Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

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Dan is a student at Georgetown University. He is currently trying to think of a new biography for this space.

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This blog translated:


Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people.

Currently reading:

Songbook by Nick Hornby

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

You should read:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Bobos In Paradise by David Brooks

Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright

Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best

Books written or edited by my professors (well, only the good ones)

Nick Barr

The Economics of the Welfare State

The Welfare State As Piggy Bank

Chris Dougherty

Introduction to Econometrics

David Gewanter

The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (ed. with Frank Bidart)

In the Belly

The Sleep of Reason

Meredith McKittrick

To Dwell Secure

John McNeill

The Human Web (with William H. McNeill)

Something New Under the Sun

Max-Stephan Schulze

Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945

Greater Blogtopia

Abu Aardvark
Across the Atlantic
Asparagus Pee
Bohemian Mama
Brazos de Dios Cantina Carl with a K
Chip Taylor
Conceptual Guerilla
D-Squared Digest
Dilettante's Guide to Life
Egotistical Whining
Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
Fleeting Impulse
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Grammar Police
Head Heeb
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
Impolite Company
Internet Activism
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John Hoke
John Lemon
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Kick the Leftist
Kids Korner
Kieran Healy
Liquid List
Loopy Librarian
Mark Maynard
Martin Stabe
More White Teeth
No More Mr. Nice Blog Notes on the Atrocities
Open Source Politics
Passenger Pachyderms
Peevish...I'm Just Saying
Politics and Policy
Quantum Skyline
Radical Review
Random Points
Risa Wechsler

Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
Talking Dog
Tom Runnacles
Truth is a Blog
Vaguely Right
Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
Vulgar Boatman
We Report... You Deride

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Boot Bush! Donate to the DNC today

2004 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac

"Everything to Everyone" by Barenaked Ladies

"In Between Evolution" by The Tragically Hip

"Phantom Planet" by Phantom Planet

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

"One Plus One Is One" by Badly Drawn Boy

"Sultans of Swing" by the Dire Straits

"Best of the Talking Heads" by the Talking Heads

How Shareholder Reforms Can Pay Foreign Policy Dividends, James Shinn, ed.

Weaving the Net, James Shinn, ed.

Fires Across the Water, James Shinn, ed.

Panasonic ES8017SC Men's Triple Blade Pro Curve Rechargeable Linear Shaver

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Saturday, May 31, 2003
Josh Chafetz of the Oxblog called the tax cuts 'stupid' and responded to his critics here. The scary thing is that it's actually worse than Josh wrote. Josh's critics argued that he ignored the ability of the tax cuts to jump-start the economy. The problem is that the tax cuts seem to be designed to make that pretty damned difficult. Continuing my traditional anal retentive use of the English language through brilliant and witty separate points ...

1. The tax cuts are directed at the rich and away from the poor. The rich are less likely than the poor to spend the money immediately and get the money multiplier working so as to rejuvenate the economy.
2. Bigger deficits mean that the U.S. will have to sell more bonds, raising real interest rates over the long run and contracting the economy. Which, y'know, are the opposite of what we're trying to do. Undermining the ability of monetary policy to do its thing is generally a bad idea.
3. Bigger deficits mean that the U.S. will have to sell more bonds, redirecting investment - including the portions of the tax cut that go to the rich and end up as savings - away from the private sector, and stalling economic growth.

Best use of Fisking ... ever.

Jonathan Alter:

It took a billionaire, Warren Buffett, to point out that the Bush tax plan was "class warfare.: Too many of the rest of us have acted as if the Bush administration's severe tilt toward the rich was an opinion instead of a fact.

The assumption in the whole tax debate has been that, sure, the wealthy will benefit the most (If you earn, say, a million a year, you can expect back about $35,000) but that there's something in it for everyone. On its Web site last week, the Republican National Committee crowed: "Every taxpayer wins under the new tax bill." This is simply untrue. An estimated 5 million American taxpayers will get zero, nada, zip. Those are mostly single filers in the 10 percent tax bracket who don't have children and - because they aren't exactly rolling in it - don't have any dividend income.

That's not counting families earning $10,000 to $25,000 who don't make enough to pay federal income taxes but are eligible for refundable tax credits. They and their 12 million children get nothing from this bill.

OK, I want to register my complaints about the LSE Library, where I spent a good chunk of the last couple of weeks.

The LSE Library was renovated a few years ago under the direction of Sir Norman Foster, generally considered Britain's pre-eminent architect (think Frank Gehry, just a little less avant garde). The building is quite attractive. Unfortunately, everything else is wrong with it. Most of the copy machines are usually broken, as are printers. There's not nearly enough space to study during the exam period (there's about 6,000 students at the LSE, and I'd guess that about a third can find a place to study in the library at any time). The central staircase is big and round, and has these steps that are about two-feet long, going around in a broad circle, making two-stepping inevitable (unless you are over 6'6''). The windows are opened and closed automatically with regards to the weather, but very slowly and loudly. And the slowness means that the windows in the central atrium don't close immediately when it starts raining ... allowing it to rain into the atrium. Finally, there aren't nearly enough bathrooms. I don't care what anyone thinks, five toilets isn't enough for a few hundred guys. Particularly when one or two of them are out of commission at any given time due to cleaning, repairs or the failure of the workers to remove the signs posted earlier to indicate cleaning and repairs.

Then again, it's still an improvement over Georgetown's Lauinger Library, one of the dankest and most godawfully ugly buildings ever constructed. Lauinger was constructed in a brutalist style in the early 1970's, and most of the exterior walls are made of crushed dark stones. Calling it ugly doesn't do it justice. The usual assessment of the student body is that the only way to ever renovate the building properly would be to remove the books and dynamite the whole damned thing.

Around the blogosphere in 80 seconds:

MyDD excerpts from a long article about the increasing tendency of young people to lean left. Of course, it might be helpful if there were any young Americans other than Jerome, myself, Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein and Matt Singer who actually voted.

Actually, most of the people eligible to vote (1) at my high school did so, from what I could tell, mostly because the school administration insisted on putting out stacks of registration cards in the cafeteria. On the other hand, at Georgetown, a school reputed for its political activism - mostly because of the location and availability of internships - I was one of only a handful of people on my dorm floor who voted by absentee or at all.


Someone call the feds, Ted Barlow has gone AWOL again.


OK, so I haven't read the new EU constitution (my computer is old and cranky, and Acrobat doesn't work too well most days). Scott at Pedantry about the issue.

It strikes me that only a small part of the British population is reflexively anti-EU (those who read the Daily Mail and those angry over the asylum issue), and most are simply fed up with some of the problems presented by the EU. There were clear economic and political benefits to the Treaty of Rome and to the Single European Treaty, but this proposal seems to be integration for the sake of integration to many. There is little to be gained economically from further integration (the Euro is a separate issue) and the political integration has benefits and costs. The EU has done quite well in most matters, but it's still hardly perfect, often embodying the worst elements of Eurosclerosis, and many would argue that there's a strong case for reforming things and dealing with the 10 new members before trying to add any more bulk to the institutions.

As far as the British complaints about the undemocratic nature of the ECB, it's not so much the undemocratic nature itself that is problematic so much as the implications of what such an undemocratic nature could produce. The Bank of England, for all its indepedence, as Scott notes, is still beholden to the British people. Where there is a shock to the British economy, the BoE has to respond and try to fix things. The ECB is under no such constraints, often buffeted by political pressures. If a shock happens to Britain - and only to Britain - the ECB can politely tell the Brits to bugger off, leaving them to twist in the wind. This is what forced Britain out of the ERM in 1992 - Britain was in the middle of a recession while Germany was paying for reunification. A more democratic ECB is essentially code for developing a central bank that is more responsive to the situtations of individual countries, and not to some currently hypothetical total Europe, or to the often ridiculous constraints of the Growth and Stability Pact.


Various elements of the blogosphere have been going after Maureen Dowd over her apparent misquoting of George W. Bush (see the Instapundit and David Adesnik of the OxBlog). There are a couple of things I find kind of funny about this:

1. If it weren't for the furor, the quote probably would've been forgotten by now.
2. This is the same Maureen Dowd who Michael Moore (yes, the Michael Moore with the Oscar that isn't going to be revoked, dumbasses) went after some years ago for plagiarism in Downsize This! and elsewhere. Moore, as I recall (my copy of the book is a few thousand miles away at the moment), recounted having written about Dowd in 1988, accusing her of plagiarising an article from Congressional Quarterly for the New York Times. This was at the same time that Dowd was covering the plagiarism scandal that dogged Joe Biden's presidential candidacy. The story of Dowd's apparent plagiarism never went anywhere. Of course, I suppose some of the people attacking Dowd now seem about as likely to have burned a copy of Downsize This! as to have read it ...


(1) Ohio's rules as to the voting age are a little screwy, so most of the senior class is usually eligible to vote.

John Curtice argues in the Independent that the era of Labour dominance is drawing to a close. The problem is, he's got nothing more than a little bit of conflicting evidence.

In no particular order:

1. As Curtice notes, different polls give quite different estimates of party preferences at the moment. A YouGov poll puts Labour up one point above the Tories, a Populus poll puts Labour up two points above the Tories, and an ICM poll puts Labour up thirteen points above the Tories.
2. The incumbent party at Westminster usually tends to slump during the middle of their term. The Tories under Hague were nearly even with Labour at one point, and Labour neared the Tories a couple of times while Thatcher was in Number 10, only to get trounced at the subsequent general election.
3. The polls never seem to bear much resemblance to reality anyway. Labour had a pretty good lead over the Tories and Lib Dems in most of the polls going into the recent local elections and ended up losing about 800 seats. The use of first-past-the-post elections in such small districts results in pretty significant distortions between the national averages and the final results (this is nothing new - Thatcher never topped about 45% of the popular vote, I believe).
4. The Tories can't really get much worse than they are now, unless they break up (1). They've got little more than their safe seats in Parliament right now, and are bound to pick up something sooner or later.
5. Charlie Kennedy's acrobatics about the war haven't done the Lib Dems many favors (sorry, favours). Kennedy went from opposing the war beforehand to supporting it during the war (so as not to be called treasonous, etc.) to opposing it again now that evidence of WMD's hasn't been found (2). It's not helping, either, that the Lib Dems can't ever seem to decide whether they want to be the alternative on the left of Labour or in the center (sorry, centre) of the British political spectrum. I'm convinced that the only way for them to ever come to power would be to move towards the middle and try to muscle out some space between New Labour and the Tories, but this would probably require sacrificing some seats in the short run, which never looks like a good idea to the leadership.
6. Incumbency is a sticky thing in British politics (this gets back to FPTP voting in small districts). Big majorities tend to wear away over time, and not disappear overnight, since people are voting for their own MP, not directly for the PM (although there is some argument about the exact motivations of voters). The result of this is that Douglas-Home nearly won re-election in 1964 on the basis of MacMillan's majority, and Major won re-election in 1992.

So don't expect Labour to collapse anytime soon.

(1). I don't think they're going to break up. The more I look at them, the more I'm convinced that the egos of much of the party leadership are so large that every one thinks that they're the person to rescue the party.
(2). I'll happily agree with anyone that there's some serious explaining to do if no WMD's are found, but I'm not about to call the issue now. It's only been six weeks or so since the war ended, and much of Iraq is apparently still a powerless vacuum.

Ah, Britain:

2,500 people at The Accident Group were laid off when the company went into administration (essentially the equivalent of bankruptcy, as I understand it) yesterday.

Most of them were notified by text messages to their cell (sorry, mobile) phones.

Not to be outdone, though, as the Telegraph notes, many of the employees responded by taking anything that wasn't nailed down, including computers. BBC Radio 4 also noted that employees apparently sold off company cars.

Friday, May 30, 2003
Tick, tock, tick, tock

Just bear with the fact that I'm quoting raw data for a second (and also ignoring trends within the data and demographic influences for the moment).

Starting with February 2001, George W. Bush's first full month in office, going through to April 2001, the seasonally adjusted unemployment numbers have increased from 5,990,000 to 8,786,000, a difference of 2,796,000, which is a little less than the population of Iowa, or about 1 person every 25.31 seconds.

Mind you, this is before we consider that 3,605,000 people have left the labor force entirely - a little more than live in Oregon or Oklahoma - 1 about every 18.89 seconds.

So, by the time you've reached the end of this post, the numbers would roughly have it that one person has lost their job and another one has left the labor force entirely.

No matter how one tries to look at the trends and demographic influences, that's just a godawful job of managing the economy, no question about it.

Prof. Reynolds has finally gotten around to mentioning the Texas redistricting scandal that Josh Marshall has been all over. It's, um, not much of a post, only 46 words total. Way to register an opinion!

Oh, speaking of monomania, it was quite nice of him to insert an obligatory cheap-shot against the New York Times in there. Yeesh.

A British soldier is being questioned after workers at a photo shop noticed that one of the pictures on his roll depicted an Iraqi soldier, bound and hung in a net from a forklift.

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: If you're going to violate the Geneva Convention, develop your photos yourself in a darkroom, dumbass.

UPDATE: The article in the Sun that started this is here. The photo in question can be seen here.

By the way, with regards to this post on Google's adjustments to their rankings system to lower the rankings of blogs, there definitely have been some adjustments that they've made over the last couple of weeks. I just checked and noticed that this site has dropped from 1st in a search for "lies damn lies and statistics" to 20th. On the other hand, I'm now 9th if you do a search for "adultery statistics" (again, I don't have any statistics handy on the subject, but there's an interesting section discussing the issue in Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee, based off of studies testing whether children were illegitimate - simple surveys tend to be really unreliable, obviously, since people generally will refuse to admit any improprieties). And maybe now I'll be moving up to around 8th or so.

UPDATE: Well, no, but I now hold both 9th and 10th.

From the annals of the dumbest quotes ever: (something I came across while studying)

"Mr. Clive Howson put this argument in its most extreme form when he declared at the Brighton conference in 1969 that the real crimes were not homicide, assault or battery, but the 'violence' of dope peddling, abortion, easy divorce, pornography and homosexuality, immigration, town planning and euthanasia. All these crimes had one source - 'violence against a parent's self-respect, committed by the Socialist state apparatus crushing self-help and a parent's natural desire to work, to save and to insure and to educate his children independently.'" - The Conservative Nation, Andrew Gamble, p. 111

Town planning is worse than murder?!?

Things that happened over the last few days while I remained out of the office, so to speak:

1. Josh Marshall has been all over the DeLay/redistricting/DHS scandal. The initial actions were brazen and moronic. The cover-up is just insulting (and still ongoing, apparently). Criminal charges, anyone?
2. It's all over. Ted Heath wants Britain to adopt the Euro.
3. The Cavs are going to get LeBron James. They'll still stink. I don't know how, but they'll find a way.
4. The Philadelphia Boy Scouts organization has issued a non-discrimination statement that effectively opens membership to gays, in violation of the national organization's rules.
5. The Telegraph is reporting that the Tories are on the rebound. Uh-huh. So they've found a way to bring back Harold MacMillan, no?*
6. Apparently, Jemini, the British duo who became the first British entry in the Eurovision Song Contest to score 'nil points' have said that they hoped to not score as a way of attracting attention. Maybe that explains why their song stunk and she apparently sung off-key (no, I didn't watch). Still, this seems an awfully slippery slope - next I suspect we'll be hearing them arguing that "... yes, but the audience still didn't throw rotten fruit at us."

*MacMillan was the last Tory to leave Number 10 with his public reputation intact. He has, however, been quite irreparably dead for some time.

ENetation seems to be behaving badly again. I will try to get around to finding a more reliable comments service in the next couple of days, though that will probably require removing all the old comments. Sorry.

Thursday, May 29, 2003
Exams are done

Thank god.

Of course, let's wait and see if I failed any of them. (note: I don't think I failed any of them but I'm probably not going to want to remember my econometrics class too fondly)

So how do I celebrate ...?

Why, by doing laundry, shaving and showering, of course.

Well, I don't have any clean clothes left, I've got one hell of a beard right now because I have a superstition against shaving during the run-up to exams, but I've been working on various papers and exams for six weeks now. (if you want a blogger beard comparison, it's a good bit thicker than Alterman's quasi-goatee - see the bio - but still a long way short of Kleiman) and showering, well, because I just walked home, and because it's gone up to 27 celsius here ... which is apparently the equivalent of 125 Fahrenheit (yes, I know it's only 81, well short of the triple digits I had to put up with in Washington last summer, but absolutely nothing here is air conditioned ... primarily because it apparently never goes above 27 celsius here). And then I'll get around to disabling the rest of the working parts of my brain for a few hours.

Anyway, I might have something else to say later today, but otherwise I should return to normal tomorrow, same blog-time, same blog-site, just with a cleaner, slightly lighter and more aerodynamic blogger.

Saturday, May 17, 2003
This beard is really starting to itch

The NBA draft lottery is in five days, and here's my prediction:

There is absolutely no way in hell that the Cavs will end up with the first pick. Somehow, some way, the NBA will ensure that LeBron James ends up anywhere but Cleveland. The Cavs have never moved up once in the draft, and there's absolutely no chance of them getting with the first pick, even though they tied for the worst record.

I'll be back at the end of the month.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Open thread

One more time.

Does anyone know where I can find a list of the Cuban diplomats who were just expelled? (actually, I just need a list of the ones from the Cuban Interests Section in D.C.). Thanks.

(note: it's a long story ...)

Things not worth knowing:

At the LSE, exam proctors are known as 'invigilators.'

Update on them Texas Democrats

See Cowboy Kahlil for more.

There was a piece on BBC Radio 4 this morning about it. They were fairly incredulous, and rightly so, that something like this was actually possible. It was fun, though, to listen to the interviewers, who are incredibly agressive (and often rude and somewhat offensive) run circles around the spokesman for the Texas Republican Party, who was essentially forced to admit that the move was a naked power grap. Cute.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Open thread

Why not?

Monday, May 12, 2003
It's come to my attention that the website referral function on the comments doesn't seem to be working (it just automatically refers you back to Enetation's homepage). I don't have time right now to monkey around with the template. If it's still not working in a couple of weeks, once I'm done with my exams, I'll get rid of the Enetation comment boards and replace them with Rateyourmusic or someone else. Actually, I may end up replacing them anyway, as I think they may be slowing down the load time too much. Until then, I'm sorry, but just know that there's a problem.

International Development Secretary/Walking Punchline Clare Short has resigned.

UPDATE: The Evening Standard has an article on her resignation speech to the Commons.

Saturday, May 10, 2003
It's being reported that Google has decided to penalize blogs in their rankings:

Google is to create a search tool specifically for weblogs, most likely giving material generated by the self-publishing tools its own tab.


However, through dense and incestuous linking, results from blogs can drown out other sources.

"The main problem with blogs is that, as far as Google is concerned, they masquerade as useful information when all they contain is idle chatter," wrote Roddy. "And through some fluke of their evil software, they seem to get indexed really fast, so when a major political or social event happens, Google is noised to the brim with blogs and you have to start at result number 40 or so before you get past the blogs."

Well, yeah, a lot of what appears on blogs is idle chatter. But, then, it's pretty representative of the whole of human conversation. The last time I checked, most of what passes as human conversation nowadays is idle chatter in one form or another, not substantive and erudite discussions. Or maybe that's just me.

A lot of what does get written in blogs - not this post - is actually quite interesting and intellectual stuff, far more in depth than you get by pulling up the latest wire report, even though it may be a specialized, limited topic within a broader area, and assuming a basic knowledge of the subject. There's plenty of crap out there in the blogosphere, but there's plenty of interesting commentary that might otherwise get drowned out - go take a look at Yglesias, Kleiman, the Volokhs, Drum or any one of many others. A lot of blogs are quite interesting and actually useful - even to people who stumble on to the site.

I'm a little pissed, of course, since I still seem to pick up a fairly decent amount of hits from Google. Most of them tend to be people who, I think, are looking for a citation of where I got the title from. (I do cite the words "lies, damn lies, and statistics" as best I can on the sidebar, but the quote has been attributed to more people than I care to count). Others are looking for actual statistics - adultery seems to be a popular one (if you want adultery statistics, Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee has an interesting discussion of the topic) - most of which I've never posted.

I'm not entirely sure of whether this would entirely work either. It's easy for the Google folks to delist the people like me stuck using Blogger - which hasn't exactly improved the server availability since Google bought it, though it hasn't gotten a lot worse either - as there's a membership database that's lying around somewhere. For people with their own domains, I'd imagine the situation is a lot more complicated, and there will undoubtedly be gaps (blogs that aren't punished in the rankings) and leaks (regular web pages that do get punished).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go hide some dirty words in my old posts to increase my rankings until the bastards figure out a way around it.

UPDATE: Via the CalPundit comes this Evhead post, which says that the article in The Register is "full of crap" and nothing more than the author's interpretation of the Google CEO's comments. It could be (I'd hope so).

Friday, May 09, 2003
The Krugman-bashers, Kaus and Reynolds want to know why Krugman's column today was about the sunset provisions in the tax cuts, and not something based on his web-only piece on deflation and liquidity from Monday, given that the Fed announced on Tuesday that it was worried about the possibility of deflation. Each took an unnecessary cheap shot - Kaus decided that the deflation issue was "Not partisan and dumbed-down enough" while Reynolds accused Krugman of "keeping silent."

Reality, though, is a little more complicated (and a lot less malevolent). Krugman has said in the past (I can't remember quite where) that he usually starts writing the colums three or four days before publication (not an irregular practice, I'd guess). The Fed's announcement came out on Tuesday afternoon, though the full announcement - beyond the rate decision - tends to take a little while to get public. That would've left Krugman with about 48 hours to write the piece, by when he was probably already working on the tax cut sunsets piece. Which isn't a particularly large amount of time for someone who has another full-time job as it is (and is probably putting up with plenty of agitated students like me preparing for exams right now). The deflation issue isn't likely to change significantly in the immediate future. Krugman's got plenty of time to think about this one before the next Fed rate decision. Like, say, possibly by next Tuesday.

There have been a couple of posts and discussions about exchange rate fluctuations over at the CalPundit and Atrios in the last couple of days, so I feel obliged to make the following point.

The LDLAS law of currency fluctuations: The self-assuredness by which a monocausal analysis of the movement of a floating exchange rate is postulated is inversely related to the accuracy of the analysis.

My point is this: Currency markets are inherently very volatile. Fluctuations of 10% per month aren't unheard of even for the biggest currencies (though relatively rare). Currency values are affected by a myriad of complications. Monetary policies, fiscal policies, currency controls, open market operations and other government actions will reverberate across the globe. And that's before private transactions are put into consideration. Currency markets are prone to sentiment, rumors and overshooting. There are a wide variety of derivatives available, forward contracts set for different time windows and the like. And of course, currency values are relative things. The markets are quite complicated because there are so many currencies out there, each of which has a different rate against each other one - if there are 150 currencies, there end up being 22499 different rates (150 squared, minus 1). This makes currency markets far more complicated than stock markets - few individuals would decide to buy GM when it rises above 4 shares per share of Ford - because it is essentially operating on a complicated barter system (ignoring those cases where major currencies are used as an intermediate in trading)

Thus, breathless pronouncements are offered that the fall of the U.S. Dollar relative to the Euro is proof of the failure of George W. Bush's economic policies (believe me, there are plenty of good reasons to make that diagnosis), or that the U.S. economy is about to collapse under its twin deficits, or that Britain ought to enter the Euro. The Brazilian Real's fall last year has been attributed to punishment for electing Lula da Silva (that can't be ruled out entirely, but the Real was undoubtedly forced to fall because, well, Brazil is next to Argentina). The Canadian Dollar's rise is proof, well, that miracles can happen. All these things have been pronounced in the last couple of months.

But currency markets are insanely complicated. The next time someone tells you that they can explain the simple proximate cause of whatever has happened in the recent past or what will happen in the near future, more than a little skepticism is due.

Thursday, May 08, 2003
Y'know, I don't think that a U.S. President could never get away with this:

A debate was held in Canada on Saturday for the three contenders for the Premiership who are vying to replace current PM Jean Chretien, former Finance Minister (and the generally anointed front-runner) Paul Martin, current Finance Minister and Deputy PM John Manley, and former Deputy PM and current Heritage Minister Sheila Copps.

"I watched the [debate]. Sometimes I switched to the hockey and came back. You know, I'm like any other citizen," Prime Minister Jean Chretien told reporters Tuesday, prompting someone to ask whether it had been boring.

"The hockey? No," Chretien replied in a deadpan voice before walking away.

The bad news is that there will be five more debates before the November convention. Worse still, the Stanley Cup playoffs end in mid-June or so (right in time for Canadian football to start, but that's another story)

Ted Barlow: not dead after all (permalinks are another matter, though).

The Plaid Cymru (pronounced on the radio as Pleid Kamru) leader Ieuan Wyn Jones (actually pronounced on the radio as Eye-oh-yoo-an Win Jones ... didn'tcha wanna know that?) has resigned. The Welsh nationalists did badly in the recent Assembly elections, and Jones apparently decided to resign before a vote of no confidence within the party caucus could be held. I can't find any reports online yet, but it's been reported on BBC Radio 4.


Barry Legg (actually pronounced by the radio announcers as one long word ... don't know why), the Tory Chief of Staff, has resigned. Legg, a former MP and close friend of Iain Duncan Smith, has resigned after only two months on the job. Legg was an extremely controversial choice because of his, um, total evil-ness. Legg was censured for his role on a corporation board in raiding a workers pension fund, and, as a City of Westminster Councillor apparently oversaw the use of tower blocks that were known to have a severe asbetstos problem to house the homeless.

UPDATE: The Guardian's article on Jones' resignation is available here. And just for the record, I beat them to publication by 11 minutes. I'm sure they're smarting over their pints in Fleet Street tonight. Yeah, that's it.

Oh, and, there's this:

Welsh Labour leader and first minister Rhodri Morgan also paid tribute to his rival today. He told the BBC that the line between hero and zero was very fine and that any politician could across it.

Yep, I'd say that Morgan just crossed that line too. I didn't know that Schoolhouse Rock was televised in Wales.

Hmm ... one more strike against the Euro?

Read this:

We believe that the fact that the European Union is in prophecy is self-evident because of today's stunning headlines. The true importance of that, if the EU is in fact the forming of the beast-kingdom from which Antichrist will come upon the world scene, is that it means Jesus' call to His Church (the Rapture) must be very near indeed!


(via Pedantry)

Due to a number of circumstances ... well, exams ... posting is going to be severely cut back from now until the end of the month. I'll still be posting occasionally, I expect, just not a half dozen times a day. Let's see if anyone notices!

The second reading of the foundations hospital bill occurred last night. An amendment to the bill was heavily defeated, and around 63 Labour MPs rebelled against the party line, leading to a final vote of 304-230 (due to the confusing number of parties and absentions, the numbers aren't final yet). The Lib Dems and Tories both opposed the bill. The news is being spun as both a victory and defeat for the government. On one hand, the rebellion was less than half as large as the Iraq vote. On the other hand, the rebellion took place on a second reading. Rebellions usually do not occur until the third and final reading, and some are taking this to say that further rebellions on this issue, and on the fire strikes may yet occur.


The Guardian
The Times
The Independent
The Telegraph (which is increasingly pro-Blair ... go figure)
The Evening Standard

UPDATE: My bad (can I still say that, or is that, like, no longer an acceptable phrase?). Anyway, the rebellion of 60 or so was on the amendment. Only about half that rebelled on the actual resolution. Which still has one more reading to go through.

This time they really, really, really mean it

The Pentagon once again thinks that they've found evidence of a WMD program in Iraq, this time an apparent mobile bioweapons lab.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
George Galloway is now publicly promising that he will contest the Glasgow Central seat at the next general election as an independent if he remains suspended by the Labour Party. Galloway's current seat, Glasgow Kelvin, is being eliminated due to redistricting at the next general election (the whole of Scotland will undergo redistricting at that time, losing 13 of its 72 seats). There were rumors (sorry, rumours) dating well before the current set of fiascos that Galloway would not be selected by the party to stand in Glasgow Central, as another current MP's district overlaps far more of the Central seat than Galloway's current seat (and is reportedly considered a better fit for the ethnic makeup of the new district)

Where is Raed? has been updated with a bunch of backdated posts and a current one.

Nobody tell Matt Yglesias about this one

The Guardian is reporting that the success of t.A.T.u. may be rather short-lived. They recently had to cancel their heavily advertised concert tour (well, three concerts) in England, reportedly due to a near total lack of ticket sales and interest.

UPDATE: Thanks to the OxBlog for the link, but I think David meant to direct you to this post.

Bob Graham is in. Gary Hart is out.

UPDATE: Comments are out. Enetation doesn't seem to be working at the moment. Then again, given that no one was using the comment boards before, I don't think anyone will notice.

UPDATE to the UPDATE: Comments are now back in. As is Pabst Blue Ribbon (right, right, it's actually 'PBR' now), for some wholly unexplainable reason.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Is civilization (sorry, civilisation) doomed?

I haven't posted on the Dixie Chicks comment-gate thing, mostly because my opinions about country music can only be phrased using more swearing than I care to leave a written record of. That said, there's this article:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Country-music station KKCS has suspended two disc jockeys for playing songs by the Dixie Chicks in violation of a ban imposed after one group member criticized President Bush.


"We pulled their music two months ago, and it's been a difficult decision because how can you ignore the hottest group in country music," Grant said.

All I can say is this: It's stupid on so many levels ... certainly far more than I had previously thought was physically possible.

Mitch Daniels, the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has resigned, possibly to go run for governor of Indiana. He wasn't much of an enthusiast for dynamic scoring, which many White House officials had hoped would produce forecasts of economic growth as far as the eye could see if massive tax cuts were passed (when the studies were finally done, dynamic scoring didn't show any real improvement - the planned tax cuts are a massive mistake any way you add up the numbers).

It seems pretty likely that Daniels resigned voluntarily and wasn't pushed out. Had he been forced out, the announcement inevitably would have been made on a Friday.

UPDATE: Prof. DeLong explains it all.

George Galloway has been suspended by the Parliamentary Labour Party. He will not be able to attend caucuses of the Labour MPs, hold office within the government or otherwise representing the party. Galloway has denounced the action as 'unjust' and has said that it will prejudice his libel trial against the Telegraph unfairly. Reports are in:

The Guardian
The Telegraph
The Times
The Independent
The Evening Standard
Channel 4/ITN
Channel 5
The Sun
The Daily Mirror
Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

The suspension technically only cites his terming of Tony Blair (and George W. Bush) as "wolves" and his attempts to incite British soldiers to refuse orders. The allegations against him with regards to the money supposedly received from Saddam Hussein and his apparent mismanagement of the Mariam Appeal are not cited, as investigations into them are still ongoing.

I've been seeking out advice lately (not on the blog, mind you) from people as to what I need to look at doing if I'm to get a decent job at this time next year(1). Well, really any job that doesn't involve waiting tables. Or cutting off a part of a finger. Who am I kidding? Any job. Anything. (well, anything legal).

Anyway, I was talking with someone who works at a large asset management firm recently, and he basically said the following:

"For people coming out of school, it probably can't get any worse than it is right now. If the economy gets better, hiring will pick up. More likely, firms will have to start cutting back on their senior people, since a lot of them are too top-heavy, stuck with too many senior people getting paid too much, and can do better by shifting towards more younger people, who don't make as much."

Well, it's a little twisted, but at least it's something optimistic.

This gets back at the whole issue of whether I want the economy to improve or not. I've been truly torn on this one. On one hand, no one wants to see suffering. It's always a bad thing when the economy tanks. And I don't want to be a drain on society immediately upon graduating for college (2). At the same time, a lousy economy is certainly a good way to get people pissed off at the incumbents in Congress in the White House, who, God knows, have mismanaged pretty much every economic policy they can get their hands on (3). I realize that it's not exactly fair of me to say that the economy tanks, I can find work, and therefore it's okay ... but, hell, I'm can't just ignore that it might be a possibility, however perverse.

(1) I'd also like to find work for the summer - preferably something that involves working at a desk, and getting paid for it. I'm not exactly optimistic about that one at this point. Actually, right now I'll be happy if I don't have to go back into food service.

(2). That'll have to wait until I'm at least 25.

(3). Not a fair assessment, really, but far closer to the truth than it ought to be.

Ah, Britain:

An elderly North London widow left a £100,000 ($161,000) trust to her former neighbors so that they could care for a stray cat who she adopted. The cat will be able to stay in the woman's £350,000 ($564,060) house until the cat dies.

What, no scholarship for the cat?

Euro (currency) roundup:

Former Foreign Minister and Leader of the House Robin Cook argues for entry within four years in the Independent, as does Hugo Young in the Guardian. Neither is able to offer anything more than vague fears of a withdrawal of investment and a back seat in the negotiations for the European project.

Interestingly, Iain Duncan Smith seems to be borrowing a page from IndiaWest, arguing that it would be best to get the referendum over and say no already.

Local government elections:

Bad news for the Tories. A survey in the Times indicates that a large portion of their support in the recent council elections came from disaffected Labourites who plan to return to the fold at the next general election. In other words, the gains of 500 or so council seats shouldn't be considered a victory that they will be able to build upon.


There may be problems in the coalition negotiations in the Scottish Parliament. The Lib Dems are refusing to sign any pledges not to pull out of government with Labour, apparently so that they will be able to have more weight to throw around in negotiations with their senior partners. The ideas to include the Greens appear to be more of an informal agreement than a formal coalition at the moment. Labour and the Greens alone would not be sizeable enough to present a majority.

Tam Dalyell has actually stepped up his attacks on Lord Levy, although he's apparently figured out by now that Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw actually aren't Jewish. He hasn't quite figured out yet to stop digging deeper.

Today is Tony Blair's 50th birthday.

This being Britain, the press is doing the celebrating for him. He's off in Dublin, engaged in further negotiations with the Irish government over Northern Ireland and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

There's a Michael White (not the former Cleveland mayor) column in the Guardian, Times editorial, and Anthony Howard column in the Times on Blair's further career.

There's also this Telegraph editorial listing 50 good things about Tony Blair. I'm beginning to wonder if someone has replaced the Telly's regular coffee with Folger's or something. All of a sudden, they're praising Brown and Blair. What the hell is going on?

As regular readers will know, my position on Britain's proposed entry into the Euro zone is that it may be a good idea in the future, and the five tests should be rerun in the near but not immediate future, but that entry would do more harm than good at the moment.

So, today, it's been reported in the Times and the Independent that the ECB has said that Britain will have to scrap its publicly funded National Health Service (NHS) and public pensions if it is to join the Euro zone. The report was published in the ECB's monthly bulletin (so I don't know if this is the equivalent of ex cathedra or not). The article argued that, were Britain to join the Euro with the NHS and pensions unaltered, Britain would be forced to run huge deficits to pay for them, creating high inflation and violating the terms of the Growth and Stability Pact. They suggest limiting public provision of health care to emergency services.

This is the kind of thing that would give serious pause to Europhiles. Although the NHS has its problems - principally with long waiting lists - it is extremely popular and the public tends to be resistant to tinkering with it - even when, as with the foundation hospitals plan, only improvements seem likely. Supporting massive changes to the NHS is generally a good way to commit political suicide in Britain (even Thatcher couldn't pull it off, ego and all).

There's only one problem with this proclamation from the ECB. It's wrong.

First, the newsletter assumes that Britain will join the Euro-zone with the Growth and Stability Pact unchanged from its current form. It won't. The G&SP clearly needs to be amended, as its inflation target is too low and does not account sufficiently for growth needs. Blair and Brown have made it clear in the past that they want to see reforms at the ECB and in the Growth and Stability Pact before signing on the dotted line.

Second, publicly funded/publicly provided/no-fees health care, as in Britain, has historically done better at containing costs than publicly funded/privately provided/fee-for-provision health care, as exists in most of the rest of Europe (except the Scandinavian countries, which mirror the British plans, and Germany, which uses a mixture of public funding and publicly mandated private funding). NHS-style health care essentially takes consumption decisions out of the hands of patients, and lets doctors and hospitals make all decisions on care. They ration health care according to the budgets set by Parliament and the NHS bureaucracy. In the European (and Canadian style system), a third-party payment problem exists, because the individuals and doctors make consumption decisions but don't pay immediately, as costs are passed onto the public funding pot. There then exists an upward pressure on spending. British health care expenditure is about 7-8% of GDP in any given year. Most European countries spend about 10-12% of GDP on health care each year. For comparison, the U.S. spends about 14-15% or so. There are no significant differences in the levels of health in each. Basically, NHS-stype provision actually does better than the European-style systems at keeping costs down. There's no reason to expect that the same won't continue in the future.

Thirdly, there's the pensions problem. Which isn't really much of a problem in Britain relative to the rest of Europe. There's a couple of reasons for this. Part of it is demography - birth rates in Britain haven't collapsed in the same way that they have in the rest of Europe, though there has still been a noticeable drop. Moreover, the baby bulge (aka the baby boom) in Britain occurred in two separate bursts. The first, chalked up to post-war horniness, was a large spike in birth rates in the first couple of years after World War II. Birth rates dropped off in the following years due to a number of factors (principally a severe affordable housing shortage and an underperforming economy) and then picked back up again in the late 1950's and early 1960's (all that rock music, I guess). The effect of the second bulge is essentially to provide the money for the pensions for the children of the first bulge. Additionally, immigration to Britain helps pay for pensions (some continental countries have also done well here, some have not). Most importantly, though, British pensions are a lot stingier than continental pensions. The British pension age for men is 65, for women it is 60 (and being raised to 65 in the next few years). In most continental countries, pensions are tied to the number of working years, and may start relatively early. More importantly, though, British pensions consist of two halves - an automatic flat rate pension that is intended to provide the bare minimum needed for retirees to avoid poverty and avoid being a drag on their families and society - and SERPS, an pension related to a persons contributions. The stated aim of British pensions is simply to prevent poverty, though SERPS provides an additional benefit. Comparatively, most continental pensions schemes are intended to maintain living standards at the same level as during one's working years, and are thus quite expensive. They are often tied to an individuals' final working salary, which tends to be the highest salary earned for tenured workers (as opposed to SERPS, which is effectively tied to an average salary). So British style pensions also do better at containing costs than continental pensions.

So the crux of this is that Britain can actually expect to do better relative to the rest of Europe at containing costs from health care and pensions in the coming years - as it already has - and would actually be less likely to violate the terms of the Growth and Stability Pact than the rest of the continent were it to join the Euro-zone.

Why the ECB would bother publishing something that would actually make it harder for Britain to sell joining the Euro is beyond me. As is the fact that they would bother publishing something that is so, um, wrong. I'm an undergraduate economics student, and it took me about 15 minutes to debunk this idea. It's not exactly the kind of thing that makes me confident in their capabilities.


While I've got my health care hat on, Health Secretary Alan Milburn has promised to resign as Health Secretary if the foundation hospitals plan goes awry and hospitals are forced to start charging for service.

It's a nice thought, really, but one that I can promise you he will not have to keep. The foundation hospitals scheme, if passed, won't be put into place for a while, and it wouldn't be until a while after that that the scheme might be deemed a failure and charging would be introduced. Not until the end of the decade, probably, I would guess. Milburn will surely be gone as Health Secretary within a few years. Labour might not be around by then, and, anyway, cabinet reshuffles take place on a regular basis, and Milburn is sometimes tipped, being a Blair loyalist, for other posts. This is roughly the equivalent of Tessa Jowell, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, promising to resign if Britain fails to win enough medals at the 2012 Olympics.

Local government elections (or more for the truly curious)

The Labour-Lib Dem coalition won a bare majority in the Thursday elections for the Scottish Parliament, and are reportedly considering forming a 'traffic light' by adding the Greens to the coalition.

(Labour = Red, Lib Dems = Yellow, Greens = Green, hence, traffic light)

Ah, Britain

Lawyers representing the government intend to argue in court tomorrow that "burglars are members of the public who must be protected from violent householders."


This is in the case of Tony Martin, a Norfolk farmer, who killed one attempted burglar and shot another (from what I can tell, I think it was a single incident). The government will be arguing against his parole.

Look, I'm not going to claim that Martin didn't deserve to be punished for using fatal force against the burglars. Nor that he shouldn't have been punished for gun possession (which is illegal in Britain). It seems more than a little ludicrous, though, to argue that criminals in the act of committing a crime should be treated, well, as if all was normal.

The Guardian is reporting that Tam Dalyell may face a race hatred inquiry for his remarks, which he has still refused to retract or alter. The Telegraph reports pretty much the same thing.

Mike Marqusee, writing in the Guardian, condemned the remarks as "no more than a polished specimen of the "people are afraid to say it, but we all now what they're like" school of racist apologetics."

Sunday, May 04, 2003
Just an idea...

The CalPundit is linking to this article about how the music industry is considering using viruses and other means - including freezing users computers and breaking into computers to delete downloaded music files - which range from borderline illegal to totally illegal. These ideas are, as Kevin points out, "like lobbing a nuke at the Bay Area because you don't like Nancy Pelosi." Basically, the ideas are likely to piss off a number of people, release programs that could be reused in untold ways, violate individual privacy six ways to Sunday, and probably open up the music industry to lawsuits from the likes of Kazaa, Morpheus, et al, for misappropriating their programs from the legitimate uses that they allow.

So here's an idea. Revamp the entire industry. Completely change how music is released. The entire damn thing.

This is based off of an idea I had a while ago. Essentially, what shouldbe done is to replace the current form of contracts for musicians with a modified reserve price system. The idea is as follows:

1. The copyrights are held by the artists for as long as the current copyright law allows, and not by the music labels.
2. The artist sets a royalty, or reserve price, for their album. Any music label - or individual - that is willing to pay that fee, can make a copy of the album.
3. The artist sets out a per-song royalty for anyone wishing to download online and keep the file and/or burn a copy.
4. There is no step 4.

The problem right now is this - the music industry is not competitive by anyone's imagination. If you want to view the music industry as a whole, it's a monopoly. And one could make the case that the monopolistic extraction of consumer surplus is theft as much as the attempts of individuals to evade payment by file sharing (1. Non-economists should ignore the last sentence 2. Moral equivalence, yeah, yeah, I know). Within the music industry, a form of monopolistic competition is ongoing, with the labels producing diverse products that aren't quite competing with each other. An individual considering buying a copy of Get Rich or Die Tryin' by 50 Cent isn't going to be deciding between a $20 copy of that album against a $3 copy of Beethoven's Ninth in the bargain bin. There is no competition. Each label has an exclusive contract for any album it produces that is not in the public domain. Most of the albums that are sold are heavily marketed, and the labels appear more interested in controlling public demand than responding to it. Indeed, the music industry is often perilously close to Galbraith's The New Industrial State. So, in an oversimplified fashion, what we need is a market within which the music labels will compete against each other and against individuals downloading online to provide the market with a product as cheaply as possible.

I haven't run the numbers of whether this would work financially. Indeed, I'm not entirely sure of where to start with such an analysis. But I will say this - I think it could work. The costs to buying a CD-burner and CD's are still fairly significant. Well, buying a CD-R is pretty expensive, anyway, although the cost often gets hidden inside the larger cost of buying a new computer. The music labels will still be able to take advantage of their economies of scale (size) to produce CD's cheaply. They do so already. People just don't know it because of the high mark-ups on CD's.

The system would have a number of advantages. Basically, it should push the price down on any album. Where it is profitable for any firm to produce an album, other firms will find an incentive to fight for those profits, pushing down the price to the break-even level (which is almost certainly below the level at which popular CD's are currently priced). Moreover, It should get rid of marketed music - that is, the incestuous relationship between labels and radio stations by which labels insist on hyping the sales of overproduced, untalented crap. It would probably would not be financially feasible to spend an insane amount of money on marketing any more (anyway, there would be an incentive for the music labels to have their competitors market the album - one hell of a free rider problem)

That said, the system isn't perfect. The lack of unique contracts would force artists to pay for their own productions (again, the free rider problem), and would create an incentive for there to be more solo acts and fewer bands, and more underproduced albums (in the current climate, I'm not sure that would be a bad thing). It would probably also require serious changes in how concert tours are arranged, and might curtail them. The introduction of fees on file sharing services would probably also require a nominal subscription fee to cover the administration costs. Finally, the declining profit margins would make it harder for the music labels to sell copies of older albums, niche albums, and things that just don't generally sell in large volume, though it should become easier for those with CD burners to procure them.

Would it really work?

I think it should.

OK, how much would CD's and songs cost?

I dunno. Steve Jobs and Apple's new ITunes works on a broadly similar idea and offers songs at 99 cents and albums starting at $9.90. I think that's probably close to it, although the introduction of more competition - more labels and more file sharing services, that is - might drive costs down a little below that (future technological improvements could also push prices down).

What would stop the labels from still overcharging?

Anti-competitive practices could still exist - primarily if only one label claims to be able to produce each artist's albums profitably. This, however, would be incredibly anti-competitive, and the violate anti-trust laws, from what I understand of them. In any case, the labels would have to compete with individuals downloading copies and burning them. The price could not go above the level at which it is cheaper for individuals to make their own copy.

The music labels won't like this idea, will they?

Probably not. Actually, scratch that. No.

What about the artists?

Being able to set their own royalties exactly and the greater amount of transparency would be good for them, although having to pay for their own productions and touring might lessen any enthusiasm, as would the lack of marketing to improve their sales over newcomers.

Any idea as to how to get this thing done?

Well, there's a few possibilities - the courts, Congress, or an agreement between the file sharing services, the artists and the labels. None of them seems exactly likely any time soon.

Such an idea might run into problems with competing laws in different countries and the that the internet works world-wide ... although I think we've already reached the point where variations in legal systems across countries are going to provide serious complications.

Any closing thoughts?

Yeah, y'know, a Democratic candidate running for President could probably attract a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of votes from young people if he/she/it called for legalized file sharing. It's just an idea ...

Colin Powell said that "Syria knows what the U.S. expects" during an interview today on Meet The Press, CNN is reporting.

The article went on to say that Powell repeatedly blinked his left eye during the interview and tugged at his left sleeve. At one point when asked by Tim Russert what would happen if Syria failed to accede to U.S. expectations, Powell picked up a pair of flags and apparently began signaling in semaphore.

Later in the interview, Powell used his right hand to tug at his right earlobe, point at his nose, brush his hand against his left shoulder and swipe his hand across his chest in quick succession.

Unconfirmed reports have indicated that Powell wanted Syria to steal second base.

Right is wrong, night is day, black is white, silence is loud, up is down, and I could keep adding to this title all day

Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer's political columnist (and apparently self-proclaimed "political journalist of the year" ... British newspapers seem to have a habit of giving national awards to themselves and their staff) has called the local election success for the Tories a "catastrophic success" (as opposed to a "triumphal failure"), as it has brought them back from the edge of the chasm without forcing them to change their policies and adopt to modern politics in Britain. It suggests that the people are relatively happy with things as they are - the biggest victor was the non-voting party - and hasn't forced the Tories to get in touch with reality, as they will need to do if they're ever to recapture Westminster.


Studies are suggesting that, as the neo-fascist and borderline racist British National Party (BNP) tends to thrive in areas where turnout is low, the use of postal voting will lower their influence. Turnout was higher in areas testing postal voting during the recent round of elections than elsewhere, and the program (sorry, programme) may be extended to the rest of the country soon for local elections. I'm a little skeptical abou this, as I wonder if the increase in voter turnout from postal voting is the result of one-time interest in the novelty of it, and will not be sustained in the future as it becomes normal. It's possible that postal voting does increase turnout, but hardly assured. I've been using postal voting for a couple of years now, but that's through absentee balloting, which is a separate matter. The last time I voted in a polling booth was before I was 18.* I know that Oregon has been using postal voting for a few years now, but I don't know what the effects on turnout are.

*In a little known, and rather uncharacteristically generous gesture, the state of Ohio allows individuals under 18 to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the general election. This includes an increasingly large number of people, because the primary is now earlier than ever relative to the general election.

The Observer has reported about the apparent use of 'privileged access' by an MP's wife in business dealings.

The husband of Tessa Jowell, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, David Mills, reportedly asked Baroness Symons, a Foreign Office Minister, for help in a business deal. Mills, a former barrister, was working with an Iranian airline, Mahan Air, in trying to buy new airplanes. Britain has diplomatic links with Iran and does not maintain a trade embargo, as the U.S. does. Iranian airlines are forced to fly older planes or planes made outside of the U.S., which has led to safety problems and a number of crashes in recent years. Mills thought he had arranged a deal to buy BAe (British Aerospace) RJ146 passenger jets, but this ran into problems when it became known that the planes contain engines manufactured by Honeywell, an American firm. Any sale of the engines to an Iranian company would violate the embargo and be subject to American sanctions. Thus Mills asked Symons, a friend of Mills and Jowell, to find out if there was any way around the embargo. She inquired with the British embassy in Washington about the subject, and found out that such a deal could not feasibly evade the embargo. Mills dropped the BAe deal and instead arranged for Mahan to purchase used Airbus planes (new Airbus planes also contain U.S. parts). Analysis of the situation is available here.

At first glance, although the dealings raise the possibility of impropriety, it does not appear that anything that would have been seriously problematic was done, though there are questions as to whether Jowell should have filed a notice of the matter. From what has been released, no MP ever received money and no policy was changed. Indeed, what was done may be exculpable in that Symons was a friend of Mills and Jowell, and indeed might have done the same for any British businessman seeking to conclude such a large deal (though I can only offer this as a hypothetical at the moment). There is simply no evidence that Mills specifically used his wife's position to influence policy to his own gain.

A Jim Moran moment?

Proving once again that society does not necessarily elect its superiors, Tam Dalyell, reportedly said that Tony Blair was "being unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers."

Dalyell listed Peter Mandelson, the disgraced former Northern Ireland minister and advisor to Tony Blair - whose father was Jewish, though the MP is not - Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary - who is of one-quarter Jewish ancestry, and like Mandelson, not Jewish - and Lord Levy, Blair's personal envoy to the Middle East - who is actually Jewish (one out of three ... well, that's okay in baseball, I suppose). Mandelson reportedly called Dalyell "incorrigible" and a spokesman for the Foreign Office said that "If these reports are accurate, these remarks are too unworthy to be worth a comment." Dalyell has denied that his comments were anti-Semitic. It's not exactly a plausible denial considering that his comments were, um, incredibly anti-Semitic. Apparently he's still just a little out of touch with reality.

Dalyell is the Father of the House, a purely ceremonial position in the Commons alloted to the longest-serving member. Dalyell has been in the Commons since the early 1960's. He often bears a strong (not physical) resemblance to Ted Kennedy in being the senior member of his party and well to the left of much of his party. I went to Question Time at the Commons a few months ago. Jack Straw was speaking and answering questions about the investigations into the Bali nightclub bombing, which had taken place a few weeks earlier. Dalyell stood up and asked a question about how the sanctions against Iraq were harming Iraqi children. Straw, obviously annoyed at being asked a question that was not germane to what he had been speaking about by a member of his own party, tartly responded that "to the extent that Iraqi children suffer, it is because of Saddam Hussein." Dalyell turned around in a huff and stalked out of the chamber.

For the truly curious, I do not know if Dalyell is already planning to retire at the next general election. Though he has been in Parliament since 1962, he is only 71 (amazingly, in 41 years, he spent only 2 as a frontbencher) His Linlithgow seat is not among those that will be eliminated by the Boundary Commission redistricting, which will reduce the number of Scottish seats from 72 to 59 (slow population growth and a lack of recent redistricting have left Scottish constituencies about 20% smaller population-wise than their English counterparts). Gordon Brown, John Reid and George Galloway are among those whose seats are being eliminated. Brown and Reid will undoubtedly find other seats, though and Galloway has promised to run again, if necessary as an independent. A couple of other seats are being partly folded into the Linlithgow constituency, and Dalyell could face competition. There are no primaries, and MPs are selected by the party (the exact mechanisms vary from party to party).


Incidentally, the speaker who followed Straw was Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary. Milburn was far less impressive as a public speaker than Straw. Where Straw was intelligent, measured and witty, Milburn seemed nervous, too mired in technical details and eager to get the session over with. Milburn has been in the news of late, though, because of his backing of proposals to reform the National Health Service by lessening direct oversight by transferring technical ownership of hospitals to local foundations, which could manage the hospitals as they saw fit in order to reach targets set by the NHS. The idea is essentially to lessen the amount of red tape and regulation and create more of a market for health care.

Today, the Observer has reported that the government has pledged that all hospitals would eventually become self-governing foundations, though only highly performing hospitals could initially apply. The idea of this proposal is to lessen qualms about the development of a multi-tier health service that serves some better than others. David Green argues that Labour needs to back the proposals.

Maureen Dowd: Too cute by half (or a few halves, really), but at least she grasps the insanity of George W. Bush's speech aboard an aircraft carrier.*

*Am I the only one for whom this whole thing reminds me of Michael Dukakis in a tank? And is it too late to make a bad USS Clueless joke?

Saturday, May 03, 2003
The right idea at the wrong time

George W. Bush vowed today at a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard to achieve a free trade pact with Australia by 2004.

From an economic standpoint, free trade is undoubtedly a good idea. The basic Ricardian model of trade - which remains fairly accurate and unchallenegd, over 180 years after its publication - essentially says that free trade benefits all sides overall. Even if one country can produce everything more productively than the other, so long as there is a difference in the relative productivity differences within the two countries, there will be a benefit to trade. Each country should sell that which it has a comparative advantage in production to the other. Empirical studies have shown the Ricardian model to be accurate about this, though some of its implications - it implies total specialization and the ignorance of transport costs - don't hold in reality.

That said, free trade isn't necessarily good for everyone. The Specific Factors model (which allows for labor mobility but not for other factors of production) and the Heckscher-Ohlin model (which allows for the mobility of all factors of production) both show that export-producing sectors gain from the institution of free trade. Sectors competing against imports will lose out from free trade. Overall, the Ricardian gain from comparative advantages will still work out.

Free trade with Australia makes particularly good sense because of Australia's geographic position (note: not this). Australia produces agricultural goods of the same broad types as those found on the U.S., albeit on a schedule offset to that in the U.S. as it is in the Southern Hemisphere. Thus, wheat and other products can be imported cheaply from Australia at times of the year when the U.S. would normally be either paying for imports that still have tariffs, or drawing down on stores. Basically, it can be cheaper this way, assuming any transportation problems aren't overwhelming.

What bugs me about this isn't the economics of the Australian deal. The economics of the deal make sense. The problem is the timing. Australia has been pressing for a deal for years. And we should have given it to them years ago. Now, though, when the Aussies have sent 2,000 troops to fight in Iraq, they get a deal. For the economic reasons, the U.S. has been negotiating a deal with Chile for years. It has been repeatedly delayed - much to my consternation, I admit, as I like to eat far more Chilean grapes than can possibly be healthy - due to a variety of excuses. The delay can partly be traced back to opposition from farmers groups and their representatives in Congress, who would lose out from the increase competition. The parallel negotiations for the Free Trade of the Americas have also been a complicating factor. Of late, the delay has also been traced to Chilean intransigence over the never-passed final resolution in the U.N. Security Council. The Chileans are still waiting for a deal. 2005. Maybe. If nothing else gets in the way. Again.

It's enough to make me rather queasy. For one thing, the idea that Australia gets a financial reward for their participation in Operation Enduring Freedom, in one sense, changes their role in retrospect from soldiers fighting for liberation to mercenaries on salary. It's not really a pretty thought. It also sets a really nasty precedent - indeed, one that may have already motivated some Eastern European countries. The United States should not be in a position in which it has to ante up payment for allies. If the U.S. government is seen to behave in such a manner, foreign governments will be increasingly likely to demand more and larger payments for alliance - or, as in the case of North Korea, blackmail payments for not behaving so damned belligerently. Decisions such as these need to be made on the basis of what is right and what is wrong, not what gets the most money.

Up until now, the Bush administration hasn't exactly worshipped at the altar of free trade. It has instead favored the political gains from the protectionism, as with the economically unjustifiable steel tariffs. Only now, when it seems politically expedient, has an expansion of free trade been promised. Its track record of living up to trade promises, as with Chile, isn't exactly cause for optimism.

Economically speaking, free trade with Australia is the right call. But we really should have done it ten or twenty years ago, not for the wrong reasons now.

UPDATE: The article cited on the plans with Australia is no longer the original AP version, but an updated copy.

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 30 ...

As the proprietor of the world's slowest-loadin' blog, Brad DeLong, points out that McKinsey, that Commie-lovin', good-for-nuthin', Chelsea Clinton-employin', anti-capitalist consultin' firm, has pointed out that the dividen' tax cut is more significant for what it won't do - get the economy goin' - than what it will do - cost a buttload.

Sound and fury, folks, the economic plan ain't nuthin' but sound and fury.*

*"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" - MacBeth, Act V, Scene V

You think Southern California has it bad?

Government authorities have prepared evacuation plans for medical emergencies should traffic jams become so bad that people become trapped on the motorways (British equivalent of interstates) for days at a time.

One of these days, someone's going to make a really bad movie out of something like this.

Iain Duncan Smith has promised that he will retake 10 Downing Street at the next general election. To prove that he means business, he put down a £100 ($160.32) bet at 4-1 odds that he will win the next general election with Joe Coral, an oddsmaker (British betting is such that you can legally bet on pretty much anything). Cuteness aside, this means that IDS won't still be leading the Tories after the next general election if he loses. Not that he probably would anyway, given the tepid mandate that he gets from most of his own party. IDS is in the position of being a relatively nice guy - perhaps too much of a nice guy - in charge of a party full of people with unjustifiably large egos. It's not a steady place to stand on.


Pretty much every party is claiming victory on the basis of election results in one area or another. The Tories are claiming victory on the basis of their pick up of nearly 800 seats. The Lib Dems have done better than at any time since their formation in 1987 in council elections, picking up about 200 seats. Labour lost nearly 800 council seats, but won an exact majority in the Welsh Assembly. The biggest gainers in Scotland were the Greens and Scottish Socialists. As has been pointed out in columns and in BBC Radio 4, the Tories have won about 35% of the vote in the council elections, to 31% for Labour and 30% to the Lib Dems (the remainder of votes went to minor parties and independents). The 35% is only 1% above the Tory performance in last year's local council elections (varying numbers of councils come up for election each year) and 2% above William Hague's general election disaster in 2001. It's not likely to signify the type of significant gains that would put the Tories in a position to imminently compete for retaking Westminster anytime soon. Jonathan Freedland argues that at a time when, historically speaking, Labour should be in severe trouble, there is still a general endorsement of the party from most of the electorate. Labour is still seen as far more fit to govern than the Tories or Lib Dems, who always suffer in national elections over the first-past-the-post voting system. Freedland argues that Labour is unlikely to even see its majority shrunken significantly at the next general election, though it may begin to lose protest votes increasingly over the rest of the decade.

Nauseating, no?

Philip Morris diplomacy

(actually, just to be my usual anal retentive self, I guess it should be Altria diplomacy nowadays, but I digress)

Halliburton isn't capping oil wells, but apparently it has won plenty of no-bid contracts for rebuilding Iraq.

My eventual alma mater has decided to give the Mens Basketball Coach, Craig Esherick, a four year extension - through to the end of the 2009 season. This is the same extension that was postponed after a long losing streak earlier this year, but before he led the team to the NIT final.

Look, Coach Esherick is a nice guy. And that's sort of the problem. He doesn't exactly put the fear of God into opposing teams in the way that his predecessor, John Thompson did. Well, he really can't, since Esherick looks like a middle-aged lawyer from Arlington (which he is) rather than Thompson, who looked like he might eat his young at any moment. Moreover, Esherick hasn't exactly been overwhelming as a coach. In four and a half years, he's led the team to three NIT appearances, one NCAA bid, and one year in which an NIT bid was mysteriously turned down. Thompson more or less led the team to the NCAA every year (there were only a couple of NIT appearances in the two-plus decades of his tenure, and I don't think that he ever missed the postseason entirely). The recruiting has been sub-par, really. The only top-flight player of the last couple of years, Mike Sweetney, was actually recruited by Thompson before he resigned. The team continues to do horrendously in close games - no team wins all of its close games, but the Hoyas have come rather close to losing all of them over the last couple of years. The defense is not as stifling as it once was. The team does continue to do better than almost any comparable school at graduating players - the only school I can think of that does better is Duke - but it just isn't feared any more.

I think that this was a mistake. And I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong.

The Lefty Directory has been updated (and also added to the blogroll).

Friday, May 02, 2003

Josh Marshall is trying to build up traffic by promising "Some really uncomfortable information coming out later today about one of conservatism's leading moralizers." Of course, the last time he tried to pull something like this (that I remember, anyway) was the non-issue about Dennis Kucinich's past.

By the way, this kind of ploy generally does seem to work at getting repeat traffic. At least I'd think it does, since Marshall keeps doing it.

In that spirit, I promise something really huge later tonight. Something that will blow your mind. A truly life-changing experience. Tonight. Here.

Well, no, not really.

UPDATE: It's this that Marshall was preparing us all for. Apparently Bill Bennett has a gambling problem.

Hmm ... wake me when we get to something interesting.

Y'know, something that would set off alarm bells in Rick Santorum's head. Tom DeLay and a French Poodle, that sort of thing.

(no legs, my ass)

(And congratulations, of course, to the good doctor)

Will the real academia please stand up?

Is it (drumroll, please) ...

1. Kieran Healy's open debate about the social sciences?


2. Patrick Belton of the OxBlog on academic papers studying The Simpsons?

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 29...

Unemployment is up to 6.0 percent, but, as Nathan Newman points out, the real number is much higher.

Let's see. Massive tax cuts didn't do anything to jump start the economy the last time we tried them. So I guess what we need is more massive tax cuts, no?

UPDATE: I'll take that deafening silence as an endorsement, no?

Euro (currency) roundup

The cover story of the British edition of The Economist is on Britain and the Euro this week (separate British and world versions are published). The cover is a funny little parody of Escher's famous endless staircase drawing, made to look like the Palace of Westminster.

Anyway, I'm happy to say that they agree with me on the correct basis of the Euro entry decision. In fact, I'll take credit for convincing them. Yeah, that's it.

The editorial endorsing Gordon Brown's apparent "not yet" verdict is here (subscription required). They argue that the "wait and see" verdict "still makes excellent sense," but that the five tests are too vague and can be more or less satisfied when it is politically expedient (the tests are vague enough that there is some leeway, but I think that The Economist's view is a little exaggerated). They argue for replacing the five tests with three others: interest rate convergence, inflation targeting and other reforms at the ECB, and reform or repeal of the Stability and Growth Pact (the pact clearly needs reform, but I'm not for throwing the baby out with the bathwater).

Their article is here (free), and an article on the European reaction to British stalling is here (subscription required). The column notes that few in Europe believe that Britain is making a solely economic decision. For them, the Euro was a political decision, and British delays are seen either as an economic excuse for a political decision or just another example of "British mercantile pragmatism." British influence in Europe hasn't been lessened by indecisiveness over the Euro until now, and it isn't likely to be ignored anytime soon.


The pro-Euro Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, spoke during Question Time in the Commons yesterday and said that Britain's refusal to join the Euro may be discouraging investment, although as she noted, investment is currently quite strong, both in historical terms and relative to the rest of Europe.


The Telegraph published an editorial praising the wise economic stewardship of Gordon Brown.

OK, who's the wiseguy who spiked their coffee?

Ah, Britain:

A theater (sorry, theatre) is putting on a play about the war by satirist Alistair Beaton. Open auditions were held for people seeking to play Saddam Hussein. The Guardian sent along a reporter to try out for the role. In costume. Across London.


The Guardian's actual article about the auditions is here. The Telegraph also reports on the auditions.

Local elections results:

The results are available here.

Labour did worse than expected in the council elections, losing about 800 or so seats. The Lib Dems won about 175 seats, which is a decent gain for them, but less than might have been hoped for on the basis of anti-war votes. The Tories gained about 600 seats, and have proclaimed victory. As some have pointed out, though, the Tory target of a gain of only 30 seats was purposely set low so as to ensure that they could proclaim victory and resist any internal attempt at a leadership challenge against Iain Duncan Smith. It hasn't really worked, though, as a Shadow junior minster, Crispin Blunt (nice name, eh?), resigned, stating that the party could never return to power under Smith. There really isn't anybody to challenge Smith, right now, though - Portillo doesn't inspire much love, Clarke is too much of a Europhile, David Davis doesn't have any real constituency within the party and Oliver Letwin is ... Oliver Letwin. Blunt wants William Hague, who led the Tories to their massive general election loss in 2001, to return, though it seems unlikely at the moment.

The BNP (neo-fascist, vaguely racist) did better than anyone else hoped, but then again, the rest of the population wants them to lose everything.

In Scotland, the Labour-Lib Dem coalition has lost a few seats, and will have only a bare majority. The Tories lost a few seats as well. Most of the gains went not to the Scottish Nationalist Party, but to the Scottish Socialist Party and the Greens. Labour will probably return to coalition with the Lib Dems, although they may also consider a coalition with the Tories if the negotiations are problematic.

In Wales, Labour won an exact majority (30 seats out of 60), and will form a single-party government. The Lib Dems held even, the Tories and Plaid Cymru (the Welsh nationalists) lost seats. The leader of Plaid Cymru is expected to come under a leadership challenge as a result.

The Northern Irish elections were postponed while negotiations continue over who gets to blow up what.

Turnout remained low overall, though higher in areas where e-voting was being tested. Of course, it is yet to be seen whether this is just a one-shot deal - people may have been attracted to vote in those areas because of the notoriety of the tests - or an actual difference between the two voting systems.


May Day passed without incident, unexpectedly.

Fire in the belly

Seth Lipner has an interesting op-ed criticizing the SEC for using the funds from fines levied against stock brokers, advisors, etc. for misleading their clients on evaluations as restitution to those investors who lost money.

The argument against using the fines - not against the fines, in general, as Stanley O'Neal idiotically argued a couple of days ago (read Krugman for background) - as restitution is that it essentially nullifies the penalty, and reduces the basis of using risk as a benchmark for investors. Lipner also argues that the fines ought to have gone to the SEC, which would then rely less on general funding from the federal government. This sort of undermines the first part, since some of the funds would then end up returning to investors, albeit in a far more indirect manner (and in smaller amounts). Lipner actually ignores a more interesting point, though, which is that an SEC that earns its pay from fines will actually have an incentive to be extremely tough on wrongdoings, and ensure that markets are as free of corruption as possible. It's one thing to make sure that the SEC has teeth, but it's better if it's hungry too.