30 December 2008

Can Google Survive Its Success?

As I understand (admittedly dimly) Google's success is based on an algorithm that does a particularly good job ranking search results based upon how many other web pages link to it. But what happens now that no one finds anything on the web other than through Google? Now Google's algorithm must basically be to rank pages in the order that Google ranks them. I understand that now they're concentrating on getting every web page in the world into their servers multiple times, but that seems like a pretty low-return game.

26 December 2008

Happy Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day, the day when, um, er, I have no idea (Ma'nish ta'na...).

Is it:
a) The day baby Jesus kicked the Wise Men's asses?
b) The day in England on which the servants are expected to wrap their presents from their masters?
c) A day for organising one's closet? Or,
d) A day in which the English go to "Pantomimes," which they watch from theatre boxes.

Whatever it is, let's all enjoy it. Holidays need no excuses.

The Dogs Of Winter

Christmas Icing

25 December 2008

Christmas Conundrum

Trying to run a hierarchical linear model, I've discovered that my dependent variable, Return on Assets, is leptokurtotic. I can improve it somewhat by running a full model on the raw data, analyzing the residuals and dropping some outliers, but ROA is still leptokurtotic. A logit transform, which is supposed to reduce kurtosis, just makes things worse. It turns out that ROA, which is a very common dependent variable in Strategic Management, is almost always kurtotic because it violates the assumption of proportionality; that is, the relationship between net income and total assets is non-linear.

What is kurtosis? Here's a picture of leptokurtotic data plotted against a normal curve:

What makes it kurtotic is that it is "peakier" than the normal curve. Why should we care? Because the most common statistical methods assume that the residuals of the dependent variable (how far each point is from the predicted value) are normally distributed. If they aren't, then the estimate of how likely it is that a particular result found in a particular sample is chance rather than real is unreliable. Since that's all that statistics do, that's a problem. So, for example, if researchers assume that headaches are distributed normally in the population but they're not, then a treatment that seems effective might not be.

More to the point, some economists think that Long Term Capital Management failed because its models assumed that certain financial measures, like Return on Assets, were normally distributed when they're not. At least one economist has argued that the Black-Scholes option pricing model, which is related to the LTCM model is also wrong for the same reason. Since Black-Scholes and other, related, models are the basis for most modern finance, that implies that people pricing the risk of various financial instruments without much of a history might have assumed that Return on Assets, etc., are normally distributed. Because, contrary to this assumption, ROA is leptokurtotic, the models might have overestimated the expected return on investment, underestimated the risk and mispriced the instruments.

In other words, the fact that ROA is leptokurtotic is a possible explanation, and a more satisfying explanation than most out there, for the sub-prime mortgage and CDS implosion.

23 December 2008


Of all the different ways of listening to music on the internet, I've listening to Pandora. Basically, you choose a genre, artist or song you like and Pandora picks out features of that song that it looks for in other songs. At the moment, I've just started a "Fred Smith" channel and Pandora is looking for songs that have "folk rock qualities, extensive vamping, acoustic sonority, major key tonality and a breathy male lead vocalist." Well worth suffering through their affectation that they've identified musical DNA.

A Pirate Premium?

Does anyone know why, over the last week or so, the WTI Cushing price for a barrel of oil has started trading at a $5-$10 dollar discount to the other spot markets?

Festivus Comes Early

Via Ann Althouse, I see that the New York Times printed a letter to the editor from the Mayor of Paris lamenting the anti-democratic nature of Caroline Kennedy's possible appointment to the Senate. It reeks, he implies, of American decline.

The letter is a fake.

Now, on to the feats of strength.

21 December 2008

Timing The Surge

When it does become time to judge George W. Bush's presidency, one big question will concern the timing of the surge. If it could have been done successfully earlier, than it should have been. If it had to wait for AQiM to prove to the Sunnis what vicious idiots they were, then it couldn't have been done much sooner.

19 December 2008

Rick Warren At The Inauguration

First thought: If McCain had won and invited Warren, the progressive left would have told us about how this just proves that Obama would have been so much better.

Second thought: For the left, this is just like how it would have been for the right if McCain had invited Rev. Wright to give the invocation.

Third thought: That's exactly what McCain would have done.

What Does Democracy Do?

There are three possible justifications for democracy (including representative democracy):
  1. The people, corporately, make good decisions (which I'll call the "kindergarten thesis");
  2. Election to office lends legitimacy from the sovereign people to our temporary leaders (the "Jeffersonian theis"); or
  3. We need to get our leaders somewhere and voting beats accident of birth or force of arms (the "black box thesis").
(We can also add the Bismark corollary, which says that it doesn't really matter how we choose our leaders because G-d's going to take care of us anyway, but I assume that it's obvious why the less we talk about that, the better.)

There's some truth to all of this, but each thesis has different policy implications. If the kindergarten thesis is right -- given the chance, the American people will do the right thing -- then we care about information flow and informed voters. We want to think about things like poll taxes or literacy tests, and we want to force the candidates to make public their specific plans. We care about campaign promises the same way we care about product warranties and fitness for a particular purpose. Parliamentary systems tend to follow this model.

In the Jeffersonian thesis, we're more interested in the people running for office than in what they plan to do. We want exposure to the candidates personality so that we can judge what kind of people they are, rather than their specific plans for specific problems. This is a pretty good positive description of the current system in which we make the candidates spend two years working long hard hours debating, eating corn dogs, giving speeches, going on Letterman, writing (or putting their name to) articles in Foreign Affairs, etc.

In the black box model, all we need as a decision. We don't have to know or care how that decision was arrived at. Random works fine, so long as all the actors agree to be bound by the decision. the black box thesis doesn't have much to say about the campaign, but it loves the Electoral College in which even a random and ambiguous close vote is translated into a clear win.

I find, as I get older, that I become more attracted to the black box thesis. Given that we need to have a president, for example, and that he needs to be the clear winner, an election is as good a way to choose him as any and better than most. At that point, retrospective sense making and our psychological need to see ourselves in control of our fate will kick in and we'll all agree that he is the legitimate leader, chosen by the Jeffersonian electorate. (And, if push comes to shove, G-d won't let anything too bad happen to us.)

18 December 2008

And You Think We Have Problems

This has got to be the weirdest comment thread I've ever read, including on Screw Loose Change.

No Logic Please, We're American

OJ points us to an article arguing that the Europeans hate us because of our freedoms. Of course, the terrorists hate us because of our freedoms, too. So, as we all suspected, Europeans are terrorists.

14 December 2008

"So what if a guy threw his shoe at me,"

George W. Bush is, in the end, probably not a great president. He is a little too dismissive of the bully pulpit to qualify as great, a characteristic failing of his family. Supposedly, his grandmother once complained that George H.W. Bush was talking about himself too much in one of his campaigns and this reticence, odd in a family that gave us two presidents, seems to have affected W. as well. It is also, I suspect, partly how Laura likes it and partly an entirely laudable effort not to be Bill Clinton.

He has been, however, the perfect president for me. For better or worse, if I were designing a president, I'd end up with George W. Bush. And I for one will dearly miss a president who's reaction to having a shoe thrown at him is "So what?"

12 December 2008

Not A Lincoln Biography

No president has come into office facing the massive problems he does.

FDR? Truman? Ford? Madison?

Today's "Don't We Know Too Much About Each Other For Strangers" Quiz

James Lileks points us to a mystery cartoon that uses the phrase "A drug on the market."

Name the only other context in which I've heard this phrase.

Well, I guess I don't know you people as well as I thought:
At another table a very well-dressed WOMAN talks to a MOOR. She has a bracelet on her wrist. No other jewelry.
But can't you make it just a little more? Please.

I'm sorry, Madam, but diamonds are a drug on the market. Everybody sells diamonds. There are diamonds everywhere. Two thousand, four hundred.

All right.
Casablanca, 1942.

11 December 2008

What's Really Disturbing About This:

This is becoming a terrible week for the US newspaper industry. On Monday, the Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, filed for bankruptcy. The New York Times Company followed by saying it might mortgage its Renzo Piano-designed headquarters building by Times Square to reduce debt.
is that it's from the Financial Times. It is, of course, from an article about the importance of the rock-solid reporting we get from The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

There Are Only Three Successful Arguments In American Politics

1. God wants us to do this.

2. It's for the children.

3. This might lead to war.

(I would link to the Daily Duck piece that got me going down this track, but I can't reach the Daily Duck at the moment.)

09 December 2008

A Conundrum

One months ago, the yield on the 5-year Treasury note was 2.51%. Today the yield is 1.61%. Over the same period, the price of a Credit Default Swap for the 5-year Treasury, basically insurance against the Treasury not paying off, has risen to $60 per $10,000 insured from $35.70, an increase of 68%. (A year ago, the cost was $8.00 per $10,000.) In other words, the risk has gone up while the yield has gone down. Generally, so much money is flooding into Treasuries that short-term notes are trading at essentially 0, and some have a negative real yield (that is, the interest paid is less than inflation). Anyone want to offer an explanation?

06 December 2008

Peter Responds

With the, ur, "short" version. Hey, I report, you decide:

1) With 38% of the popular vote, Harper wins a strong minority government in October in a field of five parties, four of a leftist bent. He is twelve seats short of a majority. He wins his first confidence motion, but then clumsily issues a budget statement with controversial budget cuts including one that will reduce the funding base of the other parties. Harper has a lot of strengths, but overt petulant partisanship is his Achilles Heel.

2) Completely out of the blue, the three opposition parties (the Greens won no seats), including the separatist-in-principle-but-we-promise-not-until-some-vague-future-date-we-need-not-specify-now Bloc Quebecois that has never been included in government in any way, announce a Liberal/NDP (socialist)coalition with promised Bloc support that moves non-confidence and announces it is ready to govern when the Cons are defeated. They then argue that the Governor-General, the royal representative, is constitutionally obliged to invite them to form a government and refuse Harper's request for an election because we just had one. They are all broke from the last election and only the Tories are in good financial health. Several constitutional experts, who finally get their fifteen minutes of fame after spending many lonely years mastering arcane legal/historical stuff nobody gives a crap about, agree. Pandemonium, because there are only days to the motion. Harper, who controls the parliamentary agenda, adjourns it for a week to Dec 8th.

3) The week is crazy and increasingly very disturbing because the rhetoric moves to overheat and everybody is nakedly partisan at a time the country wants steady-as-she-goes leadership. It becomes apparent the coalition was in the works long before the budget statement. Harper offers to backtrack on the most controversial items, but there is no stopping them now. Trouble is, the Liberal leader is an unpopular wimp who blew the election and resigned a few days later, effective a leadership convention next May that already has several declared candidates out campaigning, so who will the new PM be? It has to be a Liberal because they have by far the most seats, but they have no credible leader. Internal uncertainty and tensions about that surface until it is decided he will anyway, which does the coalition no good at all in popular support;

4) The big issue seems to be whether the GG, who rushes home from a diplomatic sojourn in Europe, will grant the election it is presumed Harper will ask for because it looks like he might cream the leaderless Libs. Never in my life have so many Canadians learned so much about the fabled royal perogative. Brit will know all about this, but basically the Crown does what the Government requests and advises 99.99999% of the time. However, there are theoretical reserve powers to act independantly if Parliament is being subverted or in times of crisis;

5) Then it starts to become clear Harper will not wait for the vote, but will instead ask the GG to prorogue Parliament (formally ending the session which requires royal assent, as opposed to just adjourning for a few weeks which the House decides itself by majority vote) before so everybody can take a Valium until late January. Same wild debate as to whether she is compelled to agree just weeks after the last election and with a theoretical alternative government to call on. Constitutional experts get a second fifteen minutes of fame. The coalition screams about subverting democracy and governing as a dictator, yada, yada. It first looks like Harper's move is a cowardly dealing from the bottom of the deck, but as everybody starts to get alarmed by the turmoil and alternatives, support for it grows because the alternatives (coalition government or another election) are both so unpopular. Everybody, including me, starts thinking: "This is neither fun nor funny anymore."

6) It would take too long to explain, but the mess is terribly divisive and divides the country badly, both politically and regionally. Pundits work 24/7. Disgust for politicians and the process spikes. The public wants cooperation and statesmanship has other things on their minds like keeping their jobs. The coalition really hasn't got its act together because they hate and distrust one another personally as much as they hate the Tories publically.

7) Thursday the GG grants the request to prorogue and the air rushes out of the balloon. National polls start to show strong anti-coalition feeling and Harper's support soars except in Quebec and show he would sweep to a majority. Uh-oh, nice play, Shakespeare. Dissension in the ranks of the left emerge and many say the coalition won't last. If just 12 of the opposition M.P.'s refuse to vote or vote with the Tories, it's game, set, match to Harper, and a few start questionning it publically. Leftist blogs start infighting about the disaster, which of course is all blamed on Tory lies and spin. The coalition starts to descend into buffoonery, such as failing to get the tape of it's leader's address to the nation to TV feed stations in Ottawa in time for specially scheduled national statements. A delicious, much-quoted quip from a radio talk show is that is looks like "Arrogance vs. The Three Stooges".

So, the country is going to take a break for a nice Christmas dinner and nobody has a clue about January. Harper is the clear winner but only in the relative context of an overall bilious disgust with politicians.

Finger-pointing all around, but we of the post-Judd Alliance all know that the real reason for this incredibly risky failed gambit is that conservative governments are offences against progress and the Enlightenment, if not history itself.

David: Actually, I'll put it down to what a bad idea Parliamentary government is.

02 December 2008

Calling Peter:

What the heck is going on in Canada?

27 November 2008

We Were There First

Just wanted to point everyone to the new blog Secular Right, which features entirely different people having all our same old arguments. You'll all be glad to see that we do it better.

Happy Thanksgiving

It's nice to have one day a year in which we notice all of our blessings: family, friends, complete strangers we meet on the Internet, freedom from hunger, from want, from tyranny and from oppression.

Tomorrow is soon enough to complain about how the world is going to Hell and no one has ever had it as bad as we do.

Finally, thanks to all of you for doing that voodoo that you do so well.

As Brit reminds me, we should all remember to give thanks for the greatest blog thread ever.

25 November 2008

The Two Basic Questions Of Organization Science

1. Why do organizations look so similar?

2. Why do organizations look so different?

24 November 2008

But, Seriously ...

What exactly is the justification for making Hillary Secretary of State? All the commentary I've read has been about the domestic politics of it all, but what exactly is Obama going to say to justify turning State over to Hillary? Does she have any relevant experience? Was he not paying attention during the whole Bullets in Bosnia fiasco? Remember when she went to the UN conference on the year of the woman and, um, er, did ... something, maybe?

Where Sarcasm Goes To Die

Swear to God, I think that this is not satire:

11 November 2008

A Proof Of The Existence Of God

1. The concept "God" exists.
2. "Perfection" is an inseparable part of the conception of "God."
3. "Perfection" is that state of being that cannot be bettered.
4. A God that exists is better than a God that does not exist.

Therefore, God must exist.

(This is, of course, St. Anselm's ontological proof of the existence of God. All complaints should be directed to him.)

10 November 2008

Six Degrees Of Me

1. I used to comment at BrothersJuddblog so obsessively that OJ asked me to blog.

2. While blogging at BrothersJudd, I "met" Brit, who commented at BrothersJudd. Ultimately, Brit and I, throwing caution and commonsense to the wind, actually met in real life over drinks at a pub.

3. Brit introduced me to Bryan Appleyard's blog, which I read for a while but stopped reading when it became clear that it was a hotbed of anti-American propaganda. Brit commented so obsessively that Bryan asked him to substitute blogging while Bryan was away. While substitute blogging, Brit bemoaned the death of lunchtime drinking.

4. Andrew Sullivan linked to Brit's post, and did some moaning of his own.

5. Ann Althouse made fun of Andrew for being nostalgic for rampant alcoholism.

6. I often read Ann Althouse's blog, saw her post, linked through to Andrew Sullivan and saw his link to Brit.

Clearly, I invented the Internet.

Substance Over Form

07 November 2008

He's Just Crazy Enough To Do It.

Palin calls attacks 'cruel' and 'cowardly' (CNN, 11/07/08)
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called former aides of Sen. John McCain "jerks" for circulating unflattering stories about her since the Republican ticket lost its bid for the White House Tuesday.
The McCain aides spreading stories about Gov. Palin apparently missed this point of this scene from Blazing Saddles. How can anything bad they say about the Gov. not reflect worse on Senator McCain, who was, after all, singly responsible for choosing her as his running mate?


One of the things about the Obama campaign that really struck me was the extent to which his supporters assumed that he was lying. On a series of issues, people supported him even though his professed position on important policy matters didn't jibe with theirs. "Well," they would say patronizingly when called on this, "you don't understand. He has to say that to get elected." This is a really fascinating way to deal with cognitive dissonance.

The best example of this, because it is the example on which Obama wavered least, is gay marriage. Obama does not support gay marriage because, as a Christian, he believes that God mandated that marriage be between a man and a woman.
"I'm a Christian, and so although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman," Obama said.
Nonetheless, liberals and the left assume that he can't really believe this but is only saying it to avoid alienating voters.

Well, I don't know what anyone "really" believes. I only know what they say and what presidential candidates say makes a difference. Obama won California and so did Proposition 8, and the two things probably aren't unconnected. According to exit polls, blacks and Latinos were 28% of the electorate and both voted for Proposition 8, blacks by better than two to one (70% yes, 30% no). The census bureau estimated that blacks were only 6.7% of the California population in 2006 while Hispanics are 36%. Clearly Proposition 8 wouldn't have passed without black and Latino votes.

06 November 2008

It's Great To Be An American

Filled up the tank this afternoon at $1.95 a gallon. For our unfortunate non-American readers (but I'm redundant) that's 78 cents/50p/.60 Euros per liter. They told me that if Obama were elected my dearest dreams would come true, and they were right.

Time To Kiss The Nurse

For reasons both creditable and less creditable, conservatives are reluctant to admit that we've won the war on terror. The time to declare victory has come. There have been no deaths due to hostile fire in Iraq since October 24; Al Qaeda is in disarray and all that's left to us, for the time being, is mopping up operations. It's true that the mopping up will go on for years and around the globe, but we have destroyed Al Qaeda as an effective fighting force. (By "we," I mean George Bush, but that's another blog post.)

This week's election makes clear that Americans have moved past the war. Even the anti-war left has given up complaining about the war. Iraq was supposed to be the big issue that would propel Obama to victory. As it happened, Iraq was barely mentioned and an entirely different big issue propelled Obama to victory.

The obvious rejoinder to this is that this isn't victory; this is a return to September 10. I have some sympathy for that position, but I really don't think that we're about to be attacked. Even if Al Qaeda, or whomever, had the ability to mount another 9/11 attack, I assume they recognize why that's a bad idea. On the other hand, I think we have returned to August 6, 1998. Attacks on our allies, our ships and our embassies will be treated as unfortunate crimes, not acts of war (and blamed on George Bush, but that's another blog post). Ultimately, that might convince whoever hates us at the time that now we can be attacked at home with impunity, but that, I trust, is a couple of decades down the road.

04 November 2008

Betting on Too Big To Fail

As I've said before, one problem with the politicization of the recent fun and games on Wall Street has been that no one's interested in answering the really interesting and important question, "How come the market seems to have been systematically underpricing risk for years?"

Tom Maguire, who's almost as good on this question as he was on Plame, points us to a partial answer on the part of one big player.

Obama Is (Probably) My President

For reasons that, I have to admit, mystify me, we're about to elect Barack Obama president. He wouldn't be my first choice; neither would John McCain, but he's much closer to the top of the list. But if Obama is elected, I wish him all the best: may he have a peaceful and prosperous presidency. If he is elected, he will be my president (although the idea of a personal president is also somewhat baffling). If he is elected, I won't drive around with a bumper sticker that says, "1/20/12," although I might be tempted by a bumper sticker that says, "Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Sarah."

If, like me, you believe that the United States is exceptional and if you agree with Chancellor Bismarck that God has a special providence for the United States, then we have to assume that electing Obama president is exceptional and not inconsistent with God's special providence until it is proven otherwise. We've prospered under Presidents much less intelligent and more wrong-headed than Senator Obama.

Finally, if, like me, you think that slavery is our original sin and the only distinctly American failing, then electing Senator Obama president has to be seen as a hopeful sign. Whatever hold socialism and political correctness have achieved in the United States they've achieved through the wounds opened by slavery. If electing Senator Obama president can help us close those wounds, then I cannot wholly regret his election.

I voted for John McCain and I hope he wins. I think a McCain presidency will be better for the nation than an Obama presidency. But I am not a leftist; I don't mistake my personal whims for universal truth and I accept that there are other explanations for history not walking my preferred path than the evil conspiracies of those who disagree with me.

We often say that the glory of the United States -- the heart of American exceptionalism -- is that ours is a nation built on an idea rather than on blood or conquest. The test of that idea is whether we can accept others as part of our nation based solely on whether they share our ideals, without regard to skin color or religion or country of origin. If we can't bring ourselves to include anyone as one of "us" if he believes what we believe and chooses to join us, then the American idea has failed.

Senator Obama is an American and, if he is elected, he will be an American president.

MORE: Well, there it is. Obama is my president-elect. In 2004, I really cared that George Bush beat John Kerry. I had a sick feeling in my stomach until finally Ohio was called for W. Tonight, no sick feeling. I'm disappointed but not emotionally invested. Is that because it's been clear for a while that McCain would lose, or is it that McCain was just good enough, or is it that President Obama does have its compensations? I'm not sure. How 'bout y'all? How sick does this make you?

25 October 2008

From The Annals Of Odd Defenses

Mo. students face punishment for `Hit a Jew Day'(Jim Salter, AP, 10/24/08)
At least four students from a suburban St. Louis middle school face punishment for allegedly hitting Jewish classmates during what they called "Hit a Jew Day."

The incident happened last week at Parkway West Middle School in Chesterfield.

District officials said Thursday they believe that fewer than 10 children of the district's 35 Jewish students were struck.
UPDATE: Mrs. Davidssecretblog finds it somewhat ominous that they apparently have a list of the district's Jewish students.

23 October 2008

Not My Dream Line-Up

A commenter at Ann Althouse's blog notes that the presumptive line of succession after President Obama is inaugurated will be:

1. Vice President Joe Biden;
2. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi;
3. Senate President pro tem Robert Byrd;
4. Secretary of State John Kerry.

08 October 2008

David, I Hear You Say,

Why are you able to remain so cool in a crisis? Why are not you panicking?

While the current economic situation is uncomfortable, there are three numbers I'm keeping an eye on that convince me that all is not lost: the 30 year fixed mortgage rate (6.011 APR today on E-Loan), the 10 year Treasury rate (3.72% in today's auction) and the dollar exchange rate (up against just about all world currencies in the last few weeks). All of these are in very comfortable territory in historical terms.

Basically, these numbers mean that we're not in a liquidity trap, that people still have faith in the credit worthiness of the federal government and that, in a crisis, international money is still taking refuge in the dollar. I'm not saying that everything is hunky dorey, but I am saying that, right now, the smart money is not expecting Great Depression II.

24 September 2008

The Curious Incident Of The Big Dog In The Night-Time

Bill Clinton: Will respect Jewish holidays, then 'hustle up ... cracker vote' in Florida (Ben Smith, Politico.com, 9/24/08)
In an interview with CNN's Larry King airing tonight, Bill Clinton offered a slightly unusual reason for postponing his campaigning for Obama: The Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which he's not known to observe
By their excuses shall you know them.

22 September 2008

Been A While...

since we've had a good space elevator discussion. Now Japan has has turned its attention to building a space elevator, although the linked article is somewhat unclear on who "Japan" is.

19 September 2008

Inquiring Minds

An Indian friend of mine asks, "Why is telecommunications so expensive in the States?" He says that cell phones and service are much less expensive in India and that the rest of the world wonders why we don't text message.

What's the answer?

16 September 2008

Social Psych To The Rescue

My social psych professor suggests a possible solution to the underpricing conundrum. She suggests that putting out a new hot system, especially around Christmas time, gets us to psychologically commit to buying one, either for ourselves or for our kids. When we discover we can't get one, we (a) decide to get one when they are available and (b) buy something else for Christmas. As a result, instead of making just one Christmas sale, the toy/video game companies make Christmas sales and, after the supply opens up, January sales.

There's at least one problem with this explanation: why would the companies assume that they'll reap the benefit of the double sale. Maybe whatever substitute we buy for Christmas will come from some other company. But, other than that, this does seem to make psychological sense.

PS: As I think about it, this doesn't help with iPhone pricing at all.

15 September 2008


She can't win! No one I know is voting for her.

13 September 2008

Yah, Dead Hourse. Yah.

This really isn't that difficult. A "preemptive" war is when you preempt an imminent attack by attacking first. Israel preempted a first attack by the massed Arab armies in the Six Day War. As a matter of international law of war, there is absolutely no question about one nation's right to attack first to preempt an imminent attack. If an American submarine had come across the Japanese fleet launching planes on December 7, it would not have to have loitered around until bombs were actually dropped on Pearl Harbor before it sank the carriers.

What the United States asserted in Iraq -- what Charlie Gibson would have meant if he understood the Bush Doctrine -- was a controversial right to launch a preventative war. A preventative attack is meant to defend the attacking nation by preventing a probably enemy from getting any where near to attacking. As Dick Cheney said, we didn't want to wait until an Iraqi attack was imminent. We took that position because 9/11 had taught us that we weren't willing to wait to be attacked, even if the attack did little strategic damage.

One of the lessons of the internet is that the left is every bit as ignorant as the right, but that ignorance is more annoying when it accompanies an assumption of superior knowledge.

04 September 2008

This Prying Into The Candidates Personal Lives Must End

Michelle Obama says she's done having kids (AP, 9/04/08)

Obama to Dispatch Female Surrogates (Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny, NY Times, 9/04/08)

Call Off Your On-Bringers, Redux

Obama campaign hits back against Palin comments (Phillip Elliot, AP, 9/04/08)
As for Palin's claim to be an outsider, Axelrod said that given her pointed criticism of Obama, "for someone who makes the point that she's not from Washington, she looked very much like she would fit in very well there."
Obama will meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions, but Ahmadinejad is no Sarah Palin.

03 September 2008

Anyone Willing To Bet Against

there being at least one woman major party presidential nominee in 2012?

02 September 2008

I'd Rather Be Lucky Than Good, But Being Both Is Better

Even within the context of how brilliantly the McCain campaign handled the Palin announcement (Speech? What speech?), they couldn't possibly have foreseen Obama making the rookie mistake of picking a fight with the opposition V.P. candidate. That he would do so badly ("our executive experience of running a presidential campaign is a much bigger deal than being Mayor of Wassilla Alaska") is just a gift from G-d.

01 September 2008

Those Who Forget The Past Are American

I know that we're a nation without a past. In fact, I like that about us. But even I am shocked by our inability to remember the events of three years ago when Hurricane Katrina was seared ... seared ... across our memories. In particular, that Katrina itself didn't do much damage, that it had looked anticlimactic, until the storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain spilled through the inadequate levees and flooded the city. Coverage of Gustav has not only failed to rehearse that history, but has wrongly claimed that the damage three years ago came from winds and rain directly flooding the city.

31 August 2008

Burying Satire At The Crossroads

I cannot believe that Obama supporters are claiming that Trig Palin is Gov. Palin's grandson and that she's covering her teen daughter's pregnancy. This is disgusting, there is absolutely no evidence for it and, worst of all, if it were true it would solidify Gov. Palin's pro-life credentials. The right's not going to like her less; they'll like her more. If this breaks out into the public's notice, I can't imagine that a wave of disgust at this tactic won't propel McCain/Palin's poll numbers higher.

30 August 2008

A Borrowed Thought And A New Thought

This isn't at all original to me, but it is worth noting how tone deaf the Obamaniacs response to Sarah Palin (she doesn't have enough experience) is. Now, I agree that she has only limited experience and I think that, substantively, that's an issue. But the juxtaposition of "don't vote for the experienced [sic] woman, vote for hope and change" with "that woman's not experienced. You can't vote for her" is bound to alienate some women.

The thought that I haven't seen anywhere else has to do with how hard and overtly McCain is going after Hillary voters. Not just nominating Palin, but having Palin pay tribute to Hillary and having her argue, all but explicitly, that a vote for McCain/Palin is a vote for Hillary's crusade to break the glass ceiling. But doesn't that seem dangerous, given that Hillary could go on national television and squash any suggestion that she supports McCain/Palin and tell her supporters, in no uncertain terms, that M/P is bad for women and O/B is good for women. ("O/B for Women" really needs to be a bumper sticker.)

So, the question is: Is John McCain reckless (not, of course, a merely rhetorical question) or does he have some reason to believe that his friend Hillary is not going to make too much of a protest?

29 August 2008

Appropos Of Nothing...

I note my position that the purpose of feminism is to protect white privilege.

28 August 2008

"What's With Married Men And Blogging?"

My son just asked me that question. His hypothesis is that it has to do with our inability to express our opinions IRL.

27 August 2008

Does It Pay To Be Too Cute?

A lot of people have suggested that McCain ought to nominate a woman or a minority or a minority woman as Vice President to counter the excitement of having Obama on the Democratic ticket. My response has been that this is too cute by half; it is too much like picking Alan Keyes to move to Illinois and run for Senate against Obama. Also, while Governors Palin and Jindal might well end up being good Republican presidential/vice presidential nominees in the future, they're too young and inexperienced for this cycle. John McCain's most pressing need in a running mate is someone who can obviously move right into the Oval Office -- Dick Cheney, circa 2000, would be the perfect McCain VP.

I now suspect that McCain would love to put a woman on the ticket, as part of his wooing of Hillary supporters. And I'm starting to think that the right minority man would be ok, too. Colin Powell, for example, remains popular with the nation as a whole, and wouldn't be the turn-off for the Republican base that, for example, Joe Lieberman or even Rudy would be. (I know about all the inside-baseball Plame and went soft on Iraq baggage he carries, but no one cares about that stuff but us wonks.) Iraq works well for Powell because he can say going in was the right thing to do, W screwed up the execution, then W took McCain's advice and it worked.

In any event, I'm not actually suggesting Powell (I don't think Powell would do it, for various reasons). I'm simply saying that a woman or minority VP with gravitas and a reputation for competence could work well for McCain.

MSM To The Rescue?

I've been following the daily polling results at Rasmussen and I've noticed something I find kind of interesting. John McCain is doing very well in the daily tracking polls (now tied with Obama, even including leaners) and the war is doing well (both Iraq and the WoT are at all time highs), even as President Bush remains mired at or near is all-time low approval ratings. I find this counter-intuitive, and it suggests that the country has reached a state of cognitive dissonance when thinking about W.

The next thing that occurs to me is that this might be more bad news for Obama. As Hillary showed last night, the Dems plan is to attack W and assume that everyone sees McCain as McSame. But what if the public has somehow formed the notion that McCain is a maverick who has fought his party and can't simply be lumped together with W as "those Republicans?" That he could almost even be a Democratic VP candidate? And if they did get that idea, where did they get it from?

Two Americas

25 August 2008

Does Anyone Think It A Coincidence...

That this woman appears to be Latina?


Yet another comment that I realized, halfway through, wanted to be a blog post. This comment is from Thought-Mesh:

It's a little more complicated than that. There's no new definition, but there are alternative definitions. The "new" definition your friend mentioned is the definition used by the National Bureau of Economic Research which, it's name notwithstanding, is an entirely private, unofficial organization of economists headquartered in Cambridge, Ma. NBER is interested in dating to the month cycles of expanding and diminishing economic activity in the US economy. NBER has not said that we are in a recession; basically, they never do. They wait for revised numbers to come in and date the cycle retrospectively. Most recently, in 2003 they announced that a brief recession that began in March 2001 had ended in November 2001.

According to NBER, "A recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales." Since NBER does not focus solely on GDP, it is possible that it could announce a recession that did not consist of at least two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction. Although it's website is a little unclear, I don't think that it has ever done so. When it announced the beginning of the 2001 recession, reported GDP had fallen in the first three quarters of 2001. After it announced the November 2001 end of that recession, second quarter 2001 GDP was revised upwards so that now the 2001 recession consists of two nonconsecutive quarters of contraction. NBER didn't change its dates.

So, the NBER definition is not new, but neither is it "official." We're all free to choose the definition we like best. The rule-of-thumb or traditional definition (two consecutive quarters of contraction) works pretty well and is actually contemporaneously useful.

As for President Bush's economic performance, I remain skeptical that the President has much to do, one way or another, with the economic cycle. But if he does, and I can see the heuristic value of holding him responsible, then President Bush has done pretty well. Accepting that there was a 2001 recession (which only someone deep in the throws of BDS could blame on a President who took office two months earlier), then we're in the 83rd month of the Bush expansion. The post-war average is 57 months. If we don't recognize the 2001 recession, either because there weren't two consecutive quarters of falling GDP or because it wasn't a significant decline in economic activity spread throughout the economy, and as I said we're not bound by NBER's determination, then we're at 203 months of expansion, by far the longest in American history.

Which brings us to the real answer to your friend: does she really think that all recessions can be avoided, that the economy can grow continuously without respite and that the President can achieve this? As a general proposition, saying of someone that she thinks that the business cycle has been repealed is not a compliment on her keen grasp of economics. All the sins of the federal government that we get excited about -- earmarks, deficits, wasteful spending, etc. -- are pretty small compared to the size of the economy. The amount of difference a President, or the government as a whole, could realistically make doesn't amount to 2-3% of GDP. I believe in tipping points, but I don't believe that a swing that small can avoid all recessions. It's easier to believe that fixing those "problems," if done through bad tax policy, could easily have a worse effect on the economy by dissuading producers from producing.

What really seems to happen is that companies start an expansion lean and hungry. But as the expansion gets older, living is easy and money is cheap. Inventories grow, payrolls grow and perks grow. Eventually, the dead weight gets to be too much and the economy tanks as companies either go under or shed inventory, employees and benefits as fast as they can. When they're back to lean and hungry, the cycle starts over again. Computers and management education seem to have constrained companies from gaining too much fat during the good times, so we're seeing longer expansions and shallower contractions. The President doesn't have much to do with it one way or another.

24 August 2008

Will The Entire Inauguration Parade Be Able To Walk Across The Potomac?

OJ posts this ode to the left's new Messiah:

I really don't know what would be worse for these people, if Obama wins or if he loses convincingly. If He wins, they'll discover that He's just another politician. If He loses, a different balloon will be popped: the worst thing you can say about an American is that they don't understand America. I suppose the best thing for them is also the most likely: a close loss that they can blame on racism or Karl Rove.

22 August 2008

The One With The Most Money Wins

From Wisconsin, a story about a couple with a "secret formula" for winning the lottery:

Has Couple Found Formula To Win Lottery? Husband, Wife Have Each Claimed $350,000 Check This Week (WNBC, 8/22/08)
A double-lottery-winning couple in Dane County doubled their winnings again.

Verlyn and Judith Adamson of Mount Horeb each claimed a $350,000 jackpot this week for having the winning numbers in the state SuperCash drawing last Saturday.

But they didn't mention at the time that they also held two more of the winning tickets....

Verlyn Adamson, an accountant, said earlier in the week that he's a big fan of math puzzles. He claims he developed a formula for lottery picks, but his winnings have been small until now....

But Steven Post, a mathematics professor at Edgewood College in Madison, said there is no way to devise a strategy for finding the winning numbers...
There may be no way to predict the winning numbers, assuming that the numbers are chosen randomly. There are, however, ways to increase your winnings. The Adamsons illustrate one way: buy several tickets with the same number. If the Adamsons had bought one ticket and one other person also bought a winning ticket, they'd get half the pot. If they buy four winning tickets and one other person also bought a winning ticket, they'd get 80% of the pot.

Another return maximizing strategy is to only pick numbers greater than 31. Those numbers are equally (un)likely to win, but since so many people play birthdays, the chance of multiple winners is lower.

Of course, the best way to make money from the lottery is not to play at all.

17 August 2008

People Might Hate George Bush,

but this is a problem for the Democrats:
Q: What's the most significant -- let me ask it this way: what's the most gut wrenching decision you've ever had to make and how did you process that, come to that decision?

Barack Obama: Well, you know, I think the opposition to the war in Iraq was as tough a decision that I’ve had to make not only because there were political consequences but also because Saddam Hussein was a bad person and there was no doubt that he met America ill, but I was firmly convinced at the time that we did not have strong evidence of weapons of mass destruction and there were a lot of questions that as I spoke to experts kept on coming up, do we know how the Shiites and the Sunnis and the Kurds are going to get along in a post Saddam situation, what's our assessment as to how this will affect the battle against terrorist like al-Qaeda, have we finished the job in Afghanistan so I agonized over that and I think questions of war and peace generally are so profound you know when you meet the troops, they are 19, 20, 21-year old kids and you are putting them into harm's way there is a solemn obligation that you do everything you can to get that decision right. And now as the war went forward, very difficult about how long do you keep funding the war if you strongly believe that it's not America’s national interest at the same time you don't want to have troops who are out there without the equipment they need. So that all those questions surrounding the war have been very difficult for me.

John McCain: it was long ago and far away in a prison camp in north Vietnam. My father was a high ranking admiral. The Vietnamese came and said that I could leave prison early. And we had a code of conduct that said you only leave by order of capture. I also had a dear and beloved friend who was from California by the name Ed Alvarez who had been shot down and captured a couple years before me but I wasn't in good physical shape. In fact I was in rather bad physical shape.

So I said no. Now, in it of full disclosure, I’m very happy I didn't know the war was going to last for another three years or so. But I said no and I’ll never forget sitting in my last answer and the high ranking officer who offered it slammed the door and the interrogator said go back to your cell it's going to be very tough on you now. And it was. But not only the toughest decision I ever made but I’m most happy about that decision than any decision I’ve ever made in my life. I did finally say it took a lot of prayer, it took a lot of prayer.

15 August 2008

No, Not Really

I've been very impressed with how the anti-war movement has moved against Russia's invasion of Georgia, giving Russia exactly the same treatment as they gave the US. The marches, the rallies, the overheated Hitler comparisons; all have been brought to bear against Russia's cynical invasion of a tiny neighbor. One can disagree with treating the invasion of a western-leaning democracy as parallel to our invasion of an unfriendly dictatorship, but at least they haven't proven themselves to be total and complete hypocrites.

People Are Fundamentally Rational

There's been some focus recently (for example, this David Brooks article) about the ways in which people are reliably irrational. This focus is largely based on the Nobel Prize (Economics) winning work of two psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. This work has led to the development of behavioral finance, which investigates the various ways that individuals differ from the simple homo economicus of basic economics. (Does that mean that economics is junk? No, but why it doesn't is beyond the scope of this post. The short answer is that rationality is a simplifying assumption of economics, but not a fundamental assumption.)

Kahneman and Tversky's work is interesting and accessible. There are worse ways to spend a few hours than reading some of their articles. My favorite K&T experiment is simplicity itself: in front of a group of people, bring in a large spinning wheel with numbers on it. Spin the wheel and get a number. Then ask the audience to estimate the number of, for example, languages spoken in the world (about 7000, but shrinking). Unless you've got a linguist (or a wise-ass blogger) in the audience, the guesses will vary around the number on the wheel, even though the audience knows that that number was chosen randomly.

But saying that people are predictably irrational is not the same as saying that they are irrational. In particular, there is logic embedded in the stable patterns of interaction between people. This is, in fact, part of the answer of traditional economics to behavioral finance: people are, for example, loss averse and thus, in the right condition, risk preferring, but the market is demonstrably not irrational is that particular way. So, that individuals are irrational does not imply that groups or society in general are irrational. In fact, conservatism is, in large measure, the insight that there is a wisdom embedded in the stable interactions of large groups of people that is more reliable than perhaps irrational decisions made by individuals: the system knows more than any single component.

What got me thinking about all this? The miserable blog interface used by the Maui News, which came up, tangentially, at Thought-Mesh. Blogging is less than 10 years old, but already there are embedded expectations and ways of doing things. The standard blog package might seem path-dependent and inefficient, but you deviate from the accepted standard at your peril. People might be irrational, but that doesn't mean that you can simply ignore the way things are done. In fact, it might mean the opposite.

I'm No Feminist...

But isn't nominating Hillary Clinton in Denver, "to honor [her] historic campaign for president" just about the most patronizing thing they could do?

13 August 2008

Get Your Prognostication Here

I realized after I wrote this morning's post that I'm ready to make my official prediction: McCain Wins.

P.S.: Immediately after posting this, I clicked over to Tom Maguire's site and found an ad: "Obama. Finished? Vote here now." This is, of course, terrible news for my prediction.

A Freudian Ball Gown?

Instapundit quotes Newsweek (actually, a Newsweek blog) as follows:
But are there enough rank-and-file Republicans whispering their support at Obama rallies to actually make a difference on Election Day? As I discovered from examination the last 18 months of head-to-head general election polls, the answer seems to be "no." In fact, John McCain's share of the Democratic vote has typically--and surprisingly--been larger than Obama's share of the Republican vote. In other words, it's not that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright scared the Obamacan masses off, as some pundits have theorized--it's that they never existed (in any unprecedented way) to begin with. (Emphasis added)
Think about how far up inside the msm/Democrat cocoon you'd have to be to be surprised that John McCain has cross-over appeal. John McCain's claim to fame is that he doesn't toe the party line and that he works with even the most liberal Democrats; the man's nickname is Maverick, for crying out loud. There was a time when Newsweek knew this.

All this reminds me of 2004. The Democratic Party knew that the Presidency was theirs for the taking. After all, no one who voted for Al Gore would vote for George Bush, that election-stealing, war-mongering idiot. (They literally believed that not one person would switch from Gore to Bush; they said so incessantly.) All they had to do to seal the deal was attract a few Republicans who, they knew from their personal conversations with their friends, were just as disgusted with Bush as they were. Their strategy, then, was to nominate John Kerry, who was a veteran. Republicans love veterans; even Republicans hate Bush; John Kerry strolls to the Presidency in a land-slide. To this day, they believe that the only reason that didn't work was scurrilous lies about Kerry's war record from those unscrupulous Republicans. Thus, the logic for 2008 seems to be: Bush is a Republican; McCain is a Republican; even Republicans hate Bush; Republicans will therefore hate McCain; Obama is charismatic; Republicans love charisma; Obama strolls to the presidency in a landslide. And Obama has no record to be scurrilous about.

During the Cold War, conservatives would discuss whether the Soviets were lying about the United States, or if they actually believed the nonsense they were spouting. The answer was a little of both, but it didn't really matter. When the contradictions between reality (the US was burying the USSR) and the myth (the USSR would bury the US) became too wide to ignore, it didn't matter whether the Soviets knew that their myths were all lies. The msm and the Democratic Party, so far, are showing an impressive ability to ignore reality when it contradicts their cherished myths.

06 August 2008

Now It All Makes Sense

Don't you love that moment when one last piece of information drops into place and now you understand something that had been bugging you? I never quite understood why, early in the campaign, Michelle Obama was sent out to tell wifely stories seemingly undercutting her husband: he's stinky, he snores, he doesn't pick up after himself, etc. Apparently, the campaign does know its man. If your self-important, overly sensitive, humorless candidate can't be sent out to be self-deprecating -- an important trait for American presidential candidates -- you just have to suck it up and send out his wife to do it for him.

05 August 2008

But We Do Know That The High Temperature On 8/5/2108 Will Be 105

More than 100,000 rare gorillas found in Congo(CNN, 8/5/08)
An estimated 125,000 Western lowland gorillas are living in a swamp in equatorial Africa, researchers reported Tuesday, double the number of the endangered primates thought to survive worldwide.

"It's pretty astonishing," Hugo Rainey, one of the researchers who conducted the survey for the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society, told CNN Tuesday.

The last census on the species, carried out during the 1980s, estimated that there were only 100,000 of the gorillas left worldwide. Since then, the researchers estimated, the numbers had been cut in half.

03 August 2008

The Pieces Fall Into Place

Long time readers of the blog know of my plan to streamline passenger plane loading and unloading. My idea is to mount the seats on a sled, have the passengers seat themselves at their leisure at the gate, and then have the sled rolled onto the plane in one piece. We've come that much closer to the plan with the development of the Boeing DreamLifter cargo aircraft. The tail swings open so that large items (such as sleds full of passengers) can be rolled right on. The next question is, do people want convenience and efficiency, or windows.

Running It Up The Flag Pole

New ideas come from miscommunications.

01 August 2008

I Approve This Message

The conventional wisdom of political advertising is that you don't even mention your opponent's name in your ads, referring instead to, er, "my opponent." The McCain campaign -- running against an opponent whose most valuable asset is his charisma -- not only mentions his name, they quote him and show his campaign events. This is a high risk/high reward strategy that I think can work. I suspect that Obama has a thin skin, isn't used to be made to look ridiculous and won't like it very much. Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Obama.

Public Service Announcement

To Our Foreign Guests:

I am reminded to make this timely announcement:
This blog, other blogs you read and the mainstream media might give you a skewed impression of how much time the average American spends thinking about the election and how much he or she cares; that is, any or at all.

Same World, Different Reality

Much to my astonishment, it turns out that there are Americans who think it is good for a Presidential candidate to be popular in Germany but bad to annoy Hollywood. Obama didn't have a bad week in the polls despite lavish coverage of 200,000 Germans chanting his name. He had a bad week because of it.

31 July 2008

Odd That We Think The Victims Are The Ones Who Put No Money Down

I put this comment up at Thought-Mesh, but thought that it was worth cross-posting here:
One of the interesting things about the subprime mortgage mess is that, in part due to underestimating the risk and in part due to federal subsidies, banks went on a lending spree giving mortgages to a bunch of people who couldn’t otherwise have bought a house. Now that some people can’t afford the houses they wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to buy, it’s a terrible tragedy. But unless we think that before the spree, lenders found every last person who would pay off their mortgage, there are clearly people today who own homes who otherwise wouldn’t. The banks, on the other hand, are staring into the abyss.

It’s an odd sort of capitalist scandal that allows the poor to buy houses and punishes the bankers.

17 July 2008

15 July 2008

One Man's Looter Is Another Man's Oriental Institute

Synchronicity strikes as OJ points us to this WSJ article on Iraq's non-looted archeological sites the same day as we saw this exhibit at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute bemoaning the catastrophic looting of "Mesopotamian Archaeological Sites." The exhibit is tied to a book on the catastrophe that, perfectly, includes a forward by Robert Fisk.

The Oriental Institute, which boasts of its "major collection of antiquities from ancient Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Sudan, Syria, and Turkey" wants to be sure we know that looting is awful because, um, because ... when archeologists dig up rare antiquities and cart them off to Chicago, they take careful notes about where they found them.

The Worst Economy Ever (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

Not only are they selling Apples on street corners, but people are lining up around the block to buy them.

14 July 2008

Where I Am This Week

It's a beautiful day on Michigan Avenue.

12 July 2008


Two Canadian children have been taken from their home by social services because of their mother's political beliefs. After the mother twice sent her 7 year old daughter to school with a swastika drawn on her arm, the school called social services. At the home, social workers found neo-Nazi flags and symbols. My favorite passage from the story is this:
Although she proudly wears a silver necklace that includes a swastika and has "white pride" flags in her home, the mother, who can't be named to avoid identifying her children, denies she's a neo-Nazi or white supremacist.

"A black person has a right to say black power or black pride and yet they're turning around on us and saying we're racists and bigots and neo-Nazis because we say white pride. It's hypocrisy at its finest."
I suspect that they're calling her a neo-Nazi because of all the swastikas, but I could be wrong.

A couple of thoughts:

First, is there anything stupider than white pride?

Second, as with anything that happens in Canada, the Canadians seem most interested in showing how this proves that they are better than Americans. This quote from commenter westwitch is nicely representative:
For those of you who believe that we have American style Free Speech, think again.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 1 is the Limitations clause, which allows for us to put some boundaries on all other rights, when they may cause harm to others. For instance, we can not yell FIRE in a crowded auditorium, when there is no such threat.

This is one of the sections which makes our Charter so great.
Of course, we can't yell FIRE in a crowded theater either, unless we're showing our support for individual rights in education.

Third, this is not an easy question for Canadians but, as westwitch suggests, it is easy for Americans: an American government would not be able to do this (though it might try).

Fourth, Canadian neo-Nazis? Really?

27 June 2008

25 June 2008

Now This Is Comedy Gold

A focus group of 12 white people who didn't vote for Obama in the Democratic primary, and the resulting comments.

21 June 2008


Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.

Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough-
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

-- Author Unknown

08 June 2008

Irony Of The Day

From a description of how David Sedaris works to make his prose lean and elegant:
For Sedaris that process involves at least seven drafts and a great deal of reading aloud new pieces while on tour, listening to the cadences of the sentences and noting how the audience responds: when people laugh, when they lose interest. "You realize you're repeating yourself or being lazy," he said.
This is the kind of English up with which I will not put.

01 June 2008

Heresy In Narnia*

A pop quiz: What do Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy have in common with Osama bin Laden?

* As presented in the movie, not the books

30 May 2008

This Is What All The Fuss Is About?

Apparently, an economist has estimated the environmental cost of global warming (assuming the globe does warm) at $23 trillion in 2005 dollars through 2100. I haven't read the book and can't vouch for his methodology, but it's hard to believe that all this hype has been built up over something so trivial.

This years global "GDP" is estimated to be approximately $77 trillion, so the damage from global warming over the course of the 21st century isn't even a third of one years GDP. If we assume a very conservative 1% average real growth in the world economy this century, world GDP in today's dollars in 2100 will be just shy of $200 trillion and total GDP over the next 92 years will be $11.7 quadrillion. So, what in the world is all the fuss about?

06 May 2008

The Reality Based Community

The Google search "Bush withdraw Kyoto" finds 407000 hits, only a small number of which make the point that, in fact, the Bush Administration has not withdrawn from the Kyoto accord and that the Bush Administration's approach to Kyoto is exactly the same as the Clinton Administration's approach. (Here is the official site of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change showing the US as a signatory party.)

This is, of course, entirely separate from (1) whether global warming is a problem and (2) the US has performed far better than almost all the other signatories in limiting its increase of greenhouse gas emissions and, in 2006, actually decreased its emissions, something that no other party, other than arguably Great Britain, has managed in a non-recessionary year.

21 April 2008

But He's Hopeful That He Can Talk Them Out Of It.

Carter Says Hamas May Accept Right of Israel to Exist (Alisa Odenheimer, Bloomberg, 4/21/08)
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who helped broker peace between Egypt and Israel in 1978, said that Israel's enemy Hamas may accept, under certain circumstances, the Jewish state's right to exist.

Hamas leaders told Carter that the group would accept a peace agreement negotiated by the leader of the rival Fatah group, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, on condition that the agreement is submitted to the Palestinian people for approval, the former president said in a speech in Jerusalem.

"Hamas leaders said they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 border and the right of Israel to live as a neighbor, provided the agreement was submitted to the Palestinian people for overall approval," Carter said.
The odd thing about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is that everyone knows what the peace would look like, it's just that no one wants it. Because of that, the standard negotiator's tactic of getting people to dicker over the small questions until they get so emotionally invested in the process that they compromise the big questions, won't work.

19 March 2008

Tony Who?

Not to keep harping on this, but ... I've seen zero blowback on Senator Obama's admission of his closer ties with Rezko while everyone has been distracted by Rev. Wright. I didn't watch his speech yesterday, but people seem to accept his explanation that, I gather, its ok for blacks to hate America. (His message might have lost something in translation.)

Now, its a terrible mistake for supporters and opponents to assume that "everything happens for a reason" and there is some [malign] genius behind everything that happens in politics (the way that both Republicans and Democrats assuming that Karl Rove is behind everything bad that happens to the Dems and everything good that happens to the Reps). But I note that Senator Obama chose to let two different stories slip out on the same day, one of which has overshadowed the other. The one that has gotten all the attention is one that is good to get out of the way now and one that he had an answer for. If anyone has the bad taste to bring up the other story now, well that's old news and this campaign is about moving America forward.

15 March 2008

The Wright Stuff

Everyone (and by "everyone" I mean those strange bedfellows, Hillary Clinton and the conservative commentariat) seems to think that the various extreme claims made by Senator Obama's pastor, the Rev. Wright, hurt Obama. I'm not sure I see that. The fight right now, and probably in the general election, is for the moderate middle. If I'm right that the entire justification for the Obama candidacy is racial reconciliation ("A black president will help heal our racial divide, and I'm the only candidate who can deliver that promise"), doesn't Rev. Wright's extremism help Obama with the moderate middle?

When moderates contemplate reconciling radical and alienated blacks with the majority culture, what they want is for blacks to come to the middle -- for Rev. Wright to become (in tone and temperament) more like Senator Obama. They certainly don't contemplate changing themselves. In other words, for moderates Wright's extremism makes the work President Obama would do, just by being president, that much more urgent.

I understand that mine is a minority view, but it might be shared by the Obama campaign. OJ comes close to the truth by (almost) noting that the campaign is using the Wright kerfluffle as cover for what could be truly damaging admissions about his relationship with Tony Rezko.

07 March 2008

Will His Walking On Water Make It Hard To Bathe?

Will Obama's Vow to Fight Clean Hurt Him? Barack Obama's Promise to Take the High Road Could Leave Him With One Hand Tied Behind His Back (Marcus Baram, ABC News, 3/7/08)
"For him, the trick is going to be to find a way to make a contrast [between Obama and Clinton] in a way that is grounded in hope," says Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.
It's going to be such a pity when this contest is over.

Now, That's Speaking Truth To The (Temporarily) Powerful

Obama Camp Rejects Adviser's Comments (Nedra Pickler, 3/8/08, AP)
A former adviser to Barack Obama, who resigned Friday after calling rival Hillary Rodham Clinton "a monster," said Obama may not be able to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within a year as he has promised on the campaign trail.

Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winner author, made the comments in two separate interviews with foreign media while promoting her latest book. The comment that led to her resignation came in an interview with The Scotsman, and she immediately tried to keep it from appearing in print.

"She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything," The Scotsman quoted her as saying. A few hours after the comments were published, Power, an unpaid adviser and Harvard professor, announced her resignation in a statement distributed by the Obama campaign.
This almost got a "can't anyone play this game?" headline. Everyone knows that he's lying to his base. That's what candidates do in the primaries. Then, in the general, they tell completely different lies to the American people as a whole.

05 March 2008

And All We Got You Was This Moderate War Hero

We really owe thanks to the Democrats for giving us such an entertaining primary season. It's been great fun to watch them try all the same tricks on each other that they usually try on the Republicans, and to watch their shock -- shock I tell you -- that it's not just the evil Republicans that try to win. What I'm looking forward to now is what anti-democratic back-room deal the party will use to select -- not elect -- its nominee.

04 March 2008

I'd Call Them Larry, Moe and Curly, But They Wouldn't Get The Reference

The occasion of Bill Buckley's death, about which I have nothing useful to add, has brought to the fore again the weird trio of English immigrant anti-immigrationists who found their way to the National Review.

John O'Sullivan, John Derbyshire and Peter Brimelow (who can't apparently let go of the English habit of vicious obituarying) show us, once again, that the last one into the life-boat always wants to be the last one into the life-boat. Odd that National Review collected the entire set.

23 February 2008

Darkens? Is That Supposed To Be Funny?

Today's New York Times report from the Clinton campaign is entitled Soldiering On, but Somber as the Horizon Darkens.

19 February 2008

Sunstein Goes From Chicago To Harvard...

... both schools get more conservative.

13 February 2008

More Obama

I wish I had time to write more, but I don't. So, telegraphically, I think that people who dismiss Senator Obama as an empty suit without message, who can be easily beaten by an opponent willing to define him, are missing two things:

1. It appears that he's beaten the Clinton machine, or at least come closer than the Republicans ever managed.

2. "There ought to be a black president" is a perfectly valid campaign platform. It's even, in contradistinction to many good platforms, true. There ought to be a black president. Lots of good things could come of that, including things that conservatives would recognized as unalloyed good. It might, for example, be a little harder to argue that ours is an inherently racist society. I'm not willing to give up other policy preferences that Obama would trash (strong defense, a rational economic policy, lower taxes, etc.) to get a black president, but other people have different policy preferences and weight them differently. That is, after all, why we have to have elections in the first place. To deny that this is a real policy position on which Senator Obama can't be beaten is to close our eyes to reality.

09 February 2008

Congratulations Sweetheart

Today was my daughter's bat mitzvah. She did an excellent job. That is not only my entirely objective opinion, but the expressed opinion of everyone there and they are a very reliable group.

I mention this not to boast about my very talented daughter, but to pass along her request that, when you next consider making a charitable contribution, you consider SOS Children's Villages, which provides a home and education to street children around the world.

06 February 2008

Even When They Know The Words, They Don't Hear The Music

The AP, reporting on Super Tuesday, says:
Preliminary exit polls of voters in primary states showed Obama encroaching on Clinton's traditional support.
That would be the "traditions" of ... last month.

03 February 2008

If You Think Obama Will Be Easy To Beat

Watch this:

Afterwards, you might not want to see him lose.

27 January 2008

While We're On The Subject

I highly recommend the Fiscal Year 2006 Financial Report of the United States Government, released last month, which has a lot of good information on federal government finances.

26 January 2008

A Budgetary Experiment

We've been discussing government spending over at the Daily Duck and so I thought I'd grab some data from the NIPA accounts over at the Bureau of Economic Analysis and then calculate and graph government expenditures and receipts, federal expenditures and receipts and national defense expenditures as percentages of GDP. The data starts in 1929, but because of limitations and changes in the data, this chart starts in 1960.

Because I wanted to play around with Excel a little bit, I've posted the original chart and data on the web. Feel free to play around with it. (This will likely only work if you have Excel and IE, and maybe not even then.)

Ask and ye shall receive. This gives us some historical perspective, but I don't know that this is a particularly useful statistic. Comparing national debt to GDP is something like comparing the total amount of your mortgage to your annual income. For that reason, I threw in interest paid as a percent of GDP.

I've also added OECD data for governmental debt as a percentage of GDP.

23 January 2008

Send Your Complaints To Toni Morrison

In the comments below, Skipper asks why Bill Clinton is called our first black president. The answer is, unfortunately, because of his disfunctions. The phrase comes from a Toni Morrison piece in the New Yorker:
African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and--who knows?--maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us."

22 January 2008

Other Stuff?

Hillary and Barack at the debate, from the AP:
Obama even allowed that former President Clinton had earned his enormous affinity in the black community when he was asked if Clinton deserved his title as the "first black president."

"I have to say that, I would have to investigate more of Bill's dancing abilities and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother," Obama said.

"Well, I'm sure that can be arranged," Clinton responded.
It's not worth, at this late date, complaining about the double standard. But what "other stuff" would Senator Obama have to investigate? And how would Hillary arrange it?

19 January 2008

Why We're Going To Miss W

The most difficult trait for a leader is to be reliably right ex post. Any idiot can be right ex ante. After all, all the relevant data is at least knowable. That so many are so wrong ex ante just demonstrates what fundamentally stupid and irrational creatures we really are.

But being right ex post is genuinely hard. The most important facts -- what's going to happen between the decision and the result -- can't be known. From the point of view of the future, every decision is a gamble and in this game not even the true odds are known.

It is, therefore, remarkable that President Bush is right as often as he is. I'm thinking here, in particular, of his decision on funding research into embryonic stem cells. Given what we've discovered since, his decision that the federal government would fund primarily research into adult stem cells turned out to be the right decision scientifically. The world doesn't usually work like that: morality doesn't necessarily translate into doing what best from a purely utilitarian view point. Not torturing terrorists is the right decision, but pretending that there's no cost in the form of dead Americans because "torture doesn't work" is simply ignoring the cost of our decision.

A president who makes decisions that turn out for the best in the long run is invaluable. It might also be unknowable until the person actually becomes president. There was, for example, no way to know that Jimmy Carter would be the anti-W, a president who's every important decision turned out to be wrong. This does show, though, that democracy has no special talent for being right ex post.

10 January 2008

If It Were True

First, such words can do direct injury to viewers. Words are animate things, with lives and desires of their own, and unproven statements such as CNN's "best political team on television" corrode the ear canal and eat away at the brain pan.
These words would have risen up off the page and beat him silly.

At the bottom of the page, the author, in "Related in Slate," uses "essays" as a verb and gets it wrong.

09 January 2008

Assume A Can Opener

Let's assume that computer programs can reach a level of consciousness indistinguishable from human consciousness.

Then, clearly, computers could run multiple consciousnesses.

Those consciousnesses would receive all of their "sensory" inputs from their programming.

The number of consciousnesses that could be run at any one time would be purely a function of computing power.

Any civilization that could do this would do this.

Any civilization that could do this would be able to run social science experiments, in which the computer consciousnesses would be subject to various beginning states, requiring multiple massive multi-consciousness programs.

Necessarily, the software consciousnesses in such an experiment would not know that they are software.

With each instance of a massive multi-consciousness program, the ex ante likelihood that any given consciousness is "real" rather than software decreases arithmetically.

Only More Explicit

Women Are Never Front-Runners (Gloria Steinem, New York Times, 1/8/08)
The woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.

Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?

If you answered no to either question, you’re not alone. Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.
The purpose of the women's movement has always been to protect white privilege from blacks.

08 January 2008

What Goes Around Comes Around

This is an interesting video of Bill Clinton blaming the media for covering up for Obama. But the important question is, When did Bill come to look like Ted Kennedy?