely excellent night at the DBAP last night. Why so great?

1. We have a partial season's ticket plan, for the four of us. Our seats are 17 rows up, right behind visitors' dugout, even with pitcher's mound on third base side. Shaded, under cover if it rains. The view from our seats. Lines at the beer/hot dogs/whatever stands are not too long. And stuff is cheap: $5 for a 20 oz beer, $2.50 for a hot dog, $3 for peanuts. I have trouble going to a MLB game now, because the seats are usually bad and the food/drinks so expensive.

2. The Bulls were playing the Columbus Clippers, Yankee farm hands at AAA level. The Clippers' pitchers were okay, normal size, and could throw hard. But their infield was composed entirely of hobbits. If a Bulls player was on base (and they left 11 players on base!), the Clipper holding him on looked like a ten year old. I checked their stats sheet on the CC web site, and it is pure fiction. It lists Russ Johnson and Andy Cannizaro both as being 5'10". I think not. Johnson is maybe 5'9", and Cannizaro is 5'7" with stiletto heels on.

3. The Clippers hit 8 doubles. When was the last time you saw ONE TEAM hit 8 doubles in a game? Those hobbits were jacking the ball. 3 or 4 of those doubles would have been homers in a regular park (The DBAP has a 32' high "blue monster" in left field, where down the line it is just over 305')

4. Foul ball went into the Clippers' dugout. Clippers (must have been one of the few non-hobbits) stood on top step, turned around, and looked for a kid to give the ball to. Sees a cute kid, about 6, hat too big for his head, but gamely holding up his glove and doing the beg-for-the-ball-with-those-Bambi-eyes thing that kids are good at. Clipper rolls the ball across the top of the dugout, straight toward the cute kid. Dad stays back, to let kid get ball. BUT GIANT FAT YANKEE BASTARD DAD FROM TWO SEATS DOWN lunges for ball, grabs it because his fat yankee bastard arms are longer than cute kid's arms. And then does a dance of victory. Now, this is the south. We don't hold with that bullshit. Enormous boos, people standing up and yelling. And the Clippers are mad, too. Most of the players are standing up on the steps (hobbits may have been on the rail), yelling at this guy. FYB dad quickly hands the ball to HIS kid. Points at kid. Yells at kid to hold up ball. Kid looks around, starts to cry, because people are going nuts booing at him about this ball. FYB holds kid up, like a fat white Michael Jackson on the hotel balcony. Boos subside, but kid is crying hard. Clippers find another ball, roll it across dugout roof to cute kid, who nabs it this time unmolested. Fans cheer wildly. FYB guy tries to hide under his Yankees hat (remember, Clippers are Yankee farm team, so for all I know this guy is an actual fan...of the CLIPPERS, I mean). Interesting thing about all this: FYB is white, and the cute kid/dignified dad are black. No question whose side the south was on this night. All you FYBs: get on I-95 north, and keep driving until you either hit New Jersey or a bridge abutment, we don't much care which. Nor for that matter are we sure there is an important difference.

5. Raymond, the mascot for the Devil Rays (the Bulls parent org) was at the game. He was pretty funny, I have to say. Good motions, and pantomime, lots of energy. But poor Raymond. He is a major league mascot for a team that has never had a winning season, and whose attendance figures are spotty at best. But, he gets to dance with hot chicks, Bruce Springsteen style. He picked this one woman, an extraordinarily fit and trim woman, and as soon as she got up on top of the dugout it was clear Raymond was in way over his head. She had on these white pants (I THINK they were pants, it may just have been paint), a leopard skin top that was off one shoulder, and an attitude that pretty much shut Raymond down. She looked and acted like a runway model playing with a child. Now, Raymond gamely went on with his act, but I was struck by the power of feminine haute hauteur. Big crowd pleaser, though. I know I was pleased.

Friday, July 14, 2006

20 years: My Gain, Her Loss

It's official: The Gingerella-Munger union has now lasted two decades.

We went to Wrightsville Beach, stayed at Shell Island, and had a great time going for walks on the beach. Sunsets were fantastic:

And my wife....amazing. Two kids, married 20 years, and still hotter'n a two dollar pistol. You're the best, dear!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Shotgun Mike Munger

I found an old letter from my Dad to me, when I was in college (late 1970s). In some boxes full of books and notebooks.

He mentioned they had gone to a drive-in (!), and had seen "Ma and Pa Kettle Go To Town."

In that movie, there is a character named (my dad swore) "Shotgun Mike Munger."

I had forgotten about the letter, and knew even less about the movie. But I went and checked, and darned if it isn't so.

In particular, this movie contains the following bit of dialogue:

Pa Kettle: I thought you might be a traveling salesman. A lot of them visit farms, you know.

Shotgun Mike Munger
: Yeah, I've heard stories about them.

I read a review of the movie. The review claims:

Ma and Pa Kettle Go To Town seamlessly picks up where The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle leaves off.

Oh, those cliff-hanging sequels. No point starting in the middle. Now I have to watch the whole series just to see where "Shotgun Mike Munger" gets his motivation.

Now, it DOES get better. Shotgun Mike was played by Charles McGraw. And Charles McGraw played "The Preacher" in "A Boy and His Dog," one of the finest movies in history. So Charles McGraw had two highlights to his acting career: playing the Preacher, and playing Mike Munger. Who would have believed it.

Thanks, Dad. And thanks to Charles McGraw. Here, "Shotgun Mike Munger" is shown grabbing "Front Porch Anita Ekberg."

What are we to conclude from this?

From an email from Kevin Lewis, at Berkeley:

Relative Salary of U.S. Senators and Law Firm Partners

Year ........Senatory ...Mean law firm partner

1954.......... 12,500 .......10,258
1976 ..........44,600 .......55,000
2002 .........150,000 .......593,800

(nominal dollars; source: Journal of Economic Perspectives)

What does it all mean? I would say that it means it is better to profit from rent-seeking in terms of $$ than in terms of votes, if you like dollars. So rent-seekers who love money become law partners, and rent-seekers who love power sort into politics. But neither senators nor law firm partners get fired very often. The system works for everyone except the citizens...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Odds and Endings

1. Simon Spero wins the headline contest.

2. Materazzi admits he insulted Zadane. Defends self by claiming he doesn't know what a terrorist is, so he wouldn't have used THAT insult.

3. North Carolina's solons pass the "All Off You Vill Say Der Pledge, Unt You Vill Like It!" legislation. But not before elbowing each other out of the way, like pigs at a trough, trying to claim credit.

4. Kevin Morrison, one of our cool grad students in Poli Sci at Duke, publishes a very nice op-ed in the News and Observer. Good ON ya, Kevin!

Monday, July 10, 2006

State of Things: Biopolitics

Interesting radio show today, which I got to participate in.

But the interest was mostly from Jedidiah Purdy, at Duke Law School.

His article.

MP3 of the broadcast should be up here, soon. (I'm guessing at that URL, so bear with me).

I Pledge Allegiance to The Constitution....

...Which means I don't have to pledge allegiance to any flag.

I have been getting more than a little push back on my little letter to the editor of the N&O.

It started with big man Saunders's column. A little over the top, but sound on fundamentals, as Barry usually is.

Then, my letter:

A loyalty oath

There is an old adage in debating that you lose a debate as soon as you compare your opponent to Hitler. But your man Barry Saunders did it (column, July 4), and still won the debate.

The reason is that requiring a pledge, or a loyalty oath, really is at the core of what fascist, nationalistic or totalitarian regimes stand for. Saunders was dead right, so the Hitler comparison is not wrong.

I bet he didn't hear a lot of support for his view. So, let me say this. If there is going to be a patriotic hanging, let my body swing beside his on that hastily constructed, flag-draped gibbet. Requiring the pledge is the opposite of real patriotism, in a nation that values freedom.

Michael Munger
Chair, Department of Political Science, Duke University

I have been doing some local TV shows, on the strength of this radical view. Strange that this view is so rare, or radical...

Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration, said this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

How can we withold consent if we are required to pledge allegiance? How can government tell us what to think, but still be dependent on our consent? Answers: we can't, and it can't. Say the pledge if you want to. Burn the flag if you want to. The people should not fear their government. The government should fear the people.

Bourke's Corner Kick

Heartfelt props to Bourke Report.

My man B connected up my rant about TNR with my query about Materazzi, and provides an excellent link to boot (soccer joke).

Check this excerpt:
Just before the last period of overtime (before the penalty kicks) when I watched the game earlier on ABC the camera was focused on the stadium ceiling. But when I came home and watched the replay of the game on Univision right before Zidane goes back on the field it appears the French coach grabs his arm to tell him something, Zidane pulls it away and snarls something at him.

The reason I even mention this is that Zidane's timing seemed to be completely awful! A bit too awful. Zidane leads the team to the final, knows full well he is a premium penalty kicker, and head-butts the Italian player in front of the whole stadium right before the penalty shoot-out! He had to know he would get kicked out for that. He not only left France with a man down but also weakening their chances to score during a penalty kick situation.

I propose that the argument on the pitch was secondary. The real reason was because of some unknown altercation between Zidane and the French coach. Zidane was angry and decided to get back at the coach by getting thrown out of the game in a flamboyant way.

World Cup soccer differs from professional wrestling only in that no one pretends professional wrestling is real.

Hand of God, Headbutt of the Minotaur

From the media of France (via UTV), on Zidane's unbelievably dumb headbutt:

L`Equipe, whose front-page headline was `eternal regrets`, condemned Zidane`s act of violence.

`Zinedine,` they queried, `the most difficult thing this morning is not to try to explain why Les Bleus, your Bleus, lost the final of the World Cup which they could have won, but to explain to millions of children around the world how you could let yourself go to the point of charging at and head-butting Marco Materazzi.

`During the match in Berlin`s Olympiastadion where so many pages of sports history were written, you were Ali, the genius of the ring, the greatest.

`But not Ali, nor (Jesse) Owens nor Pele, men that you were about to join among the most brilliant sports legends, ever broke the rules the way you did.

`Why also, weren`t you on the pitch to console your friends Lilian Thuram and Fabien Barthez after the loss?

`You left them alone, just like the millions of kids who were inconsolable in front of their television set.

`Zinedine, you must be a very unhappy man this morning. You are also going to have to explain your gesture to your four sons.

`It was the last image you left as a football player, Zinedine. How could this happen to the man you are?`

Le Figaro called Zidane`s head-butt `odious`.

`The final of the World Cup against Italy symbolised Les Bleus` performance during the competition,` the paper added.

`First there was a shaky start, then an attractive performance before we suffered again a lack of offensive punch.

`Zidane`s gesture was unacceptable and sanctioned properly.

`Thuram spoke about a real suffering and pain after the match. The captain must feel exactly the same way as his exit looked even more sad than the defeat.`

Broadsheet Liberation called the defeat `cruel` while Le Parisien preferred to concentrate on Les Bleus` achievement of reaching the final, with the headline `Merci` splashed across their front page.

I had been rooting for France. This was dangerous; my Italian wife was not pleased. But when Zidane pulled that stunt....amazing. I want to know what Materazzi said....what COULD he have said? After the incident, I switched to France, but it was really all ruined. As Le Parisienne put it: "The blue angel turned into a devil." Say it ain't so, Zidane.

(by the way, "minotaur" is not a compliment....)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Word, Man: Word

Will Wilkinson lays down a challenge to J. Chait, who is a fine writer but ran afoul of the chortling, self-congratulatory virus sweeping the (otherwise) moderate and sensible political left.

As Mr. Chait famously said (I'm paraphrasing), liberals are empiricists and conservatives are evidence-free ideologues.

Excerpt (since the article is for subscribers):

Since the mid-'70s, the GOP has grown steadily more conservative, and therefore less pragmatic. Genuine ideological conservatives, banished to minority status since Eisenhower, briefly resurfaced under Barry Goldwater, and, after falling back again, began to take control of the Republican Party. Conservatives correctly see George W. Bush as one of their own. Bush does frequently depart from conservative orthodoxy, as with his tariffs, farm subsidies, and Medicare drug benefit. Yet conservatives understand that Bush sees these compromises as politically expedient, not a genuinely felt embrace of expansive government. His signature proposals--massive tax cuts and Social Security privatization--both reflect a belief that reducing government is an end in itself. Outside events exert not even the slightest influence on his policy goals. Bush steadfastly embraced his tax cuts as the economy veered from boom and surplus to slowdown to wartime to recovery and deficit.

Meanwhile, Democrats have continuously reexamined their policies in light of changing conditions. Bill Clinton came to office planning to spur the economy with a Keynesian stimulus, but abandoned those plans after fierce debate among his staff economists. Instead he embraced the novel goal of sparking recovery by slashing the deficit in the hopes that lower interest rates would enable sustainable growth. As that policy seemed to work, moderate liberals continued to embrace the credo of fiscal restraint. But, after the economy slid toward a recession in 2001, liberal economists abandoned short-term restraint in favor of temporary tax cuts to encourage spending.

Now, there is something to that, in some quarters. There are parts of the GOP for which that description is only slightly exaggerated.

But Mr. Chait has gone on to conclude that ONLY liberals use evidence, and that even critics of GOP conservatism, including CATO, resist all reason and evidence. In fact, anyone who believes in markets MUST, segun Mr. Chait, have committed to a vow rather than the "science" that Mr. Chait and his special, smart friends study at the Kennedy school. (I should admit that I cancelled my subscription to TNR soon after this vapid screed was published at the end of February 2005. I had to go worship my own evidence-free beliefs, and being challenged by someone so much more evidence-focused was just too upsetting.)

Word, Will.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Freakonomics Cultists Must Die

What in the world is the deal with all this "Freakonomics" worship?

I am, as Cheech and Chong famously put it, sick up and fed with all of this Freak-o crap.

It's a perfectly good book. I admire Levitt. He is a fine man. Very smart, and may bring Economics as a discipline back toward an empirical focus. (I'm sure Stephen Dubner is also wonderful).

But Freakonomics is simply arm-chair, superficial, first-thought-that-comes-into-your-mind social science. (Yes, it is TESTED empirically, but not all alternatives occur to you in the first thought that comes into your mind).

At the IHS conference, I talked a bit about several results in political science and econ. Two different students demanded that I immediately explain why all the journal article results were different from the Freakonomics results.

(For example, the Freak-o claim was that campaign spending doesn't matter, at all. That's nonsense. People have shown that both challenger and incumbent, but especially challenger, spending matters a lot. SL is flat wrong about that. Plus, he mismeasures things, and ignores the fact that he would need an equilibrium model to solve the endogeneity of spending).

Now, I love Freakonomics. The emphasis on testing, the idea that we can learn things from empirical work...all great.

But one of these kids at the Stanford conference demanded that I come with him and go over the Freakonomics claims. I said I wasn't interested. He said, "Why are you so afraid of the truth?"

Gosh, fella, I've studied this question myself, and the literature on this question, for 20 years. There are dozens of different papers that show that Levitt has this wrong. And the reason is simple: he has misspecified the model, in ways we have understood for decades. I have no interest in explaining in detail why Levitt is wrong in this instance, at 11 pm when we are having cocktails. I am particularly uninterested in explaining it to a junior grad student who is proud (and rightly so!) of the great depth of his ignorance of political science. That makes me AFRAID?

(SIDENOTE: Does that argument actually work for you sometimes, kid? Is that how other people got you to drink your first beer in high school? "Do it or we will call you 'big chicken-face'?" You need to get out more, pumpkin.)

More and more people have this belief that Levitt is some kind of prophet, a god-like figure. Levitt does not present himself that way in person, and makes NO such claims in his book. He just wants to make the read think. So it is not HIS fault.

He got a lot of profit (I'm punning on "prophet", you see) out of Freakonomics, sure. But much of the work in that book is simply provocative, and intentionally so. It is designed to make the point that it is fun and interesting to do your own tests. I agree with all that.

But it is not surprising that he got a lot of things wrong. That is one of the great things about empirical work: I *know* he got it wrong, and I can prove it. Challenger spending definitely matters, even controlling for challenger charisma. And the data are not IID, because in equilibrium it is true that charismatic challengers get more money. But that doesn't mean the spending doesn't matter.

Anyway, bottom line: Steve Levitt--way to go.

Young goofballs who think that Levitt's empirical work is perfect, and doesn't itself need to be tested--you are missing Levitt's own point.

This is statistical inference, not religion class.

UPDATE: I should be more careful. On rereading, my interpretation of the book is unduly harsh, and inaccurate. SL does not really say campaign spending doesn't matter at all. In particular, he never makes the equilibrium claims I attribute to him above. Those claim were made by his self-appointed hit men in my audience. Mea culpa. The hit men can still bite me, however.

I would edit the post, but that would violate basic blogger ethics, since someone may have seen, and linked to, the earlier (admittedly incorrect) version. So this update will have to do.

There is something odd about this....

1. 4th of July, 1993, San Fran baseball park
2. The Grateful Dead
3. A Viet Nam veteran's group

The GD's are singing the National Anthem. And they just sing, it straight up. No Jimmy Hendrix distortion, no evident irony, other than the irony evident in their singing it.

Just watching it makes me feel like I pulled a muscle in my brain.

I mean....check this.

The vets who came back from the 'Nam were damaged. And they didn't want to be over there. But the self-appointed masters of morals spit on the vets, and judged them morally corrupt. (Or did they? This is quibbling, people. The vets were treated very badly)

I guess we have made some progress. Now, involved in another war (very different, yet eerily similar), antiwar protesters seem to be able to separate the bad war and the damaged warriors.

Or, maybe I'm just wrong. Maybe the Grateful Dead were saying "thank you" to the vets. And, if not, let me say it: Thanks, American soldiers, from all our wars. Most of you did your best, and it was usually more than good enough. When it wasn't, the problem wasn't you.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sign Up for Courses and Take You Some Stats

This is pretty catchy.

But then, so is syphillis.

The video is VERY work safe, and the song is good. Can't get it out of my head. "Got your difference on the top, and your error on the bottom."

Some observations:

1. The one poor black kid had to feel a little strange doing this. Absolutely NONE of the white kids, with the exception of the one tall woman in the black beret and the wife-beater undershirt (she is at least adequate), can rap at all. So, when the black guy does get his chance, it goes so much better. Other than those two, tho, all the performances are pretty painful.

2. Lyrics and graphics are quite nice. Generally very well done.

(Nod to JM, who can rap it down pretty well herself)

What a Commercial!

A Nike commercial.

It's hokey.

But, anytime the explanation for why a group of guys has to steal a ball is, "It's rounder", you have go with it.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The String Section

From the WSJournal, via NWFlorida Daily News (!)

(AP) - Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli didn't suffer fools gladly. Fond of calling colleagues' work "wrong" or "completely wrong," he saved his worst epithet for work so sloppy and speculative it is "not even wrong."

That's how mathematician Peter Woit of Columbia University describes string theory. In his book, "Not Even Wrong," published in the U.K. this month and due in the U.S. in September, he calls the theory "a disaster for physics."

A year or two ago, that would have been a fringe opinion, motivated by sour grapes over not sitting at physics' equivalent of the cool kids' table. But now, after two decades in which string theory has been the doyenne of best-seller lists and the dominant paradigm in particle physics, Mr. Woit has company.

"When it comes to extending our knowledge of the laws of nature, we have made no real headway" in 30 years, writes physicist Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, in his book, "The Trouble with Physics," also due in September. "It's called hitting the wall."


(nod to SdM, who seems to have lost his mind)


My spiffy, splashy new essay on EconLib, about rent-seeking, goes up officially tomorrow.

But, in EXCLUSIVE for M. End can read it a day early!

Here is the essay. And I would be interested to know what you think!

Write Your Own Headline

I tried to think of just the right headline for this, but....
So, I am soliciting comments. Help me out, in comments: what should the title for this story be? Winner gets a special mention.
Former Judge Donald D. Thompson, a veteran of 23 years on the bench, is on trial on charges he used a penis pump on himself in the courtroom while sitting in judgment of others....
Thompson's former court reporter, Lisa Foster, wiped away tears as she described tracing an unfamiliar "sh-sh" in the courtroom to her boss. She testified that between 2001 and 2003 she saw Thompson expose himself at least 15 times.
"I was really shocked and I was kind of scared because it was so bizarre," said Foster.
She testified that during a trial in 2002, she heard the pump during the emotional testimony of a murdered toddler's grandfather.
The grandfather "was getting real teary-eyed, and the judge was up there pumping on that pump," she said. "It was sickening."
The allegations came to light after a police officer who was in Thompson's court heard pumping sounds and took photos of the device during a break in the proceedings.
Thompson took the stand in his own defense, saying the device was a gag gift from a longtime friend with whom he had joked about erectile dysfunction. He said he kept the pump under the bench or in his office but didn't use it.
"In 20-20 hindsight, I should have thrown it away," he said....
...Dr. S. Edward Dakil, a urologist called as an expert witness, repeatedly prompted laughter from the jury when discussion turned to the penis pump. Dakil defended use of the device after defense attorney Clark Brewster said it was an out-of-date treatment for erectile dysfunction.
"I still use those," Dakil testified.
Brewster paused.
"Not you, personally?" he asked.
"No," Dakil responded as jurors laughed. "I recommend those as a urologist."

(An anony-nod to my main man, who has cause)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Dish

Spent the last week out at Stanford, for the IHS "Social Change" workshop.

Best ever (I have done the workshop several times, though all previous incarnations have been at UVA-Charlottesville).

Wonderful time. If you are a grad student, sign up next year when the app comes up on the web site.

The highlight: for me, it was a four mile hike with David Schmidz, the best philosopher of classical liberalism we have in the world today. We hiked up around "the Dish" on a fantastic blue-sky-with-breeze-so-can-see-the-bay-and-the-coastal-range-with-fog-and-birds-everywhere. I learned things from David, I saw things, it was great. (He knows a lot about birds, in addition to CL).

(One downside: the dorms at Stanford are the worst place I have stayed in at least 25 years. Incredibly smelly, a unique cocktail of complex noisomeness. It smelled bad, but when they cleaned the thing midweek it appeared to disturb the ghosts of bathrooms past, and then it was much worse. It was offal. Reminds me of a Stanford friend I did NOT see this time. Buy me a beer sometime, and I'll tell you the story of AR and "the bathtub, the cow, and the chainsaw.")

I DID get to see a bunch of other friends. A partial list (if I left you off, I'm sorry!): Clark Durant (Clark showed me the Dish hike first, bless his heart), Chris Nelson, John Nye, Mary Shirley, John Tomasi, Barry Weingast, Terrence Watson, Will Wilkinson, and Paul Zak. And, of course, the inexplicable Nigel Ashford, one of my favorite people. And made a bunch of new friends. (In particular: Courtney, you are a crazy person. I hope the poop soup in the backyard was receded to manageable levels, and that your manly Indiana guy Radley figured out how to get Isabel and Harper walked even in the rain).

Wonderful all around. IHS is doing a great job with this program.

We Don't Get the Smart Ones

A heartwarming story of stupidity and justice (from the SJ Mercury News):

Man arrested after he returns to eatery for items

A San Jose man might have gotten away with not paying at a Denny's restaurant in Campbell, except for the items he left on the table.

Steven Michael Thomas, 19, of San Jose allegedly left the Bascom Avenue eatery without paying a $26 bill. But he was cited for suspicion of defrauding an innkeeper when he apparently returned to retrieve his keys and a traffic ticket with his name on it.

``We don't get the smart ones,'' Campbell police Capt. Russ Patterson said.

Thomas, Patterson said, had eaten at the all-night diner with a group of friends and walked out without paying.

The group returned to drop Thomas off in a back parking lot, probably, Patterson said, so Thomas could retrieve his things.

There are several questions I want to ask:

1. $26? Why would anyone risk a pretty serious misdemeanor charge for $26? You ought at least to get your money's worth. Go someplace nicer than Denny's, if you aren't going to pay.
2. A traffic ticket with his name on it? That probably means a car. Keys...ditto. But apparently he wasn't the driver in this criminal gang of Denny's check stiffers. What did he do, clean out his pockets? Were his jeans so tight he couldn't carry a traffic ticket in his pocket?
3. Why is Thomas the fall guy? After all, the group is responsible, presumably. At least, they are all equally responsible. Did Thomas tell the others he was going to pay, and then just walk out giggling? If so, I can understand how this might have worked:
Thomas, in car, after leaving: "Dadgum it! I forgot my keys, and that traffic ticket I had to take out of my pants because they are too tight."
Other person in car: "We'll just go back and get it. We are white people, and the staff at Denny's is friendly and helpful to white people."
Thomas, thinking quickly: "" And then he walks into the Denny's, because he didn't want to admit to his friends that his tight pants had prevented him from bringing his wallet, which was why he didn't pay the bill he promised them he would pay.

Now, this last is JUST a reconstruction. So, we can't be sure. I'm just sayin'.