Saturday, May 14, 2011

Not the Onion?

As many as one, or more, of these stories may be the Onion. Or, not.

1. In addition to being a terrorist mastermind, Osama Bin Laden was also kind of an underminer. Bin Laden's hand-written diary lists the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as major targets, but the head of Joe Biden? Meh, maybe later. A counter-terrorism official tells the Telegraph, “There is a note indicating that the vice president is not an important target because that position has less weight.” Notes in the journal also paint a picture of bin Laden as the kind of boss that would peer into your cubicle if he wasn't hiding out in a compound: "You could describe him as a micro-manager," a U.S. official said. "The cumbersome process he had to follow for security reasons did not prevent him from playing a role...He was down in the weeds as far as best operatives, best targets, best timing." (LINK)

2. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange now makes his associates sign a complex, multi-page nondisclosure agreement that, among other things, asserts that the organization’s huge trove of leaked material is “solely the property of WikiLeaks,” according to a report Wednesday. “You accept and agree that the information disclosed, or to be disclosed to you pursuant to this agreement is, by its nature, valuable proprietary commercial information,” the agreement reads, “the misuse or unauthorized disclosure of which would be likely to cause us considerable damage.” Assange said, "The last thing we need is some tosser leaking all of our documents. I mean, wtf?" (LINK)

3. PALO ALTO, CA—Hewlett-Packard announced Friday the release of the first-ever non-computer, a device specifally designed to address the demands of individuals who have absolutely no need to own a computer. CEO Léo Apotheker told reporters the non-computer was a long-overdue innovation that would finally allow consumers with zero interest in computers to enjoy all the benefits of not having one. (LINK)

4. Really Gross "Person Who Had Been Dead for a Long Time Before Anybody Noticed" of the Day Story: Police have confirmed the discovery of human remains inside — from an elderly person who passed away years ago. Police showed up Thursday night, but because of the filth inside they couldn’t go in without a full-scale HAZMAT team. That team was assembled Friday morning, and the elderly man’s remains were found already decomposed on a bedroom floor. Neighbors said the daughter should be held responsible. “The father just happened to disappear one day, and nobody knew what happened to him. She kept saying he was fine, in a nursing home, then upstate,” neighbor David Welch added. Of course, for most New Yorkers, living "upstate" is no different from being dead, so the daughter may just have been speaking metaphorically. (LINK)

(Nod to Flo and Anonyman)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Minnesota: Behold your Senator!

I expect moronic stuff like this from Senator Al Franken, but I am actually a little bit surprised at Ezra Klein's cheerleading.

Ezra, in his WAPO column proposes some "no brainers", proposed legislation that everyone should be able to agree on.

According to him, no-brainer #4 is the Franken-sponsored "Pay for War Act".

As Franken puts it, "war shouldn't add to the deficit".

Now, I'm guessing Al is opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (me too!!), but that is just a completely idiotic principle.

People, in WWII the deficit reached 25% of GDP. Good thing for us Al Franken wasn't in office then!

"Gee whiz Hirohito, we sure don't like what you're doing, but we've about maxed out this year's tax revenues and hey, war shouldn't add to the deficit, so......."

Look at this picture and then reflect on the fact that Al Franken is a US Senator (clic the pic for a more glorious image)!

WWI and WWII stick out like wagging fingers rebuking Senator Al (and his boy Ezra).

If the US is in a war that poses a serious threat, we need to be able to spend whatever it takes to win. That's just common sense, as Al likes to say.

Trying to hamstring the future defense of this country as a reaction to the current situation certainly is a no-brainer, just not in the way Ezra means the term.

Bad Spam: These Kids Today...

Spammers used to take a little pride in their work. Make up a story, about a war, a widow, and a desperate last chance to make things right. Some romance, some mystery, knamean?

But now, these kids today simply do not take any pride in their work. Look at this spam I got yesterday: Really? If you are going to send a stupid spam phish to a million people, wouldn't you spend more than 20 seconds writing the thing? I understand spammers are busy, but where's the craftsmanship?

Two Very Cool Articles: Coopertation

Wow. Interesting.

The joker effect: Cooperation driven by destructive agents

Alex Arenas et al.
Journal of Theoretical Biology, 21 June 2011, Pages 113-119

Abstract: Understanding the emergence of cooperation is a central issue in
evolutionary game theory. The hardest setup for the attainment of cooperation in a population of individuals is the Public Goods game in which cooperative agents generate a common good at their own expenses, while defectors “free-ride” this good. Eventually this causes the exhaustion of the good, a situation which is bad for everybody. Previous results have shown that introducing reputation, allowing for volunteer participation, punishing defectors, rewarding cooperators or structuring agents, can enhance cooperation. Here we present a model which shows how the introduction of rare, malicious agents – that we term jokers – performing just destructive actions on the other agents induce bursts of cooperation. The appearance of jokers promotes a rock-paper-scissors dynamics, where jokers outbeat defectors and cooperators outperform jokers, which are subsequently invaded by defectors. Thus, paradoxically, the existence of destructive agents acting indiscriminately promotes cooperation.


Experiment on the Demand for Encompassment

Daniel Klein et al.
George Mason University Working Paper, March 2011

Abstract: The idea of political community is appealing on a gut level. Hayek suggested that certain genes and instincts still dispose us toward the ethos and mentality of the hunter-gatherer band, and that modern forms of political collectivism have, in part, been atavistic reassertions of such tendencies. Picking up on Hayek, Klein (2005) has suggested a combination of yearnings: 1) a yearning for coordinated sentiment (like Smithian sympathy), and 2) a yearning that the sentiment encompass the whole group. This paper reports on an experiment designed to explore the demand for encompassment by having subjects sing together. In each trial, one person in the room was designated not to sing unless every one of the others in the room had made a payment sufficient so as to have that person sing. Subjects chose to sacrifice money to achieve encompassment 47.4 percent of the time, with 59.6 percent of the subjects doing so in at least one trial. An exit questionnaire showed that subjects‘ chief reason for making such a sacrifice was a belief that the singing would be more enjoyable if it encompassed the whole group, and reported enjoyment is significantly higher with encompassment. We discuss the experiment as a parable for a penchant toward political collectivism.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Family Ties

The Politics of Mate Choice

John Alford et al.
Journal of Politics, April 2011, Pages 1–19

Abstract: Recent research has found a surprising degree of homogeneity in the personal political communication network of individuals but this work has focused largely on the tendency to sort into likeminded social, workplace, and residential political contexts. We extend this line of research into one of the most fundamental and consequential of political interactions — that between sexual mates. Using data on thousands of spouse pairs in the United States, we investigate the degree of concordance among mates on a variety of traits. Our findings show that physical and personality traits display only weakly positive and frequently insignificant correlations across spouses. Conversely, political attitudes display interspousal correlations that are among the strongest of all social and biometric traits. Further, it appears the political similarity of spouses derives in part from initial mate choice rather than persuasion and accommodation over the life of the relationship.


Sibling Ideological Influence: A Natural Experiment

R. Urbatsch
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

Abstract: Siblings are a potentially important source of political socialization.
Influence is common, especially among younger siblings and those close in age, who tend to interact most frequently. This suggests that the positions of an individual's next-older sibling will hold particular sway. In policyquestions with a gender gap, then, those whose immediately older sibling is a sister will be more likely to absorb the typically female preference; those born after a brother, the male preference. Evidence from the United States shows that this pattern holds for general left–right orientation as well as for the preferred balance between public and private sectors. Just as American women are more likely to lean left and to see government intervention positively, so are Americans whose next-older sibling is female.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)

I heart Benjamins!

Bennett McCallum says that we shouldn't raise inflation targets to avoid the zero bound problem because "Present institutional arrangements are not immutable. In particular, elimination of traditional currency is feasible (even arguably attractive) and would remove the ZLB constraint on policy."

Wow, thanks Ben (and all the others of your ilk).

Making currency illegal so the government can impose negative rates of return on all conceivable assets is such a dumb idea that only a highly trained economist could call it "arguably attractive".

There is little enough anonymity and privacy left in these United States of ours; let's not get rid of the last remaining shreds under the guise of "improving the performance of monetary policy".

Or, to put it another way, Big Brother is already plenty big enough!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Razing Arizona

Cute. The lefties in Arizona don't actually believe in "democracy" after all. As soon as they are in the minority, they become big "stop tyranny of the majority!" boosters. They even want to secede, and create their own little Atlantis in the Desert, presumably led by John Gulch.

For Pima County to actually become its own state:
• Pima residents would have to approve of the move in a referendum.
• The state legislature would have to approve of it, or it could pass in a state- wide referendum.
• The United States Congress would have to approve it.

The secession movement will almost certainly overcome zero of these three hurdles. But let's say that it did. This new "Baja Arizona" would be larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and it would have a greater population than Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, and the Dakotas. It would probably boast two Democratic senators (which is one of many reasons why this would never get through Congress). And the state motto would be, "Arizona: Now With 70 Percent Less Crazy!" or "Phew, Glad That's Over."

(Nod to Anonyman)

Kids Eat Coins, DJIA Passes

An actual article, sort of, on the relation between DJIA and kids eating coins.

“OBJECTIVE: To examine the relation between coins ingested by children and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. DESIGN: Observational study. Main outcome measures Total value of coins ingested and number of incidents of coins versus other objects swallowed, measured before and after the stock market crash of October 2008. RESULTS: Eighteen objects, including 11 coins, were ingested (NASDAQ (numismatic and sundry detritus acquired) composite of 18). The total value of the 11 coins swallowed was $1.03 (FTSE 100 (fraction of the US$ or 100 cents) index of 103). The pecuniary extraction ratio (PE ratio) was 0.57 (9/16). Comparing values for a period before and after October 2008, the mean monthly NASDAQ composite (0.41 (SD 0.67) v 0.5 (0.85), P=0.75), FTSE 100 index in cents (2.3 (6.8) v 3.1 (7.8), P=0.77), and PE ratio (0.54 (0.52) v 0.66 (0.29), P=0.50) did not change. The mean end-of-month closing value of the Dow Jones, however, decreased significantly (12 537 (841.4) v 8388 (699.8), P=0.001). CONCLUSION: There was no detectable difference in the total value of coins ingested, or ratio of coins to other objects swallowed, before or after a massive stock market crash.”

(Nod to @mscourt)

Political Science Blogging

Herr Fuchs sends this link, to an article by the estimable John Sides of the also estimable Monkey Cage.

In one part of the article, John asks, "Should Junior Faculty Blog?" I think his answer is a bit too optimistic. If your blog is invisible, why waste time on it? And if it is successful, and you become known for it, you are taking a pretty big chance when it comes time for promotion. Either way, I'd say, "no," at least until your fifth year or so in a TT job.

On the plus side of blogging, I blushingly refer to this article on "Truthiness" and political blogging, in a special issue of PC edited by blogging stalwarts Drezner and Farrell.

(Yes, it's gated. Send me an email and I'll send you a PDF, if you don't have access through a library).

UPDATE: On some comments. if you played Russian Roulette and won, that doesn't mean that it is a good idea to play Russian Roulette. So the fact that some people start a blog early, and still get tenure, is not proof it is a good idea.

Good of Dan D to write a comment also. Now, I don't think that the blog was the reason Dan did NOT get tenure. But I (and Dan) will always wonder a little bit whether it had some negative effect.

Dan wrote about it here... Seems like a long time ago now. Dan is fine, still cute and perky. But we'll never know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The ultimate Giffen good?

Betsey S. says it may be kids!!

The whole article is excellent. Here's the nub:

Stating the problem this way makes it clear that Caplan’s argument actually requires parents to be making two mistakes. The first mistake is that the returns to the marginal hours with our children are lower than we think, and so we are over-investing in quality. If he’s right, we can all save ourselves a lot of time. But this doesn’t mean that we should necessarily have more kids. Here’s where the second assumption really matters: Caplan thinks that we should take the time we save and spend it on a greater quantity of children.

You can think of this another way. Caplan says that we parents are charging ourselves too much for children. And just as we buy more televisions when the price falls, we should have more children when the price falls. Maybe. But maybe not. When we reduce the price, there are both income and substitution effects. Caplan is entirely focused on the substitution effect: having kids becomes cheaper relative to buying TVs. So he says buy more kids, and fewer TVs. But what about the income effect? As people become richer, they tend to “buy” fewer children, not more. So there’s an offsetting income effect. Is it possible that the income effect overwhelms the substitution effect? Typically this only occurs among goods which take a big share of our budgets. Like children.

Video on Gas Price Hypocrisy

It is remarkable to watch how the ideological bias of the media condi the response to higher gas prices. And the president's scorn for SUVs is impressive, especially since this is his ride.

We have talked before about how higher prices may have some useful effects. In particular, we are not going to "run out" of oil, even though the peak oil harpies shriek about it.

But you can't say the effects of X are bad if Republicans are in power, but good if Democrats are in power.

The Most Pompous Man on Earth

Okay, so P-Kroog is the most pompous, least self-aware, most earnestly immune from self-doubt person in journalism today. (Olbermann is a bigger a-hole, but he has some ironic self-awareness).

Still, I refuse to believe that this P-Kroog critique of how elites misled policy, and blamed voters, is anything but satire. Surely even P-Kroog had to recognize that he is really talking about himself.

Well, what I’ve been hearing with growing frequency from members of the policy elite — self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing — is the claim that it’s mostly the public’s fault. The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate’s foolishness.

So this seems like a good time to point out that this blame-the-public view isn’t just self-serving, it’s dead wrong.

The fact is that what we’re experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes.

He's got to realize that's irony, right? He's GOT to.

(Nod to Angry Alex)

Sports and Road Rage

The Bad Thing about Good Games: The Relationship between Close Sporting Events and Game-Day Traffic Fatalities

Stacy Wood, Melayne Morgan McInnes & David Norton
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming

Abstract: For sports fans, great games are the close ones — those between evenly-matched opponents where the game remains undecided until the very end. However, the dark-side to sporting events is the incidence of traffic fatalities due to game- related drinking. Here, the authors ask whether the closeness of the game impacts the number of fatalities that occur. Two opposing predictions can be made. Games that are not close (“blow-outs”) may be less engaging, thus increasing drinking. Alternatively, close games may be more dangerous, increasing competition-associated testosterone that spills over into aggressive driving. An analysis of major sporting events (2001-2008) shows that closer games are significantly correlated with more fatalities. Importantly, increased fatalities are observed only in locations with winning fans (game-site and/or winners’ hometown) congruent with a testosterone- based account. Ultimately, this finding has material consequences for public welfare on game-days and suggests one silver-lining for losing fans may be a safer drive home.

(nod to Kevin Lewis)


Hey Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Fratello, Mike Brown, or Phil Jackson. Would one of y'all please come coach the Thunder?


If the Thunder had better offensive game planning and better situational adjustments, they could win it all this year.

But they don't, so they probably won't.
They just might beat Memphis though!

Not the Onion?

Which of these stories might be the Onion? Click the (LINK) at the end of each "story" to find out if it's real...

1. "Lots" of clergymen apparently pretend to be ex-Navy Seals, as an "ego-booster." Don Shipley, a retired SEAL who maintains a database of all former SEALs, got many to admit that they lied. "We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy," Shipley says. "It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up." (LINK)

2. The federal government is going to require credit card companies to deny cards to women who stay home. "In explaining why this is O.K., the Fed said it believed 'married women who do not work outside the home' will still have access to credit because they can apply for joint accounts with their husbands, or become authorized users on their husband’s accounts. The board did concede that applying jointly might be 'inconvenient or impracticable' in some situations, like applying for on-the-spot credit at a retail store." Presumably if the ladies ask real nice, or else trade sex for use of the card, it will all work out. (LINK)

3. The President of the United States and a top general appear to have communicated with each other in a way that would be hard for terrorists to recognize or intercept, in the period just before the attack on Bin Laden's compound in Abbotabad. Bloggers the world over are shocked that the President did not use a public means of communication, perhaps a billboard or a Twitter account, to give orders about the dangerous mission. "If the President can communicate with top military officers in secret, how will I blog about it?" wrote one fat guy typing on a Macbook Pro in his pajamas* in the basement of his mom's house late Monday afternoon. (LINK)

(*How the Macbook Pro got into his pajamas we'll never know...)

(Nod to Anonyman and the Blonde)

Do Black Mayors Improve Outcomes for Black Citizens?

Do Black Mayors Improve Black Employment Outcomes? Evidence from Large U.S. Cities
John Nye, Thomas Stratmann, Ilia Rainer | May 09, 2011

I was worried about endogeneity, but since they only looked at instances where the race of the mayor changed, it may work. I would still worry that the effect is a short-run "Kroog": taking money from citizens who ALREADY work, and paying unemployed people for fake jobs working for government, is not really growth. Yes, that's all lefty shills like Krugman care about, but not clear the effect is anything but transitory.


To what extent do politicians reward voters who are members of their own ethnic or racial group? Using data from large cities in the United States, we study how black employment outcomes are affected by changes in the race of the cities’ mayors between 1971 and 2003. We find that black employment and labor force participation rise, and the black unemployment rate falls, during the tenure of black mayors both in absolute terms and relative to whites. Black employment gains in municipal government jobs are particularly large, which suggests that our results capture the causal effects of black mayors. We also find that the effect of black mayors on black employment outcomes is stronger in cities that have a large black community. This suggests that electoral incentives may be an important determinant of racial favoritism. Finally, we also find that, corresponding to increases in employment, black income is higher after black mayors take office. Again, this effect is pronounced in cities with a large black population.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Do They Work For Tips?

"I'm a big boy now!" said one young man at the "mass circumcision party."

Well, no, I'm afraid your boy is now somewhat smaller, though perhaps aesthetically pleasing, after it heals up.

Seriously: a mass circumcision party.

My question, as in the title: Do the doctors work for tips?

And WHY circumcision? The evidence, as Nick notes, is hardly clear. (Though I like Nick's envelope joke. Good to see that he is capable of KPC-style humor).

(Reminds me of the old claim, from a student paper, that "Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100 foot clipper.")

Interesting: Declining Migration in U.S.

It is not Just the Economy: Declining Migration and the Rise of Secular Rootedness

Thomas Cooke, Population, Space and Place, May-June 2011, Pages 193-203

Abstract: Americans have always been viewed, both by themselves and by others, as a migrant society. However, migration rates have reached record lows: only 1.6% of Americans moved from one state to another in 2009, and only 3.7% moved from one county to another. This research conducts a decomposition of the change in migration rates between 1999 and 2009 using data from the Current Population Survey. The analysis concludes that about 63% of the decline in migration rates between 1999 and 2009 can be attributed to the direct effects of the economic crisis that began in 2007, and another 17% of the decline can be attributed to demographic changes (e.g. the aging of the population) but that the remaining 20% of the decrease in migration is due to a decline in migration behaviour, or increased rootedness, that applies
to all demographic categories. The discussion focuses on the implications of the universal, or secular, rise in rootedness for migration studies.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis, who moved to NC from CA)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Cheaper is an innovation

I have this on-going argument with my man K-Koopa.

My claim is that the Chinese are performing important innovations in solar power panels. Not big changes, but marginal ones that will make production cheaper and will make use of solar power possible.

(And, as Angus has noted, this is a GOOD thing...for us)

Anyway, Matt Ridley makes a more general form of that argument: marginal changes that reduce cost are the core innovations we can expect from active economies. The major innovations (steel, steam engines, transistors, silicon circuits) are pretty rare. The key innovations are finding ways to make other innovations affordable and mass produced.

Happy Mother's Day

This is a very sweet video.

The ending actually made me cry a little bit. But then our house is an "empty nest," or at least it will be as soon as the YYM packs up for Myrtle Beach. He just finished his freshman year at Duke. And the EYM lives in Chapel Hill. (That last bird in the nest has the EYM's hair style, exactly. The tufts: EYM all the way.)

Still, happy Mother's Day, to the LMM and to all the mothers out there!

Transmissions from the Vacamatic heart

My paternal grandparents, Lake George NY, 1951 (clic the pic for a more glorious image):

My Grandfather was (1) an immigrant from Scotland, (2) a greengrocer, (3) a Baptist minister, (4) an avid gardener, (5) a sugar addict, and (6) a car lover.

Rather than having his children with him in this photo, he posed with his car, a 1946 Chrysler New Yorker!

My father informs me that one of his many childhood chores was keeping the whitewalls on this baby clean and shining.