Saturday, December 29, 2012

One Reason I'm Not Good At The Academic Game

I don't have much confidence in just about any provocative thesis. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the big ones is that I think empirical evidence is important and yet most findings are false. It's hard to get into the mindset of defending something controversial to the death for purely instrumental reasons.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I'm Sympathetic

One dude's view on why not to go to grad school for a literature degree:
But, I told the Should I Go to Grad School? editor, I couldn’t speak about graduate school education in general for two reasons. First, it seems intuitively true that for subjects such as history, philosophy, the hard sciences, and even some of the softer ones, it would be hard for me to make a case against graduate study.
But grad school for literature, I can't advocate. I escaped Yale before it became the center of the frenzied fad for French literary theorists, as a result of which students read more about arcane metaphysics of language, semiotics and the like than the actual literature itself. But, even though many of the most sophisticated contemporary intellectuals who once bought into this sophistry (such as Terry Eagleton) have abandoned it, the tenured relics who imposed this intellectual regime are still there, still espousing their view that literature itself is only to be understood through their diminishing deconstructing lens. I can testify to it, having sat through enough seminars at the Shakespeare Association of America conferences to last a life time. Please don't waste your life this way.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Republican David Frum has been very good on guns (he's originally from Canada - to most other wealthy countries, our gun policies look absolutely insane, even to conservatives; the same is true on health care). People who want to appeal to the 2nd Amendment have a few problems with interpreting it, but let's grant, just for the sake of argument (I wouldn't grant it otherwise), that the 2nd Amendment grants an individual to own a gun even when not part of a well-regulated militia. Still we are very familiar with contrasting rights. Gun nuts never explain why the 2nd Amendment is a stronger right than all other rights. When other rights present danger to the public, we curb them. One can't yell fire in a crowded movie theater (I gather the jurisprudence on this matter is much more complicated than this, however). Free speech is of course a protected right. Importantly, one can't threaten to harm people with their speech. One has the right to practice one's religion. However, one cannot threaten to kill people, or actually kill them, as part of sacrificial rituals, etc. One has the right to assemble, but one cannot simply assemble anywhere or anytime - that power would conflict with other rights, so we curb it and regulate it.

Clearly, as Frum and many others have pointed out, the presence of guns - one of the most technologically advanced tools ever created - presents a threat to the public in many situations, including, for instance, firefighters fighting a fire. Since we have a conflict of rights, and a very clear track record of guns harming peacefully assembled people in the public, there is an airtight case that guns ought to be regulated, just as free speech, free religion, free assembly, etc. are, even if we assume a misguided reading of the 2nd. The fact that in some cases guns have protected a group is relevant, but these cases are very infrequent and are greatly outweighed by the damage done by guns in far more cases - we are on pace to have more gun deaths than traffic deaths in the U.S. This does not even take into account the alarm and panic caused just by the threat of guns - one's rights are violated if one is threatened with a gun, even if one is not actually physically harmed.


Read the whole thing. One of many tasty bits:
O’Sullivan, wearing a pink oxford and Wayfarers perched on the tip of his nose, discussed issues as diverse as modern slavery, Hispanic Catholicism, male prison rape, and the preservation of “the Anglosphere,” which he defined as the former British colonies “who use English as their common means of communication.”
During a discussion of Iran, a tall, jovial foreign-policy columnist named John Thomson was shouted down by everyone at the table for calling Barack Obama “an intelligent man.” “He’s not with us,” whispered a woman named Nancy from Key Biscayne.
I casually mentioned that the phrase “Anglosphere” was perhaps unfortunate given the right’s image problem as a majority white party. O’Sullivan agreed they might need a different word.
“We haven’t done our marketing that well,” conceded Thomson. “That was Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney messaged whiteness. That was one of his greatest failings. ‘I’m a white Anglo-Saxon.’ ”
Melissa O’Sullivan, the Alabaman wife of John, wasn’t buying the idea that Republicans had alienated minorities. “We’ve invited them to join us!” she insisted...
But Ms. O’Sullivan again took umbrage. As everyone went silent, she recalled a conference she attended in Australia in which a liberal nun (who “didn’t even have the decency to wear a habit”) criticized America for its “inner-city racism.” Offended, Ms. O’Sullivan recounted what she wished she’d said to this nun:
“Pardon me, madam, but I have been in your country of Australia for ten days and the only Aborigines I’ve seen have been drunk on the street, and at least if we were in my country they would be serving the drinks at this conference!”
Ms. O’Sullivan then warned against watering down the purity of the conservative agenda to placate minorities or, as she put it, rather succinctly, “the bastardization of the product.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Economics And Anthropology

John Kay discusses the blinders ideology puts on us all if we are not careful.
For the anthropologists, the custom of standing a round represented ritual gift exchange. They drew an analogy with Native American potlatch festivals, where tribes would gather to eat, sing, dance and confer lavish presents – sometimes treasured or essential possessions – on each other. The economists preferred a more hard-nosed explanation. Buying drinks in rounds rather than individually was a means of reducing transaction costs. The number of dealings between the customers and the bar was reduced, and the need for small change diminished.
I proposed an empirical test between the competing hypotheses. Did you feel successful or unsuccessful if you had bought more drinks than had been bought for you? Unfortunately, the result was inconclusive. The anthropologists believed their generosity enhanced their status. The economists sought to maximise the difference between the number of drinks they had consumed and the number they had bought. They computed appropriate strategies for finite games and even for extended evenings of indeterminate length. The lesson is that if you want a good time at a bar, go with an anthropologist rather than an economist...

A narrow focus is characteristic of scientific method but gets in the way of understanding social phenomena. That was my error when I sought the “true” explanation in the pub. The custom of the round has both economic and social advantages, and it is likely that both help to account for its prevalence and persistence. The earnest missionaries and misanthropic economists who want to shut festivals down because they damage the economy have missed the point that the prospective enjoyment of such events is the reason we engage in economic activity in the first place.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Republican Josh Barro On Why Current Orthodoxy Among Republican Elites Is Bound To Fail

Here are the goods.
If you don't understand that 2009 was a worse year than 1979 -- because most people support themselves by working, not by investing in bonds -- then you don't understand why the Republican Party is losing touch with the middle class.
This misunderstanding explains how Cruz came up with "opportunity conservatism," which is not a new policy agenda, but rather a new way to market conservatives' existing policy agenda. He says "we need to conceptualize, we need to articulate conservative domestic policy with a laser focus on opportunity, on easing the means of ascent up the economic ladder." In other words, he thinks tight money and a smaller safety net are good for middle-income Americans, and we just need to explain to them why.
Cruz then outlines five planks of "opportunity conservatism." The first is "jobs and the economy," and it doesn't really have much policy content. He says Republicans should talk about the importance of small business and entrepreneurship and that they should point out that unemployment for minorities has been extremely high under President Barack Obama. He doesn't propose any new ideas to lower unemployment. Isn't this basically what Mitt Romneydid in his campaign?
Then Cruz does start talking about policy specifics. And his speech gets even worse. That's because his next four planks are old conservative hobby horses: school choice, Social Security private accounts, "Sound Money" (meaning deflationary monetary policy) and gun rights.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Real Science

There's actually a lot of good scientific evidence that playing violent video games or watching violent media makes people more aggressive. There's virtually no scientific evidence that it doesn't - all there is is the lack of significant effects in some studies. I think liberals don't like to hear this, but it just seems like a bias to me. Note that I am not advocating any particular policy response. I just think people should be aware.
The results showed that, after each day, those who played violent games had an increase in their hostile expectations — after reading the beginning of the stories, they were more likely to think that the characters would react with aggression or violence. And the violent video game group also gave their opponents louder and louder headphone blasts after each day of game play.
Participants who played nonviolent games showed no increase in hostile expectations or aggression.
“Hostile expectations are probably not the only reason that players of violent games are more aggressive, but our study suggests it is certainly one important factor,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.
“After playing a violent video game, we found that people expect others to behave aggressively. That expectation may make them more defensive and more likely to respond with aggression themselves, as we saw in this study and in other studies we have conducted.

It's Sad Part II

War on women - we've almost broken their will, just need to push a little harder and they'll never have sex again.

It's Sad

Amanda Marcotte's right.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Smart Take On The Stock Market

Matthew Yglesias:
"Lots of people have hobbies, especially if they're affluent, and men in particular seem drawn to a broad class of hobbies that's structurally similar to short-term stock market speculation. You obsessively track minutia of data. You gather "insider" information that doesn't actually make you well-informed enough to beat genuine insiders. You run risks based on systematic overconfidence. And basically the whole thing makes sense if you think of it as a entertainment that's harmless when engaged in by the sufficiently affluent, but potentially destructive to a minority of people who are sucked into addictive behavior and wager money they can't afford to lose. If you try to think of sports gambling as income-maximizing investment activity, it looks incredibly puzzling but nobody looks at it that way. Stock picking is much the same.
And it's all fine as far as it goes, though as Keynes noted a long time ago it seems problematic to let this process have an undue weight in driving a country's overall capital expenditures."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

One Law Of Complex Systems To Rule Them All

Brit Brogaard suggests consciousness might be physical since its development might follow the fundamental law of complexity - which is also physical. Might all be true, but it doesn't solve many of the other puzzles about the relationship between consciousness and the physical, and so not sure if it's physicalism in the ways everyone thought physicalism was interesting. Still interesting in its own right, of course.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not Out Of The Woods Yet

Remember, one of the main drivers of the big recession and slow recovery was the massive private debt - people couldn't pay for their housing loans and credit cards. Private debt is always one group's problem until it's everybody's problem.
"The proportion of U.S. student loan balances that are in delinquency — that is, unpaid for 90 days or more — surpassed that of credit-card balances in the third quarter for the first time, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Of the $956 billion in student-loan debt outstanding as of September, 11 percent was delinquent — up from less than 9 percent in the second quarter, and higher than the 10.5 percent of credit-card debt, which was delinquent in the third quarter. By comparison, delinquency rates on mortgages, home-equity lines of credit and auto loans stood at 5.9 percent, 4.9 percent, and 4.3 percent respectively as of September."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thomas Nagel Reviews Haidt

I don't endorse full Nagelian "transcendence" route, but agree with the main point: if you ignore the reason-based aspects of morality and moral theory you will arrive at a theory that makes no sense at all.
"Reflection and argument of this kind have played a significant role in moral reform, but Haidt’s picture of different moralities as composed, like different cuisines, from different blends of the six moral modules, suitably adapted to social circumstances, leaves little room for the pursuit of moral understanding and progress through rational reflection and the search for consistency. Yet this kind of thought is part of moral life, including Haidt’s, and any theory of moral psychology should try to understand it. Social cohesion may be a necessary function of an acceptable morality, but it is not the only one."

Either We Had A MASSIVE Shortage Of Administrators 10 Years Ago...

...or maybe it's cronyism.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

People Like Throwing Their Weight Around

For all that people carry on about freedom and the oppressiveness of government and institutions, remember that tons of people who don't know you like to weigh in on whether you should be fired from your job or not. I don't really see how it's a free speech issue, as the headline suggests. She did something dumb and disrespectful, and it's up to her employers whether they keep her on or not. But I don't see how it's anybody else's business.

Defense Spending

There is a lot of wasteful spending.
We can’t close without saying that our hands-down favorite, so to speak, among the Pentagon-funded work targeted by Coburn for downright foolishness was a UCLA anthropologist’s examination of whether men holding pistols are considered taller, stronger, and more masculine than those holding a range of other objects, such as caulking guns, drills, saws and paintbrushes. He found they were.
The study was financed by the Air Force’s Office of Scientific Research under a $681,387 grant, according to Coburn’s report.
A graduate student would find a way to run 2,000 studies of this sort for that much money.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I Know Somebody That Really, Really Needs To Read This

Regarding prepositions.


Obamacare has to be one of the most talked about yet misunderstood pieces of legislation in modern times.

One woman who expressed this view the strongest was Marina Sokolovsky, a 26-year-old who has been uninsured since she was 17. Earning about $1,500 each month, she’s near certain to qualify for new benefits. But when she looks out at the insurance system now — broken, fragmented, and out of her reach — she just doesn’t think it will work.
“Change is good, and it may be a real change, but if it was doable, it would have been done by now,” she says. “For how complicated things are, it would be a really big shift to find something functional. I just don’t think that’s possible.”
This view seemed to be pretty pervasive throughout the focus groups, where at least a handful had the experience of being denied a government benefit they’d pursued. This law may help other people get insurance, the thinking seemed to go. But somehow, someway, it won’t help me.
Even though the law bans pre-existing conditions, Tim Perot, 30, told me he still thought insurers would find a way to “reject” his coverage. He has let his diabetes and Hepatitis C go largely untreated since he lost his insurance and his job as a cook, two years ago.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Computing With Light, Rather Than Electricity...

...will make computers about 100 times faster, even faster than Netscape.

"You think your sleek new laptop is fast? A slow-footed plow horse compared to what Ritesh Agarwal has in mind. Rather than perform computations by manipulating the flow of electricity, he wants to manipulate the flow of light - outstripping the speeds of today's computers by a factor of at least 100, by his estimate.
In a recent study, Agarwal and colleague Brian Piccione reported that they had induced the slender wires to act as switches - clamping down on the flow of the light through a given wire by hitting it with another laser.
That's what a computer is, after all: a dizzying array of on-and-off switches, combined in such a way as to allow the sending of e-mail or predicting the next hurricane.
In their study, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, Agarwal, Piccione, and coauthors described how they had combined several of their microscopic light-activated switches to make a logic "gate." A gate is the basic computational unit of a computer - sort of an electronic version of a fork in the road, in which two conditions must be met in order for the signal to go forward.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wouldn't Be Funny In A Script...

...but since it's real life, it's absolutely hilarious.

"City lawmakers are scheduled to vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would prohibit nudity in most public places, a blanket ban that represents an escalation of a two-year tiff between a devoted group of men who strut their stuff through the city's famously gay Castro District and the supervisor who represents the area.
Supervisor Scott Wiener's proposal would make it illegal for a person over the age of 5 to "expose his or her genitals, perineum or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet or plaza" or while using public transit."

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Now that the election is over and holidays are coming up, there is probably going to less stuff that jumps out at me as bloggable material. If anybody has any questions or topics they want me to blog about (e.g. the fiscal cliff?, what's potentially bad about fiscal debt?, philosophical puzzles?, etc.) please let me know in the comments section.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hard To Blame Obama For The Bad Economy...

...when he did better than just about anyone else. As always, we could have done better and could be doing better now, but stimulus was and still is good, while austerity is bad while in a slump.

Wouldn't Have Guessed These Numbers Correctly

The sex habits of college students.

The Motive Is Obvious

Sarah Kliff tentatively offers a motive for why Republican governors are insisting that the federal government (big gubment), gets its greasy paws all over state health exchanges, but masks it a bit because...journalism. They want all the credit if it goes well but none of the blame if it doesn't. A lot things that are supposed to be about principles are really about CYA when it comes to politicians.

Romney Is A Joke

Often the difficult question is whether these people are stupid or evil. Romney reveals that he just might be stupid. Still hard to tell though, since he was talking to donors who might be the stupid one. In any case, Romney offered the rich a 20% tax cut which amounts to a much greater "gift" than anything Obama did. Obviously. OBVIOUSLY.

"Mitt Romney told his top donors Wednesday that his loss to President Obama was a disappointing result that neither he nor his top aides had expected, but said he believed his team ran a “superb” campaign with “no drama,” and attributed his rival’s victory to “the gifts” the administration had given to blacks, Hispanics and young voters during Obama’s  first term. 
Obama, Romney argued, had been “very generous” to blacks, Hispanics and young voters. He cited as motivating factors to young voters the administration’s plan for partial forgiveness of college loan interest and the extension of health coverage for students on their parents’ insurance plans well into their 20s. Free contraception coverage under Obama’s healthcare plan, he added, gave an extra incentive to college-age women to back the president."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

People Tend To Vote In Their Self-Interest

The rich know who'll keep their bread buttered. I've had the "Democrats are truly the party of the rich" meme thrown at me a few times. The truth is that both parties have large coalitions, and some poor people and some rich people vote for each party. But, for the record, rich people vote for Republicans more often than for Democrats, and poor people vote for Democrats more often than for Republicans. AND, Republican policies are much more favorable to the rich. This is all to be understood as true of the contemporary time slice of American politics, not timeless truths, of course.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Walked To The Library Today...

...and I saw three different women wearing neon orange sneakers.

That's it.

This Is Why I Think There Is Something To Non-Cognitivism

I don't think normative judgments are entirely non-cognitive, but I do think they often have practical or motivational import. I don't think this lady believes that if her husband voted, then Obama wouldn't have won the election. Rather, I think she had a plan that they would vote, and he frustrated her plan.
"GILBERT, AZ - A Mesa woman was arrested Saturday after she allegedly chased her husband around a Gilbert parking lot in an SUV during an argument over the presidential election.
The woman finally ran over her husband, leaving him with critical injuries.
According to a Gilbert police report, the argument started over her husband's lack of voter participation in the recent election.
Holly Solomon, 28, apparently believed her family was going to face hardship as a result of President Barack Obama's re-election."

Read more:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Efficient Charitable Giving

Felix Salmon makes the case that while giving to Red Cross is good for some things, it is not always the best way to get help to people who need it quickly.
"With $117 million in donations comes an expectation that the Red Cross can and should be everywhere it’s needed, when it’s needed, rather than in a handful of places, a week later, offering food but no shelter or blankets or power or lights. But probably those expectations are unrealistic. The US is fortunate in that it’s not a permanent disaster zone: it’s not a country where Red Cross volunteers are ever going to be experienced in responding to such things. And mobilizing thousands of volunteers and tens of millions of dollars to provide food and shelter in areas without electricity or pharmacies or heat — that’s a logistical nightmare.
The Red Cross, in the event, proved incapable of rising to the occasion. Other large organizations did amazing work: ConEd brought power back, and the MTA brought public transportation back, in much less time than virtually anybody had dared to hope. But those organizations had experienced and dedicated workers who knew exactly what to do and how to do it, rather than a rag-tag band of well-intentioned volunteers worrying about what they were authorized to spend, and a fleet of trucks located in unhelpful places up and down the Eastern seaboard."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Michael Spence Is A Conservative Nobel Prize Winning Economist...

...and also a communist. Well, I've been told that people who think governments play a crucial role in maintaining a well-functioning society and that the U.S. should be investing more in infrastructure are communists, but I have to do some follow up on that.
"Indeed, in the United States, lessons from the Katrina experience appear to have strengthened response capacity, as shown by the rapid and effective intervention following Hurricane Sandy. But investments designed to control the extent of damage seem to be persistently neglected.
Redressing this imbalance requires a focus on key infrastructure. Of course, one cannot at reasonable cost prevent all possible damage from calamities, which strike randomly and in locations that cannot always be predicted. But certain kinds of damage have large multiplier effects.
This includes damage to critical systems like the electricity grid and the information, communication, and transport networks that constitute the platform on which modern economies run. Relatively modest investments in the resilience, redundancy, and integrity of these systems pay high dividends, albeit at random intervals. Redundancy is the key."

Read more at 

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I thought choosing Paul Ryan for VP candidate was a mistake. And I don't think he'd make a good presidential candidate, in the sense that I don't think he improves the GOP's chance of winning an election. (I also don't think he'd make a good president for our country's sake either, obviously.) People overlook that his unfavorables are very strong, unlike Romney's. Romney had large unfavorability numbers, but they faded a lot once he became the candidate of choice because people merely sort of didn't like him; they didn't strongly dislike him. But people strongly dislike Ryan already. It's actually possible that Ryan couldn't win his home state of Wisconsin, which is often viewed as one of the swing states.

Post-Election Wrap Up

I'm not saying following points are the most important, they are just things that I want to point out:

1. Keeping everything near status quo seemed unimaginable 2-6 years ago. We had sweep after sweep, and the conventional wisdom was that there was little chance Dems could keep the Senate with so many seats up for grabs, plus a number of retirements. But, if someone told me Obama would win AND Dems would not merely hold the same number seats, but gain, I would have thought they take back the House for sure. But they didn't. One possible explanation for the GOP keeping the House was that in 2010, when the GOP dominated in the House and in state legislators, they were able to lead re-districting efforts. The gerrymandering is thought by some to be favorable to the GOP, which allowed them to retain majority in the House.

2. Super-PAC's and millionaires (and billionaires!) allowed the Romney campaign to pull in more cash (counting everything) than an incumbent president's campaign - pretty unusual. But it was pretty close, as Obama received a massive amount from small donors. He received a lot from rich donors, as well, but the Obama campaign's  ratio of money from small donors to rich donors dwarfs Romney's. I don't know what that means for the future, but I think Dems should worry a bit about the possibility of not always being able to pull in this kind of small donor money.

3.The GOP really overlooked how much the wave election of 2010 was due to anger about the recession, and how that's really a one-time deal if things are getting better. People who thought you'd have a similar turnout in 2012 were kidding themselves. That being said 2014 is a bit of mystery, since we don't know if the  economy will improve and if so by how much. However, Dems shouldn't kid themselves into thinking their demographic advantage in presidential election cycles will serve them as well as non-presidential election cycles. Young people don't vote in off years, but seniors do. I don't know why this is, but it is extremely important.

4. It looks like we will have gridlock for at least the next two years, as looked to be the case for awhile now. No, the GOP will not "learn a lesson" from the election, and no, it's not clear that what they have been doing is a bad strategy, as far as getting elected is concerned. There are still a lot of members of the GOP Congress who believe exactly the same thing they have for the last two years. Dems might be able to use the looming "fiscal cliff" to get some sort of deal, but I'm not optimistic it will be anything big.

So it goes...

Friday, November 9, 2012


David Gelernter:
 We’ve seen an important (though far from decisive) battle in the slow-motion civil war the nation is undergoing: The blue states want to secede not from America but from Americanism. They reject the American republic of God-fearing individuals in favor of the European ideal, which has only been government by aristocracy: either an aristocracy of birth or, nowadays, of ruling know-it-alls — of post-religious, globalist intellectuals (a.k.a. PORGIs). As I’ve said before — many others have too — you can’t graduate class after class after class of left-indoctrinated ignoramuses without paying the price.  Last night was a down payment.
But we’ve won civil wars and preserved the Union before. We’ll do it again — if we face up to the fact that we need to replace our schools and colleges now; the grace period has lasted a generation, but it’s over. I know we can do it and I’m pretty sure we will do it. Americanism is too strong and brilliant and young to die.

Pretty Much

What he said.
"The white establishment, undone by hordes of various-colored people who demand stuff. Even as he admitted the white bloc was too small to win, O'Reilly still saw the winning side as an undifferentiated counter-bloc, rather than a coalition of Americans.
Obama won the Latino vote, 71 to 27. He also won the Asian vote, 73 to 26. Those voters all look the same to the losers. That's why they're the losers."


Though he seems hardcore, he gives himself plenty of loopholes. The Beatles? Come on!

"All family and friends, even close family and friends, who I know to be Democrats are hereby dead to me. I vow never to speak to them again for the rest of my life, or have any communications with them. They are in short, the enemies of liberty. They deserve nothing less than hatred and utter contempt.
I strongly urge all other libertarians to do the same. Are you married to someone who voted for Obama, have a girlfriend who voted 'O'. Divorce them. Break up with them without haste. Vow not to attend family functions, Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas for example, if there will be any family members in attendance who are Democrats.
Do you work for someone who voted for Obama? Quit your job. Co-workers who voted for Obama. Simply don't talk to them in the workplace, unless your boss instructs you too for work-related only purposes. Have clients who voted Democrat? Call them up this morning and tell them to take their business elsewhere.
Have a neighbor who votes for Obama? You could take a crap on their lawn. Then again, probably not a good idea since it would be technically illegal to do this. But you could have your dog take care of business. Not your fault if he just happens to choose that particular spot."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

High Information Is Consistent With Conspiracy Theories

I'd like to see what would happen if the parties were flipped. I'd bet low information Dems would be skeptical, but I wonder about high information Dems...

Brendan Nyhan:
When the September jobs report showed that unemployment had dropped to an unexpectedly low 7.8%, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch helped launch a new conspiracy theory when he tweeted: "Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers." Even though the unemployment statistics are produced by the respected and politically insulated Bureau of Labor Statistics, Welch's theory was disseminated by numerous conservative pundits and amplified by a wave of irresponsible media coverage. As we approach Election Day, it's worth taking a look back and assessing the damage.
To assess the prevalence of conspiracy theory beliefs about manipulation of the unemployment data, I contributed several questions to a YouGov poll conducted October 27-29, 2012...
 Among respondents who identify as Democrats or lean toward the party, high-knowledge respondents are more likely to believe the figures are accurate and less likely to believe they are being manipulated than individuals with low or medium knowledge. For Republicans (including leaners), however, respondents with high political knowledge are paradoxically less likely to believe the unemployment statistics are accurate than those with low or medium political knowledge. In addition, high knowledge Republicans are more likely to believe the statistics are being manipulated than low knowledge respondents. (The difference between medium and high knowledge respondents is not statistically significant.)

You've Got The Power

If you don't use it, you might lose it! Vote!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pretty Bad

Hard to be surprised by displays implicit racism, but apparently I still can be. Scott Lemieux calls out Politico:
This actually appeared in Politico, in 2012:
If President Barack Obama wins, he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites. That’s what the polling has consistently shown in the final days of the campaign. It looks more likely than not that he will lose independents, and it’s possible he will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000.
A broad mandate this is not.
So Obama’s coalition is broader, but it doesn’t extend to a majority of Real Americans, who are white, so it doesn’t count. Right. Shorter Politico: Democratic states should get 3/5ths representation in the Electoral College.
This makes Scocca’s recent piece about Republican identity politics even more relevant:
White people don’t like to believe that they practice identity politics. The defining part of being white in America is the assumption that, as a white person, you are a regular, individual human being. Other demographic groups set themselves apart, to pursue their distinctive identities and interests and agendas. Whiteness, to white people, is the American default.
Yet Mitt Romney’s election strategy depends on the notion that the white vote is separate from the rest of the vote, and can be captured as such.
This has been the foundation of Republican presidential politics for more than four decades, since Richard Nixon courted and won the votes of Southerners who’d turned against the Democratic Party because of integration and civil rights. The Party of Lincoln became the party of Lincoln’s assassins, leveraging white anger into a regional advantage and eventually a regional monopoly. It’s all very basic and old news, but it’s still considered rude to say so, even as Republican strategists talk about winning the white voters and only the white voters.
I’ll guarantee that if Romney ekes out an electoral college and popular vote victory, we’re not going to be hearing about how Romney’s mandate is too narrow because it’s so dominated by white men.

Parties Provide Pretty Good Voting Heuristics

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein makes the point that voting for your party's candidate is often what you would choose to do even if you have full information, so you might as well do it even if you are not very informed. Often, you have no idea what's in the mind and character of a politician, but you do know that they feel pressure from party members and will be responsive to those pressures. That's the surer bet than to try to divine a politician's "true" attitudes.

Game Changers

Here is a list of all the "game changers" this election cycle. Notice that very few actually made a difference. Please remember this fact for every election cycle in the foreseeable future.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Political Science Can Help You Vote. Really!

If you haven't voted yet, make sure you do. Boris Shor is a political scientist at the University of Chicago who will help match up your positions with those running for office in your district. Check it out:


Thought some readers might appreciate this:

Oh Please, Oh Please, Oh Please

Don't let there be significant ballot fraud this election.
"The underlying allegation is that the woman, whose name has not been released, filled in blanks on ballots turned into the county for the Nov. 6 general election. 
Sources familiar with the incident say their understanding is that the woman filled in a straight Republican ticket on the ballots where preferences had been left blank by voters."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Two Things I Don't Get (Mainly One)

Jordan Weissmann piles on the "let's not take Romney at his word" wagon with regard to FEMA. One (the one everybody knows is a problem): Why does the fact that Romney flip flops a lot mean that he'll always flip to the reasonable position? Why are people always so confident about this? He might flip being relatively technocratic as Governor to being Tea Partier-in-Chief for all we know. Two (the main one): Romney uses many strong words, and it is quite difficult to thread Weissman's needle on this one. When King repeats: "Including disaster relief, though?" as his follow up, Romney replies: "We cannot...afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all." Ok, so we, the sophisticated, are to understand that Romney really doesn't mean that. But what is the message that comes down from our political elites? There is a lot of evidence that the views of the general public to a large degree reflect the attitudes of the elites. Why is it then permissible to use such strong language? To say we should read between the lines is to miss the point that many people won't. Why isn't this something to call Romney on?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Can't Say It Enough

The GOP members of Congress the last four years have been truly atrocious. This story is more important, but less exciting, then who will win the presidency this year. Notice the theme winding through this and this.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Smug Grad Students Being Smug

Overheard probably nice person smugly claim (I paraphrase) "I'm in Literature, so I can rip the claim that there is such a thing as truth apart." Grad students in Literature shouldn't be smug. They should spend their free time thinking of viable ways to defend the existence of graduate programs in Literature. Claiming we need them to show how there is "no truth" won't help.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Reports Of Racism's Death Greatly Exaggerated

Don't know why anyone thought racism isn't prevalent in the U.S., but anyone who says that (I've talked to some) has to deal with the fact that about 50% of Americans pretty much flat out admit it. I'm not saying the survey is perfect, but the results are pretty stark.

Random Speculation On Contemporary Crime and Punishment

Out of the blue speculations today: our legal and criminal justice systems are anachronistic in a lot of ways.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Some Politicians Are Not Good At Hiding Their Motives

The voter I.D. laws, for one obviously. But Rick Scott wants to penalize students who will pursue lower paying jobs. As Taborrok notes, if jobs in these fields are unavailable, students are already being penalized for choosing them - they accept that job prospects are worse and the ones available will be lower-paying or have fewer benefits, since the market does not demand them. The point of this legislation is not really to get people in STEM, it's to punish people who tend to be academics or liberals.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Women Are Criticized Differently Than Men Are

Megan McArdle, with whom I often disagree and would not often recommend reading, makes the correct point that influential women are not just often criticized, they are criticized differently than men are - often with fantastical scenarios of sexual violence involved. It's good to call people out on this.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nobody's Right, Everybody's Wrong

But Romney's the most wrong...
Romney last night: "I said they need -- these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy. And in that process, they can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they'd -- they'd built up..."
Romney in 2011: "My view with regards to the bailout was that whether it was by President Bush or by President Obama, it was the wrong way to go. I said from the very beginning they should go through a managed bankruptcy process, a private bankruptcy process. We have capital markets and bankruptcy. ... My plan, we would have had a private sector bailout with the private sector restructuring and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding the direction as opposed to what we had with government playing its heavy hand."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gender And Voting

Listen to the women...they tend to vote based on self-interest. From The Economist:
Dr Petersen and Dr Sznycer found that, regardless of country of origin or apparent ideology, strong men argued for their self interest: the poor for redistribution, the rich against it. No surprises there. Weaklings, however, were far less inclined to make the case that self-interest suggested they would. Among women, by contrast, strength had no correlation with opinion. Rich women wanted to stay rich; poor women to become so.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Liberals As Charitable As Conservatives

Andrew Gelman gives the head's up at the Monkey Cage:

We are not the first to ask whether partisanship affects giving. In 2006, Arthur Brooks made headlines with a provocative finding from his book Who Really Cares: despite stereotypes of liberals caring more about the poor, conservatives were purported to be more generous when it comes to giving to charities. These results stirred the political pot by taking “bleeding heart liberals” to task for their stinginess when it comes to their own money. . . . we demonstrate that these results are not robust, and appear to be driven by a non-traditional question wording for identifying liberals and conservatives. After correcting for this problem, there is no statistical difference between conservative and liberal giving, conditional on observable characteristics. Further, when we use partisanship rather than ideology to measure liberalism, there is no statistical difference in giving, regardless of whether we adjust for observable characteristics.

The Kid Is Back

Submitted dissertation. Fired up and ready to go.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


The Economist's Greg Ip makes the case that things are bound to get better. Since voters seem to care about trends and not levels, and things will be getting better, odds are that the party that wins the election this year will win in four years, as well.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Blame Bush

It's sort of cliche to say, but the depth of the badness of the economy really is to a significant degree due to Bush's policies, and Romney's policies are more of the same.

"During the 2000 election, the growth of a budget surplus offered the country a major choice. Al Gore proposed to use most of the surplus to retire the national debt and the balance for public investment. George W. Bush proposed a large, regressive income tax that Gore warned would exacerbate inequality and jeopardize the soundness of the budget.
Then, as now, the Republican simply denied over and over that his plan would do what the Democrats said it would. Bush portrayed his plan as devoting just a small fraction of the surplus to tax cuts and described his tax cut itself as benefitting the poor far more than the rich. And you certainly could find circumstantial evidence to suggest that Bush might govern the way he portrayed himself, rather than the way his plan read. He had governed in a bipartisan way in Texas, he had explicitly denounced the conservative wing of the Congressional GOP, and he had surrounded himself with moderate advisers like Michael Gerson and Karen Hughes.
But Bush in fact followed through on what his plan actually did, which happened to be what Gore described it as, and not what Bush described it as. His promises to maintain the budget surplus and direct most of the tax cuts to lower-earners fell by the wayside. What mattered was the party, and the Republican Party was committed to a policy of regressive tax cuts."

Monday, October 1, 2012


It's just a game.
"We consider the relationship between collegiate-football success and non-athlete student performance. We find that the team's success significantly reduces male grades relative to female grades. This phenomenon is only present in fall quarters, which coincides with the football season. Using survey data, we find that males are more likely than females to increase alcohol consumption, decrease studying, and increase partying in response to the success of the team. Yet, females also report that their behavior is affected by athletic success, suggesting that their performance is likely impaired but that this effect is masked by the practice of grade curving."

Paul Ryan Thinks We're Suckers

The video is pretty funny.

Class Warfare

Remind me again: which side is winningSomething weird about saying people need rich people to create jobs but then decry labor as all on the government dole. Are they working in the jobs you create or are they welfare queens milking the government system?
"As a group we employ many millions of taxpaying people, pay their salaries, provide them with healthcare coverage, start new companies, found new industries, create new products, fill store shelves at Christmas, and keep the wheels of commerce and progress (and indeed of government, by generating the income whose taxation funds it) moving. To frame the debate as one of rich-and-entitled versus poor-and-dispossessed is to both miss the point and further inflame an already incendiary environment...
The President, in Cooperman’s view, draws political support from those who are dependent on government. Last October, in a question-and-answer session at a Thomson Reuters event, Cooperman said, “Our problem, frankly, is as long as the President remains anti-wealth, anti-business, anti-energy, anti-private-aviation, he will never get the business community behind him. The problem and the complication is the forty or fifty per cent of the country on the dole that support him.”

Read more

Saturday, September 29, 2012

More On Moral Thresholds And Voting

I was thinking more about this call to not vote for someone for moral reasons. Others have disagreed with Friedersdorf for some pretty compelling reasons, in my view. But I had the thought that there surely is a threshold where we would not vote for a candidate for moral reasons. To take an extreme example, imagine a presidential candidate murdered someone on the campaign with his or her bare hands. I don't think I could vote for the murderer in this scenario. The example is extreme, but the question becomes: where do you draw the line? Friedersdorf gave some examples in this spirit, and I think they have been overlooked by his dissenters - what to say about "automatic disqualifiers"?

It occurred to me that in the murder scenario (an admittedly extreme hypothetical), I wouldn't vote for that candidate, but I'd probably want somebody else from the same party to run, and then I'd vote for that person. That's where I think I diverge from Friedersdorf - in my eyes, the candidate up for vote is a tool for the party he or she represents. The reason I vote for Obama is not because I think Obama the person is anything special, it's because he represents the party that is most likely to implement policy ideas I agree with, or at least come closest to agreeing with. Although Obama in particular has gotten a lot of hype for his personal qualities, in fact most people vote the way they do for reasons similar to mine; they are most closely aligned with one party's platform or another. It's no surprise Friedersdorf will fall back to Gary Johnson instead of some other third party candidate; he's sympathetic to libertarianism.

I feel some reluctance for voting for Obama, but I would feel reluctance for voting for Hilary Clinton or Joe Biden. But I would vote for either without much thought in comparison to the package I would get for voting for any likely GOP candidate right now. One party is fighting for universal health care - I'm going to vote for that party. One party has tried to privatize Social Security, voucherize Medicare, held unemployment insurance hostage, opposes equality for all people, and so on. I'm going to steer away from the party to the extent possible. So, I think the reason I disagree with Friedersdorf is that the personal qualities of the candidate don't matter that much to me. I'm sure others don't see things my way, but many do.

Jost Reviews Haidt

Must read (PDF) if you are interested in moral or political psychology. Tasty bit:

"Haidt draws sparingly on the details of contemporary research in social and political psychology, usually as a foil for his ostensibly above-­‐the-­‐fray approach. Consider this passage:
'I began by summarizing the standard explanations that psychologists had offered for decades: Conservatives are conservative because they were raised by overly strict parents, or because they are inordinately afraid of change, novelty, and complexity, or because they suffer from existential fears and therefore cling to a simple worldview with no shades of gray. These approaches all had one feature in common: they used psychology to explain away conservatism. They made it unnecessary for liberals to take conservative ideas seriously because these ideas are caused by bad childhoods or ugly personality traits. I suggested a very different approach: start by assuming that conservatives are just as sincere as liberals, and then use Moral Foundations Theory to understand the moral matrices of both sides.' (pp. 166-­‐167)
This paragraph illustrates both the slipperiness of Haidt’s prose and the extent to which key issues are unresolved by his theory. First, there is a great deal of empirical evidence indicating that conservatives are in fact less open to change, novelty, and complexity and are more likely to perceive the world as a dangerous place than liberals (Carney et al., 2008; Gerber et al., 2010; Jost et al., 2003). Rather than attempting to grapple with these findings, which are uncomfortable for his view of political ideology, Haidt characterizes them with argumentative language (“overly,” “inordinately,” “suffer,” “cling,” “bad childhoods,” and “ugly personality traits”) to suggest that these claims have to be false because they sound so...pejorative. Second, he claims that past researchers have “used psychology to explain away conservatism,” as if there is no difference between explaining something and explaining it away. Third, Haidt switches at the last moment from discussing the origins and characteristics of liberals and conservatives to the issue of sincerity, as if it were impossible to sincerely believe something that is rooted in childhood or other psychological experiences. Psychological scientists recognize that questions about the social, cognitive, and motivational underpinnings of a belief system are distinct from questions about its validity..."

Friday, September 28, 2012

Only One Problem With The Plan... won't work. Josh Barro chalks up an I-told-you-so: Romney has a detailed economic plan that he simply doesn't want to share:
"[M]any of the folks who are despairing about Romney would actually love what he would do in office. Romney’s metric-obsessed transition team is fleshing out a “200-day plan” (100 days wasn’t enough time to pass a bunch of big bills) aimed at goosing the recovery and creating jobs by bringing corporate cash off the sidelines in the United States and attracting investment from abroad.
The weapons would include tax and regulatory policy and what one aide called a “very aggressive” series of executive orders, many already on the drawing board. Two of Romney’s friends told POLITICO he would be eager to sign a bipartisan grand bargain in the first four months in office to calm markets and ease partisan tensions."
Barro's right that Romney should release his plan. However, if Romney were to win (increasingly unlikely), Dems would instantly flip into the obstinate, do-nothing party. I am not claiming equivalence - the GOP has been obstinate to an unprecedented degree the last few years. However, Dems would certainly raise their demands for being part of a "grand bargain." In the presidential primary, none of the GOP candidates said they would accept 10 dollars in tax cuts if there were even 1 dollar in revenue raised. (Romney's plan already shows he wouldn't keep to that.) The GOP threatened to end unemployment insurance if the Bush tax cuts weren't extended in their entirety. If Romney were to win, and need filibuster proof majorities in the Senate, one can imagine Dems will have some pretty stiff bargaining ideas to win their support. What if Romney has to meet 3 dollars of raised revenue for every dollar in tax cut? What if Dems demand he expand Medicare? Would he be willing? I have my doubts.

So, gridlock is likely to be the rule, regardless of who wins the presidency.

Evan Bayh Is Mitt Romney, Jr.

Son of a politician with no backbone and a complete sellout. He has been from the beginning.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is There A Threshold For Voting?

Conor Friedersdorf talked about what's wrong with Romney and the GOP. Now he's back for Obama:
"What I am saying is that Obama has done things that, while not comparable to a historic evil like chattel slavery, go far beyond my moral comfort zone. Everyone must define their own deal-breakers. Doing so is no easy task in this broken world. But this year isn't a close call for me... 
  1. Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn't "precise" or "surgical" as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best, America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy. And Democrats who believe that it is the most moral of all responsible policy alternatives are as misinformed and blinded by partisanship as any conservative ideologue. 
  2. Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama's kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done..."
Pretty hard hitting stuff. One thing which Friedersdorf does not give adequate coverage is the risk of not doing some of these things. One of the reasons it is so hard to judge a president on foreign policy, at least real time, is that they have all sorts of information we don't. This is not the case when it comes to domestic issues. If there were real threats from some of the people targeted by drones, then the case becomes murkier. It is one of the reasons the war in Afghanistan has been such a difficult moral issue from the beginning, but that the war in Iraq hasn't. Al Qaeda posed a real threat to Americans, and it is not always easy to see what the best method to neutralize that threat is, particularly so when we do not have very much information to go on... 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Amateur Hour: Taxes And Capitalism

On 60 minutes, Romney defended the tax rates he pays:
"[T]he 60 Minutes interviewer, Scott Pelley stated that Mr. Romney “paid fourteen percent in federal taxes,” the capital gains rate, and asked “is that fair to the guy who makes fifty thousand dollars and paid a higher rate than you did?”
Mr. Romney answered “Yeah I think it’s the right way to encourage economic growth, to get people to invest, to start business, to put people to work.”
Never mind that Mr. Romney would have paid even less in taxes if he hadn’t kept his rate artificially high by declining to count $1.8 million in charitable contributions. (He can always revisit his deductions in a future year.) The important fact here is that there’s little evidence supporting the idea that lower capital gains rates will lead to more investment and more growth, or vice versa."
Let me preface what follows by saying that I'm not sure we need to jack up the capital gains tax rate. Our tax system should reward saving to some extent. (Though see Noah Millman from The American Conservative on the non-specialness of capital gains and this from the Century Foundation.) My main problem is that the way our tax system is set up supports a barrier to entry into the marketplace. This is not because taxes are too high on individuals or small businesses as many conservatives would argue, but because they are too low and there are too many exemptions for rich people and corporations.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Busy, busy...

Dissertation and grading all day. Substantive post tomorrow, I promise.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grade Inflation

Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman asks: why has it taken so long? He writes: 
The fact that profs don’t give all A’s, even though they can, is interesting to me. My explanation for this behavior is as follows: college professors typically got high grades themselves in college. Getting high grades is part of how we defined ourselves when we were students. So, now that we’re giving out the grades, we don’t want to devalue this currency. It’s not a matter of self-interest–if I give out a bunch of A’s to my students, it’s not going to retroactively tarnish my college grade-point average. Rather, I think it’s just that profs see grades as important in themselves. Sort of like rich people who don’t want to debase the currency, just as a matter of principle.
I remember looking at grading records for undergraduate classes back when I taught at Berkeley in the early 1990s. There was lots of variation in average grades by instructor, even for different sections of the same class. I didn’t do a formal study, but I remember when flipping through the sheets that average grade seemed to be correlated with niceness. The profs who were generally pleasant people tended to give lots of A’s, while the jerks were giving lower grades."
I'm not sure about this explanation as a general rule, but I don't think it's true across the board. However, almost none of my profs have inflated and that makes me wonder if I've had all jerks...

Friday, September 21, 2012


Both major parties have them, but only one party proudly touts and encourages them. Libertarian Conor Friedersdorf:
"This truth was evident during the GOP primary, where voters were presented with unacceptable candidates as diverse as the right itself. So broken are the information outlets Tea Partiers in particular use to assess reality that for months they took Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich seriously as potential or actual presidential contenders. They had every opportunity to see the respective character flaws of these figures; they were mostly self-evident, and persuasively described in great detail by the political press. Ah, but that's the liberal media talking. With that phrase, any huckster can short-circuit the Tea Party reality-assessing apparatus for months. And while movement conservatism has failed for decades to shrink government, it has succeeded spectacularly in creating jobs for hucksters in the private sector.      

The civil war the right needs is one waged against the hucksters, whether they're in the marketplace of ideas or the marketplace itself. Victory would mean establishing norms that would've made Roger Ailes too ashamed to air all those months of Glenn Beck; that would've made the Claremont Institute mortified to give Rush Limbaugh a statesmanship award; that would've made Matthew Continetti cringe at the idea of a modeling a conservative publication on what he disdains about liberal publications; norms that would've caused Erick Erickson to apologize for his absurd parade of indefensible statements before it complicated his successful effort to start a CNN gig; and that would make Mitt Romney embarrassed to stand in front of donors uttering untruths."

Secrets (Already) Revealed!

I've said this before: people pretty much know all they are going to know about Obama and his record. There's probably not much old stuff about him that's going to make a difference to the election.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hiring In The Future...

...done by algorithm. Makes a lot of sense, to me anyway.
"For more and more companies, the hiring boss is an algorithm. The factors they consider are different than what applicants have come to expect. Jobs that were once filled on the basis of work history and interviews are left to personality tests and data analysis, as employers aim for more than just a hunch that a person will do the job well. Under pressure to cut costs and boost productivity, employers are trying to predict specific outcomes, such as whether a prospective hire will quit too soon, file disability claims or steal."

Mixed Feelings About Late Converts

Personal memoir in the American Conservative about somebody in the GOP bubble learning true facts. It takes courage to face one's own prejudices, but I can't help but think that all that happened is that a dummy is less dumb.