Monday, 31 January 2005

Che Chic

Just got back from seeing The Motorcycle Diaries with my friends Kamilla and Chad; overall, it’s quite an enjoyable film, although I think that knowing where Ernesto Guevera’s journey ends—or at least what that journey was eventually perverted into, depending on your perspective on communism—made it slightly hard for me to feel a great deal of sympathy for the lead. Still, it’s a good rental, and enjoyable for the “buddy film” aspect of the piece if nothing else.

The other neocons

Glenn Reynolds in the course of rightly criticizing the neo-Confederate movement makes this rather incongrous statement:

As a political force, neo-Confederate sentiment is pretty trivial at the moment, even compared to the decaying remnants of Marxism.

Apparently Glenn didn’t get the memo about these schmucks who apparently have a substantial chunk of the Mississippi legislature doing their bidding. At least the Marxists around here are in relatively harmless professions (or serving on the Jackson City Council, which amounts to basically the same thing).

Word abuse of the day

Somehow, the departure of William Safire from the New York Times has led to the gratuitous misuse of language:

Participation varied by region, and the impressive national percentages should not obscure the fact that the country’s large Sunni Arab minority remained broadly disenfranchised – due to alienation or terror or both.

The word “disenfranchised” literally means deprived of voting rights. Southern blacks were disenfranchised under Jim Crow. Women were disenfranchised prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

By contrast, Sunni Arabs in Iraq were not disenfranchised; nobody stopped them from voting. Instead, they chose not to drag their sorry asses to the polls, for whatever reason.

Sunday, 30 January 2005

Vaught-Hemingway turf becoming Green-er

Today’s CL reports that BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who left Indiana University a couple of weeks ago, will be joining the Rebel football team in 2006, with two years of eligibility after sitting out the 2005 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Green-Ellis’ arrival will hopefully help shore up an Ole Miss rushing attack that has been anemic at best ever since the departure of Deuce McAllister. (þ: SEC FanBlog)

In other Ole Miss news (reported in the same article), the Rebels and the University of Memphis are considering rescheduling the 2005 opener at Memphis’ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium for Labor Day (Monday, September 5th) from Saturday, September 3rd, presumably in the hopes of attracting regional or national television coverage for the matchup.

Signified Elsewhere: Iraq elections edition

I don’t normally do the link round-up thing, but today seems like a good day to make an exception:

  • Steven Taylor rounds up posts on the Iraqi election, as well as providing a bit of perspective of his own:
    The bottom line is: not every event in the world is part of a game between Reps and Dems where one side scores and the other side falls behind. Too many people treat the world like one football game where their team can do no wrong, and the other team must lose.
  • Leopold Stotch writes:
    Obviously the new Iraqi government has a Herculean task ahead of it, but this is a major turning point in modern history. The Iraqi people are the true winners, but the secondary winner is the American voter, who once again put US foreign policy on the right side of history. The losers: the jihadists, old Europe, and most of the Democrat party.
  • Joe Gandelman looks at Auschwitz and the Iraqi elections in light of the current conflict with Wahabiism.

I have to say that the scenario as things have played out has been at the “optimistic” end of my general thinking about this process, but there’s a rather long road ahead. I tend to think this election is an important—and necessary—first step, both for the Iraqis and for the Arab world at large. Now the hard work of building a democratic and inclusive constitution begins.

CL traffic beat continues

Today’s Clarion-Ledger helpfully explains why seven intersections in Jackson have been torn up for the past month while a contractor futzes around with installing new traffic signals.

Saturday, 29 January 2005

The inmates are running the asylum

Via Glenn, here’s a good analysis of the Democrats:

There was a time when the Republicans had a similar problem with irresponsible people on the right-wing being the face of their party—John Birchers, isolationists, and old-fashioned racists. But responsible Republicans and leading conservatives like William F. Buckley ran those people out of the party and the movement.

There are a few Sandbox dwellers left on the Right, but the fringe Right is tiny and powerless compared with the Sandbox Left, which is neither.

Today, the Democratic Party must follow the lead of William F. Buckley. For the good of their party—and the country—they must remove consideration of the Sandbox Left from their political calculations, and demand that their side grow up and abandon ridiculous conspiracy theories and irresponsible historical comparisons.

The process will be painful and time-consuming. But if they don’t engage, Democrats (and real, responsible liberals) are heading for a very long dry spell—not unlike the one the GOP endured after Herbert Hoover’s administration—led by those selling the rhetorical equivalent of shiny silver pails and big yellow rubber spoons.

I doubt the Democrats are as weak as they appear these days, but it’s hard to conclude otherwise as their comments remain intemperant in the face of withering electoral power.

I should add, too, that Evan Bayh’s vote against Condi is leading me to question his judgment as well. I could easily imagine voting for him in 2008 over just about any Republican, but his willingness to pander tarnishes my otherwise good view of him.

Friday, 28 January 2005

Small world watch, volume 30

I ran into one of the half-dozen or so students who was in my first-year class in grad school at the University of Mississippi (he subsequently changed majors, worked for a while as the assistant dean of student affairs at Ole Miss, and got a Ph.D. in education) today at Brookshire’s; he’s now living in Jackson and serving as the education policy advisor to the governor.

More on grades

Orin Kerr discusses law school grading practices, including the notorious (and universal) use of strict curves, without as much overthinking as I engaged in earlier this week.


Just a helpful hint for Gmail users: if you catch a spammer in the act of “phishing”, you can open the email and choose “Show Options” to report it. This seems like a good thing to do. I suspect that one of the reasons that spam filters are better in recent years is that people mark items as spam and the email providers can use the information to improve their algorithms. Similar network effects should be useful in fighting phishing.

Nuclear power

Chris’s earlier entry on nuclear power got me thinking. I spent a few years in the industry and got to witness it change from a horribly inefficient industry to one that is quite competitive—after deregulation of generation, of course. The time is certainly ripe for new plants, since the existing fleet’s licenses begin to expire in the next few years.

My guess is that with a simplified design and a simple licensing process, new plants would be built in short order. Deregulation is something that worked amazingly well. Indeed, far better than this capitalist oppressor ever imagined. When I started in the industry, fresh out of college, I had pretty much taken it for granted that power generation—just like the power lines themselves—was a natural monopoly.

Once deregulation was in place, though, peoples’ thinking seemed to change. Before deregulation, the nuclear plants seemed to compete to see who could stay offline the longest. The plant operators were quick to take a plant offline to demonstrate their commitment to safety. Somewhere during the transition to a competitive generating environment, both the regulators and the plant operators figured out that the best run plants were also the ones that were the safest. In other words, the NRC and operators started asking why a shutdown was required. Why didn’t we know that the conditions requiring a shutdown were emerging, and how can we claim to know how to run the plant if we can’t see these things? In short, incentives matter.

As long as they can be run safely and economically, I would love to see some new plants come online. The issue of dealing with spent fuel is another problem—it’s a huge unrecognized liability and it’s unclear to this day whether Yucca Mountain will ever be available as a permanent repository for spent fuel. Even so, having nuclear power as a continuing alternative for energy needs is a great idea as I see it.

Thursday, 27 January 2005

Not just the newlyweds glowing in Port Gibson

Interesting piece in today’s New York Times about plans to build another nuclear reactor next to Entergy’s existing nuclear plant about 60 miles southwest of Jackson. (þ: Tom Maguire and a student)

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Going around in circles

Today’s Clarion-Ledger features the newspaper’s latest attempt to help Jackson-area readers figure out how to drive through roundabouts. Somehow I don’t expect this effort to succeed where others have failed.

Tuesday, 25 January 2005

Law student humor

The which intentional tort are you test is making the rounds today; like TigerHawk and Will, I too am “trespass to chattels.” Perhaps more importantly, I am also glad to have never attended law school.

Germany's historical school of economics

Hmm. It seems that the German feudal system that suppressed Carl Menger’s work is only now dying (link may require subscription):

PUT five economists in a room, on Winston Churchill’s arithmetic, and you get five opinions—unless one is Keynes, when you get six. In Germany the sums have usually been simpler: you get just two opinions, with four economists sharing one point of view, and the fifth a token Keynesian, sent by the trade unions. Yet German economists are becoming more like their peers abroad. The typical specimen is becoming more empirical, pragmatic and ready for controversy, after a period when he was usually long on theory and reluctant to criticise colleagues.

This change has now reached the pinnacle of Germany’s “five wise men”, the country’s council of economic experts. Earlier this month, a public dispute erupted among the five (actually they are four men and one woman). What is more, they are likely to pick as their next chairman Bert Rürup, a hands-on, down-to-earth academic. This could have an influence on policy, for the underlying row among the five wise men was really about how to get the economy growing again. One of them, Peter Bofinger, even called for wage increases in line with productivity growth.

German economists have long had the knack of going their own way. Until the second world war, they hailed mostly from the “historical school”, which held that there was no such thing as economic rationality. In contrast, most are now wedded to neoclassicism, declaring that macroeconomic policy is ineffective and preferring to focus on supply-side issues. Labels such as “Keynesian” or even “pragmatist” have been insults. This partly reflects Germany’s cultural fondness for consensus, not a competition of ideas. Michael Burda, an American economist at Berlin’s Humboldt University, argues that German economics is only just escaping the middle ages.

Their escape is long overdue, it would seem.

Grade stagflation

Since before Robert’s post on this topic, I’ve been pondering grades in general, prompted by this post by Will Baude relating his experience at Yale, where he hasn’t yet “taken any classes that attempt to draw actual distinctions among the students.” Indeed, the very purpose of grading (as opposed to marking, as my Canadian colleague refers to it) is to discriminate among students on the basis of their academic performance. Thus all of the participants in the debate are right in their own ways, but I think they (individually, at least) miss the big picture.

Leopold Stotch and Steven Taylor both bemoan the administrative meddling in grade assignment inherent in Princeton’s decision, a sentiment with which (as a fellow political science professor) I must concur, lest we become like those emasculated law profs who not only no longer control their grades but also lack control over their own exam conditions. On the other hand, Nathan Novak thinks it’s a non-issue, due to the widespread use of class rank to compare students from different institutions; Andrew Samwick makes a similar point, although he acknowledges that grade inflation does lead to compression of the grade range. At the extreme end of the scale, the Grouch thinks grades don’t matter at all; I wouldn’t go that far, due to reasons of path dependence, but I can see his point—few people today care what grades I got in high school or as an undergraduate, but I wouldn’t be a professor today if I hadn’t gotten mostly A’s and B’s.

I think what Princeton is trying to do (rightly or wrongly) is address the “compression” problem that Andrew talks about—if 50% of the class are getting A’s, ny meaningful discrimination among those students has been eliminated; in other words, there’s been a loss of information in the process. If the purpose of grading is simply to drop passing students in buckets based on their absolute performance, giving 50% of students A’s might be appropriate; on the other hand, if the purpose of grading is to determine the relative merit of students, putting 50% of them in a single category isn’t very helpful.

The trouble is, we expect grades to do both of these things. The Millsaps college catalog, for example, requires all political science majors and minors to earn C’s in all of their coursework for the major (which leads to its own sort of compression effect, since effectively the minimum passing grade is raised from a 60 to a 73), and students must maintain a 2.0 GPA to participate in various and sundry extracurricular activities—the C and 2.0 represent absolute standards. But we also use grades to evaluate relative achievement, for election to honorary societies such as Phi Beta Kappa and for awarding other honors.

I don’t know that there’s a simple answer to these problems, although perhaps including measures of central tendency and dispersion along with assigned grades (as is at least partially the case at Dartmouth, according to Andrew) might be a good start.

Jefferson was right

The more I look at the rest of the world, the more I think we should not involve ourselves in it. Instead, we should just keep tariffs low (or nonexistent) and let them live their own history. After we’re finished with Iraq, of course.

By the way, just because the rest of the world disagrees with us doesn’t make them right.

Ah, to live in Rankin County

It’s always nice to see our state legislators up to business as usual:

Some Mississippi lawmakers are scheduled to speak Thursday to the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a patently white supremacist group.”

Well, isn’t that special. Even better, AP reporter Emily Wagster Pettus manages to track down one of the nitwits expected to attend this speaking engagement; unintentional hilarity ensues:

State Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, said he’s scheduled to speak at the CCC gathering Thursday. He said he’ll talk about issues to be considered during the current legislative session.

Moore said he didn’t know anything about the group’s position on race.

“If I find out for certain they are a racist organization, I am going to confront them,” he said.

“You hear that the NAACP is racist, but that wouldn’t keep me from talking to them,” Moore said.

One is forced to conclude that Moore’s invites to the Rankin County NAACP chapter meetings must have gotten lost in the mail. But it gets better.

He said he had never looked at the CCC‘s Web site, but he sat with an AP reporter and scrolled through it. After looking at the question-and-answer section on race, Moore said: “I didn’t get any indication from this that they were racist.”

You know, there’s a joke just begging to be made here about the reading comprehension of Mississippi State graduates, but it’s not even funny in this context. The people of Brandon ought to be embarrassed to have this guy allegedly representing them in the legislature. (þ: memeorandum)

Monday, 24 January 2005

Don Quixote, MDOT edition

This is almost becoming a recurring joke:

Route: I-55

Impact: medium

On I-55 north 2.5 miles north of Pearl Street, the left lane will be closed to replace posts from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today. The ramp leaving Woodrow Wilson to go north on I-55 will be closed.

This marks the third time in four months that MDOT has replaced these stupid things, which are intended to stop traffic coming from eastbound Woodrow Wilson Drive cutting across three lanes of traffic to exit at eastbound Lakeland Drive (Hwy 25). I applaud the sentiment, but it’s increasingly clear to me (although apparently not our esteemed Department of Transportation) that something more substantial than plastic posts are needed here.

Johnny Carson, RIP

I don’t have a lot to say about Johnny Carson’s passing Sunday at the age of 79—I was never a huge fan of his, always preferring David Letterman—but an interesting footnote of his life (that I only discovered a few days ago) was that he came to Millsaps College for part of his naval officer’s training in 1943. Small world and all that.

Sunday, 23 January 2005

Drug war redux

Bill Quick has a good post on the drug war and its costs. My earlier thoughts are here. Hat tip to a reader.

New blog on the block

Opinio Juris is a new blog that covers international law. I'll be watching with interest; especially Julian Ku. Hopefully they will address the procedure for handling treaties, which doesn't seem to get a lot of coverage elsewhere.

Among my questions:

  • How are treaties enforced?
  • Do they get reviewed by courts? If so, which courts?
  • Can courts overturn them if they conflict with the constitution?
  • Do treaties require enabling legislation to have force of law in the U.S.?
Hopefully these items will be addressed some time. A very good read so far.

Why having the right enemies matters

President Bush manages to enrage most of his critics in this country and he has a similar knack with terrorists abroad. Zarqawi has been suckered into declaring war on democracy, which is how most people envision freedom (þ: Instapundit). This puts him where we want him for the long haul.

Similarly, President Bush placed us where we want to be over the long haul as well. He has even managed to bring over some past skeptics:

The fight against terrorists must still remain the overriding focus of American national security efforts, because the price of failing to stop future terrorist attacks is unacceptably high. But the war on terrorism was never a sufficient paradigm for American foreign policy. It was too narrow, too limited and less than ideal for mustering the support of others around the world. Conservatives and realists in America and nervous Europeans will recoil at Bush’s new boldness. But the pragmatic virtue of basing American foreign policy on the timeless principles of the Declaration of Independence is that they do reflect universal aspirations. Such a policy may attract wider support abroad than the war on terrorism has and a more durable support at home for an internationalist foreign policy. That is the higher realism that Bush now proclaims.
(þ: Powerline)

P.S. The Steelers are driving me nuts.

Saturday, 22 January 2005

Grade inflation

Leopold Stotch at OTB is indignant over Princeton’s new policy of capping the number of A’s at 35% of the class. I’m a little new to academia, but I’m not sure the policy is as objectionable as he seems to think.

Administrators are limited in their ability to judge the performance of professors. The problem—and the reason many administrators will default to grade distributions as a measure of grade inflation—is that educational outputs aren’t easily observable, whereas grades are easily observable. To make educational outputs observable, administrators have to overcome a great deal of uncertainty and cost. The attempts include taking student surveys—which, not surprisingly, are strongly correlated (positively) with grades—and observing professors in class. This last item is quite expensive and may just result in the professor being on his best behavior when the auditors are present.

One of the reasons that research universities use publication to make tenure decisions is that publication is easily observable, as is the quality of the publication (an ‘A’ journal, ‘B’ journal, and so forth). In any case, this is a topic that will be with us a while, if not forever.

Social security reform

People really need to get their terminology straight. Apparently these LaRouchies think that privatizing part of Social Security is both fascist and anti-capitalist:

No organization is more responsible for the forced-march drive to privatize Social Security—stealing trillions of dollars of its funds for Wall Street accounts—than the Cato Institute, a multi-million dollar Washington, D.C. think tank. During the past 20 years, Cato has had more than a quarter of a billion dollars lavished on it in contributions by the most powerful Wall Street banks, and largest right-wing think tanks—led by the ultra-right-wing Koch group of foundations. Cato has spent this money on a host of projects intended to destroy the sovereign nation-state and implement fascist economic austerity. But the lion’s share has gone into the privatization of Social Security.
The title of the post: Cato Institute: Anti-Capitalist Clique Leads the Attack on Social Security.

With all of the partial information and misinformation out there, it’s tough to get a handle on the scope of the problem, and what should be done. Lately I’ve been opposed to the idea of private accounts, and remain so. They will have to be funded and will not reduce the unfunded liability.

Still, the case for reform is a good one and consider this from an earlier post about a NYT story (excerpt from original story):

Seniors now get an initial benefit that is tied to a fixed portion of their pre-retirement wages. If the index was changed, their pensions would be pegged to a fixed portion of a previous generation’s income. If this standard had been in force since the beginning, retirees today would be living like those in the 1940’s—like Ida Fuller, which would mean $300 a month in today’s dollars, as opposed to roughly $1,200 a month.
This raises a good normative question: how fair is it to expect workers to fund standard-of-living increases—and pay increasingly higher taxes—for each succeeding generation, especially with the baby boomers set to retire, when seniors are already a very wealthy demographic? One solution would be to just begin increasing benefits to keep up with the cost of living; another solution would be to give them half of the increase in real wages, instead of the whole as they get now. The second idea would reduce the amount of the unfunded liability while still raising the standard of living for retirees; just not at the pace of wage increases. It would lighten the burden on the economy as a whole.

Of course, any attempt at reform—including reductions in the automatic increases will be fiercely opposed by the AARP. Yet another reason I won’t be joining that organization when I hit fifty.

Hydrogen roundup

Lately I’ve been daydreaming a bit about the possibilities of replacing oil with hydrogen for fuel. A check of the news brings me back down to earth:

High-volume hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars are at least 25 years away, says Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.‘s top fuel cell expert.

Even General Motors, which had been pushing for fuel cell vehicles by decade end, seems to be backing off from its goal of mass production of fuel cell vehicles by 2010.

It’s a tad disappointing, but we’ve been surprised in the past. Hydrogen cars, as with everything from ink pens to the original cars, may start out as a luxury item in a few years and morph into a mass-market product a few years later. Here’s the POV of the GM tech guy:
“The Sequel is a real car and it’s doable in a manufacturing sense, but it’s still 10 times more costly than we would need it to be for volume production; we need to get down to about $50 per kW. By 2010 I really do believe that we will have a validated power system that will be down to $50 per KW. That’s what my boss has instructed me to do.

“I’m feeling confident because we’ve started to validate our feelings about the project. The fuel-cell vehicle has a tenth as many moving parts as an internal combustion car and engineers will tell you that moving parts are expensive to test and make.

He also adds this hopebul tidbit:
“Hydrogen infrastructure is not as big a deal as people seem to think it is. If you have hydrogen supplied at, say, 12,000 gas stations, which is about 10 per cent of all US gas stations, then 70 per cent of the population of the US would be within two miles of a hydrogen pump.

“That’s hydrogen available in the 100 largest cities and a station every 25 miles on the freeway. The cost would be $12 billion, which is half the cost of the Alaskan pipeline. Now why wouldn’t a US government want to do that?

We won’t replace $1.2 trillion worth of infrastructure (gas stations) overnight, but we can do it over a couple of decades. However, I don’t see why the government needs to be funding it, as he suggests at the end there. It seems the energy companies could handle that themselves.

In the more immediate future, we should have fuel-cell batteries within a few years:

THE day of the battery may finally be over as manufacturers usher in the age of the fuel-cell. To prove the point, an engineer from the Japanese electronics company Hitachi yesterday showed the world the pack that will power tomorrow’s mobile phone, laptop computer and personal organiser.

From his pocket he produced a miniature fuel cell consisting of a plastic canister of liquid gas slightly smaller than a cigarette lighter and plugged it into a metallic box slightly larger than a packet of cigarettes.

The cell, which will be on sale in about 18 months, will run all three machines for the length of a short-haul flight.

Of course, there will be a transition time—and regular batteries will remain useful for a lot of applications—but it’s good to see that some progress is being made.

Statism and the like

A couple of posts from Samizdata to consider. First:

This is yet another part of moving Britain into the more Napoleonic traditional in which the state is the core around which everything rotates in a politicised fashion and the highest virtue is political engagement (not a view I share, to put it mildly, given my view of politics).
A friend and I were discussing the low voter participation rate the other day. He’s from a foreign country—one that has not experienced liberal democracy yet—and was astounded by our low voter participation rate. He also sees the Iraqi election as being hopeful with a high participation rate. I mentioned that we have been an established democracy for centuries and there’s a tendency to take it for granted after a while. I also mentioned that there are a lot of people that shouldn’t vote because they don’t follow the issues.

I should have mentioned another point: though I’m a political junkie, as with the Samizdata quote above, I’m not too keen on the idea of having the world rotate around politics. It’s good that most people don’t have to make public policy a priority and can focus on their families and other interests. It’s a sign of our health as a nation.

An extension of the earlier quote, from another post:

When the state, as distinct from any political party, takes on the role of encouraging people to have the correct views and oppose the right habits, the liberty of everyone is made immediately more precarious. There is a very great supply of petty nannies with a favoured cause, and altogether more dangerous authoritarians and social engineeers with their own pet projects, who would love to get their hands on the power the NHS is now abusing. Rest assured, they will find ways of doing so if the precedent now being set is not reversed.
Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of material related to this idea, and I’m always reminded of the great C.S. Lewis quote:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
So true, and one of the reasons I’m glad that many of my fellow citizens are not fixated on politics, or even become quite angry when others try to lecture them on it. Three cheers for complacency!!

Friday, 21 January 2005

Alt-weeklies and leftism

Something I pondered yesterday as I ate dinner at Fazoli’s reading both of Jackson’s alt-weeklies: why are virtually all alt-weeklies mostly left-wing affairs? The advertisers, for the most part, don’t care about the politics—they just want 18-to-34-year-old eyeballs on their ads—and most young people don’t care about politics; even the ones who do aren’t particularly leftist in their outlook (rather, the distribution is fairly evenly bimodal, since people who care about politics tend to be of one wing or the other, but the median college kid isn’t that far to the left). So why are alt-weeklies full of articles crusading for “social justice” and whining about SUV owners and people who rent movies at Blockbuster?

I suppose there’s an economic argument that leftist writers are more willing to accept low-to-nonexistent pay to produce content for the alt-weeklies than right-wingers would, since the opportunity cost for the typical left-winger is lower—but this wouldn’t apply to the college kids (including some I teach) who write a good deal for these papers. There might also be some sort of network effect; the people who set up the alt-weeklies tend to be leftists, so they get other motley liberals and progressives to join them. But if there’s money to be made running an alt-weekly, surely people with right-wing politics would also have established alt-weeklies. It’s doubly-puzzling since most college alternative newspapers are generally right-wing affairs. Any better theories?

Thursday, 20 January 2005

I like this guy

Ali, formerly of Iraq The Model, has written one of the best explanations for the Iraqi invasion, and its relationship to the war on terror, that I’ve seen:

In Iraq the agenda of the Arab and Muslim dictators came to lie in Parallel with that of Bin Laden. He found himself in great need for their support in order to fight the “infidels” in Iraq and they found him useful to hinder America’s plans there. This makes the question about America’s security on its own land not what the terrorists want, but rather what those dictatorships want. Any attack on the American soil will only result in the American people asking for justice and favoring an operation similar to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is what the American administration wish for but can’t find the necessary support inside and outside America. The reaction of the international community would be not very important at such circumstances, but America is expected to get some good support if it’s attacked again. Now the terrorist are stupid and insane people, but their leaders and most importantly their financier are not that stupid when it comes to risking their power and control over their countries. So if the terrorist decide to act alone they would not only lose the support of these dictatorships but also would risk that those regimes might well, hunt them down in their countries and hand all the info they have about the terrorist to America just to prove their innocence and avoid a very probable serious American strike.

Bin Laden realized that his hands are cuffed now and he has lost the initiative and thus came his reactionary speech just before the elections in trying to retrieve some initiative or to excuse his cowardice for other Muslims who might still support him, saying that he’s not Attacking America because now there are two Americas and one of them is friendly! All he could do and all he can do as long as he’s depending on Arab governments in his finance and logistic support is to keep threatining America but he knows that he can never turn these threats into asctions. This makes Bush’s repeated statements that American troops are in Iraq to fight terrorism so that Americans won’t have to fight it in America very true with only slight error.

American troops are actually fighting dictatorship now in Iraq and terrorism has become just a tool in a war that was directed against it in the first place. Once America leave Iraq without finishing the job, the war would stop being a war on dictatorship and would be again a WoT with the difference that it would be a war against a phenomena rather than its origin. The terrorists would be free to attack America again, as Arab and Muslim dictators won’t fear a military strike similar to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan after seeing America recognize Iraq war as a mistake.

He’s exactly right. By attacking Iraq, and threatening other state sponsors of terror, we explicitly tied the fate of the terrorists to that of their sponsors. It puts a large burden on our military—and there are limits to what we can do—but it’s the best strategy to deal with the terrorists that I’ve seen.

Putting the "bus" in Airbus

Stephen Karlson and Stephen Bainbridge are not looking forward to their inaugural Airbus A380 flights; quoth Bainbridge:

Now for the really bad news. You’ll only check in with 500 other passengers if the plane is configured with large first and business class sections. A discounter could cram over 840 coach passengers into the [expeltive deleted] thing if it wanted! Can you imagine the wait to get off it? Or to get your luggage at baggage claim.

Thankfully, those of us in flyover country won’t be seeing these behemoths at Jackson-Evers International Airport anytime soon.

Gender splits in the classroom

Heidi Bond and Amber Taylor are looking around some of their law classes and finding them to be male-dominated. This got me to thinking of my classes this semester, for which I just received final rosters earlier today.

  • Intro to American Government: about 50–50 (I think I counted 17 male students out of 36).
  • Con Law II (catalog name: Civil Liberties): about 60–40 female (16 students).
  • Public Opinion: 75–25 male (8 students).
  • Directed Readings and Honors Thesis: 100–0 female (two students, one in each).

The college population is about 55–45 female, and the political science major seems to be around 60–40 female. Not really sure why public opinion is less popular than con law with female students; if anything, I’d have expected the opposite, since con law really only makes sense for the pre-law types, who tend to be male here. Then again, it could be a scheduling thing; the MW 2:45–4 timeslot is pretty empty at Millsaps, while more classes are offered during the 1–2:15/40 slot (so there are more conflicts).

One other oddity: before looking at the roster, I would have guessed that intro was a bit more skewed female. I think part of that is the middle of the lecture hall seems more female, and it’s difficult to have the full class in my field of vision, particularly with glasses (49 seats are crammed in a room that probably was originally designed for 30, so lecturing in there is almost like performing in the “round”).

Well, would you look how that worked out

From “Reuters”:

Global warming and not a giant asteroid may have nearly wiped out life on Earth some 250 million years ago, an international team of scientists said on Thursday.

The mass extinction, known as the “Great Dying,” extinguished 90 percent of sea life and nearly three-quarters of land-based plants and animals.

There has been recent evidence that a big asteroid or meteor hit the Earth and triggered the catastrophe, but researchers say they now have evidence that something much more long-term—global warming—was the culprit.

It may be true, but there’s obviously reason to be skeptical. Very skeptical.

I still prefer the version in Dave

Steven Taylor has tracked down the actual lyrics for “Hail to the Chief,” for those watching the inauguration on TiVo delay or the morbidly curious. I missed the whole affair because the faculty was spending its time arguing about schedule changes that won’t go into effect for another year, but a skim of the transcript (þ: InstaPundit) suggests the inaugural address was pretty damn good, but doubtless spoiled by the delivery (and, for some, the messenger too).

What's on my TiVo lately

I just started watching a few new shows:

  • Veronica Mars (TiVo), a surprisingly good (and humorous) mystery show on UPN, starring terminally cute actress Kristen Bell as Veronica, popular chick turned outsider after the mysterious death of her best friend (and her sheriff dad’s perceived bungling of the investigation).
  • House, M.D. (TiVo), a medical drama on Fox starring Hugh Laurie as a thoroughly sociopathic doctor whose team tries to figure out what’s ailing patients at his hospital. Recommended to me by my mother, of all people.
  • Battlestar Galactica (TiVo), the Sci-Fi channel’s (amazingly good) reconceptualization of the often-cheesy 1970s sci-fi series as a dark, gritty space-based drama. I’ve raved about it here and elsewhere already.

So record one, or record ‘em all.

Poll'd again

Me, November 3rd:

My gut feeling is that the [2004 national exit polls] in part failed because the networks replaced VNS; Edison/Mitofsky was new at this, and a rookie effort is fraught with perils—as I learned myself yesterday. Coupled, perhaps, with a small cognitive bias on the part of the people being paid by Edison/Mitofsky to conduct the poll themselves (one suspects the typical person looking for day-work isn’t a Republican) and you can easily see why they were quite a bit off, notwithstanding the advertised margin of error.

Edison/Mitofsky, Wednesday:

[B]ased upon the Within Precinct Error that was observed in the 2004 general election we plan to make some enhancements to the exit poll interviewer recruiting process.

  • We will use recruiting methods that reduce the number of students and young adults we use as interviewers.
  • In addition to the standardized rehearsal and training dialog, we will add a standardized pre-rehearsal training script for all individual phone training conversations.
  • We will evaluate other training techniques such as a video training guide and interviewer tests and use the Internet more effectively as an interviewer training tool. (64)

There’s a lot more there if you really care about exit polling techniques, but the bottom line is that interviewer problems seem to account for much of the pro-Kerry bias in the Edison/Mitofsky poll. (þ: Wizbang)

Wednesday, 19 January 2005

Popup hacks

Somehow a number of websites appear to be able to reset my Mozilla Firefox prefs to allow pop-ups… they don’t just pop-up a window, but they actually reset my “block pop-up windows” setting. Has anyone else seen this?

You're so yesterday

Michelle Malkin didn’t like one of the inaugural events:

I would not expect to hear profanity at any Hilary Duff event, let alone an Inaugural Youth Concert hosted by the Bush twins.

No, but you’ve got to figure that at least you’d have some $1 well drinks and a 2-for-1 deal on Jägermeister. (rimshot)

Besides which, if I somehow ended up at an Fuel concert where the opening act turned out to be Hilary Duff, I’d be quite likely to shout “WTF” at the top of my lungs. Poor event planning indeed.

Thank you; I’ll be here all week. (þ: Protein Wisdom)

Don't follow me, everything will be all right

Ars Technica passes on word from CNet that various search engine vendors and blogging tool providers (including heavyweights SixApart) are implementing a new plan to limit comment spam by reducing the value of comment spam for search engine placement. Signifying Nothing has already followed suit, although since trackback spam has been less of a problem for us I’m only applying the “fix” (a simple attribute on HTML a tags) to user comments for now.

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

Meet the Hotdogs

Actress Teri Polo, last discussed in comments here, is again becoming a topic of debate thanks to a new pictorial in Playboy magazine; Michele doesn’t get the appeal, while Jeff Goldstein does. I tend to think she looks quite a bit better than she did in the notorious ribcage pics from the Meet the Fockers premiere, but I can’t say she is particularly good-looking.

Monday, 17 January 2005

I want you to blog naked

Jacqueline Passey is bemused by the reaction garnered by a casual statement that she “often” blogs without any clothes on. If I thought that a similar revelation about my blogging habits would improve our traffic, I’d happily chime in, but I strongly suspect this would just lead to numerous readers gouging out their eyes in mortal terror.

I humbly apologize to those readers who now won’t be able to get this song out of their heads.

MLK day

There’s not much, if anything, I can add to Dr. King’s great I Have A Dream speech, so I’ll provide an excerpt, starting from my favorite section and going to the end:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And this will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring—from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring—from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring—from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring—from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring—from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that.

Let freedom ring—from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring—from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring—from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,

“Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

Delivered roughly 100 years or so after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

Social security indexing again

This issue is now all the rage. It’s quite amazing how your understanding of an issue this big has to be pieced together. Take a look at the following:

The 1970s were a time of social turmoil, rampant inflation, and falling real wages. Gerald Ford was president in 1976 and Alan Greenspan was his chairman of economic advisors. To this day Mr. Greenspan no doubt has painful memories of those wacky “Whip Inflation Now” (WIN) buttons that came to symbolize economic policy disarray. Inflation in 1974 and 1975 had been running at about 10% per annum. Many voters were extremely distressed about the impact that inflation might have on the value of their Social Security and other pension benefits.

There was strong bipartisan support at that time for indexing initial benefits to inflation, but a great deal of confusion about how to do it. Should the government use indexes of wages or of consumer prices to adjust future initial benefits? If so, what specific index should be used? It was a given among economists then—and still is—that wages are likely to rise faster than consumer prices over the long run based on the long-term trend toward higher labor productivity.

Be sure to read that again and then consider: if Congress and President Ford had chosen to index Social Security to inflation in 1976, there would be no problem today. They chose wage indexing because real wages were falling at the time, so they saved some money in the short term and screwed us in the longer term, with little or no discussion at the time:
Whatever one’s opinion on that monumental policy shift may be, the remarkable thing is that it occurred with virtually no public discussion. A search on Lexis-Nexis of major U.S. newspapers during the 1975 to 1977 period turns up few editorials or news analysis of any substance dealing with the massive shift in policy. The mainstream media clearly seemed to be missing in action on the entire story. If there was a substantive debate on wage indexation in 1976 it seems to have been entirely an inside-the-beltway affair.
Read the whole thing, and weep.

Sunday, 16 January 2005

Roy Moore: on the ballot in 2006?

Sunday’s Mobile Register carried an interesting piece showing former Alabama supreme court justice Roy Moore (of “Ten Commandments” monument fame) with an eight-point lead over incumbent governor Bob Riley among likely GOP primary voters in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, in a poll conducted by the University of South Alabama. (þ: How Appealing)

Update: A shorter version of the piece is making the rounds Tuesday.

Bad essay gets bad grade, news at 11

Everyone’s favorite Moonie-owned newspaper, the Washington Times, attempts to make a cause celebré out of a student who got a bad grade on an American government exam at Foothill College, a community college in the Bay Area. (þ: Wizbang)

Steven Taylor and James Joyner have offered their grades of the purported essay in question, and—like them—I’d be hard pressed to give a non-failing grade to the essay, even leaving aside the weak grammar; it fails to meaningfully respond to the question as written, instead going off on a tangent to discuss the contemporary constitution and its effects. That the essay may be a heartwarming account by a hard-working immigrant doesn’t redeem that failing; indeed, if the question had asked for such an essay, I’d be inclined to give the essay a significantly better grade, though probably not an A. As it stands, I’d probably give it something on the order of 12–13 points out of 20.

All that said, if the professor did indeed tell the student he needed “psychological treatment” (as the Times account alleges), the prof ought to be disciplined. There’s more from the student’s side here (þ: PoliBlog).

Social security history

Though the author’s sympathies lean heavily towards doing nothing about SS, there’s an excellent history of the program at the NYT.

The article also makes clear that each generation receives more benefits than the previous generation, due to the link to inflation-adjusted wage growth. Seeing the program lift the elderly out of poverty is well enough, but at some point it would make sense to simply link it to inflation to minimize the burden to younger generations. The elderly would keep their current purchasing power and taxes could be reduced (or would be less than they otherwise might). In fact, this whole controversey could probably be done away with—and private accounts ignored—with this one simple change. Here’s the relevant graf:

Since wages generally rise faster than inflation, retirees in each generation get more in real dollars than those in previous ones. Contemporary critics, like Kasich and the Bush council, would slow the rate of future increases by linking benefits only to inflation. Though this would save a lot of money, its effect on retirees should be understood.

Seniors now get an initial benefit that is tied to a fixed portion of their pre-retirement wages. If the index was changed, their pensions would be pegged to a fixed portion of a previous generation’s income. If this standard had been in force since the beginning, retirees today would be living like those in the 1940’s—like Ida Fuller, which would mean $300 a month in today’s dollars, as opposed to roughly $1,200 a month.

As a means of lifting the elderly out of poverty, SS has succeeded quite nicely. Not increasing the burden on future generations of workers would be a big improvement over the current situation.

Dorothy Parker

I love ridgerunners who know Dorothy Parker quotes.

Saturday, 15 January 2005


Alex Tabarrok suggests that critiques of the social security tax as “regressive” miss the point:

The payroll tax is regressive but benefits are progressive and on net the social security system is progressive—a 45 year old male with an income twice the national average, for example, will in present value pay into the system $243,700 more than he will receive in benefits. (Part of this net loss comes from progressivity and a larger part from the fact that all currently young workers will pay more in present value taxes than they will receive in benefits). [citation omitted]

I’d say that the system is generally progressive, but there are subpopulations for whom I’d question that conclusion—according to the CDC, the average African-American male born in 1975 or earlier can expect to collect virtually no social security benefits, because he will have died before becoming eligible to collect benefits at age 62.

Virginia: now for unwed lovers too

Amber Taylor and Glenn Reynolds are among those noting that Virginia’s Supreme Court has struck down that state’s anti-fornication statute on the basis of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision, Lawrence v. Texas. But the morals police will be delighted to know that Mississippi’s 1848 statute banning such behavior remains in force.

Roid rage

David Pinto has a good explanation of Type I and Type II error in the context of baseball’s new plan for steroid testing, while Jayson Stark has a pretty good Q and A on the agreement that nonetheless makes a rather dumb statement:

What’s amazing, in some ways, is that one positive steroid test actually carries a more serious penalty than a cocaine-possession conviction. One positive steroid test leads to an immediate suspension. It takes two cocaine convictions to get suspended.

Unless someone shows some evidence that doing coke or pot improves athletic performance, it seems to me that baseball is properly putting the emphasis on drugs that affect the integrity of the game; while it’s potentially embarrassing to the league to have a coke-head on the field, his presence doesn’t encourage any other player to do coke. Indeed, if coke and pot were legal substances, it’s likely the only ban on those substances in any sport would be on their use on the field because of public image issues, similar to the ban on tobacco use.

Really stepping in it

Uh oh, Alexandra Samuel just added insult to injury:

[L]et me agree with all those who pointed out that political science is not a “real” science. I am always available for a long diatribe on this subject myself, and will happily sign on for a campaign to rename it political studies.

For my part, let me say that I will happily sign on to a campaign to rename whatever Dr. Samuel does “political studies” (or “government” or “politics” or whatever she and her like-minded colleagues want) so those of us who actually apply the scientific method to the study of politics can reserve the title “political scientist” for ourselves.

As for me, though, I only offer the suggestion in the spirit of good humor, lest I be accused of advocating excommunication, although some reeducation may nonetheless be in order.

Friday, 14 January 2005

The begining of the A380 and the end of the DC-9

This week’s Economist looks at the public introduction of Airbus’ new A380 super-jumbo and the efforts of rival Boeing to come up with a different strategy based on its 7E7 Dreamliner. My gut feeling is that Airbus is banking on the continued success of legacy-style long-haul “hub-and-spoke” travel, which makes sense in developing markets, while Boeing is expecting the 7E7 to succeed in the transatlantic market between smaller destinations.

Meanwhile, the European Union and United States have agreed to keep the subsidies dispute outside the WTO process, at least for the time being. And, in other Boeing news, the airline is ending production of the Boeing 717, the latest (and last) incarnation of the DC-9/MD-80 series of aircraft; Stephen Karlson has some brief thoughts on the matter.

Update (from RKP):A quick expansion on Chris's point: if you want to read about the emergence of air taxis and point-to-point air travel, I highly recommend Free Flight by James Fallows. I'm not an aviation enthusiast, but just a guy that spent WAY too many hours on airplanes for a few years. The possibility of being able to fly out of an airport near the house with minimal fuss, and in an Eclipse 500 jet, has a lot of appeal.

Reports of Clapton's death have been greatly exaggerated

Clapton has been a favorite of mine for well over twenty years now. The article below seems a little odd to me, since I take the opposite view of Clapton’s work in recent years. From 1974 to 1994 he was largely marking time, rather than using his talent to good effect. Don’t get me wrong. He had numerous good songs (“Motherless Children”, “Crosscut Saw”) during the time, and the best of them, like the two I listed, were covers of old blues standards.

In 1994 he released ”From The Cradle”, a fabulous album and the best he had done since the early 1970s. With the exception of Pilgrim, he’s done pretty well in recent years. Me & Mr. Johnson is a particularly good addition to his recent work.

Clapton’s now working on a Cream reunion and if I lived in London I would probably attend. The critic below is way too, er, critical, in my view:

I don’t think there’s an artist of Eric Clapton’s stature (and we’re talking about someone who’s jostling around at the Jimmy Page, Stevie Wonder level of things) who has urinated so ruinously over his own legacy. Why is it that David Bowie can spend decades releasing tosh, with seemingly no effect on our estimation of his ‘great works’, and yet Eric Clapton seemingly has the power to do things which make us despise the whole creature.

We could easily have forgiven him for getting tangled up with Phil Collins in the mid-1980s (that whole the August / Behind the Mask no-jacket-requiredy era) but it was when he started “doing the blues” again that it all started to stink. I remember hearing one of his Royal Albert Hall blues get-togethers on Radio 2 (I think). It was the 1990 one, which had Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Jimmy Vaughn on guitar (how many cooks do you need to spoil the blues?) and Phil Collins on tambourine.


There’s an interesting article in The Economist (should be a free link) about neuroeconomics. They don’t mention it explicitly, but much of what they discuss is considered part of experimental economics as well. Here’s an excerpt:

ALTHOUGH Plato compared the human soul to a chariot pulled by the two horses of reason and emotion, modern economics has mostly been a one-horse show. It has been obsessed with reason. In decisions from how much to produce to whether to save and invest, humans have been assumed to be coolly rational calculators of their own self-interest. Over the past few years, however, evidence from psychology has persuaded many economists that reason does not always have its way. Now, judging from a series of presentations at the American Economic Association meetings in Philadelphia last weekend, a burgeoning new field dubbed “neuroeconomics” seems poised to provide fresh insights on how the two horses together produce economic behaviour.

The current bout of research is made possible by the arrival of new technologies such as functional magnetic-resonance imaging, which allows second-by-second observation of brain activity. At several American universities, economists and their collaborators in the neurosciences have been placing human subjects in such brain scanners and asking them to perform a variety of economic tasks and games.

(þ: OTB)

A gay old time for Abe

The Lincoln’s wing-wang debate has captured the blogosphere’s attention; Tim Sandefur says the evidence isn’t there, while Jon Rowe has at least an argument-from-authority that he was (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I really don’t care either way.

Political scientists have credentials?

Well, yeah, especially if they have PhD’s, like Chris. However, excommunication seems like an astonishingly authoritarian move and inappropriate to a field such as political science. The same goes for economics. That’s why I tend to refer to economics and political science as disciplines, or fields, rather than professions, like law, medicine and accounting where you are afforded state-supported credentials that bar others from entry. Removing a person from an association for an ethical breech—plagiarism comes to mind—is one thing; preventing them from working is another.

Alexandra Samuel seems to be proposing exactly that. It appears that receiving her degree has gone to her head.

Eugene Volokh and Jim Lindgren have more.

Update (from CNL): Dr. Samuel has a response to the conspirators.

Hydrogen again

Steven Taylor has a link to a story from Iceland about the use of hydrogen fuel cells, similar to what I mentioned earlier. If my earlier post is correct, though it is very optimistic, the US could be well ahead of other countries in adopting hydrogen, at least in cars.

Of course, “Reuters” couldn’t avoid a gratuitous swipe at President Bush, though they did mention the emmission of water and the problems it might cause in Iceland:

Washington says new technologies like hydrogen are a better long-term way to cut pollution and combat global warming than the U.N.‘s 128-nation Kyoto protocol.

Bush dismayed even U.S. allies by pulling out of Kyoto in 2001. Kyoto seeks to rein in emissions of heat-trapping gases, mainly released by burning oil and gas in factories, cars and power plants.


Among other problems, some scientists say the atmosphere might simply become too cloudy in a hydrogen economy, emitting vast amounts of water vapor, perhaps reflecting sunlight back to space or trapping it and warming the globe.

Thursday, 13 January 2005

Graphic novel inventor dies

Will Eisner, inventor of the graphic novel, passed away. I’ve never actually read a graphic novel, but the movies based on them have been astounding, especially Road To Perdition. That movie managed to both look beautiful and have a great story. From Hell was a good movie, but not as well received. OK, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was an embarrassment storywise, but it looked fabulous. How could it not? The storyboards were done in advance. Here’s a bit from the obituary, which is in The Economist and I believe is a free link:

Mr Eisner’s first teenage comic strips were what most teenagers might produce: a buccaneer saga called “Hawks of the Seas”, and the six-inch-high “Doll Man”. This sort of pulp was churned out in various studio partnerships, including collaborations with Jack Kirby, who later devised “X-Men”, and Bob Kane, who would create “Batman”. Mr Eisner’s career did not take off until “The Spirit”, and even that was interrupted for three years during the second world war, while warrant officer Eisner drew a character called “Joe Dope” to instruct soldiers in the use of their equipment. After that came his corporate career, until the conversation in New York.

Towards the end of his life Mr Eisner tackled anti-Semitism, a subject which had dogged him from his boyhood. He wrote a sympathetic biography of Fagin, and his last graphic novel, “The Plot” (to be published in May), was about the forging of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. Mr Eisner saw that anti-Semitism was returning in the 21st century, and believed that comics were strong enough to be ammunition against it.

It constantly bothered him that art critics would not put him in the same category as “real” artists, such as Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. Cartoonists, he complained, “have lived with the stigma, or the mark of Cain”, because their medium was regarded as inferior. “You are now seeing the beginning of a great maturity in this material,” he told a journalist in 2002. “And it will achieve acceptance.” His words implied, however, that there was still some way to go.

Payola on my left, payola on my right

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to add to Robert’s post on Armstrong Williams below, except to note that everyone’s now abuzz that America’s favorite lefty blogger-slash-political consultant, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, was on the Dean campaign’s payroll; the Daily Kos founder draws distinctions between himself and Williams in an email to InstaPundit, as does Jerome Armstrong of MyDD fame. Being on the government’s take and on a campaign’s take are two different things—that said, I’d expect those who condemned the Thune v. Daschle guys to also come down hard on Kos and Armstrong for their ties to the now-defunct Dean campaign.

The issue of payola in general is a sticky one; for example, I was asked to review a textbook to give suggested revisions for an upcoming edition a while back, a book I’d planned on using anyway (although I hadn’t placed any orders yet)—but if I hadn’t made that decision before the review, would the $150 they paid me have influenced the adoption decision? I can’t honestly answer that question “no,” although I’ve also reviewed other textbooks that I’d never use in a million years.

Wednesday, 12 January 2005

Replay coming to the SEC? reports that the head football coaches of the Southeastern Conference are “very enthusiastic” about the prospect of adopting an instant replay system for football games, beginning next season. As having replay will require television cameras at every game, the decision—if approved by athletic directors at their meeting at March—may also have the side-effect of increasing the amount of SEC football on television, just as ESPN finds itself launching a new 24-hour college sports network with plenty of airtime to fill.

Global Warming, Yet Again

This isn’t exactly reassuring:

Cutting down on fossil fuel pollution could accelerate global warming and help turn parts of Europe into desert by 2100, according to research to be aired on British television on Thursday. “Global Dimming”, a BBC Horizon documentary, will describe research suggesting fossil fuel by-products like sulphur dioxide particles reflect the sun’s rays, “dimming” temperatures and almost cancelling out the greenhouse effect.

The researchers say cutting down on the burning of coal and oil, one of the main goals of international environmental agreements, will drastically heat rather than cool climate.

So, the climate either will, or will not, be warming. It may, or may not, be helped by the reduction of fossil fuel use. Yeah, this makes me feel much better about the global warming science.

Tell me this: if we switch to hydrogen, will all of the residual water it creates mean additional cloud cover and a lower temperature for the earth? Is it possible that the climate is too complex for us to model right now?

The Armstrong Williams fiasco

Michelle Malkin has a post that explains why Armstrong Williams has done a disservice to people who are both minorities and conservative: the rhetoric from their political opponents—the ones that are also intolerant of minorities that do their own thinking—will likely be more hostile, and it’s no picnic now. There’s some very rough language in the post. Click at your own risk.

(þ: OTB)

“America” returns

After a brief haitus, the Jackson-George Regional Library Board voted 5–2 yesterday to reverse its earlier decision and return Jon Stewart’s America: The Book to the shelves.

Drug companies

Richard Epstein has a detailed book review in Legal Affairs that addresses attacks on current drug industry practices. I haven’t read the whole thing—one of the nice things about having a blog (or partnering with someone who does) is that you can capture links and such for later reading—but here’s an excerpt of what appears to be a couple of compelling paragraphs:

Kassirer argues that drug marketing corrupts the companies that do the pushing and the doctors who yield to their blandishments. A doctor with undivided loyalty to his patients cannot resist temptation when a zealous sales force pushes overpriced and often dangerous products onto the market. Angell echoes these concerns and offers a more extended indictment. Pharmaceutical firms have been the beneficiaries of government largesse. They grievously overstate the costs of bringing new drugs to market in hopes of wringing extortionate payments from desperate patients. They adopt foolish strategies for research and development, producing “me-too” or copycat products with little medical benefit while falsely taking credit for scientific innovations underwritten by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Medicine. The pharmaceutical companies benefit from a patent system that they can game and from a lax FDA process for drug approval. And they use devilish advertising campaigns to promote their wares.

In response to these perceived failings, Angell favors a stiff dose of price controls, tougher FDA approval procedures, restrictions on advertisements, and sharp limitations on drug patent protections. She would undo both the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984, which extends the patent life of all drugs in order to partially offset the lost sales from those that have been patented but await FDA approval, and the reforms that allow drug companies to help finance the costs of the FDA‘s new drug applications. Drugs are a complex business, and each of Angell’s proposed reforms would produce a myriad of unintended and often destructive side effects. Remove industry payments to expedite FDA review, for example, and desired new drugs will take longer to reach the market. That in turn will truncate the life of a patent and reduce innovation. Experts in the field ponder the trade-offs. Angell and Kassirer write as if the trade-offs do not exist.

Social security reform

Of course, SS reform has been a big topic lately. Alex Tabarrok has a great post on the argument about the fairness of the current SS system. I likewise agree with his endosement of Tyler’s solution—make it, explicitly, a poverty program for the elderly.

The gist of Alex’s post is that, as long as we are pretending SS is a pension system, rather than a welfare program, the argument against a regressive payroll tax falls flat. However, if we admit that it’s a welfare program, we should treat it as such. This, of course, would open it to things such as means testing, eliminating the automatic increases and the like.

In the mean time, as long as we are calling it a pension (or retirement) system, arguments about the fairness of regressive taxes should be ignored.*

Robert Heilbroner Dies

An excellent write-up in the NYT on the passing of Robert Heilbroner:

Dr. Heilbroner’s first book, “The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers,” written before he received his doctorate, is one of the most widely read economics books of all time. He was also a prominent lecturer as well as the author of 19 other books, which sold more than 10 million copies and, in many cases, became standard college textbooks.

A witty writer, he called himself a “radical conservative,” an oxymoron suggesting that, like Don Quixote, he wanted to rush rapidly forward, break the mold – and end up right where he was. But in that he was only half joking. He did indeed want to conserve the basic separation of the national economy from the national government, as suggested by Adam Smith in the 18th century. But he believed, too, that when the economy was hit with severe recessions or high unemployment or yawning income gaps, for example, government had to intervene with public spending that stimulated economic activity and generated jobs and the construction of public works that contributed to higher living standards.

Although popular with students and the general reader, he was regarded by mainstream economists as a popularizer and historian whose insights made no great contribution to the study of the field. He, in turn, saw their reliance on mathematics and computer modeling as narrow in vision and as losing sight of the very purpose of economics – to help improve the well-being of people at work and of the society they work in.

“The worldly philosophers,” Dr. Heilbroner said in a 1999 interview, “thought their task was to model all the complexities of an economic system – the political, the sociological, the psychological, the moral, the historical. And modern economists, au contraire, do not want so complex a vision. They favor two-dimensional models that in trying to be scientific leave out too much and leave modern economists without a true understanding of how the system works.”

The article goes on to mention, quite prominently, that Heilbroner criticized capitalism, and the neoclassical model, for its failure to address negative externalities (mainly pollution). I don’t know the full extent of his comments on this issue, but I believe the issue has actually been addressed. Few economists disagree with notion of forcing the full cost of externalities on producers, thus embedding them in prices. That argument was settled at least as far back as 1990, with the amendments to the Clean Air Act. Economists just favor market mechanisms that allow the producers to determine the best way to eliminate pollution, rather than, say, requiring them to install scrubbers—a solution that was favored by coal interests in West Virginia, IIRC.

Heilbroner's other criticisms of economics these days are a matter of ongoing debate, particularly by New Institutionalists. Great piece. RTWT.

Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Economic liberty and the constitution

Eugene Volokh has a good post on IJ's relentless attempt to overturn the Slaughterhouse Cases. I don't know enough about the constitutional issues to say if it's right or not, though I'm certainly sympathetic to the ends. In any case, I agree with Volokh that it's a bad idea to legislate economic rents for private interests.

Death Squads

Go away for a weekend and you miss the fun and excitement of some dopes at the Pentagon floating the idea that what Iraq needs is some anti-insurgent death squads, which has got to be about the stupidest counterinsurgency plan I’ve ever heard of. For every El Salvador where it sorta-kinda “worked”—if you ignore all the indiscriminate killing—there’s a Colombia where it only made things worse. Granted, this is the Pentagon, where they pay people to come up with off-the-wall ideas, but recycling off-the-wall ideas that didn’t work is pretty asinine.

Kriston at BTD is apoplectic while Glenn Reynolds wants to complain about media bias, but you knew that before I even linked them.


At the doctor’s office today following up on my dislocated shoulder, the nurse asked me if I had the local winter illness going around, generally known as “the crud.” I didn’t at the time, but I think I have it now; the series of handshakes with new-to-me students I engaged in today probably didn’t help, either.

Speaking of crud, this week’s weather forecast continues the bizarre trend of late, with a 50°F net temperature drop expected between Wednesday afternoon and Friday night.

Monday, 10 January 2005

Back at work

After a doctor’s appointment and some last-minute rearrangements of my public opinion syllabus, I think I’m ready for classes. But we’ll see about that for certain in about 40 minutes.

Sunday, 9 January 2005

The tsunami

Tsunami news has been all over the place and I haven’t commented much. I think we’ve reacted well, thus far, and have played an indispensable role. Only the U.S. is capable of deploying the assets needed in the immediate aftermath of that kind of disaster.

This has led to some unfortunate debates on the merits of the U.S. vis-a-vis the rest of the world—we don’t give as much annual aid to UN-related institutions, though we do well in responding to crises. It’s an approach I approve of since these organizations—the World Health Organization, the UN (their response has been laughable), the World Bank, the IMF, and so forth—don’t acquit themselves very well over the long term. I tend to prefer that we assist in well-defined projects where we can get unambiguous measures of progress and the Asian tsunami fits the bill.

I don’t even really care whether we get any “credit” as long as we are doing what we think is right. It seems to me that some Europeans got a little carried away in their hatred of President Bush and a Hindi guy set them straight:

“Can you let your hatred of George Bush end for just one minute? There are people dying! And what are your countries doing? has helped more than France has. You all have a role to play in the world, why can’t you see that? Thank God for the US Navy, they dont have to come and help, but they are. They helped you once and you should all thank God they did. They didnt have to, and no one but them would have done so. I’m ashamed of you all…”
Reagan said something along the lines of “we can accomplish great things as long as we don’t care who takes credit”. These days we’ll have to settle for getting no credit and doing the right thing anyway.

As for myself, I would rather America be right than be loved.

(þ: The Professor)

Update: The guys at Powerline found a great article that demonstrates the BBC's, and other MSM outlets, biased coverage:

The real story of the week should thus have been the startling contrast between the impotence of the international organisations, the UN and the EU, and the remarkable efficiency of the US and Australian military on the ground. Here and there, news organisations have tried to report this, such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine in Germany, and even the China News Agency, not to mention various weblogs, such as the wonderfully outspoken Diplomad, run undercover by members of the US State Department, and our own But when even Communist China's news agency tells us more about what is really going on than the BBC, we see just how strange the world has become.
Remember: in spite of the media coverage, we've continued to do the right thing while the UN has had numerous pre-planning meetings, which have had a net benefit of zero for the people of the region.

Common law versus civil law

Or, that perennial battle between the French and the British.

A couple of weeks ago, a person from Legal Affairs actually emailed us to let us know about this article on the apparent prosperity of countries that follow the British common law versus the French civil law. Chris handed the article off to me and I promptly forgot about it.

Today’s Boston Globe has a brief version of the article here, which reminded me of it. The argument in favor of the LLSV research seems pretty persuasive to me—indeed, the French have begun looking into it themselves, according to the Globe—but I suspect it will be argued about for some time to come before a real conclusion is reached. In the mean time it appears to me that the British common law is winning.

They use Malaysia (common law) and Indonesia (civil law) as examples; the former is prospering, the latter is not. The LLSV authors attribute the difference to the British common law and its protection of shareholder rights, among other things. The key graf, to me, is this one from the Globe:

Yet for all its mathematical sophistication, LLSV‘s research has not gone unchallenged by their fellow number-crunchers. According to Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago, the economic differences among countries may not come from something intrinsic to common law or civil law, but rather from some other correlated factor. Common law countries, for example, tend to speak English, tend to be Protestant, and tend not to have been decimated by World War II. The English, furthermore, may have done a better job than the French of finding economically viable locations to set up colonies.
As with most statistical studies, there’s the rub: show causality, rather than just correlation. The LLSV authors claim to have addressed these factors:
The LLSV scholars counter that their regression models try to take all of these variables into account, showing for example that civil law origin has much more of an impact on markets than religion does. They also note that at least they’ve found something that can be reformed. Legal origin may not explain everything, but changing laws is much easier than converting a country from Catholicism to Protestantism.

In the end, what LLSV has done is provide a giant statistical brief in support of the ideas of John Locke, James Madison, and Adam Smith, and they’ve updated those ideas for a world that’s as interested in economic success as in liberty. Creating a judicial branch that can check the executive and the legislature doesn’t just protect individual rights and prevent political persecution. It also improves your stock market and can transform your future. At least, that’s the theory.

I know where my sympathies lie—with the Brits, Adam Smith and John Locke, of course—but I’ll wait and see how the LLSV guys do at defending their research in the future. If I get time, I might even look the stuff up myself. I have some of the same questions as the LLSV guys when it comes to Haiti and the Dominican Republic: how can two countries that share the same spit of land be so dramatically different? In this case I imagine it has to do with more than just legal codes (DR is French, Haiti is unknown to me).

BTW, hell school resumes tomorrow and the impact on my own blogging can only be negative. Tough semester in front of me, with qualifying exams to come in May.

God, please let this happen!!

The last time I saw anything about purely hydrogen-driven cars, it required a flame-retardent vest when filling the tank. They say in this article that the problem of explosion has been dealt with, though they don’t address the “filling the tank” issue specifically. The guy quoted below seems awfully optimistic, but they do have a fully-functioning prototype, though it sounds like it would cost $1 million or more if you wanted one now:

GM, which has been slow to roll out hybrid products, is using the Sequel to try to win some of the attention for hydrogen, Brooke said."We're reaching out to show that this is truly doable," GM technology chief Lawrence D. Burns said. "We're talking about a real car. It's not affordable yet, but I can assure you it's doable."

In 2002, GM showed a fuel-cell concept car called the Hy-Wire that consisted of an 11-inch thick “skateboard” chassis that contained all the working parts—one-tenth as many as in a conventional car—with a body simply bolted on top. But the Hy-Wire was rickety to drive and could never have met federal highway standards, let alone satisfied demanding buyers.

The Sequel's biggest single advance, Burns said, is a compressed-hydrogen storage tank that can hold enough fuel to give the car a range of 300 miles. That is twice as far as the range of older versions of fuel-cell cars, and is considered the threshold distance to be marketable. With liquid hydrogen, the range could extend to 450 miles, Burns said. The Sequel also has a more powerful stack of fuel cells than previously possible, cutting 0-to-60 mph acceleration time to fewer than 10 seconds, comparable to most conventional cars.

GM is also working on the technology to produce and assemble the Sequel, hoping to be able to build 1 million a year by 2010, Burns said.

The hybrids have always seemed like a transitional technology and if it’s possible to get us to a fuel that doesn’t have any emissions (other than water) and that eliminates our need for oil altogether, so much the better.

Saturday, 8 January 2005

The war on drugs

I generally don’t agree with The Guardian, but this piece (rather long) on the war on drugs seems about right:

Let’s be honest. People try drugs, whether in the form of alcohol or pills, because they are fun. Tens of thousands of UK citizens regularly consume cocaine; hundreds of thousands more use other illegal drugs, completely discrediting the law. In his book Cocaine, Dominic Streatfield quotes the monetarist Milton Friedman: ‘I do not think you can eradicate demand. The lesson we have failed to learn is that prohibition never works. It makes things worse not better.’

Streatfield quotes the extraordinary statistics involved in fighting cocaine and drugs. Here are a couple: over the past 15 years, the US has spent £150 billion trying to stop its people getting hold of drugs. In Britain and the US almost 20 per cent of the prison population is inside for drugs offences. So what is left? We can muddle on or we can legalise cocaine – and indeed all drugs.

Imagine that: we’ve spent an average of £10 billion a year (roughly $18.7 billion a year at yesterday’s exchange rate) for the past fifteen years and, if we’ve had any real permanent gains, I’m not aware of them. Sure, we’ve had some individual victories, but we haven’t even come close to eliminating either the supply or demand for drugs. Nor will we. Ever.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not unsympathetic to the problems of addiction because I’ve experienced them first-hand. My ninth “AA birthday” is at the end of the month (I quit drinking at the tender age of 27) and I know how hard it is. I simply don’t think we are approaching the problem correctly and are creating more ancillary problems than we are solving.

Our effort would be better spent on legalizing drugs, taxing them, and focusing our effort on treatment.

Update: A reader -- also a recovering alcoholic -- emailed to agree with my position on the current war on drugs. My edited response is below:

Thanks for the comments as well.  I expect I will do a birthday post on the 27th when I hit the 9-year mark as well.  Getting dry was no small thing for me -- it involved staying in the hospital for a week with IVs attached to me, though no straps were involved -- but I came out of it a better person.

It’s nice to know that not all people who have addiction problems immediately react with horror at the notion of legalization.  The current prohibition of drugs is causing all of the problems of the original prohibition of alcohol and worse, but the violence is largely confined to inner cities and doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Another update: Jeralyn has some remarks on the same article. We rarely agree, so it's worth pointing it out when we do.

Friday, 7 January 2005

The Ecological Fallacy in Action

Say what you will about the Palestinians, but at least they aren’t any more impressed with our celebrities than we are; says one “man on the street”:

I don’t even know who the candidates are other than Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), let alone this [Richard] Gere. We don’t need the Americans’ intervention. We know who to elect. Not like them—they elected a moron.

This might be a good omen for popular sovereignty in Palestine after all (þ Sully).

Thursday, 6 January 2005

Cable HD TiVo on the way

Steven Taylor links to news that TiVo has announced plans for an integrated high-definition digital cable tuner/DVR using the newish CableCard standard, to reach consumers sometime in 2006. I’d say I want it, but first I’d need that HDTV I’ve been lusting for.

Tortured Reading

Both James Joyner and Glenn Reynolds recommend this post at Belgravia Dispatch regarding the whole Gonzales-Gitmo-Abu Gharib flap. My general point of view (similar to that expressed here a couple of weeks ago by Robert) is when you’ve resorted to semantics—“stress positions” versus “torture” and the like—you’ve already lost the battle in the court of public opinion, even if legally you might be in the right.*

On Gonzales in general, I have to say that I never thought I’d favorably compare John Ashcroft to anyone else (although it could be argued he was at least an upgrade from Janet Reno), but at this point I’d rather have the Prude over the Enabler any day.

And the left reads Mother Jones, why?

The Economist has apparently been getting a lot of criticism from the left in recent years. The following is a letter to the editor from this week's issue on an article from last week:
SIR – According to critical theory, The Economist engages in a narrative designed to persuade its audience of the virtues of capitalism (“Capitalist, sexist pigs” December 18th). A consistent finding of social-psychological research is that people tend to read, watch and listen to things that reinforce their political predispositions. The Economist does just that for its affluent readers as they head out to work, confirming that free markets are more efficient, and, as an added bonus, telling them their profession helps the plight of the world's poor. That way, they believe their profession not only makes themselves better off but is saving the world's downtrodden from famine, disease and even war. That's a feel-good publication.

Dave Townsend
Washington, DC

Why do people on the right, or of the classical liberal persuasion, read The Economist rather than Mother Jones? The same reason that people on the left prefer to read Mother Jones rather than The Economist: it conforms to their world view.

I’m a little amused that Mr. Townsend thinks that people that work for a living aren’t improving the world. I would argue that they are; they’re improving their own little part of it and, in doing so, are adding to the well being of the world.

The article that the letter is about is here, and an excerpt follows:

In a newly fashionable effort to quantify claims about how power is transmitted through words and images, Yana van der Meulen Rodgers and JingYing Zhang, of the College of William & Mary in Virginia, have analysed The Economist’s photographs. Their paper, “A Content Analysis of Sex Bias in International News Magazines”, asks, first, how often are women portrayed compared with men? Second, how often are men and women depicted in a sexual way? For answers, they looked at all the issues of five news magazines, including The Economist, in 2000, and the photographs in The Economist in even-numbered years from 1982 to 2000.

All the magazines studied contained an over-representation of women depicted in sexual ways. But The Economist, apparently, had more frontal nudity in its photographs than all the other magazines combined. When it came to “partial breast exposure”, it was at the top of the league. Particularly curious to the authors was our use of sexual content to illustrate stories on topics such as finance and technology. A photograph of three bikini-clad beauty contestants, used to illustrate a story on financial regulation, with the caption “Pick your regulator”, was both emblematic and problematic.

As for myself, I love The Economist. Since Reason’s demise, under the editorship of Nick Gillespie, The Economist is the most prominent classically liberal magazine in print and a personal favorite of mine. I hope it stays that way.

Update: For a different view of The Economist, look here. I generally agree with Cass, but not this time. The Economist is a British magazine and they can toot their own horn a bit if they want. We do the same. They can similarly be critical of America and I won't be bothered by it up to a point. It's worth noting, on the article she quotes, that they have said many favorable things about the U.S. higher education system in the past and have used it to criticize the British system for relying on too much government funding.

100 years of Einstein

George Will has a good column on the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s publication of his articles that changed physics (and the world):

Einstein’s theism, such as it was, was his faith that God does not play dice with the universe—that there are elegant, eventually discoverable laws, not randomness, at work. Saying “I’m not an atheist,” he explained:

“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is.”

Seems like a pretty good way of looking at the universe.The Economist has a more in-depth treatment of the subject (I believe it's a free link):
For this reason, physicists postulated the existence of the aether—a substance, otherwise undetectable, through which light travelled. But if the Earth was orbiting the sun, and so moving through space, it must be moving through the aether, too. Measure the speed of light in the direction of the Earth's motion, and perpendicular to it, and you would get different answers, the line of reasoning went. This is what Michelson and Morley did. But they found that the two speeds were, in fact, precisely the same.

The experiment was explained by Henrich Lorentz, a Dutch physicist, who came up with the mathematics required for the answer—that there was a contraction in the direction of the Earth’s movement, just enough to make the two speeds seem the same. Lorentz could not explain how this contraction occurred, though. He speculated that perhaps forces were at work inside molecules, which were, at the time, still hypothetical entities.

What Einstein realised, without adding any new mathematics, but in a profoundly new way nonetheless, was that there was no seem about it. Space really was contracting, and time was slowing down. It is just this that Pais was referring to when he said that Einstein was good at picking invariance principles. Everyone had thought that time was invariant. It is not. No one thought the speed of light was. It is.


Wednesday, 5 January 2005

I hate to fly... and it shows

James Joyner rounds up the latest aviation news, including lower fares on Delta, reduced service on Independence Air, and new Southwest service to Pittsburgh (already served by low-fare carrier airTran). I suppose this is good news for most air travellers—but if I still have to go via Atlanta to fly anywhere on Delta, no thanks.

The Big Five-0

Via Will Baude and Amber Taylor, I see that bloggers are being challenged to read and review 50 books this year. This may be a bit of a daunting challenge—even for those of us expected to read (and write, not to mention teach) for a living—but since I’m currently ahead of the curve, I might as well participate.

Book the First: Time Lord. Reviewed (somewhat unfavorably) here.

Book the Second: The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. Mini-review: a brilliant, accessible, non-scholarly look at the contemporary political right (broadly defined) in America. Minor faults: the book is sometimes confused over which left-right axis it’s talking about (for example, it sometimes refers to the political left in Europe as “liberals,” a mistake I wouldn’t expect Britons to make), and it underemphasizes the role of political institutions (aside from the Senate, which is overemphasized) in making the United States a generally more conservative nation than other industrialized democracies—the role of federalism and the Constitution gets about a page of treatment in nearly 400 pages of body text. I strongly recommend this book for either the general reader, or as a supplemental text in an undergraduate course in either political parties or American political culture (if such a beast exists).

Book the Third: The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the 20th Century. Just bought it; the book got a favorable review by Simon Jackman in The Political Methodologist a year or so ago.

Less corruption, more filling

Contrary to my suspicions, the AP poll voters resisted the all-out lobbying effort by Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville (enabled by ABC—allegedly a partner of the BCS—who gave the coach opportunites at both the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl to manufacture controversy) and actually payed attention to what happened on the field: Auburn hung on by the skin of its teeth (taking three straight sacks to run out the clock) to defeat Virginia Tech, while Southern Cal destroyed Oklahoma, in a game whose 55–19 margin probably overstates matters, as the Sooners scored a touchdown and a safety in garbage time. Congrats to the Trojans; no dap for the Tigers here. And, you have to wonder about the Sooners in bowl games—they’re 3–3 in bowls under Bob Stoops since 1999.

Tuesday, 4 January 2005

Woot! Gmail Notifier for all versions of FireFox

Check here for recent FireFox extensions. Tested the Gmail extension and it works fine on a Mac.

Mo' Gitmo

Radley Balko points to a Telegraph article that indicates that the Bush administration is settling in for a long haul with the Gitmo detainees:

The Bush administration is drawing up a long-term plan for al-Qa’eda suspects at Guantanamo Bay, including building a prison where they could be held for the rest of their lives without ever appearing in a court of law.

Defence officials told the Washington Post that the Pentagon was preparing to ask Congress for $25 million for a 200-bed prison, known as Camp 6, to hold suspects it does not have enough evidence to convict.

Another proposal being discussed is transferring many Afghan, Yemeni and Saudi detainees – the majority of the 500 suspects at Guantanamo Bay – to new US-built prisons in their own countries.

Local officials would run the prisons but the US would monitor them for compliance with human rights standards.

The good news is that many in Congress aren’t exactly convinced this is a good idea:

Sen Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said: “It is a bad idea. We must have a very careful, constitutional look at this.”

Sen Carl Levin, the senior Democrat on the armed services committee, said: “There must be some semblance of due process if you are going to detain people.”

If the administration is planning to come up with a constitutional and credible solution to the problem, it’s certainly not on display in this plan.

The need for speed

If your first thought when reading that your cable modem service is going to increase its downlink from 3Mbps to 5 Mbps this month is that you’ll need to change the parameters to your wondershaper ip-up command, you might be a total geek.

Monday, 3 January 2005

Petrino works to damage own reputation

Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino continues to make friends with his antics; fresh off the bizarre “he said, he said” situation during the Ole Miss coaching search—not to mention his complicity in the sleazy backdoor coaching search by Auburn in late 2003—he’s managed to annoy his own athletic director by pushing himself for the since-filled LSU job. Petrino had better hope he does well in the new Big East, because any sensible athletic director won’t get within a mile of him for the next couple of years.

AP Poll Corruption Watch

After Auburn’s squeak past previously 10–2 Virginia Tech tonight, how many additional AP voters will be so impressed to promote the Tigers above the winner of Tuesday’s Oklahoma–Southern Cal matchup of undefeated teams? Inquiring minds want to know…*

In other SEC news, Louisiana State finally hired a coach, who got this monetary vote of confidence from LSU AD Skip Bertman:

“I’m not going to pay Saban money for a guy who hasn’t earned it,” Bertman said.

Belated sense on DeLay

Since I expressed my annoyance with the GOP for foolishly changing House caucus rules to shield leadership members under indictment, a decision intended to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay from an alleged partisan witchhunt by a Texas prosecutor,* I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise them for recognizing their mistake and reversing the decision, albeit in response to a decade-overdue decision by the Democrats in the House to adopt stricter ethical standards for their leadership members as well.

As always, James Joyner has more.

Update: Somehow Jazz Shaw (trackback below) characterizes this post as expressing “nothing but praise” for the House GOP members; apparently terms like “belated,” “annoyance,” “foolish,” and “albeit” are overwhelming endorsements of the GOP, not to mention my previous assault on the “dopes” at the DeLay-enabling NRO for having nothing to say about this idiocy. I guess trying to be (ever so slightly) gracious is now tantamount to being a shill. And, yes, the Democrats deserved the shot for only changing their rules when it was to their political advantage, just as the GOP deserved the shot for only reversing its decision when voters expressed outrage toward their behavior.

As to the remaining rules change (dismissing ethics charges when there is a tied vote, instead of keeping them alive), my gut feeling is that its substantive impact will be minimal, but as a symbolic measure I tend to think it’s a stupid move on the part of the GOP.

Book review: Time Lord

I picked up an autographed copy of Clark Blaise’s Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time a while back at Square Books in Oxford, and just got around to reading it. While I have no doubt that the Scottish-born Sandford Fleming was an interesting individual—in addition to being a driving force between the adoption of standard time zones, he was one of the architects of the unification of Canada and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway—Blaise’s book almost makes him seem boring.

The narrative flow of the book is horrible, employing no discernable organizational approach, and the book seems semi-randomly to leap into discussions of the use of time in literature—which may be one of Blaise’s scholarly interests, but has little to do with Fleming. Except for details of the 1884 Prime Meridian Conference in Washington and some confused recounting of Fleming’s role in surveying and building the CP, little of Fleming’s exploits get much attention. Blaise’s lament is that Fleming is being lost to history, but if he was such an important figure in Canadian and world history, his book does little to solidify his reputation, except as a crumudgeon who was annoyed that politics intruded on his efforts to create a “universal” reckoning of time.

Another career option missed

If I’d had any sense after 9/11, I would have gone into business producing portable concrete Jersey barriers; you can’t pass almost any federal government building, even such unlikely terror targets as national guard armories and Corps of Engineers buildings, that doesn’t have a few dozen of the things around it.

Sunday, 2 January 2005

The Gitmo Detainees

We’re in a bit of a box with the Gitmo detainees. [Their ambiguous status is] [n]ot of our own making, to be sure, but we are left to deal with it. Jeralyn wants to see all of them released, though given the recidivism rates of the others that have been released, it seems like a bad idea. We release these guys, they perpetrate acts of terror and we send the military after them. These guys are a bunch of fucking skulkers to begin with—they don’t wear unforms and hide among civilians—which will result in further civilian deaths either from their acts or our response to their acts. Probably both. I doubt this is what Jeralyn really wants. And no, sitting back and taking it, or making excuses for future acts of violence, is not an option.

Sean is less sympathetic to their ordeal. He suggests we definitely hold them, and if the title to his post can be believed, summary executions would be OK as well.

There could be a middle ground. We could simply concede that they are POWs—even though they are in violation of the Geneva Conventions—and tell them that they will be released when hostilities have ceased in Afghanistan. That alone will take a decade or more and, once the entire country has been secured, we can turn them over to the government of Afghanistan. Fewer civilians will die—ours and theirs—and we’ve stuck to the letter of the conventions, even if it ambiguous.

Global Warming, The Issue of 2005

Apparently, the reason global warming has been all over the news is that Tony Blair will be heading the G8 for 2005, and he’s decided to make it an issue. The Financial Times has a pretty balanced write-up on the issue:

Polar bears could be extinct by the end of this century, scientists predict, if nothing is done to halt global climate change. Already, the Arctic ice sheet is half the thickness of 30 years ago and 10 per cent less extensive, according to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the work of more than 250 scientists over four years. They blame global warming, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and warn of consequences all over the world if ice covering solid ground melts and sea levels rise.

Warnings such as these and fears that the heat waves, floods and hurricanes of last year could have been early consequences of global warming have prompted Tony Blair, the British prime minister, to make tackling climate change a priority for world leaders in the coming year.

“Our effect on the environment, and in particular on climate change, is large and growing . . . We cannot afford to ignore the warnings,” Mr Blair told business leaders in September when he announced plans to put climate change high on the agenda during Britain’s tenure as chair of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations from January. Mr Blair will also make the issue one of the main themes of the UK’s six-month presidency of the European Union from July 2005.


But the science behind predictions of global warming has come under fierce attack. Sceptical scientists have brought out their own reports to show that though some regions are warming, others appear to be cooling. They also argue that the world experienced many periods of warming in the past much greater than those we are witnessing today. Such warming allowed vineyards to flourish in England in the Middle Ages. Malaria affected northern Europe and cattle grazed in Viking settlements in Greenland that were subsequently abandoned as the “little ice age” took effect in the 14th century, lasting until the 19th. Any increase in global temperatures could therefore be the result of a natural variation in the earth’s climate, rather than the effect of any human activity. Sceptics also attack the scientists whose computer models predict dangerous levels of global warming. Others contend that although global warming is happening, and will be costly, there is little we can do about it and therefore we should concentrate our efforts instead on more pressing issues, such as the HIV epidemic and poverty. The champions of this view are the Copenhagen Consensus, a group of economists led by Bjorn Lomborg, professor of political science at Aarhus University in Denmark. He says: “We can only do very little about global warming, very far out into the future, and at a very high cost. If we spend a large amount of money on global warming, we are taking away money that could be spent elsewhere to do much more good.”

I’ve mentioned using carbon sequestration, the Geritol Solution, and so forth, and it hasn’t been well received. There’s almost no chance of the U.S. actually implementing Kyoto, so I have another proposal taken shamelessly from Gregg Easterbrook:
Methane isn’t the only substance to which global-warming policymakers should pay more attention. Hansen’s work suggests that strict regulation of a few rare industrial gases, whose emissions have no economic utility, would also be more cost-effective than carbon dioxide rules. Short-term reform, he also suggests, should focus on heat-absorbing industrial particulates, or “black soot,” which has been nearly eliminated in the West (which boomed during the elimination, evidence that economic growth and soot regulation are fully compatible), but which spews from the factories and power plants of developing nations by the millions of tons. The resulting pollution-caused diseases annually kill more children under age five in the developing world than all deaths from all causes at all ages in the United States and the European Union combined. Any money the West spends on global warming would be far better invested in reducing industrial soot in the developing world than in the carbon crash programs environmental orthodoxy demands.
In this country we could focus on reducing methane and use our dissolving soft power to get countries like China and India to focus on industrial soot. It will help with global warming and will provide an unambiguous benefit to both countries since it is so heavily tied to human illness.

I suspect that’s about the most Mr. Blair can hope for in the coming year. Joe Gandelman has more.


I’m not dead, I just have nothing much to say—particularly on the wrong end of a 56k dialup line. Happy New Year to all our readers; I expect to have some things to say in a few days, probably including a review of one of my Christmas presents, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, by Economist writers John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge.

In the meantime I’m trying to relax my brain—and my separated shoulder—so I won’t look like a babbling fool when I try to teach three new courses (public opinion, civil liberties, and an independent study course in southern politics) in addition to a revamped Introduction to American Politics class in the spring.

Jefferson on treaties

I’ve raised the issue of the power of treaties in the past, and it appears that at least one of our founders thought they were bound by the Constitution:

“I say… to the opinion of those who consider the grant of the treaty-making power as boundless: If it is, then we have no Constitution. If it has bounds, they can be no others than the definitions of the powers which that instrument gives.”—Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Nicholas, 1803. ME 10:419
Others agreed as well. See this post by Donald Sensing from back at the start of the Iraq War.

New year's resolutions

I like the New Year’s resolutions for others over at IMAO, but I liked it even better when Spoons did it two years ago. For one thing, Spoons knows that bloggers are a self-regarding bunch (he included me, right?) and used it to great effect. After all, it’s two years later and I’m still talking about it. His entry this year is here.

Global Warming

And this is different than The Day After Tomorrow in what way?:

Killer hurricanes, towering tidal waves and destructive lightning storms are all meant to prove the scientists’ point about the deadly effects of global warming. The environmentalists are the villains. The corporate shills who have been paid big bucks to debunk the global warming community are the good guys. According to Crichton, global warming is a myth.

In today’s world of increasing corporate control of almost every facet of our public and private lives, Crichton’s screed against the environmental movement should come as no great surprise.

After all, the publisher of “State of Fear” is Harper Collins, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the same people who feed Americans and people around the world a daily dosage of right-wing propaganda billed as 24-hour news.

Murdoch can wave his big money around and always expect to find some novelist; screenwriter; movie director; journalist; left, center, or right-wing magazine editor; cartoonist; or research institute fellow to allow himself or herself to become human versions of coin-operated nickelodeons or Laundromats.

I’ve mentioned my own concerns with Crichton’s book before, but I don’t see how it’s any different than other propaganda coming out of Hollywood. Being swayed by Crichton’s book makes about as much sense to me as being swayed by a cheesy film that supports global warming. The Crichton book at least has the virtue of footnotes to actual science. Why is the author of the column willing to overlook its failings, while fixating on Crichton’s?

Crichton made a speech last year that addressed many of my concerns on politicizing science. The speech is referenced here, and here’s an excerpt from another column:

“Several thousand of the earth’s scientists,” it says at one point, “agree that global warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution from human activities represents a profoundly serious threat to human civilization and to even the most robust and insulated natural ecosystems. Their comments are echoed in the Draft Scientific Consensus Statement on the Likely Impact of Climate Change on the Pacific Northwest prepared by scientists at Oregon and Washington universities in the fall of 2004.”

The red flag is the reference to thousands of scientists and “consensus.”

The factual truth of anything never depends on how many people agree with it.

Michael Crichton, the author, made that point in a lecture last year.

“I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks,” he wrote. “Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.”

Saturday, 1 January 2005


I’ve been pretty busy lately and haven’t had time to post much. If you’re looking for something to read, take a look at Vox Baby for discussion on Social Security and other economic matters. Also, you might be interested in reading Econ Journal Watch, which should be available off college campuses. Quite interesting.

In addition, you might want to take a look at this post by Kate at OTB. Oddly, I haven't been able to get her to add SN to her blogroll under "Blogs I Read Naked While Eating Cherry Ice Cream" over at Small Dead Animals. Apparently that spot is reserved for Jeff.

European Ascendancy

The Powerline guys are addressing the recent EU ascendancy meme; it’s still not persuasive. Europe is in decline, despite their posturing in recent years. I’ve discussed it elsewhere (here and here).

Cnet News Using Trackbacks

This post is a test.

Update: Cool. I had to enter the trackback manually, but it still works. I hope other media embraces trackbacks as well.

So long, and thanks for all the fish

The new year brings a new blogospheric home for yours truly. This is my final post at Signifying Nothing. I’ll now be co-blogging with fellow Linux geek, philosophy geek, and Memphian, Len Clevelin, at Dark Bilious Vapors.

I’d like to thank both my co-bloggers, Chris and Robert, for putting up with me. And I’d especially like to thank Chris for hosting the blog, and writing the software that runs it, especially when he was humoring my feature requests.

And thanks to all the readers out there who took the time to read, comment on, or link to my posts, whether you agreed or disagreed with me. You know where to find me, if you want to read more.