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August 2008

Joe Lieberman Has Lost It

Here is Joe Lieberman from two years ago:

As far as I'm concerned [Barack Obama] is a 'Baruch,' which means a blessing. He is a blessing to the United States Senate, to America, and to our shared hopes for better, safer tomorrows for all our families. The gifts that God has given to Barack Obama are as enormous as his future is unlimited. As his mentor, as his colleague, as his friend, I look forward to helping him reach to the stars and realize not just the dreams he has for himself, but the dreams we all have for him and our blessed country.

Joe proclaims that Obama will make America safer and said he would help Obama realize all the dreams for our country. Will he say this with pride during the GOP convention? Let's see if the media brings this up when they cover his speech.

Learning to Be Moral

Adam Smith:

The theory of moral sentiments: Let us suppose that the great empire of China... was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake.... [How would] a man of humanity in Europe... be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity[?]

He would... express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune... make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life... the vanity of all the labours of man....

And when all this fine philosophy was over... he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened.

The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it.

But what makes this difference? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct. It is he who, whenever we are about to act so as to affect the happiness of others, calls to us, with a voice capable of astonishing the most presumptuous of our passions, that we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it; and that when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration. It is from him only that we learn the real littleness of ourselves, and of whatever relates to ourselves, and the natural misrepresentations of self-love can be corrected only by the eye of this impartial spectator. It is he who shows us the propriety of generosity and the deformity of injustice; the propriety of resigning the greatest interests of our own, for the yet greater interests of others, and the deformity of doing the smallest injury to another, in order to obtain the greatest benefit to ourselves. It is not the love of our neighbour, it is not the love of mankind, which upon many occasions prompts us to the practice of those divine virtues. It is a stronger love, a more powerful affection, which generally takes place upon such occasions; the love of what is honourable and noble, of the grandeur, and dignity, and superiority of our own characters.

When the happiness or misery of others depends in any respect upon our conduct, we dare not, as self-love might suggest to us, prefer the interest of one to that of many. The man within immediately calls to us, that we value ourselves too much and other people too little, and that, by doing so, we render ourselves the proper object of the contempt and indignation of our brethren. Neither is this sentiment confined to men of extraordinary magnanimity and virtue. It is deeply impressed upon every tolerably good soldier, who feels that he would become the scorn of his companions, if he could be supposed capable of shrinking from danger, or of hesitating, either to expose or to throw away his life, when the good of the service required it...

The Word from Alaska on Sarah Palin

Two things seem salient (i) she fired the state's public safety head for being unwilling to help her in her family's vendetta against her ex-brother-in-law, and (ii) she introduced herself to America by saying that she was against the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere."

We've talked about the first. Now it looks as though the second was a flat-out lie.

From the Alaskan Mudflats:

Mudflats: Perhaps the brain was still a little fuzzy from the shock.... Whatever the reason, it took more than 24 hours for Palin’s first big untruth to register with me. Today, while I watched her hop out of the “Straight Talk Express” bus, and give the second reading of her acceptance speech, one of my fellow viewers said, “You know, I don’t remember her opposing the Bridge.”  And it hit me.  I don’t remember that either.  A quick double-check with the third member of our watch party confirmed our confusion.  We all live here.  We all watch the news, read the paper, and pay attention to the local political circus, but none of us connected Sarah with her claims of rebuffing the controversial earmark.  If you weren’t watching, here’s the quote from her speech:

I championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress — I told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ on that Bridge to Nowhere. ‘If our state wanted a bridge’, I said, ‘we’d build it ourselves’.

Reeeeally. Check out these entries from the Ketchikan Daily News:

'People across the nation struggle with the idea of building a bridge because they’ve been under these misperceptions about the bridge and the purpose,’ said Palin, who described the link as the Ketchikan area’s potential for expansion and growth. Palin said Alaska’s congressional delegation worked hard to obtain funding for the bridge and that she ‘would not stand in the way of the progress toward that bridge’. 8-8-06

‘We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that’s so negative,’ Palin said.” Ketchikan Daily News 9-28-06

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (currently under indictment) and Representative Don Young (currently under investigation) were the bridge’s two biggest proponents.  But they were unable to convince Congress to fund the infamous bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island at the levels it had hoped.  Now, instead of Alaska paying $160 million, the cost to Alaska skyrocketed to $349 million. After federal funding had been slashed, Palin was asked if she was still in support of funding the project.  She said: Yes. I would like to see Alaska’s infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now–while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist. Well that assistance never materialized, and Alaska’s congressional powerhouse is tumbling like a house of cards. 

Senior Senator Ted Stevens is under indictment on seven felony counts.  Representative Don Young is under investigation and has spent more than a million dollars of his campaign fund on legal fees…and he hasn’t even been indicted yet.  And although Stevens just won his primary bid handily, Young is hanging on by his fingernails while a recount is performed to determine the winner of his contest.  His challenger?  Sean Parnell, Palin’s Lt. Governor and also the head of the Division of Elections that is in charge of recounting the votes for his own race.  You can’t make this stuff up.  The third member of the delegation, Lisa Murkowski, was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat by her own father, Senator Frank Murkowski who left the senate to become the governor that Sarah Palin defeated in the 2006 primary.  (Are you keeping up with me?)  I could keep going, but those are the highlights.

So, if Congress had gone along and coughed up what Stevens and Young had asked for, guess what….that bridge to nowhere would have become a reality during the Palin administration.  She supported the bridge every step of the way... until the funding was cut.  So we decided to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.  If we want a bridge we’ll build it ourselves?!”   Is that like the failed earmark version of “You can’t fire me....I quit!”

The fact that “Thanks, but no thanks” was the money line for her debut as Vice Presidential candidate, and yet is a total fabrication, makes the mind reel.  Is there no fact checker on McCain’s staff?

Today, Palin called in to a local radio program, and bubbled, “This is so amazeen!”  Then she said that her children and she had only learned of her selection the day before the announcement was made.  I think of the extensive vetting process that the Democratic VP candidates went through.  Evan Bayh said that he was grilled extensively about skeletons in the closet, and even whether any of his kids had a Facebook or MySpace page that might come back to haunt him.

Apparently the Republicans don’t worry about such things.  With all the potential scandals and skeletons about to emerge from the Palin closet, (troopergate, babygate, bridgegate) we in Alaska are sitting here listening to the clock tick and wondering when it will all hit the fan...

Battered and Abused Republicans Watch

Four years ago the chatter among Republicans was that George W. Bush was unqualified to be head of government, but that he knew that, and understood his role, and would let the professionals run the government while he did what he knew he could do well: be head of state--look at the excellent job he had done as frontman and greeter for the Texas Rangers, after he found his feet and found a job he could do.

Today the chatter among Republicans is somewhat different:

  • Yes, John McCain's choice of Palin would be criminally negligent if there were actually a chance that she would become president in the next four years--but there is a plan in place by which she would be replaced with someone with foreign policy experience should anything happen to McCain in his first term.
  • Maybe after four years of intensive education she will know enough about foreign affairs to make her a credible possibility for president.
  • McCain is not so incompetent and careless as to have chosen Palin if there actually were something seriously away in her firing of Alaska Public Safety head Moneghan. Moneghan must have done something really bad--not just refused to help Palin take revenge on her ex-brother-in-law. So it's a trap: when the real reason Palin fired Moneghan comes out the Democrats will be sorry.

These seem to me to be... fantasy scenarios. They indicate that the best thing for all concerned is simply to shut the Republican Party down today.

Josh Micah Marshall on Palin and Troopergate

Why John McCain's selection of her tells us that he should not be president:

Talking Points Memo | Getting Real About Palin: The Palin family had a feud with Wooten prior to her becoming governor. They put together a list of 14 accusations which they took to the state police to investigate -- a list that ranged from the quite serious to the truly absurd. The state police did an investigation, decided that 5 of the charges had some merit and suspended Wooten for ten days -- a suspension later reduced to five days. The Palin's weren't satisfied but there wasn't much they could do.

When Palin became governor they went for another bite at the apple. Palin, her husband and several members of her staff began pressuring Public Safety Commissioner, Walt Monegan -- a respected former Chief of the Anchorage police department -- to can Wooten. Monegan resisted, arguing that the official process regarding Wooten was closed.... Eventually, Palin got fed up and fired Monegan.... [Palin's] central bad act was firing the state's top police official because he refused to bend to political pressure from the governor and her family to fire a public employee against whom the governor was pursuing a vendetta -- whether the vendetta was justified or not.

Soon after this, questions were raised in the state about Monegan's firing and he eventually came forward and said he believed he'd been fired for not giving in to pressure to fire Wooten.

After Monegan made his accusations, Palin insisted there was no truth whatsoever to his claims. Nonetheless, a bipartisan committee of the state legislature approved an investigation. In response, Palin asked the Attorney General to start his own investigation which many in the state interpreted as an effort to either keep tabs on or tamper with the legislature's investigation. Again, very questionable judgment in someone who aspires to be first in line to the presidency.

The Attorney General's investigation quickly turned up evidence that Palin's initial denials were false. Multiple members of her staff had raised Wooten's employment with Monegan. Indeed, the state police had a recording of one of her deputies pushing Monegan to fire Wooten. That evidence forced Palin to change her story. Palin said that this was the first she'd heard of it and insisted the deputy wasn't acting at her behest, even though the trascript of the recorded call clearly suggested that he was.

Just yesterday, Monegan gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he said that not only Palin's aides, but Palin's husband and Palin herself had repeatedly raised the Wooten issue with him and pressured him to fire him. And now he says he has emails that Palin sent him about the matter. (In an interesting sidelight, that may end up telling us a lot, Monegan says no one from the McCain campaign ever contacted him in the vetting process.)

The investigator appointed by the state legislature began trying to arrange a time to depose Gov. Palin last week -- in other words, in the final days before her selection.

So let's put this all together.

We rely on elected officials not to use the power of their office to pursue personal agendas or vendettas. It's called an abuse of power. There is ample evidence that Palin used her power as governor to get her ex-brother-in-law fired. When his boss refused to fire him, she fired his boss. She first denied Monegan's claims of pressure to fire Wooten and then had to amend her story when evidence proved otherwise. The available evidence now suggests that she 1) tried to have an ex-relative fired from his job for personal reasons, something that was clearly inappropriate, and perhaps illegal, though possibly understandable in human terms, 2) fired a state official for not himself acting inappropriately by firing the relative, 3) lied to the public about what happened and 4) continues to lie about what happened.

These are, to put it mildly, not the traits or temperament you want in someone who could hold the executive power of the federal government.

Todd Gitlin: McCain too Erratic to Be President

Todd Gitlin puts it well:

TPMCafe | Talking Points Memo | Not Maverick but Erratic: McCain's choice of Sarah Palin is... his standard modus operandi. He's impulsive, erratic. Put him in a jam, he leaps from petulance to exuberant nose-thumbing. He may be old, but he's unseasoned--he's childish. He jumps outside the box and takes pleasure in his insouciance. Faced with a foreign policy problem, he thinks: Bomb.... Faced with Russia-Georgia-Ossetia, he thinks: Let's get the Cold War on. Bomb and drill, drill and bomb--this is not a steady hand at the wheel; this is a go-for-broke gambler playing the game as he loves to play it....

Obama was absolutely right to question his "temperament and judgment" in Denver. I noticed a special roar from the crowd at "temperament." Democratic partisans know what he's talking about. The problem is that much of the rest of the country doesn't.... Hilzoy put it well:

I was also struck by McCain's willingness to gamble not just with our country, but with his own campaign. He has chosen as his running mate someone he has barely met; who has no experience dealing with the kind of scrutiny she is about to face; who has, by all accounts, not been fully vetted; and who is in the midst of a scandal. That is a shockingly reckless thing to do. Obviously, I think it's worse to gamble with the country, but taking this kind of crazy flyer on someone you don't know nearly enough about is recklessness of a different kind, and worth noting in its own right.

links for 2008-08-31

Political Madness: A History Lesson

The Warming Pan [email protected]:

The Warming Pan Baby: James [II Stuart] was disliked for a variety of reasons, the most notable is that he was Catholic.... English people were devoutly of the English Church, which itself was a form of Protestantism.... James II openly broke active laws like Test Act and appointed Catholics to positions in the military, the Universities of Caimbridge and Oxford, and government positions too. Not to mention the 7 Bishops case.... James II had two daughters from his first wife, both of whom were Protestant. However, James II... remarried... a Catholic princess.... On June 10, 1688, James's new wife, Mary of Modena gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stuart.

This did not bode well for the followers of the Church of England.... [I]t now looked like a Catholic dynasty was emerging.... What did ensue was perhaps the most scathing and vicious lie ever devised by the slanderous mouth of mankind. The rumor was that the baby, little Jimmy Frankie Eddie Stu, was not James II's, nor his wife's. It stated that the baby, while it was a boy, died in childbirth and that James II had "acquired" a substitute child.... During the middle ages... aristocrats often had the kitchen in a different building.... The food, after it was cooked, was placed into... warming pans... sent up to the dining hall. The baby was said to have been smuggled into the castle under one of the many warming pans brought to the King for dinner.

This was a lie, a rumor. Completely 100% not true. !True. False, etc...

Yet a remarkable number of somewhat-normal people believed it, at thetime.

Oh S---

Meghan Adhar:

Twitter:: Mayor Ray Nagin orders New Orleans evacuated - Gustav is "mother of all storms"...

Think Progress:

Think Progress » Gustav growing into ‘monster Category 5 storm.’: Hurricane Gustav is growing into “a monster Category 5 storm” as it heads towards the Gulf Coast. The storm is moving into the Loop Current, a deep bed of hot water in the Gulf of Mexico that is helping to intensify the storm. In May, climatologists reported that the Gulf has been experiencing warmer waters than usual:

Off St. Petersburg, water temperatures have been 2 to 4 degrees above the 80-degree average for this time of year. In Fort Myers, temperatures have been similar. If that warm water continues to deepen and spread, it could be disastrous if a hurricane enters the gulf. … The gulf, with its loop current of deep, warm-water pools, is a hurricane minefield. If the water heats up enough, it can send storms spinning headlong into the coast.

ABC News writes, “Many scientists predict over the next decade we’ll see stronger hurricanes — Category 4 and 5 hurricanes even more violent than Katrina. The cause, some argue, is rising sea surface temperatures caused by global warming”...

Hoo Boy. I Feel Like We Are All Living in a Coen Brothers Movie

From Alan Suderman of the Juneau Empire:

Agency leader changed ruling in trooper case - Juneau Empire: A former top official of the Alaska State Troopers reversed a finding in a 2005 investigation of the conduct of trooper Mike Wooten, the former brother-in-law of Gov. Sarah Palin, a step that's unprecedented, according to the head of the trooper's union. John Cyr, executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association, said former Alaska State Trooper Col. Julia Grimes punished Wooten, who has a rocky relationship with the Palin family, for drinking beer before and while operating a marked patrol car even though there was no "just cause" to do so. An earlier internal investigation done in 2005 by Sgt. Ronald Wall, who is now a lieutenant, found that those claims were unsubstantiated.

Cyr said it was the first and only time he'd seen the findings of an internal investigation in a trooper's conduct revised by a top agency official. "It's totally outside the expected norm," Cyr said. Cyr said when he asked Grimes why she had reversed the agency's own findings, she said: "Are you going to call Sarah Palin a liar?"

Wooten has become a key figure in a political imbroglio for Palin that began when she fired former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan on July 11. Monegan said he was pressured by members of Palin's family and administration to fire Wooten after Palin took office. Palin has denied those claims and said Monegan's dismissal was the result of her seeking a new direction for the department.... Palin was questioned twice by Wall regarding Wooten. She also wrote a letter to Grimes accusing Wooten of a multitude of sins, including driving a patrol car with a beer in his hand. In her letter, Palin said Adrian and Marilyn Lane, who are friends of Palin's family and who lived in the same subdivision as Wooten, had seen him drink a beer at their house and then drive off in a patrol car "waving with beer in hand." In their interview with the investigator, Wall, the Lanes said they had seen Wooten come by their house and drink a beer before driving his patrol car during the summer of 2004.

Marilyn Lane said she had seen Wooten drive off in his patrol car with another beer in hand. Wooten denied the Lanes' allegations, and Wall's investigation ruled that the claims made by the Lanes were unsubstantiated. In an internal memo, Grimes wrote she "could not reconcile why the statements of the Lanes were not found to be credible" to Wall. She re-interviewed the Lanes and found "their recollection to be completely truthful and credible" and their friendship with Palin's family did not have "any influence" on their statements. Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Elizabeth Ipsen said she could not comment on the Wooten matter directly. But she added that top agency officials typically do not alter findings of internal investigations into trooper conduct. "They just use the information," Ipsen said....

Several other allegations were made by Palin and her family but were denied by Wooten and found to be unsubstantiated, including that Wooten has used illegal steroids, driven drunk on a number of occasions and tried to bully his way out of paying a $5 fee at the local dump. Wall's investigation did find that Wooten threatened Palin's sister, Molly McCann, with shooting her father if he hired a lawyer to represent her. Wooten denied making the statement, but Palin, McCann and Palin's son all confirmed that he did. Wall said the act wasn't a crime because Palin's father was not present when Wooten made the statement...

John McCain Says His Behavior While Katrina Hit New Orleans Was "Inappropriate"

John McCain has a festive occasion with birthday cake as Katrina hits New Orleans in 2005:


White House Photo by Paul Morse: President George W. Bush joins Arizona Senator John McCain in a small celebration of McCain's 69th birthday Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, after the President's arrival at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix. The President later spoke about Medicare to 400 guests at the Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort and Country Club...

I, for one, do not disagree with McCain's evaluation today of his own behavior then:

Politico: John McCain said the Republican National Convention may be postponed as federal officials said Hurricane Gustav was gathering to a devastating Category 5 as it headed toward star-crossed New Orleans. “It just wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near-tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster,” McCain told Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday” in an interview taped for Sunday...

Yet another reason to believe that John McCain does not have the judgment to be president.

P.Z. Myers Blogs About Zhou Q, Brown J, Kanarek A, Rajagopa J, Melton DA (2008), "In Vivo Reprogramming of Adult Pancreatic Exocrine Cells to β-Cells," Nature Aug 27.

Hacking the Pancreas:

Pharyngula: This is a big deal, I think.... [T]his is a recent result published in Nature... basic science, not clinical work... this has a long, long way to go before it can be applied to humans....

The pancreas is... made up of a variety of different [kinds of] cells.... [T]here are exocrine cells, cells that produce quantities of important substances that are piped directly into the digestive tract via ducts.... [There are] endocrine cells... that generate hormonal signals that are secreted into the blood stream... the most familiar of these are the beta (β) cells, which are organized into clumps called islets and which secrete insulin....

What the researchers did was identify a small subset of transcription factors, the genes Ngn3, Pdx1 and Mafa, that are sufficient to switch on the insulin production genes in non-insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. They can turn exocrine cells into β cells... [by] insert[ing] the transcription factors (and a gene that makes a glowing protein, GFP, as a marker) into adenoviruses, and then inject[ing] the virus directly into the pancreases of genetically immunodeficient (to reduce immune response complications) adult mice. The viruses infected a subset of the pancreatic cells, preferentially the exocrine cells, and started pumping out the transcription factors.... [T]he use of viral transfection is perhaps the scariest part of the story; viruses aren't trivial to keep in check.... [T]hey also found that inducing the expression of the 3 transcription factors in other kinds of cells, like muscle, seems to do nothing. These genes are only potent in pancreatic cells that are already primed....

The virus is also not needed for long term maintenance of these cells.... [A]ll it takes is a brief jolt of expression of Ngn3, Pdx1 and Mafa to switch susceptible cells into the β cell state, and that the developmental program is then self-sustaining....

A lot of attention has been paid to embryonic stem cell and adult stem cell technologies, and those are both important and provide research and treatment opportunities that must not be neglected, but this is a third way: mastering the developmental control genes of the cell so that we can reprogram mature cells into any cell type we need.... This is the direction developmental medicine can take us — I hope you're all ready to support it.

Gustav Scares Moira Whelan

She thinks something is wrong:

Moira Whelan: What's wrong with this Hurricane?: I just noticed that the daily brief customarily done in advance of a hurricane is happening because Gustav is bearing down on the Gulf Coast... is being given by NORTHCOM. So what does this tell us and why does it matter? It tells us that things are as broken as they were before Katrina.

The military, like EPA, Commerce, or anyone else, is only involved in emergency management to the point that they are requested to do so by the governor or the FEMA director.... If a governor is worried things are getting out of control, they ask the President to provide help through FEMA.... FEMA is then in charge of coordinating the resources of the federal government to support the governor and the state. In a sense, when FEMA is working properly--as it did under Clinton--when the FEMA director tells another Federal agency to do something, it's as if the President is calling. The government agency is expected to deliver and cut through red tape to make things happen and happen fast.

There is no allowance or legal authority for the Department of Defense to take any sort of control or command ... all work for FEMA and the governor.... This is done for a very specific and important reason: here in America, we believe that governors should have control over their own states. The federal government needs to be there to help, but they absolutely do not move in and take over....

With NORTHCOM taking the lead on briefing the public, it's clear the Bush Administration wants to send the message that everything is under control. Instead, to those that do [emergency response] for a living, the message is clear that everything is absolutely and completely broken. Perhaps the state governments need help. Perhaps FEMA is not up to the job. Perhaps the Bush Administration simply wants a uniform on camera.... NORTHCOM taking the lead in public relations is a clear indication that nothing has been fixed in DHS and FEMA since Katrina. As a result, there is no confidence in FEMA's ability to respond to this hurricane....

The other thing to remember here is that this is not a mission the military wants.... [T]heir job is to fight wars, not deal with disasters.... The bottom line is that things will not work the way they should with NORTHCOM in charge. Governors don't take orders from Generals. No one else in government takes orders from DoD. No one in emergency management even knows what NORTHCOM does, except come in and issue "orders" to a bunch of civilians who don't work for them.

I hope for the sake of the people on the Gulf Coast that the hundreds of civilians who want to do right by them prevail over the system that the Bush Administration has failed to fix.

Another Huge Reason John McCain Is Not Qualified to Be President

Joe Klein:

Gunslinger - Swampland - TIME: I woke up this morning and realized that the most significant aspect of the Palin pick is... the process by which she was selected. McCain really doesn't know that much about Palin, either. He met her once in February. He interviewed her as part of the vetting process... and that's it. He never worked with her.... All this raises again--yet again--the question of whether McCain is temperamentally suited for the presidency.... [T]he Palin pick reflects the most dangerous tendencies in McCain's foriegn policy--the tendency to react, to overreact, to crises, without thinking it through. It also reflects a defiant, adolescent "screw you" attitude toward governance....

[T]his is not to disparage Palin. Her views seem very extreme to me.... [But t]he problem is there is absolutely no way on earth that John McCain can know what sort of person she really is, which is why this choice--his first major presidential decision--should be a matter of real concern for all Americans. He has proven himself, yet again, ready on day one--to shoot from the hip.

Clinical and Actuarial Judgment

Cosma Shalizi on how we are not as smart as the simple linear models our computers can estimate:

Clinical and Actuarial Judgment Compared: For something like fifty years now, psychologists have been studying the question of "clinical versus actuarial judgment".... Say you're interested in diagnosing heart diseases from electrocardiograms. Normally we have clinicians, i.e., expert doctors, look at a chart.... Alternately, we could ask the experts what features they look at, when making their prognosis, and then fit a statistical model to that data, trying to predict the outcome or classification based on those features.... This is the actuarial approach, since it's just based on averages --- "of patients with features x, y and z, q percent have a serious heart condition".

The rather surprising, and completely consistent, result of these studies is that there are no known cases where clinicians reliably out-perform actuarial methods, even when the statistical models are just linear classification rules.... In many areas, statistical classifiers significantly out-perform human experts. They even out-perform experts who have access to the statistical results, apparently because the experts place too much weight on their own judgment.... [H]uman experts are... no better than simple statistical models.

On the other hand, there is another body of experimental work, admittedly more recent, on "simple heuristics that make us smart", which seems to show that people are often very good judges, under natural conditions. That is to say, we're very good at solving the problems we tend to actually encounter, presented in the way we encounter them. The heuristics we use to solve those problems may not be generally applicable, but they are adapted to our environments, and, in those environments, are fast, simple and effective.

I have a bit of difficulty reconciling these two pictures in my mind. I can think of three resolutions.

  1. The "clinicial versus actuarial" results... do not reflect the "natural" conditions of clinical judgment.... What one really wants is a representative sample of actual cases, comparing the normal judgment of clinicians to that of the statistical models. This may have been done; I don't know.
  2. The "fast and frugal heuristics" results are... irrelevant.... [A]daptive mechanisms [that] let us figure out good heuristics in everyday life don't apply in the situations where we rely on clinical expertise.... [S]omething... about the conditions of clinicial judgment... render our normal cognitive mechanisms ineffective there.
  3. Clinicial judgment is a "fast and frugal heuristic", with emphasis on the fast and frugal.... [C]linicians are... as accurate as one can get, using only a reasonable amount of information and a reasonable amount of time, while still using the human brain, which is not a computing platform well-suited to floating-point operations...

I am unable to judge between these.

Hurricane Gustav Hits Cuba

Hurricane Gustav Satellite Images | - Tornado Videos, Chasing and Forecasting

Twister Videos says:

Hurricane Gustav Satellite Images | - Tornado Videos, Chasing and Forecasting: The satellite  presentation of Hurricane Gustav has improved significantly over the past few hours.  There is noticeable deep convection near the center of the storm with great outflow in all quadrants.  There have been faint signs on visible satellite of an eye-feature beginning to form...

I am not sure "improved" is the word they really want to use here.

This is an indication that Hurricane [Gustav] is getting better organized...

Unlike, say, the McCain campaign.

Mudflats on Sarah Palin's Abuse-of-Power Scandal

Mudflats seems to make sense of what is going on up in Alaska.

The word is that McCain and his staff knew absolutely none of this as of yesterday morning. The word is that the Lieberman people in McCain's camp insisted on anyone but Romney, the Romney people insisted on anyone but Lieberman, Pawlenty bubbled up--but then McCain decided that Pawlenty was too boring and picked Palin in spite of having only met her once in his life.

What is McCain Thinking? One Alaskan’s Perspective. « Mudflats: Sarah Palin’s sister Molly married a guy named Mike Wooten who is an Alaska State Trooper.  Mike and Molly had a rocky marriage.  When the marriage broke up, there was a bitter custody fight that is still ongoing.  During the custody investigation, all sorts of things were brought up about Wooten including the fact that he had illegally shot a moose (yes folks this is Alaska), driven drunk, and used a taser (on the test setting, he reminds us) on his 11-year old stepson, who supposedly had asked to see what it felt like.  While Wooten has turned out to be a less than stellar figure, the fact that Palin’s father accompanied him on the infamous moose hunt, and that many of the dozens of charges brought up by the Palin family happened long before they were ever reported smacked of desperate custody fight.  Wooten’s story is that he was basically stalked by the family.

After all this, Wooten was investigated and disciplined on two counts and allowed to kept his position with the troopers.  Enter Walt Monegan, Palin’s appointed new chief of the Department of Public Safety and head of the troopers.  Monegan was beloved by the troopers, did a bang-up job with minimal funding and suddenly got axed.  Palin was out of town and Monegan got “offered another job” (aka fired) with no explanation to Alaskans.  Pressure was put on the governor to give details, because rumors started to swirl around the fact that the highly respected Monegan was fired because he refused to fire the aforementioned Mike Wooten.  Palin vehemently denied ever talking to Monegan or pressuring Monegan in any way to fire Wooten, or that anyone on her staff did.  Over the weeks it has come out that not only was pressure applied, there were literally dozens of conversations in which pressure was applied to fire him.  Monegan has testified to this fact, spurring an ongoing investigation by the Alaska state legislature.  But, before this investigation got underway, Palin sent the Alaska State Attorney General out to do some investigative work of his own so she could find out in advance what the real investigation was going to find.  (No, I’m not making this up).  The AG interviewed several people, unbeknownst to the actual appointed investigator or the Legislature! Palin’s investigation of herself uncovered a recorded phone call retained by the Alaska State Troopers from Frank Bailey, a Palin underling, putting pressure on a trooper about the Wooten non-firing.  Todd Palin (governor’s husband) even talked to Monegan himself in Palin’s office while she was away.  Bailey is now on paid administrative leave.

As if this weren’t enough, Monegan’s appointed replacement Chuck Kopp, turns out to have been the center of his own little scandal.  He received a letter of reprimand and was reassigned after sexual harrassment allegations by a former coworker who didn’t like all the unwanted kissing and hugging in the office.  Was he vetted?  Obviously not.  When he was questioned about all this, his comment was that no one had asked him and he thought they all knew.  Kopp, defiant, still claimed to have done nothing wrong and said to the press that there was no way he was stepping down from his new position.  Twenty four hours later, he stepped down.  Later it was uncovered that he received a $10,000 severance package for his two weeks on the job from Palin.  Monegan got nothing.

An Editorial Frim Alaska

Not the happiest of campers:

Palin has much to prove: Alaskans and Americans must ask, though, whether she should become vice president and, more importantly, be placed first in line to become president. When a candidate for president picks a vice presidential running mate, that partner ought to have more qualifications than this: “She’s not from Washington.” McCain offered that justification this morning for his decision. There was a lot more, of course, about the governor’s “grit, integrity and devotion to the common good.” But after cataloging her basic decency and compassion for the common man, what was there? “She’s not from Washington.”

No doubt about it. In fact, as the governor herself acknowledged in her acceptance speech, she never set out to be involved in public affairs. She has never publicly demonstrated the kind of interest, much less expertise, in federal issues and foreign affairs that should mark a candidate for the second-highest office in the land. Republicans rightfully have criticized the Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, for his lack of experience, but Palin is a neophyte in comparison; how will Republicans reconcile the criticism of Obama with the obligatory cheering for Palin? Or will everyone just be forced to drop the subject? That’s not a comforting possibility. Although no one has the perfect resume and experience isn't everything, it is an important quality to weigh. Palin, if elected vice president, would ascend to the presidency if anything should happen to McCain, who turned 72 today.

Most people would acknowledge that, regardless of her charm and good intentions, Palin is not ready for the top job. McCain seems to have put his political interests ahead of the nation’s when he created the possibility that she might fill it...


Unconfirmed evidence that McCain and his staff are less competent than I could have believed:

Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: BREAKING: McCain Campaign heading to Alaska to investigate: A very reliable source overheard Republican spokesperson McHugh Pierre state TODAY that he had spoken to the McCain Campaign. They are coming to Alaska tomorrow to check out the "Troopergate" investigation.


Republican Alaska State Senator and Senate President Lyda Green on Sarah Palin


McCain's choice catches politicians by surprise: State Senate President Lyda Green, from Palin's hometown of Wasilla, said she thought it was a joke.... "She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?" Green told the Anchorage Daily News. "Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?"...

This Is a Defense of John McCain's Choice of Sarah Palin?

All I can say is that Noah Millman has been into the 'shrooms again:

RU Experienced?: [Sarah Palin is] totally unqualified to be President at this point in time. If McCain were to die in February 2009, I hope Palin would have the good sense to appoint someone who is more ready to be President to be her Vice President... [and then] then resign.... Palin is absolutely not ready to be President now, but that is a problem that is very easily dealt with if she is and the governing party want to do so. And if McCain dies in February, 2012, who’s to say she won’t be ready by then? She’ll have had three years of being Vice President under her belt. She’ll have been a close observer of national governance and will be pretty familiar with the issues of the day....

Bottom line: the Presidency is no place for on-the-job training. But the Vice Presidency certainly can be.

She’s an excellent choice. If McCain wins, he’ll have a whole cabinet of officials to help him run the government and advise him on vital decisions. That’s not what he’ll be using Palin for.... [T]his is a good pick.

This Doesn't Look Good at All


New Orleans: Evacuate, or face storm alone- NNEW ORLEANS - Police with bullhorns plan to go street to street with a tough message about getting out ahead of Hurricane Gustav: This time there will be no shelter of last resort. The doors to the Superdome will be locked. Those who stay will be on their own. Authorities issued the warning Friday as new forecasts made it increasingly clear that New Orleans will get some kind of hit — direct or indirect — as early as Monday. And those among New Orleans' 310,000 residents who ignore orders to leave accept "all responsibility for themselves and their loved ones," said the city's emergency preparedness director, Jerry Sneed...

Atlantic Hurricane Gustav

Am I Reading This Correctly?

That John McCain had met Sarah Palin once, and spoken to her on the phone once, before deciding to pick her as his running mate?

Could this possibly be true?

Could they be that crazy?

Jonathan Martin: How McCain picked Palin - John McCain first met Governor Sarah Palin at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington in February of 2008 and came away extraordinarily impressed.... Last Sunday, Governor Palin and John McCain had a conversation over the phone.... This past week, Governor Palin arrived with Kris Perry in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Wednesday evening.... Today, John McCain was proud to announce that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a proven reformer, will share a partnership with him to shake things up in Washington and to make government more effective for American families.

Yes, I am reading this correctly:

Is John McCain absolutely raving bonkers insane!?!?!?

Sarah Palin: What Exactly Is It the Vice President Does Every Day?”


Sarah Palin at

[A]s for that V.P. talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the V.P. does every day? I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that that V.P .slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we’re trying to accomplish up here for the rest of the U.S., before I can even start addressing that question.

Two Three Reasons Sarah Palin Should Not Be Vice President

No reasons so far why Sarah Palin would be qualified to be president--aside from a claim that she shares a hairdresser with Amy Winehouse. And a bunch of big negatives are flooding in. The biggest surround the fact that John McCain stands at least one chance in five of dying over the next four years and that she would then become president. Here are three:

Sarah Palin's Abuse-of-Power Scandal ("Will No One Rid Me of This Meddlesome State Trooper?" Department)

One of them is her firing of Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monega for no reason anybody can explain--except for the likelihood that Monega had not obeyed her staff's demand to fire State Trouper Mike Wooten, Palin's ex-brother-in-law.

Now Palin's story is that she had absolutely nothing to do with her aide Frank Bailey's demands that Monega fire Wooten.

That story didn't fly when Henry II Plantagenet tried it after the murder of Archbishop Thomas:

Palin's the One: So now we've learned that Sarah Palin is McCain's choice for nominee. I have to say. It's a daring pick but I think a very weak pick. I'm perfectly happy with it. Palin is in the midst of a reasonably serious scandal in her home state. Her brother-in-law is a state trooper who is in the midst of an ugly custody battle with her sister. And she's accused of getting the state police to fire him. Recently she was forced to admit that one of her aides had done this, though she insists she didn't know.... John McCain... a cancer survivor who turns 72 years old today, is picking a vice presidential nominee who has been governor of a small state for less than two years and prior to that was mayor of a town with roughly one-twenty-seventh of the citizens that Barack Obama represented when he was a state senator in Illinois...

Sarah Palin Lies in Her First Speech:

The second is the fact that she could not get through her first speech without telling a lie:

Anchorage Daily News, 10/5/06: Palin Said She Supported The So-Called "Bridge To Nowhere," But Was Concerned Money "Flow" Was "Going to Slow":

As for the infamous 'bridges to nowhere,' MacDonald asked if the candidates would forge ahead with the proposed Knik Arm crossing between Anchorage and Point MacKenzie and Ketchikan's Gravina Island bridge. Each has received more than $90 million in federal funding and drew nationwide attacks as being unnecessary and expensive. He also asked if they support building an access road from Juneau toward -- but not completely connecting to -- Skagway and Haines. 'I do support the infrastructure projects that are on tap here in the state of Alaska that our congressional delegations worked hard for,' Palin said. She said the projects link communities and create jobs. Still, Palin warned that the flow of federal money into the state for such projects is going to slow...

MSNBC, 8/29/08 Palin: "I Told Congress 'Thanks But No Thanks' On That Bridge To Nowhere":

During her speech in Dayton, Ohio, after being introduced as McCain's running mate, Palin said, "I told Congress 'thanks but no thanks' on that bridge to nowhere. If our state wanted a bridge, I said, 'we'd build it ourselves.'

Sarah Palin Believes Sarah Palin Is Unqualified

"Out of the realm of possibility" for her to be vice president, so she "doesn't have to worry about it":

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I'm still open to hear reasons why she would be likely to make a good president.

Not someone you want a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Governor Sarah Palin Has an Environmental Record

Why am I not surprised? Palin Sued The Federal Government For Listing The Polar Bear As a [Threatened] Species: According to a release issued by Gov. Palin’s office:

Governor Sarah Palin announced today the State of Alaska has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to overturn U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This action follows written notice given more than 60 days ago to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne of the Department of the Interior and Director Dale Hall of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking that the regulation listing the polar bear as threatened be withdrawn...

Is the Mendacious Spin Finally Over?

Republican hatchetman Alex Castellanos on Obama's speech: The Republican analysts on CNN also praised the speech, with Alex Castellanos coming right out and saying whoever doesn't get picked as McCain's VP probably should consider themselves lucky after the speech Obama game...

Republican hatchetman Pat Buchanan on Obama's speech:

SeattlePi: Pat Buchanan, MSNBC's token conservative, was nearly as effusive. The former Reagan speechwriter said Obama's address was "a genuinely oustanding speech," perhaps the greatest convention speech he has heard, adding: "This wasn't a liberal speech at all, it was a deeply centrist speech..."

Republican hatchetman Bill Kristol on Obama's speech:

Over on FOX, the commentators were unsurprisingly less breathless, yet Bill Kristol, the most prominent neo-conservative pundit in the country, acknowledged that Obama was masterful, that he exceeded expectations and that McCain is facing a very tough challenge...

"Thoughtful conservative" Ross Douthat of the center-right Atlantic Monthly on Obama's speech:

Ross Douthat: [F]or the most part [Obama's speech] felt surprisingly banal and jury-rigged, and it suffered throughout from a failure to cohere around any single theme or rhetorical style. There was a lot of liberal boilerplate (recruit an army of teachers, tax the rich, etc.) that could have fit easily into any Democratic acceptance speech of the last twenty years; there was a series of swings at John McCain that, while often effective, seemed more appropriate to a veep's speech than to an address by a Presidential nominee; and then there was a half-hearted attempt to return, in the speech's final third, to the themes of post-partisanship and national unity that defined his '04 convention speech. The whole thing felt schizophrenic - part Clintonian laundry-list, part McCain-bashing polemic, part "beyond red and blue" peroration - and watching it I was left with the impression that Obama would have been better off just sticking with the high-flown inspirational style that got him here, and waiting for the debates to recast himself as the meat-and-potatoes guy who can throw a punch and get down into the policy weeds. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and you can see what Obama and his speechwriters were trying to do - namely, have the best of both worlds, by being soaring and substance-oriented, combative and post-partisan. But the substance was predictable, thin, and rife with pandering, the combativeness felt faintly inappropriate, and the speech didn't soar nearly as much as it should have. It was a historic evening, for Obama and for America, and there were moments that gave me shivers just watching on TV - but if you didn't go in sold on the Democratic nominee, I think it was ultimately something of a letdown.

Robert Waldmann Protests that the Obama Bounce Is Significant...

He writes:

Robert's Stochastic thoughts: Brad DeLong agrees with Matthew Yglesias: This tends to uhm strongly suggest that they are both right, but I beg to differ. The question is whether the Gallup tracking poll fluctuations which totally control my mood are due to sampling error alone. I say no. Brad writes something along the lines of "yes" or "don't panic"

You can't back out daily polls but you can test the null that true opinion hasn't changed. for non overlapping polls this is easy. variance of Obama - McCain in one poll is around 1/3000 (less than 1/(sample size) because some people are undecided so the correlation of "for Obama" and "for McCain" is not exactly -1). Var of dif of dif is about 1/1500 so se of dif of dif is about 2.7% (just tried to calculate a square root in my head).

With one day overlap you can calculate the change in 2 day averages (3/2)(change in 3 day as one day is the same). So about 10% convention bounce so far. sample sizes only around 1800 so var dif around 1/2000 so var dif of dif around 1/1000 se around 3.2% so change over 3 standard deviations. The evidence of a convention bounce (including Michelle and Hillary but not Bill and Joe) is statistically significant. People do change their minds based on cheering Germans, dumb dumber dumbest negative ads and party conventions. Those people might be so flighty that there is no way to guess what the hell they will do on election day, but they do exist. "Normal fluctuations which you shouldn't have a cow about because they tell you virtually nothing about who will be elected" and "fluctuations due to sampling error" are not synonymous statements.

But when I take the data since July 20 and regress the Obama share on a time trend allowing for the MA(3) character of the residual, I get a t-statistic of -0.97; when I omit the "bounce" day of yesterday from the sample, I get a t-statistic of -1.37; and when I regress the Obama share on a time trend and on a "bounce" dummy variable covering yesterday August 27, I get a t-statistics of +1.37 on the bounce. I don't believe that t-statistics of less than 1.5 in absolute value are causes for mood swings.

What's going on? Why are my regressions different than RJW's first-principles variance calculations? According to Robert's calculations, the standard deviation of the one-day change in the moving average should be 0.78%. But the empirical standard deviation is 1.17%. There's day-to-day noise in the sample that does not come from standard statistical sampling error.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Pollsters?

Matthew Yglesias says that friends don't let friends read the Gallup tracking poll:

Matthew Yglesias » The Three Day Itch: One thing a week’s vacation from blogging helps you get perspective on is the Gallup tracking poll. On August 1 when I had my last day at The Atlantic it was time for panic as McCain had tied things up. Then Obama started to regain ground, going up to a four point lead. Then the race tightened again, then Obama opened up a five point lead, and now it’s tightening again but with Obama back to a smallish lead having beaten back the strong challenge McCain was mounting around August 1. In short, McCain’s “Celebrity” ad and drilling attacks were working well, but when the McCain campaign went after Obama on the tire gauge thing he came up with effective countermeasures and regained his lead.


Or maybe none of that happened. As everyone knows, there’s sampling error associated with polling. As a result, if you poll 1,000 people on August 1 and then you poll 1,000 different people on August 2 you shouldn’t be surprised to see the results differ by several percentage points even in the absence of any change in the underlying public opinion. Beyond that, doing one poll per day throughout a long campaign would mean that you’d expect to see one or two relatively rare outlier results per month even under circumstances of total stasis. And as Alan Abramowitz points out if you look at the daily results this is actually what you see — incredible volatility with Obama’s lead oscillating violently around an average of 3-4 points. Since it’s not plausible that the public mood is really swinging anywhere near as rapidly as a very naive reading of the Gallup daily results would suggest, people could see that this is basically statistical noise in a stable race.

But Gallup doesn’t report its daily results, they report a multi-day rolling average. Abramowitz notes that if you report a ten day rolling average, you get a chart where nothing happens — Obama maintains a flat lead of 3-4 points. Again, a stable race. But if instead of doing either of those things you do what Gallup actually does and report a three day rolling average, you get these pleasant looking peaks and valleys in the race. The change over time here is large enough in magnitude (unlike on the ten day chart) but also slow enough in pace (unlike on the one day chart) to be plausibly interpreted as public opinion shifting in response to events. And since the human mind is designed to recognize patterns and construct narratives, and since it suits the interests of campaign journalists to write narratives, people interpret the peaks and valleys of the three day average as real shifts in public opinion. But while I have no way of proving that it’s just statistical noise and nothing’s really happening, the “nothing happening” narrative is completely consistent with the data, and it’s telling that the conventional narratives collapse when the data is presented in different ways whereas the “noise” narrative is consistent with multiple ways of displaying the information...

And, indeed, today the Gallup Organization Writes:

Gallup Daily: Obama Moves Ahead, 48% to 42%: PRINCETON, NJ -- Democratic candidate Barack Obama has gained ground in the latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking average from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and now leads Republican John McCain among registered voters by a 48% to 42% margin...

The truly diabolical thing about the Gallup Organization is that all the roots of the MA process used to construct the three-day moving average from the raw daily data are on the unit circle, so there is no way to back out the daily numbers from the averages. And even if you do know what the daily poll numbers were at some two consecutive dates in the past so that you can then deduce what the third day's polls in the next moving average were (the three having to add up to the reported average, you see), the rounding errors in each day's results propagate undamped over time and so grow without bound. Here, for example, you see what estimates of the daily numbers you get if you assume that the Obama share on July 18, July 19, and July 20 were all equal to 47%:

[Workbook1]Sheet1 Chart 2

What is happening is that the rounding errors are being passed through an amplifying filter with a strong spectral peak at the three-day period--and so the three-day cycles in the estimated daily numbers are freaking out.

One way to get some insight into the data is to notice that the difference between today's moving average and yesterday's moving average is simply equal to one-third times the difference between today's results and the results from three days ago. Given that we have a 900 person daily sample and a vote share near 50%, the standard deviation of each day's sample should be 1.67%, which means:

(1) The standard deviation of the difference between today's sample and the sample of three days ago should be 2.35%--meaning that the daily change in the moving average has a standard deviation of 0.79%. only a one-day change in the moving average of 2% is interesting--smaller changes are likely to be statistical noise from a hypothesis-testing point of view.

(2) The difference between today's moving average and the moving average of two days ago is one-third the difference between the sum of today's and yesterday's sample and the sum of the samples from three and four days ago--meaning that the two-day change in the moving average has a standard deviation of 1.11%. A two-day change in the moving average of 2% is not nearly as interesting as a one-day change of 2%--statistical noise grows from the one to the two-day change.

(3) The difference between today's moving average and the moving average of three or more days ago is one-third the difference between the sum of the most recent three days and the previous or further back three days--meaning that the standard deviation of the three-day change in the moving average should be 1.36%--meaning that a two-day change of 2% is truly not very interesting to a hypothesis tester at all: only a 3% move over three or more days is truly statistically interesting (and, of course, the more persistent such a move is at the more than three-day horizon the more interesting it is).

The right way to deal with the Gallup tracking poll is, I think, to compare it to how it was at some benchmark date in the past, and then to ignore all changes in the Obama or McCain share of less than three percentage points--ignore all changes in the spread of less than six percentage points.

Why Are We Here? (In a Big Lecture, That Is)

Why do we still have big lecture courses in universities? It is somewhat of a mystery...

The Pre-Gutenberg University:

  • Universities have their origins in the medieval need of the powerful to train theologians (for the church) and to train judges (for the emperor and the kings of France, England, Castile, and other kingdoms.
  • A manuscript hand-copied book back in 1000 cost roughly the same share of average annual income as $50,000 is today.
  • Hence if you have a "normal" college--eight semesters, four courses a semester--and demand that people buy and read one book a course, you are talking the equivalent of $1.6M in book outlay. Can't be done.
  • Hence you assemble the hundred or so people who want to read Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy in a room, and have the professor read to them--hence lecture, lecturer, from the Latin lector, reader--while they frantically take notes because they are likely to never see a copy of that book again once they are out in the world administering justice in Wuerzburg or wherever...

Then Comes Gutenberg:

  • From Greg Clark: The Secret History of the Industrial Revolution: "[C]onsider the introduction of the printed book by Gutenberg in 1445, again in the period where we can find no evidence of aggregate productivity growth, at least in England.... Output per worker increased by roughly 30 fold from manuscript production in the fourteenth century till the early nineteenth century... greater than the productivity advances achieved in the cotton textile industry over the Industrial Revolution period, though it took place over a much longer period..."
  • Institution of the lecture does not make its original sense.
  • Why not get everybody to buy the book, read the book, and then assemble in seminars to discuss the book?
    • Almost all of us can read faster than a lecturer can talk.
    • It is much easier to index and rewind a codex than a live audio stream before the age of mechanical reproduction.

Yet the Lecture Remains: Why? Four Possible Reasons:

  • Budget stringency: lectures are cheap for the university relative to seminars, and even if they are markedly less effective they do soak up students' time
  • Alternative information channel: The ears are wired to the brain differently than the eyes, and there is value in not only reading something but also hearing something in producing the synaptic changes that we want to see happen in college.
  • A self-discipline device: if people have to show up at a certain place at a certain time to accomplish a task or be disciplined, they are more likely to do so. Lecture as a way of solving our self-command and self-control problems.
    • But why not then just have a study hall? Everyone reads the book, and the monitor circulates and answers quetions?
  • A sociological event: East African Plains Apes like to do things in groups that involve language--that is just who we are--and the lecture is just another example of this

All four of these surely play some role. But I have no idea of the relative balance between them--and neither, it seems, does anybody else I can find...

Early universitates magistrorum et scholarium:

848: Magnaura (Constantinople)
859: Al-Karaouine (Fez, Morocco)
975: Al-Azhar (Cairo)
1088: Bologna
1096: Oxford
1150: Sorbonne (Paris)
1175: Modena
1209: Cambridge
1218: Salamanca
1222: Padua
1224: Naples
1233: Mustansiriya (Baghdad)

Paul Krugman: Why We Whine!

And snivel!

Paul Krugman on the Bush Boom:

Stagnation nation - Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog: Some clarification about just why the latest income/poverty/insurance report was so bad. There was a significant rise in income among Americans over 65 — those who get much of their income from Social Security. In fact, they’ve been seeing income gains all through the Bush years. But working families haven’t.

The picture... shows the median real income of households with the head of household aged 35-44. I’m using that as a proxy for working-age households in general, which the Census unfortunately doesn’t give in an easy-to-use form in its historical tables. As you can see, income has its ups and downs, but in the past each peak was higher than the last one. That was even true, barely, in the energy-crisis-ridden 1970s. But in this decade, incomes first fell in the recession, then basically flattened out at a level well below its previous peak. That’s really a miserable performance.

Loading 201CStagnation nation - Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog201D

Marc Ambinder Is Part of the Problem

Marc Ambinder wrings his hands in despair:

Marc Ambinder: The McCain Ad Shell Game: McCain campaign airs provocatively misleading ads. The press has a conundrum. If we want to point out how misleading they are, we air the ad. McCain's campaign wins the point. If refuse to point out how misleading they are, McCain's campaign escapes criticism.

And if Marc Ambinder does not repeatedly and frequently say "today that lying liar John McCain broadcast more lying ads," then he is not part of the solution.

American Economic History Introductory Lecture (August 27, 2008): Administration and Overview

American Economic History Introductory Lecture (August 27, 2008): Administration and Overview

Lecture Audio:

Economics 113 is an upper-division economics course in the study of the history of the U.S. economy that satisfies the political economy historical context requirement. We will survey over three hundred years of history, but inevitably focus more intensely on those incidents that the instructor finds particularly interesting. This is an economics course: we will spend most of our time looking at events, factors, and explanations, using economics to understand history and history to understand economics. Economics 113 must be taken for a grade if it is to be used toward the requirements for the political economy or the economics major.

We have a textbook--Walton and Rockoff's big book. We have two auxilliary books: Blinder and Yellen, and Friedman. We have a bunch of articles and web readings.

For those unfamiliar with U.S. history, Marty Olney recommends John Faragher et al (2005), Out of Many (New York: Prentice-Hall)

  • Administrivia
  • Overview of Course
  • Why Are We Here?
    • The Role of the University
    • Relevance of Economic History
    • Studying Economic History
    • Framework: Economic Growth & Development
  • Assignments and Cleanup


Evidence-Based Economics

Talking to David and Christie Romer about whether we are or about to be in a recession. I think that the maximum-likelihood estimates of the probability for all plausible models in which "recession" is a useful and meaningful term are all equal to 1.0000. But:

  • We are not sure that "recession" is a useful and meaningful term.
  • We are not the kinds of people who believe in ML estimation. Instead, we are Baywsians who are ignorant of our own priors...


Jim Hamilton of UCSD Is Very Clever

The clever Jim Hamilton presents us with the U.S. unemployment rate:

And with a "simulated" unemployment rate produced from a model obtained by fitting an AR(2) model with fat-tailed Student-T innovations to the unemployment rate series:

Jim writes:

These simulated data have the same mean, variance, and serial correlation as the real data.... Even so, one has little of the sense of a recurrent cycle in these simulated data that seemed compelling in the actual data. If one were to label some of the episodes in this simulated data set as “recessions,” where would they be?...

James Hamilton (2005), "What's Real About the Business Cycle?"

This paper argues that a linear statistical model with homoskedastic errors cannot capture the nineteenth-century notion of a recurring cyclical pattern in key economic aggregates. A simple nonlinear alternative is proposed and used to illustrate that the dynamic behavior of unemployment seems to change over the business cycle, with the unemployment rate rising more quickly than it falls. Furthermore, many but not all economic downturns are also accompanied by a dramatic change in the dynamic behavior of short-term interest rates. It is suggested that these nonlinearities are most naturally interpreted as resulting from short-run failures in the employment and credit markets and that understanding these short-run failures is the key to understanding the nature of the business cycle.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, July/August 2005, 87(4), pp. 435-52.

Belle Waring on the Federalist Society

May I say that I am glad I don't spend my life reading things like the things Belle Waring reads?

Here she is:

John & Belle Have A Blog: Gay Marriage: Still a Good Idea: The Federalist Society has sponsored an on-line debate between proponents and opponents of gay marriage, in which the...ah, how shall I put failure of the opponents to muster any good arguments at all is the most salient point.

N>othing new here, of course. By the way, you may all be amused to know that I was contacted by an earnest Brigham Young student who wanted to use my bizzaro-world arguments in a debate. I explained that I didn't agree with them at all but he was nonetheless welcome to them. So, I did my part to advance the cause of evil in this world. Well, look, it was a teeny, tiny part of evil, and he seemed so clean-cut and articulate!

I would tell you to read the whole debate, but it's really long. I'll summarize:

Dale Carpenter and Andy Koppelman: How about some compelling arguments of all sorts. Utilitarian! Based on innate human dignity! Taking into account existing gay families with children! We got'em all!

Robert Nagel: Let's face it, if we let gay people get married we'll have to act like there's nothing wrong with being gay.

Amy Wax: Anti-monogamy gay men will form marriage sleeper-cells which will detonate into wanton heterosexual promiscuity! And it's not as good for children to grow up in households where they aren't biologically related to both parents.

D.C. and A.K. What? What does that have to do with anything?

Robert Nagel: The fact that gay-marriage proponents have absolutely all the good arguments on their side is...suspicious. Plus, in this new dystopic gay-married future, we no longer be permitted to sing songs with heterosexual themes![1]


[1]You don't believe me, do you? Nagel: "I fear that the drive for gay marriage will end in frustration and in a sustained effort to obliterate from our schools and libraries and conversations and songs the rich heritage associated with traditional marriage."

China's Industrial Policy--and America's

James Fallows:

China Makes, The World Takes: [D]eals like those struck at the Sheraton Four Points have been mainly good for all parties. Chinese families have new opportunities in life. American customers have wider choices. American investors have better returns. But, of course, there are complications....

In a world of frictionless, completely globalized trade, people on average would all be richer--but every society would include a wider range of class, comfort, and well-being than it now does. Those with the most marketable global talents would be richer, because they could sell to the largest possible market. Everyone else would be poorer, because of competition from a billions-strong labor pool. With no trade barriers, there would be no reason why the average person in, say, Holland would be better off than the average one in India. Each society would contain a cross section of the world’s whole income distribution—yet its people would have to live within the same national borders.

We’re nowhere near that point. But the increasing integration of the American and Chinese economies pushes both countries toward it. This is more or less all good for China, but not all good for America. It means economic benefits mainly for those who have already succeeded, a harder path up for those who are already at a disadvantage, and further strain on the already weakened sense of fellow feeling and shared opportunity that allows a society as diverse and unequal as America’s to cohere.

A further problem is that China’s business and governmental leaders are all too aware of how the smiley curve affects them. Yes, it’s better to have jobs that pay $1,000 a year than none at all. But it would be better still to have jobs that pay many times as much and are at more desirable positions along the curve. If the United States were in China’s position, it would be doing everything possible to bring more high-value work within its borders—and that, of course, is what China is trying to do. Everywhere you turn you see an illustration.

Just a few: In the far north of China, Intel has just agreed to build a major chip-fabrication plant, with high-end engineering and design jobs, not just seats on the assembly line. In Beijing, both Microsoft and Google have opened genuine research centers, not just offices to serve the local market. Down in Shenzhen, Liam Casey’s company is creating industrial-design centers, where products will be conceived, not just snapped together. What was recently a factory zone in Shanghai is being gentrified; local authorities are pushing factories to relocate 10 miles away, so their buildings can be turned into white-collar engineering and design centers.

At the moment, most jobs I’ve seen the young women in the factories perform have not been “taken” from America, because in America these assembly-type tasks would be done by machines. But the Chinese goal is, of course, to build toward something more lucrative.

Many people I have spoken with say that the climb will be slow for Chinese industries....

American complaints about the RMB, about subsidies, and about other Chinese practices have this in common: They assume that the solution to long-term tensions in the trading relationship lies in changes on China’s side. I think that assumption is naive. If the United States is unhappy with the effects of its interaction with China, that’s America’s problem, not China’s. To i magine that the United States can stop China from pursuing its own economic ambitions through nagging, threats, or enticement is to fool ourselves. If a country does not like the terms of its business dealings with the world, it needs to change its own policies, not expect the world to change. China has done just that, to its own benefit—and, up until now, to America’s.

Are we uncomfortable with the America that is being shaped by global economic forces? The inequality? The sense of entitlement for some? Of stifled opportunity for others? The widespread fear that today’s trends—borrowing, consuming, looking inward, using up infrastructure—will make it hard to stay ahead tomorrow, particularly in regard to China? If so, those trends themselves, and the American choices behind them, are what Americans can address. They’re not China’s problem, and they’re not the fault of anyone in Shenzhen.

Gains from Trade

James Fallows on who benefits most from China's manufacturing boom:

China Makes, The World Takes: Has the move to China been good for American companies? The answer would seemingly have to be yes—otherwise, why would they go there? It is conceivable that bad partnerships, stolen intellectual property, dilution of brand name, logistics nightmares, or other difficulties have given many companies a sour view of outsourcing; I have heard examples in each category from foreign executives. But the more interesting theme I have heard from them, which explains why they are willing to surmount the inconveniences, involves something called the “smiley curve.”

The curve is named for the U-shaped arc of the 1970s-era smiley-face icon, and it runs from the beginning to the end of a product’s creation and sale. At the beginning is the company’s brand: HP, Siemens, Dell, Nokia, Apple. Next comes the idea for the product: an iPod, a new computer, a camera phone. After that is high-level industrial design—the conceiving of how the product will look and work. Then the detailed engineering design for how it will be made. Then the necessary components. Then the actual manufacture and assembly. Then the shipping and distribution. Then retail sales. And, finally, service contracts and sales of parts and accessories.

The significance is that China’s activity is in the middle stages—manufacturing, plus some component supply and engineering design—but America’s is at the two ends, and those are where the money is. The smiley curve, which shows the profitability or value added at each stage, starts high for branding and product concept, swoops down for manufacturing, and rises again in the retail and servicing stages. The simple way to put this—that the real money is in brand name, plus retail—may sound obvious, but its implications are illuminating.

At each factory I visited, I asked managers to estimate how much of a product’s sales price ended up in whose hands. The strength of the brand name was the most important variable. If a product is unusual enough and its brand name attractive enough, it could command so high a price that the retailer might keep half the revenue. (Think: an Armani suit, a Starbucks latte.) Most electronics products are now subject to much fiercer price competition, since it is so easy for shoppers to find bargains on the Internet. Therefore the generic Windows-style laptops I saw in one modern factory might go for around $1,000 in the United States, with the retailer keeping less than $50.

Where does the rest of the money go? The manager of that factory guessed that Intel and Microsoft together would collect about $300, and that the makers of the display screen, the disk-storage devices, and other electronic components [in Malaysia, Korea, and elsewhere outside China] might get $150 or so apiece. The keyboard makers would get $15 or $20; FedEx or UPS would get slightly less. When all other costs were accounted for, perhaps $30 to $40—3 to 4 percent of the total—would stay in China with the factory owners and the young women on the assembly lines.

Other examples: A carrying case for an audio device from a big-name Western company retails for just under $30. That company pays the Chinese supplier $6 per case, of which about half goes for materials. The other $24 stays with the big-name company. An earphone-like accessory for another U.S.-brand audio device also retails for about $30. Of this, I was told, $3 stayed in China. I saw a set of high-end Ethernet connecting cables. The cables are sold, with identical specifications but in three different kinds of packaging, in three forms in the United States: as a specialty product, as a house brand in a nationwide office-supply store, and with no brand over eBay. The retail prices are $29.95 for the specialty brand, $19.95 in the chain store, and $15.95 on eBay. The Shenzhen-area company that makes them gets $2 apiece.

In case the point isn’t clear: Chinese workers making $1,000 a year have been helping American designers, marketers, engineers, and retailers making $1,000 a week (and up) earn even more. Plus, they have helped shareholders of U.S.-based companies.

Barack Obama on the Income-Poverty-Health Release

Statement From Senator Obama on the Census Income, Health Insurance and Poverty Numbers

Today’s news confirms what America’s struggling families already know – that over the past seven years our economy has moved backwards. We have now lived through first so-called economic ‘expansion’ on record where typical families saw their incomes fall, and working-age households lost more than $2,000 from their paychecks. Another 816,000 Americans fell into poverty in 2007 – including nearly 500,000 children – bringing the total increase in Americans in poverty under President Bush to 5.7 million. And on Bush’s watch, an additional 7.2 million Americans have fallen into the ranks of the uninsured. This is the failed record of George Bush’s economic policies that Senator McCain has called ‘great progress.’ While Senator McCain is promising four more years of the failed Bush economic policies, my economic plan will restore bottom up economic growth that benefits all Americans by cutting taxes for working Americans, providing affordable, accessible health care for all, and investing in new energy, education and infrastructure so we can create millions of good jobs here in America,” said Senator Barack Obama.

Highlights from the Census report:

  • Between 2000 and 2007, median income for working age households fell by $2,176. When elderly households are included, median income declined by $324 over the same period. This is the first economic expansion on record where typical households have seen their incomes decline. Under the Clinton Administration, median household income increased by $6,200.

  • African American household income fell by $1,804 between 2000 and 2007; Hispanic household income fell by $1,256 over the same period

  • Based on declining wages over the first 7 months of this year, median household income is likely to fall by at least $700 in 2008, bringing total income lost for the typical household under the Bush Administration to over $1000.

  • An additional 816,000 Americans fell into poverty in 2007, bringing the total increase in Americans in poverty under President Bush to 5.7 million.

  • 500,000 children fell into poverty in 2007. There are 1.7 million more children living in poverty than in 2000.

  • Between 2000 and 2007, an additional 7.2 million Americans have fallen into the ranks of the uninsured. This is the largest increase in the number of people without health insurance of any Presidential Administration on record.

  • The share of Americans with private health coverage fell from 67.9% in 2006 to 67.5% in 2007. This share has fallen every year that President Bush has been in office, declining a total of 5 percentage points since 2000.

  • 940,000 African Americans have lost health insurance since 2000, along with 3 million Hispanics