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.