Saturday, January 24, 2009

Please, Sir, Can I have some MORE?

Repub Nat Cmte is sending out this solicitation

I have some sympathy for the claim that Al Franken "won" on votes not cast on election day, but later. The challenges on both sides got pretty silly.

Still....Coleman lost. He should concede. The Repubs have effectively conceded this on committee ratios....

But the rumor (and it is only a rumor) is that the RNC is pulling in so much money off this solicitation that they have told Coleman to put off his concession. Shake your money-maker, Norm. With this hair-do, LOTS of folks would pay.

Icky oo. A pox on both their Houses, and their Senates.

The worst mistake in the history of the human race?

According to Jared Diamond, it's agriculture!

"archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered."

here's one of his cases:

"One straightforward example of what paleopathologists have learned from
skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show
that the average height of hunter-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a
generous 5'9" for men, 5'5" for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height
crashed, and by 3000 B.C. had reached a low of 5'3" for men ,5' for women. By classical
times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still
not regained the average height of their distant ancestors."

While his cases are (as always) just so, the argument seems iffy. After all, agriculture accompanied a rise in the population which in most endogenous growth models, raises the stock of ideas and long run growth. Plus, if we'd stayed hunter-gatherers neither me or Lebron James would currently stalk this planet and that, people, would be a tragedy indeed.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Headlines I wish were NOT literally true, #1

"Goat detained over armed robbery"

"Police in Nigeria are holding a goat on suspicion of attempted armed robbery."

"Vigilantes took the black and white beast to the police saying it was an armed robber who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323."

luckily, the police are (kind of) suspending judgement for the time being:

"We cannot confirm the story, but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical. It is something that has to be proved scientifically, that a human being turned into a goat,"

Headlines I wish were literally true #47

"Probers Work Backward on Madoff

Chief's Alleged Confession Forces Investigators to Go From Top Down"

That would be about right, wouldn't it?

Vote for Jesus?

Evo Morales is a pretty good politician. He ousted Goni, became president and survived a recall vote. But now, he's apparently in the race of his life against the Son of God!

Well, actually, it's just that Jesus is opposed to Evo's proposed new constitution:

"At the heart of the latest controversy is the new constitution's stated goal of "refounding" Bolivia as a socially-just state guided by indigenous beliefs -- including elevating the Andean earth deity Pachamama to the same stature as Christianity's God. It would recognize broad new rights for Bolivia's Indians, termed "original indigenous peasant peoples" in the document, and demand "decolonization" of all aspects of society. Bolivia's current constitution allows for freedom of religion but specifies Roman Catholicism as the sole state religion."

It's even "worse" than that, from the point of view of Bolivian evangelicals:

"the fight is over fundamental values, which they say the new constitution tramples on, and replaces with ultra-liberal, atheist concepts or worse, those of indigenous religions. They say the constitution appears to open the door to abortion and gay marriage, although it doesn't speak directly to either issue."

Oh my.

However, Jesus is weighing down on Evo:

"In a country that is officially 97.5% Christian, the stance of church leaders carries significant weight. So much so that on Sunday Mr. Morales -- who has actively promoted indigenous beliefs, including appointing traditional medicine men to his government -- publicly declared himself a Catholic, though saying he believes "quite a bit" in Pachamama."

I say: ¡Bolivianos! ¡Voten por Evo!

Hat tip to Mrs. Angus

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Announcement: I am Withdrawing

Raleigh, NC
January 22, 2009

After considering my options, and talking with my advisers, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York.

I don't make this decision lightly, but it is time to end the wild rumor-mungering by many news outlets.

Now, there are those who might say that the reason I am withdrawing is that Gov. Paterson was not going to appoint me anyway. This is nonsense, and typical of the unfounded speculation that has swirled around me in recent days. The fact is, I defy ANYONE to find even one shred of evidence that Gov. Paterson has EVER said, "I'm not going to appoint Mungowitz." I'm confident he has never said that.

And there are other people who have claimed that it was my inarticulate, confused, and downright weird public appearances that caused me to withdraw. But that is again nonsense: My private appearances have also been inarticulate, confused, and weird. Just ask my wife, or my blogging partner Angus. They will vouch for me, I'm sure.

Finally, there have been some allegations (and that's ALL they are) that it was at long last explained to me that, in order to be a Senator from NY, I would actually have to LIVE in NY. For those allegators, I have some names: Bobby Kennedy. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Not exactly New Yorkers. Please, the residency requirement is obviously a joke. The good people of the great state of New York are gracious enough to pimp their seats (if you will) to pretty much any Democratic hack who shows up at the door, and smart enough to realize that no one actually born in NY is bright enough to be senator. So those allegators can just shut up.

I expect to release future press statements as events require. I'm sure that the press will pay as much attention to those future statements as they will to this one.
Oh, and here is a photo-shopped picture of me with the flag, and the SoL. Because, let's face it, I am SoL. God bless America.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How Many Harvard JDs Does It Take....

How many Harvard-trained lawyers does it take to administer the oath of office?

More than two, apparently.

Or, at a minimum, the same two have to do it more than once!

And then Joe Biden, king of flubs, takes a shot?

Maybe if CJ Roberts had plagiarized the thing, it would have gone better?

(Nod to Anonyman, who gets it wrong the first time, and then just mans up and deals with it).

The Greek God of Walks!!! In My Office!!!

Had a visit from Kevin Youkilis today.

I'm a Cards fan, but still, very exciting. I took a photo, to commemorate the visit.

(Okay....that's Mike Brady, new Asst Prof at Denison University, starting in August. But he LOOKS like Youkilis, don't you think?)

Vicious circles

In a new NBER working paper (ungated version here), Aghion, Algan, Cahuc, & Shleifer show that there is a negative correlation between social trust and government regulation across countries. They also argue that this comes from the demand side (that is that distrustful people demand more regulation) and that it comes even when the demanders know that the government providing the regulation is corrupt. As they put it:

"Using the World Values Survey, we show both in a cross-section of countries,
and in a sample of individuals from around the world, that distrust fuels support for government control over the economy. What is perhaps most interesting about this fi…nding, and also consistent with the model's predictions, is that distrust generates demand for regulation even when people realize that the government is corrupt and ineffective; they prefer state control to unbridled activity by uncivic entrepreneurs."

In their model an "uncivic" entrepreneur is one who will create negative externalities when doing his/her entreprenuring.

It's a panacea, I say!

Grad Students: having a tough job market season?

Profs: just got your piece rejected at the Journal of Last Resort?

Students: just found out there's a research paper AND a comprehensive final in the required class you've been putting off til now?

Fear not, for behold, I have the answer:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Kennedy Down

Ted Kennedy had a seizure, apparently, at the luncheon where Obama was "introduced" after the inauguration.

He is getting pretty frail. Whatever else you may think, it is sad to hear that he is so sick.

Apparently Robert Byrd had some med troubles also. Yikes.

UPDATE: No, Byrd was not sick. Just needed to go home.

(Not) Watching the Inauguration

The Drive-by Writer offers some thoughts on the Inauguration.

"Model" Citizens

Some interesting papers, from all over the map....

Simplicity and reality in computational modeling of politics

Claudio Cioffi-Revilla
Computational & Mathematical Organization Theory, March 2009, Pages 26-46

Modeling a polity based on viable scientific concepts and theoretical understanding has been a challenge in computational social science and social simulation in general and political science in particular. This paper presents a computational model of a polity (political system) in progressive versions from simple to more realistic. The model, called SimPol to highlight the fundamental structures and processes of politics in a generic society, is developed using the combined methodologies of object-based modeling (OOM), the Unified Modeling Language (UML), and the methodology of Lakatos' research programs. SimPol demonstrates that computational models of entire political systems are methodologically feasible and scientifically viable; they can also build on and progress beyond previous theory and research to advance our understanding of how polities operate across a variety of domains (simple vs. complex) and levels of analysis (local, national, international). Both simple and realistic models are necessary, for theoretical and empirical purposes, respectively.


Presidential and Congressional Vote-Share Equations

Ray Fair
American Journal of Political Science, January 2009, Pages 55-72

Three vote-share equations are estimated and analyzed in this article, one for presidential elections, one for on-term House elections, and one for midterm House elections. The sample period is 1916-2006. Considering the three equations together allows one to test whether the same economic variables affect each and to examine various serial correlation and coattail possibilities. The main conclusions are (1) there is strong evidence that the economy affects all three vote shares and in remarkably similar ways; (2) there is no evidence of any presidential coattail effects on the on-term House elections; (3) there is positive serial correlation in the House vote, which likely reflects a positive incumbency effect for elected
representatives; and (4) the presidential vote share has a negative effect on the next midterm House vote share, which is likely explained by a balance argument.


Dynamics of the presidential veto: A computational analysis

John Duggan, Tasos Kalandrakis & Vikram Manjunath
Mathematical and Computer Modelling, November 2008, Pages 1570-1589

We specify and compute equilibria of a dynamic policy-making game between a president and a legislature under institutional rules that emulate those of the US Constitution. Policies are assumed to lie in a two-dimensional space in which one issue dimension captures systemic differences in partisan preferences, while the other summarizes non-partisan attributes of policy. In any period, the policy choices of politicians are influenced by the position of the status quo policy in this space, with the current policy outcome determining the location of the status quo in the next period. Partisan control of the legislature and presidency changes probabilistically over time. We find that politicians strategically compromise their ideal policy in equilibrium, and that the degree of compromise increases when the
opposition party is more likely to take control of the legislature in the next period, while politicians become relatively more extreme when the opposition party is more likely to control the presidency. We measure gridlock by (the inverse of) the expected distance of enacted policies from the status quo in the long run, and we show that both gridlock and the long run welfare of a representative voter are maximized when government is divided without a supermajority in the legislature. Under unified government, we find that the endogeneity of the status quo leads to a
non-monotonic effect of the size of the legislative majority on gridlock; surprisingly, under unified government, gridlock is higher when the party in control of the legislature has a supermajority than when it has a bare majority. Furthermore, a relatively larger component of policy change occurs in the non-partisan policy dimension when a supermajority controls the legislature. We conduct constitutional experiments, and we find that voter welfare is minimized when the veto override provision is abolished and maximized when the presidential veto is abolished.


A Computational Model of the Citizen as Motivated Reasoner: Modeling the
Dynamics of the 2000 Presidential Election

Sung-youn Kim, Charles Taber & Milton Lodge
Stony Brook University Working Paper, October 2008

We develop a computational model of political attitudes and beliefs that incorporates contemporary theories of social and cognitive psychology with well-documented findings from electoral behavior. We compare this model, John Q. Public (JQP), to a Bayesian learning model via computer simulations of empirically observed changes in candidate evaluations over the course of the 2000 presidential election. In these simulations, JQP clearly outperforms the Bayesian learning model. In particular, JQP reproduces responsiveness, persistence, and polarization of political attitudes, while the Bayesian model has difficulty accounting for persistence and polarization. We demonstrate that motivated reasoning - the discounting of information that challenges prior attitudes coupled with the uncritical acceptance of attitude-consistent information - is the reason our model can better account for persistence in candidate evaluations over the course of the campaign. Two implications follow from the comparison of models: (1) motivated reasoning explains the responsiveness, persistence, and polarization of political attitudes, and (2) any learning model that does not incorporate motivated reasoning will have difficulty accounting for the persistence and polarization of political attitudes.


Modeling a Presidential Prediction Market

Keith Chen, Jonathan Ingersoll & Edward Kaplan
Management Science, August 2008, Pages 1381-1394

Prediction markets now cover many important political events. The 2004 presidential election featured an active online prediction market at, where securities addressing many different election-related outcomes were traded. Using the 2004 data from this market, we examined three alternative models for these security prices, with special focus on the electoral college rules that govern U.S. presidential elections to see which models are more (or less) consistent with the data. The data reveal dependencies in the evolution of the security prices across states over
time. We show that a simple diffusion model provides a good description of the overall probability distribution of electoral college votes, and an even simpler ranking model provides excellent predictions of the probability of winning the presidency. Ignoring dependencies in the evolution of security prices across states leads to considerable underestimation of the variance of the number of electoral college votes received by a candidate, which in turn leads to overconfidence in predicting whether that candidate will win the election. Overall, the security prices in the Intrade presidential election prediction market appear jointly consistent with probability models that satisfy the rules of the electoral college.


Optimal Gerrymandering in a Competitive Environment

Richard Holden
MIT Working Paper, December 2008

We analyze a model of optimal gerrymandering where two parties receive a noisy signal about voter preferences from a continuous distribution and simultaneously design districts in different states and in which the median voter in a district determines the winner. The form of the optimal gerrymander involves "slices" of extreme right-wing voters that are paired with "slices" of left-wing voters, as in Friedman and Holden (2008). We also show that, as one party controls the redistricting process in more states, that party designs districts so as to spread out the distribution of
district median voters from a given state.

A mathematical model of Athenian democracy

Andranik Tangian
Social Choice and Welfare, December 2008, Pages 537-572

It is shown that the representative capacity of democratic institutions selected by lot (=lottery), as it has been practiced in Athens in 594-322 BC, is quite high. For this purpose, People's Assembly, Council of 500, Committee of 50 with its President, juries, and magistrates are evaluated with indicators of popularity, universality, and goodness. The popularity is a spatial characteristic of representativeness, the average percentage of the population whose opinion is represented on a number of questions. The universality is a temporal aspect of representativeness, the frequency of cases (percentage of questions) when the opinion of a majority is represented. The goodness is the specific representativeness, that is, the average group-represented-to-majority ratio. In particular, it is shown that the size of Athenian representative bodies selected by lot was adequate to guarantee their high representativeness. The background idea is the same as in Gallup polls of public opinion and in quality control based on limited random samples.

(Nod to KL)

Snow Day! 'Snow day for a colonoscopy....

So, I thought I was such a clever fellow.

Scheduling my "procedure" for Inauguration Day.

I should note, at the outset, that it has not snowed more than a piffle in Raleigh in the last three years.

Anyway, this snow (we have gotten 5" in my neighborhood since 3 am) was not predicted.

So...well, let me put it this way.

1. The drugs and compounds that are believed by physicians to be laxatives....They ARE, in fact, very effective.

2. I spent all of yesterday, shall we say, "preparing" myself for the colonoscopy. The goal being to make it possible to view the colon without anything, NOTHING AT ALL, in the way. That's how I know the truth of #1, above.

3. At 3 am today, it started snowing like crazy.

4. At 7 am, I called and cancelled the procedure, because there is no way I would have been able to leave the neighborhood. And if I had left, really really really no way I could have gotten back, since it snowed another 2.5" in the period 7 am -- noon.

5. So, I will have to go through the colonoscopy prep AGAIN, when the now rescheduled procedure comes around again the on the guitar.*

My wife claims this is bad karma. I should never have scheduled the procedure on inauguration day.

The nurses at the clinic, when they found out I had gone through the prep (see #1, above), were not really able to contain the hilarity that seized them. Ha, ha, indeed.

(*Yes, Arlo Guthrie alert)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tom Cruise is a LOT OLDER than I thought

From Yahoo News comes the headline: "Tom Cruise says (he) grew up wanting to kill Hitler"

So he's in his 70's???

"I always wanted to kill Hitler, I hated him," the Hollywood star of such major blockbusters as "Top Gun" and "Mission Impossible," told the press during a visit to Seoul to promote his latest film.

By the way, I've finally seen a good Tom Cruise movie. It's called Tropic Thunder! Highly recommended.

Waiting for Superman

"Is it overwhelming to use a crane to crush a fly? Good time for Superman to put the sun back in the sky." -- W. Coyne

On the day before Superman swears on the Lincoln Bible, I'm troubled by the almost universal use of the Great Depression (GD)) as the frame of reference for our current situation (CS).

The initial phase of the GD was a stock market crash and financial panic. So far, so good. However, the follow ups to those events in the GD were massive bank failures and persistent deflation. In my opinion, we have avoided these follow ups in the CS. Despite Bernanke's early role as Greenspan Jr. in perpetuating overly loose and regulatorily negligent monetary policy, he has to be given credit for helping to ensure that we avoided GD like financial follow ups to the initial crash.

Now we come to the real side of the economy where, as you all know, we are looking at a new "new deal" consisting of possibly a $ 1 trillion plus fiscal stimulus. However, the new deal was a lot more than public spending. It was also a policy of explictly allowing business collusion, and repeatedly raising taxes on private economic activity.

The new deal of course didn't really work at least in terms of ending the GD on any time frame that could be considered politically acceptable (unemployment in 1938 was 19%!!!!). However, this is not to say that the fiscal stimulus part of the new deal didn't work or that a fiscal stimulus in the CS wouldn't be effective in raising measured GDP.

I don't think a massive fiscal stimulus is warranted on business cycle grounds because we have already avoided the horrendus monetary followups to the GD and Obama seems fairly likely to avoid the counter productive fiscal parts of the new deal (now Reid and Pelosi are a different story but for now my $$ is on Obama to at least kind of get what he wants).

In other words, I do not think the GD is a valid frame of reference for our CS because either we did not make, or are unlikely to make, the post crash mistakes that were made in the GD.

In other words, I think this recession is a "normal" one that we likely would have had after the bursting of the housing bubble even if the financial crisis had not also hit us. GD like policy responses are simply not warranted on business cycle grounds. And once we take the doomsday scenario out of play, all the well known objections to normal use of counter-cyclical discretionary fiscal policies (as opposed to automatic stabilizers) come into play.

If this post prompts Brad Delong to call me an ethics free Republican hack, maybe Steve Horowitz can send me a copy of his new office door decoration!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Advertising: Yer doin' it Wrong!

Norman has grown a lot since Mrs. Angus and I arrived. Now we even have a very good Indian restaurant, Himalayas, that makes great dosas and uthappams. However, their advertising needs work.

First, their slogan is "Aroma of India" which I would not necessarily consider appetizing!

Second, their other slogan is "A fine dining experience where earth and sky meet". People, the place is right next to the dollar store and it is often filled with college students. So much for the "fine dining" part. As far as "where earth and sky meet" I guess literally that means "the ground" so it has to be trivially true, but isn't its usual sense a place of high elevation? Maybe they outsourced their advertising to folks who'd never seen Oklahoma?

Oh, well. If you're ever in Oklahoma and are hankering for a dosa, Himalayas is the place.