Thursday, November 27, 2008

Damn ! What the Hell ! I'm Pissed


We guess is written by a man (59%), however it's quite gender neutral.

Genderanalyzer just questioned my masculinity.


Heeey this is not working. I figured I'd add some 4 letter words and try again and instead I got more androgenous

We guess is written by a man (54%), however it's quite gender neutral.

You female bloggers out there evidently don't use my momma's vocabulary.

update: Oh my god this is wonderful. Via strangedoctrines, of course.
Elisabetta Addis Explains how to make turkey palatable.

She is shocked, shocked that Ezra Klein proposes braising.

I dont remember ever having braised just turkey in my life...!!! If it is just turkey, there is no doubt that your ONLY choice is to broil. I do it "porchettato" which is very similar to the person who broils it after a massage with butter and herbs. The idea is to bone it, to fill the inside with a conspicuous amount of lard or un flavoured bacon chopped up very thinly together with a lot of fresh sage thyme laurel and rosemary, salt and pepper, make a roll, all tied up with the turkey skin out , rub the skin with olive oil, and cover it with a powder made up of sea salt, dry herbs same as above plus some cumin and coriander. Then broil, broil, broil till the skin is crispy and the inside is all white but still juicy, which you know by testing, i.e. pricking with a fork and check the amount and color of the outcoming juice. Can be done with an upper leg, with a breast, and even with a whole turkey. Can be done without boning, but it does not come out well unless you fill the cavity with some moistenable material, like for example unseasoned bread crumbs mixed together with the herbs and pork fat above, and some pre-boiled potatoes, or even oranges or non-sweet apples.
Even then, it is barely edible, come on, it is turkey!!! do you know why they call a dumb person turkey? Because it has no taste!!!!
Braised turkey alone is not fit for human consumption, even if it is braised with wine and herbs. Chunks of turkey meat broiled together with onions and peppers, or onions, potatoes and carrots, plus white wine and herbs, maybe...but still, one does it because turkey is cheap and nutricious, not because of the great taste, come on!!! Tell the blogosphere.

Elisabetta Addis
Do You Love the Rule of Law More than Chocolate Itself.

In "No New Torture Probes" J Goldsmith argues

"the greater danger now is that lawyers will become excessively cautious in giving advice and will substitute predictions of political palatability for careful legal judgment."

Odd I thought he was talking about the legal advice given by John Yoo and David Addington, but he suddenly changes the subject to "careful legal judgment". He is concerned that if the advice of Yoo and Addington is not allowed to over-rule the law, then lawyers might conclude that careful legal judgment is good enough.

For this to happen, those lawywers would have to overlook the difference between those opinions and careful legal reasoning.

I think a bigger danger is that if the advice of Yoo and Addington is not allowed to over-rule the law, then people will stop eating chocolate, because they will note that the advice of Yoo and Addington was not good enough and overlook the difference between the advice of Yoo and Addington and chocolate.

I think it is just about as likely that someone will mistake their legal advice for chocolate or conjugation or Antarctica as for "careful legal reasoning".

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Sign that the end times are nigh

Mark Kleiman criticizes Barack Obama

Mark Warner has now sent out an email to his list asking for contributions for Jim Martin's Senate campaign in Georgia. Kudos to Warner.

Barack Obama has yet to send out a similar message to his list. WTF?

I second the motion. People are wasting time worrying about cabinet secretaries. The game is get to 60 in the Senate and Obama is chickening out.

His problem, so long as he plans on spending a whooooole lot of time with Olimpia Snowe and Susan Collins.

I guess it could be strategy. McCain won in Georgia and Georgians don't necessarily cotton to Yankees (or Hawaiians) telling them how to vote. Still, you know, the money machine would come in handy.

Oh, and, by the way, donate to Jim Martin. He's excellent and Chambliss is horrible and never say never and it aint over till it's over.
In the Airport series.

"I picked the wrong year to quit smoking" -- Barack Obama

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I can't figure out how to embed the video here so I will just give you a link to video at Economist's View.

Larry Summers argues that, maybe we shouldn't count on the financial industry to explain what went wrong and how to prevent it as they have some egg on their faces. Good point.

Then he criticizes luddites who blame financial engineering by noting that bad things have happened without fancy financial engineering. He didn't mention World War II or the plague, but I have no idea why.

This isn't an argument about the role of financial engineering in the current crisis.
Jonathan Zasloff is being very interesting over at the Reality Based Community.

I guess I should give permalinks although they are consecutive posts.

In random order, he asks who should be on the energy team. I have already expressed my view on this issue. I think the Reality Based Community should be the energy team.

He asks "Where is Joe Stiglitz ?" I add what about Paul Krugman. Look the problem is simple, Stiglitz is not a team player. You ask and Summers is he a team player ? The answer is clear -- yes if the team is an administration. If you hire Stiglitz he *will* embarrass you later by resigning and criticizing you.

OK now the big one. Appealing to evangelicals and reducing the abortion rate. Here, I think, Zasloff creates a false dilemma.

Consider Gilgoff's prescription:

For Obama to break the overwhelming Republican dominance of evangelicals in 2012, he’d likely have to deliver on a classic evangelical issue — for instance, pushing legislation aimed at reducing demand for abortion.

Maybe. Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio has sponsored an act that would work to reduce ... abortions by providing better prenatal care and adoptions services to pregnant moms. Several observers, most notably EJ Dionne, have praised the bill and said that Obama should support it (which I think he will).

But the problem is that that might not be the best way to reduce abortions.

If one if to believe the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which studies these things (although it also has a strong pro-choice bias), the most effective way to reduce abortions is the provision of contraception. The government could for example ensure that contraception is covered under Medicaid, or even mandate that it be part of any health insurance policy.

So ? Why do we have to choose ? The Ryan bill provides assistance to people in need. Even if one were not just pro-choice but pro-abortion one should support it. One should not allow the best to be the enemy of the good (and lose votes too).

Most importantly, there is no need to put all abortion reduction regulation into one bill. Increased access to contraception can be presented as a public health issue (for condoms) and a gender justice issue (for all other contraceptives).

The religious right will be against it in any case. There is no way to convince them by noting that the policy will reduce the number of abortions.

So a bill to help mothers sold as a measure to reduce abortions and used to win evangelical votes and a separate bill sold as a public health/women's rights issue which will also reduce the number of abortions if it is passed over the objections of prominent evangelicals (although I would guess supported by most evangelicals whose reproductive rate shows that they would expect to personally benefit if they think you can take from insurance companies with no problem as I bet they do).

Sometimes you can build a coalition by joining policies each of which is supported by one group. Sometimes its better to build two coalitions by pretending that closely related policies are separate.

I'd say that, this time, it is a no brainer.
I have been flattering myself by attempting to engage in a debate with the great Nate Silver.

update: Ahhh now I understand. Silver has explained things so that I understand the logic of his analysis. The key point is that all challenged ballots are counted as non-votes until the challenge is resolved. This means that if a campaign challenges a decision by the local judge to count a ballot as a vote for their opponent, the tentative count is made assuming that this challenge is successful, while if a campaign challenges a decision that a ballot is not a vote for their candidate, the tentative count is made assuming that the challenge is unsuccessful.

Silver estimates that a larger fraction of Coleman's challenges are of type 1. This means that Franken will gain on Coleman compared to the tentative count if all challenges are rejected, if all challenges are accepted or if challenges are accepted with any probability uncorrelated with the type of the challenge.

The "analysis" below is obsolete, because it was based on my not thinking rationally about the way the tentative count was calculated.

For what it's worth, I wrote:

He is, of course, analyzing the Minnesota recount. I dabbled in that myself.

He has posted most recently here and with an important post here. I have posted here.

Quick summary of basic facts

After ballots were counted by optical scanners
Coleman (R) was 206 votes ahead of Franken (D) out of 2.4 million cast. By law there is a hand recount in which people are required to attempt to determine voter intent from ballots where the scanners found 0, 2 or more votes for senator *and* to check for no-nos on ballots which the scanners counted.

If the representative of one or more campaign disagrees with the local election judge a ballot is "challenged" and a state wide canvasing board has to decide what it means.

Surprisingly the number of unchallenged votes (count so far) for each candidate has declined as more scanner counted ballots are challenged than scanner non counted ballots are counted. This number is being reported in real time and each campaign has an incentive to challenge clearly valid ballots.

In the first days of the recount, the gap was narrowing so that extrapolation would imply a really tiny margin when the issue goes to the state board. However, since then the lead has widened and is now 210, larger than it was before the recount started according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune as of 11:23 pm EST November 24.

It is clear that the real action is in the ballot challenges. Franken supporters might hope that the Coleman campaign is making a larger number of frivolous challenges aiming to have the lead when the issue goes to the state board. This would put maximum pressure on the board to conclude that Coleman won. Now simple calculations do not support this hypothesis. The Coleman campaign has only challenged 35 more ballots than the Franken campaign.

The assumption that all challenges are frivolous implies that the best estimate of the final count is 185. 77% of votes have been recounted, so, *if* the recount continues this way, then Senator Coleman will be re-elected.

Silver has analyzed precinct level data (my second link to his important post) and found that Franken gained in precincts with no challenges and lost in precincts with many challenges. The very odd thing is that Franken's gain was negatively correlated with challenges by the Franken campaign. This is odd as it is possible to take a vote from one's opponent with a frivolous challenge.

How can this happen ? One possibility is that some precinct level election judges are being unfair to Franken and not counting ballots which should be counted for Franken, so the Franken challenges are legitimate, while other judges are fair and Coleman challenges are frivolous. Frankly that doesn't sound likely to me. I don't assume all Minnesotans are totally honest, but I would guess some are biased this way and some that way and most are just trying to be fair.

Another possibility is that what varies is the number of frivolous Coleman challenges and that the Franken campaign responds with a smaller increase in frivolous challenges. If so, the Franken response is separate information about Coleman campaign frivolity aside from the number of Coleman challenges which has something to do with the actual ballots. (yes I'm miss-using the word "frivolity" as a joke).

Is there evidence that the Coleman campaign has been more aggressive in some precincts than in others ? There sure is. Rock solid proof in fact. The reason, as noted by Silver, is that the rate of challenges has increased enormously and especially the rate of Coleman campaign challenges has increased enormously. There is no reason to think that the fraction of dubious ballots has increase. It is very possible that the difference across precincts is picking up change over time.

Silver's latest graph sure does seem to show increasing aggressiveness by the Coleman campaign and a less increase by the Franken campaign. The tenfold increase in the rate of challenges by the Coleman campaign is very hard to explain without the assumption that, at least recently, the vast majority of challenges are frivolous.

I'd add a time trend to the regression of precinct level data.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Republican-generated effort to get out the vote for the Dec. 2 runoff election has hit a snag as thousands of requests for absentee ballots have been denied because the applications were not signed.

Many of the unsigned requests came in the form of cards printed by the Republican National Committee and mailed to voters. Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss is in a tight battle to retain his seat by beating Democratic challenger Jim Martin.

The signature line on the RNC cards is easy to miss since it appears after an entry asking voters to enter an address different from their permanent one.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Beating the numbers. Extreme case. In an article by Shannon Brownlee, with Ezekiel Emanuel, there is a really really blatant attempt to use the Rhetorical trick of multiplication to argue that two similar numbers are very different.

Update: The appalling arithmetic abuse is now an op-ed in the Washington Post.

The authors attempt to convince us that one number is much bigger than another by the simple expedient of saying that savings over 10 years are much larger than savings over one year. I wouldn't be surprised if an apples to apples comparison showed that the savings they deride as not "a lot" (just 124 billion per year on an optimistic estimate) are greater than the savings they describe as 1.4 trillion over ten years. They don't note how much of those savings are the derided reduction in private insurance administrative costs.

I excerpt

Myth 3

"3. We would save a lot if we could cut the administrative waste of private insurance.


Let's just say that we could wave a magic wand and cut private insurers' overhead by half, to what the Canadian government spends on administering its health-care system -- 15 percent. How much would we save? Not as much as you may think. Private insurers pay a little more than a third of what we spend on health care, which means that we'd cut a little more than 5 percent from our total budget, or about $124 billion. That's not peanuts, but it's not even enough to cover everybody who's currently uninsured.

now refuting myth 5.

Two: Even moderate reform of the delivery system would improve care and save money. The Lewin Group's analysis shows that a bill proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, calling for a more comprehensive overhaul of the health-care system than either McCain's plan or Obama's could actually insure everyone and save $1.4 trillion over 10 years. More reform is cheaper.

There is no comparison of savings by eliminating un-necessary treatements vs savings due to eliminating un-necessary insurance companies. Wyden would do both. They present no no evidence on the relative importance of the two sources of savings.

Also the approach of setting up straw men to knock down is irritating.

However, Wyden is wonderful and should always be praised, so I can link to his ad

all via Ezra Klein
In Which Robert Waldmann boldly goes where Nate Silver says number crunching is pointless and wins a big downer has since arrived to a different conclusion.

Update: The last bit of my original post was an amazing howler noted by Tom Bozzo (thanks).
Nate Silver has now analysed the numbers and came to a conclusion very different from mine. I attempted to extrapolate assuming that all precincts are the same and that Coleman challenges are very different from Franken challenges, but are symmetric -- roughly that challenges by a campaign are likely to be frivolous and equally likely to be frivolous. I conclude that, under those assumptions, the probability of a Franken win is very low. I *hope* that the precincts assumption is false.

In total contrast, Silver analyzes the data available so far without either assumption. In fact, he argues that it might not matter much which campaign issues the challenge (I assumed all were claiming that a ballot counted as a vote for the other guy was no vote). He does *not* assume this. Instead he estimates the effect of challenges by Franken and Coleman on Franken's gain by precinct. Then forecasts by taking fitted values for zero challenges.

So Silver is using way more data than I did (precinct level data) and making much different and generally weaker assumptions.

Now it is very important to note that Silver assumes that there are important differences in the behavior of local elections judges. I really assumed that the differences across precincts would be in the behavior of the campaigns as they are challenging more and more with time.

Silver's key assumption is that the best prediction is the fitted value for no challenges. How might that be true ? It could happen if some local elections judges are incompetent and, therefore, challenged a lot. If the final decision is like that of competent judges, then Silver's analysis is valid. However, it is possible that there are challenges because voters in some precincts cast incomprehensible ballots. If it is about the voters, not the judges, I don't see any reason why the central board will behave systematically different from the local judges. I think that Silver is also, implicitly, assuming that the Franken campaign behaves similarly in each precinct, that is a large number of Franken challenges indicates odd behavior by the local judge, not the Franken campaign representatives. I can imagine another possibility which explains the odd result that Franken gains less in precincts where his campaign challenges more. If the results are going against Franken, his representatives get pissed and become more combative. This means bad performance for Franken (just due to chance) implies a high number of Franken challenges. Clearly, I have to assume that the Coleman campaign isn't like that, that they always push as hard as they can say. If that which varies is the rate of frivolous challenges by the Franken campaign, then Silver's analysis is invalid.

In the end, I think to justify Silver's analysis, one has to assume that, compared to the final judgement, local election judges are biased against Franken and that Coleman's campaign is more frivolous explaining the roughly equal number of total challenges. Variability in local judges bias against Franken (relative to the final judgement) explains variability in challenges across precincts. In particular, local judges in Hennepin County (including St Paul) must be very very biased against Franken. Hmmmm well guess we have to wait and see.

Can Franken catch Coleman in the recount ? The most recent news is very bad for Franken. He is now definitely not on pace to pass Coleman before ballot challenges are judged.

Silver argues that the high number of ballot challenges means that there is no way to put odds on the final outcome. I'm afraid I disagree.

The Strib site gives data on challenges too (I used data as of 00:12 EST November 23). Coleman's campaign has only challenged 28 more ballots than Franken's. As an extreme hypothesis, suppose all challenges are ruled frivolous. Then we get Franken will gain 63 not 35 votes out of those precincts for which preliminary results are reported. With 68% of votes recounted, I don't see how one can avoid placing the probability of Sen Franken near 50%. (no I don't see how 206-35 = 180 either, I guess that the strib had the post recanvass Coleman lead at 215 for some reason).

Most strikingly have been almost exactly equal numbers of challenges by the campaigns in Hennepin county so far 254 and 252 thus the ratio of Franken challenges to Coleman votes is significantly higher than the ratio of Coleman challenges to Franken votes.

Now the Coleman challenges might be more frivolous on average. However, it is hard to give a story about first time voters or whatever that implies that there are systematically more Franken ballots that were missed by the scanners yet systematically more Coleman ballots that can be legitimately challenged.

If the distribution frivolity of the challenges by the two campaigns is similar, further upswings in challenge rates are clearly wholly frivolous challenges ,and if the 2 thirds recounted were typical of the whole state (which they aren't but I don't see any patters to who gains where) then one can calculate odds.

So far there are 1982 challenges. Change + challenges equals number of votes where the optical scanner recorded no vote which are at least debated now. so 635 new possible votes detected. I think the assumption that gives probabilities of victory closest to 50% is that these are two seperate sets of ballots (all challenges are of ballots counted by the scanners).

Forecasts assuming that the remaining third have the same distributions as the currently counted 2 thirds. 318 new votes detected on ballots where the scanners reported no vote and a total of 2973 challenges (not counting the extra challenges from increasingly furious frivolity beyond the current level of frivolity which I assume will be rejected out of hand).

Expected Franken gains at end of recount 95 (just 1.5 times gains so far). Maximum possible variance of number of challenges rejected about 743 (for each challenge has a 50 50 chance and I assume that all challenges are between for Coleman and no vote or between vote for Franken or no vote). Maximum possible variance of "newly detected vote is for Franken minus newly detected vote is for Coleman" less than 318 (this is if there are no newly detected votes for 3rd candidates). so total variance of change 1061 so standard error about 10 and Franken is over ten standard errors short of the Senate.

Update: OOOOOOOOOOPPPS standard error around 33 so three standard errors. How embarrassing. Thanks to Tom Bozzo in comments.

Franken's hope depends on systematic differences between re-counted and non recounted precincts and systematic differences in the degree of frivolity of challenges. No pattern is apparent in vote changes by county. The rate of challenges is similar by campaign.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Robert Waldmann

is old enough that I automatically associate the name Ziegler with Richard Nixon's press secretary. That identification is no longer operative. I am writing about John Ziegler who designed and interpreted a poll of Obama supporters conducted by Zogby.

Zogby reports and interprets the results here.

Substantive discussion addresses the claim that two of the questions were biased -- that the answers counted as correct are arguably not correct, but rather expressions of anti-Obama opinion, and that one, testing knowledge about Biden was very obscure. In particular Nate Silver and Carl Bialik at the Wall Street Journal. and, uhm John Zogby all criticize Ziegler and un-named Zogby employees. Also Silver, Bialik and Zogby note that it is unfair to quiz one candidates supporters without quizzing the others. I will talk about this some, but I am interested in close analysis of clumsy rhetoric.

I am interested in Mr Ziegler's use of and views on the English language.

The post has gotten long and readers might not want to waste their valuable time. I will bring my most nearly interesting point up here.

Carl Bialik on a Wall Street Journal blog writes

On the fifth question about older events, “Which candidate said their policies would likely bankrupt the coal industry and make energy rates skyrocket?”, more voters named McCain than Obama. However, Obama’s cited comments — made in January in a meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board — referred to bankrupting new coal plants, not the industry. He was speaking about a cap-and-trade system for emissions, something that McCain also has supported.

“We wrote ‘likely’ because of that very caveat,” Ziegler told me. “We had to simplify it, and I stand by the simplification of the question.”

Oh my. Ziegler just said that a false claim can be made true by adding a standard weasel word, evidently just about anywhere in the claim. Bialik's complaint was about the difference between a new coal fired power plant (big) and the coal industry (bigger). He didn't mention whether Obama used the word "skyrocket" or whether that might not correspond exactly in meaning to whatever Obama said. Ziegler clearly asserts that a modification of the allegedly asserted probability of an event (down to likely from unqualified and evidently certain) is a valid response to the observation that Obama's statement was about a different event.

I've never seen a franker assertion of the belief that one can get away with making a false claim by inserting a weasel word. Now here, I think, Ziegler probably thinks he is being, basically, honest. He thinks that cap and trade will bankrupt the coal industry. He has the vague impression that Obama, more or less, admitted that he agrees. He hears a claim that it will make new coal fired plant unprofitable but won't bankrupt the industry. He tones his claim down to "likely bankrupt the coal industry." Ooops he forgot, his question is not about what is true about cap and trade and the coal industry but what Obama said about cap and trade and the coal industry. Generically weakening an innaccurate paraphrase does not make it an accurate paraphrase. In fact, IIRC, the word "likely" makes the paraphrase less accurate as Obama expressed no doubt in the interview.

I think the example is of some interest as it seems to me to be a very frank description of the editing of the question. I think I should be able to understand something from this example. That is Ziegler's statement leaves me totally mystefied. How could someone think that adding "likely" changes a coal plant into the coal industry ? How can someone not understand that a statement can be innaccurate in ways other than being too strong, so that toning it down doesn't make it true ? Why did this guy set himself up for so much ridicule ?

Ziegler reports on the results in a post with the same headline used by Zogby "Survey finds most Obama voters remembered negative coverage of McCain/Palin statements but struggled to correctly answer questions about coverage associated with Obama/Biden"

Try to imagine you don't know who Obama and McCain are and re-read that sentence There is clearly a comparison here, but the structure is not symmetric. First, of course, only Obama voters were tested. It is well known that people prove to be astoundingly ignorant in polls. Quizzing someone's supporters on (alleged see below) facts is clearly not a friendly act.

More strikingly, there appears to have been no negative coverage of Obama Biden or no non negative coverage associated with McCain. Ziegler and the zogby staffer(s) insert their claim that the coverage of McCain was "negative" (used a pejorative term in contemporary political coverage as opposed to "critical" which is neutral) and does not characterize the questions about Obama/Biden (which were all critical). Furthermore he asserts that the criticisms of Obama and of Biden are "correct" and does not assert that the negative coverage of McCain and of Palin is correct.

Would Ziegler and the Zogby staffer(s) have been equally likely to write correctly answer questions about coverage associated with Obama/Biden">"Survey finds most Obama voters answered questions about coverage associated with McCain/Palin statements but struggled remember negative coverage of Obama/Biden" ? I don't think so either.

Or how about we remove all words which depend on the survey results and leave only that which Ziegler and Zogby inc brought to the data

"Survey finds most Obama voters ... negative coverage of McCain/Palin statements but ... about coverage associated with Obama/Biden" To mee that seems to suggest that the media were biased against McCain, yet it has nothing to do with input from anyone not employed by Zogby except maybe Ziegler.

Ziegler and the Zogby staff were unable to achieve formal balance, by using the same words for negative coverage of McCain and negative coverage of Obama. I conclude that they are not very skilled at rhetoric.

OK now some textual analysis of the questions.

"Which candidate won their first election by getting all of their opponents kicked off the ballot" Allegedly correct answer -- Barack Obama. The ignorance of Obama supporters of a ballot challenge in a long past Illinois election is not surprising. Ziegler admits that his result may have been partly due to the obscurity of the events in Obama's and Biden's lives. My point, however, is that the question and proposed answer amount to an opinion not a fact. It is a fact that, on Obama's initiative, all of his opponents were kicked off the ballot in his first election. It is not a fact that this was necessary for his win. The word "by" implies causation. The question and answer assert that the ballot challenge caused the victory, that is, assert the counterfactual claim that if any of the other candidates had remained on the ballot Obama would not have won.

Also "Kicked off" is a dead metaphor which measn "removed." It doesn't imply actual physical violence by means of a foot, but it is charged language which makes Ziegler's bias more obvious than it was before (if that is possible).

"Which candidate has clothes that their political party reportedly spent $150,000 on"

Hmm which sentence contains at least 2 grammatical errors ? I know don't get stoned in glass houses, but a preposition isn't the sort of thing you should end a sentence with. Also "candidate" is singular and "their" is plural. Clearly her gender has to be supressed to get correct answers below 100% (only 86.3% got it right -- some Obama supporters really have been hiding under a rock) but "his or her" is gender neutral and singular while "their" and "his and her" are gender neutral and plural.

"Which candidate said that they could see Russia from their house ?"

Oh my, Bialik told me this, but I didn't believe it. The answer which is marked correct is "Palin." The correct answer is "none." Tina Fey and Palin look alike, but they are technically two different people (plural) not one person (singular, that would be one very very singular person indeed).

OK so don't know much about Rhetoric (my interest). Don't know much about grammer (like I could care less). Overestimate Sarah Palin's ditziness !!!!!!!!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Told You So

Mark Kleiman notes that "The two health-insurance trade groups have now endorsed an individual mandate for health insurance coverage."

This Prof Kleiman expected this to happen. He explains why.

I too expected this, at least since July 8 2008 (same explanation).

Best of all, I recently tried to explain it to Paul Krugman (I mean via a blog which he doesn't read).

Matt Yglesias told you so too.
Worthwhile Federal Budget Accounting Reform

Matt Yglesias quotes the CBO

Consistent with the budgetary treatment of financial assets purchased under the TARP, the federal budget would record the cost of such loans using procedures similar to those specified in the Federal Credit Reform Act, with an adjustment to account for market risk. On that basis, CBO estimates that the expected cost of the proposed loans would be roughly 70 percent of the aggregate face value—or about $17.5 billion. That estimate takes into account the current financial condition of firms that would qualify for loans—as demonstrated, for example, by current market interest rates on outstanding
debt—and reflects historical data on defaults and subsequent amounts recovered

The procedure is to assume that the Treasury should be exactly as risk averse as the private sector. This is totally insane and, in fact, has it exactly backwards. If a market tanks we *want* the deficit to grow (That's called an automatic stabilizer).

Why the hell does the CBO assume that an agent which benefits from taking risk away from the private sector should be risk averse ? I think the reason is clear. If publicly owned assets were valued in a half way rational way major purchases of, say, common stock would be counted as gains for the Treasury (reducing net debt etc). That is, it would suggest that the US government should invest in index funds. Now we can't have that. That can't be a good policy. So we have to make the totally nonsensical assumption that we want the deficit to be constant rather than high in recessions and low in expansion in order to not conclude that such a policy would have an effect on national welfare similar to finding $ trillion worth of goods under a rock.

Obviously I think the social security trust fund should be invested in index funds. The case agains is that if we assume it is very important that the deficit be constant and not counter cyclical then such a policy would be no better than current policy. I can't imagine a weaker policy argument.

I say public sector assets should be valued by the expected payments discounted at the current T-bill rates. No correction for risk. Now really, the Federal Government should be risk seeking, but I am willing to compromise. This does imply that the public sector can profit (reduce it's net indebtedness) by investing in risky assets.

In particular I betcha the Treasury profits from its loan to Goldman Sachs *and* I think that the outcome in dollars gained or lost is an unbiased estimate of what we should care about which has no public sector risk aversion (rather the opposite but I am willing to compromise).
A Comment on Andrew Sabl

I can't log in to comment on the RBC. I don't know why.

Mark Kleiman proposed "A Populist Substitute for Farm Subsidies."

in brief

Through whatever mechanism, reduce the amount of subsidy paid (e.g., by finally putting an enforceable upper limit on how much any individual, family, firm, or group of firms can collect). For each county where subsidies were paid, total up the reduction and divide that amount by teh population of the county.

Pay out 125% of that amount to each resident of the county in the first year, 120% in the second year, 115% in the third year, and so on.

Andrew Sabl argues that Kleiman doesn't know what populism is writing

Mark proposes replacing agricultural subsidies with cash grants, of steadily decreasing amounts every year, to residents of rural areas. His plan sounds unimpeachable in terms of efficiency, equity, environmentalism, etc., and he wonders why nobody's discussed it.

Short answer: they haven't discussed it because it's un-American. Agricultural subsidies involve paying people for doing What Decent People Do: that is, work—and most particularly, work at growing stuff and raising sources of future barbecue. Cash payments given out regardless of the work done by their recipients involve, well, welfare.

Sabl is wrong about Agricultural subsidies. Subsidies have long been paid for Not working.

Mounting surpluses and increased costs of government programs led to the enactment of a flexible price support program (1954) and of the Soil Bank program (1956), which provided for direct payments to farmers in return for reducing their acreage of major supported crops and required that they leave fallow the land removed from production.

Now Sabl is certainly partly right. His main point is the following

When Mark calls his scheme "populist," he's falsely implying that populism has something to do with equity or distributive justice. But in fact, populism--wherever it has existed, though it's much stronger and louder in the U.S. than in, say, Western Europe--is, above all, producerism. It's grounded in a moral distinction between those who do Real Work (agricultural, or, grudgingly, urban but physical) and those who use their abstract intelligence to exploit the real workers through useless tasks like finance or politics.

This is, or once was, true. However, according to Sabl populists ought to hate Sarah Palin who increased the cash given to each citizen of Alaska for doing nothing.

While recognising that Sabl is absolutely right about the ideology of the original populists (the people's party in the USA) I think he over-estimates the extent to which current US self proclaimed populists really mean "give the money to me" and oppose say AFDC, because it is money going to others not to people like them. Taht is populists can and have been bought off.

That is, I think that Sabl is right and Kleiman is wrong about the best definition of the word "populist," the definition which applies to the most self declared populists in history, I don't think that populism as he correctly defines it is really such a strong force in the USA.

Frankly, I think that current self declared populists have more in common with the Democratic party pseudo populists like pitchfork Ben Tilmann (perfect name for a populist showing his ancestors were Northern European plowmen by the way) than the original populists. I believe that most of them use the rhetoric of populism to dress up interest group politics, regionalism, and racism. I'm sure they can be bought off.
The Dow Breaks the Brad Barrier

Yesterday the Dow closed at 7,997.28 a full 2 and a zero point 72 points below the Brad Lower Barrier of 8 and some zeros. Does this mean that it's heading for somewhere between 1,249 and 800 ? I don't like to make predictions, but I would guess no.

Brad DeLong noted "The Dow-Jones Industrial Average has spent 25 of the past 40 years--62%--between 800 and 1250 or between 8000 and 12500."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the Odyssey of a Trachea

In great medical news a new piece of Trachea grown from her own stem cells has been translplanted into a woman in Barcelona.

If this works it will be a functional organ made in laboratorieS.

Also the new organ is a unified European organ. It was made in Spain, Italy and Italy (it probably traveled more than Ulysses)

Once doctors had a donor windpipe, scientists at Italy's University of Padua stripped off all its cells, leaving only a tube of connective tissue.

Meanwhile, doctors at the University of Bristol took a sample of Castillo's bone marrow from her hip. They used the bone marrow's stem cells to create millions of cartilage and tissue cells to cover and line the windpipe.

Experts at the University of Milan then used a device to put the new cartilage and tissue onto the windpipe. The new windpipe was transplanted into Castillo in June (in Barcelona I assume).

Now that's European Unification I can believe in.
Ah the Good Old Days when half of my spam was pre-approved credit cards. To me the end of the go-go years came the day when I had more spam offering to consolidate my credit card debt than spam offering me credit cards.

I just got a spam which stired memories of the time when the crooks spamming me with credit card ofers knew how to spel dollar

RE: 7,500 Dolars GuaranteedUnsecuredCreditLine‏
From: Centennial One Platinum Card (
Medium riskYou may not know this sender.Mark as safe|Mark as unsafe
Sent: Tue 11/18/08 7:41 PM

Easy credit has gone from being the mainstay of the US economy to a scam at the level of Sani Abache's Widow's bank account in Switzerland.
.007% licensed to Thrill

Seems like old times when the Italian center left beat the Italian center right by 0.007%

Coleman's current lead over Franken is only about 0.007%,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Media Matters by by Jamison Foser

Foser has a devastating critique of, well the interpretation of a PEJ study. He says that the press (Howard Kurtz of course) has accepted the claim that coverage was biased in favor of Obama, based on the clear liberal bias of the fact, in this case including polls.

I steal much of his post, because I think he buried the lede.

Unfortunately, the conservative complaints got some superficial support from a recent study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) that claimed that John McCain has received much more "negative" coverage than Barack Obama during the campaign.

The PEJ study quickly got significant attention from the establishment media and blogs.

But while the study lends rhetorical support to the conservatives' arguments, it is nearly useless as an actual assessment of how the media covered the campaign.

First off, it is worth noting this little nugget about the study's methodology, buried at the end of the PEJ report: "Talk radio stories ... were not included in this campaign study of tone." PEJ offers no justification for the exclusion of talk radio. Not a word. In what surely must be a coincidence, talk radio skews further to the right than any other medium.

Now, here's PEJ's description of how it assesses whether a news report is "positive" or "negative":

To examine tone, the Project takes a particularly cautious and conservative approach. Unlike some researchers, we examine not just whether assertions in stories are positive or negative, but also whether they are inherently neutral. This, we believe, provides a much clearer and fairer sense of the tone of coverage than ignoring those balanced or mixed evaluations. Second, we do not simply tally up all the evaluative assertions in stories and compile them into a single pile to measure. Journalists and audiences think about press coverage in stories or segments. They ask themselves, is this story positive or negative or neutral? Hence the Project measures coverage by story, and for a story to be deemed as having a negative or positive tone, it must be clearly so, not a close call: for example, the negative assertions in a story must outweigh positive assertions by a margin of at least 1.5 to 1 for that story to be deemed negative.

OK ... anyone want to guess what that means in practical terms?

Unfortunately, the few actual examples of "positive" and "negative" coverage PEJ offers do little to clarify its methodology, and less to inspire confidence. For example, PEJ notes:

Some of that positive coverage was related to evidence that the financial crisis was aiding Obama. "Recent economic woes have given Democrat Barack Obama a clear lead over Republican John McCain," declared a story posted on AOL News on Sept. 24, citing a 9-point lead for Obama in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

That's what counts as "positive" coverage of Obama? A fairly straightforward report that a poll finds Obama in a "clear lead" over McCain? And, it seems, much of Obama's "positive" coverage consisted of reports like that:

The data clearly point in this direction for some of the explanation. Of those stories that focused mostly on polls, a clear majority (57%) were positive for Obama, while less than a quarter (23%) were negative. Similarly, stories about the electoral map, swing states and campaign strategy were even more favorable (77% positive vs. 6% negative). These represent the most positive element of Obama's coverage.

So, if a candidate is winning, and the polls show that, and the media report that the polls show the candidate winning, that counts as "positive" coverage. Well, OK, it's true that such a story is "positive," but it tells us nearly nothing about the media.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Massive Experiment Doesn't Dent the Conventional Wisdom

The conventional wisdom is that powerful pharmaceuticals (which can kill) are not to be used too much, meaning without extensive diagnostic work-ups. Certainly, the idea is that powerful pharmaceuticals must not be given to normal healthy people even in an experimenta trial.

Massive overwhelming evidence from a huge experiment shows
dramatic benefits of statins for people who do not have high blood cholesterol but do have "high levels of a protein called high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, or CRP, which indicates inflammation in the body."

The study, presented Sunday at an American Heart Association convention in New Orleans and published online in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that the risk of heart attack was more than cut in half for people who took statins.

Those people were also almost 50 percent less likely to suffer a stroke or need angioplasty or bypass surgery, and they were 20 percent less likely to die. The statin was considered so beneficial that an independent safety monitoring board stopped what was supposed to be a five-year trial last March after less than two years.

However, the consensus of the profession appears to be pretty much to ignore the study

The study is sparking debate over who should take a blood test to check CRP and under what circumstances someone with high CRP should be given a statin. Because heart disease is a complex illness affected by many risk factors — including smoking, hypertension, being overweight and having a family history of heart disease — most researchers said high CRP alone should not justify prescribing statins to people who have never had heart problems.

Some experts cautioned against testing people for CRP unless they had other indications of being at risk for heart disease, and they said more research was needed to pinpoint the patients for whom the benefit of statins outweighs the risks. Others recommended testing more frequently and using statins for people with low cholesterol if they have high CRP and some other risk factors.

Now lets understand. The study was stopped early, because it was considered un-ethical to give placebos to some of the patients.

Now it might make sense to attempt further study to find if there are people with elevated CRP would benefit from not getting statins. Given the results to date, it seems to be at least arguable that a study to determine if placebo works better than statin for some such patients would be absolutely immoral and unethical even if they gave informed consent. It seems to me insane to assume the results of such a study and give the recommendation for treatment "no statins if the patients just fit the criteria of the study which showed a 20% decline in mortality with statins but don't have other characteristics."

An experiment with a new alternative drug called "placebo" would almost certainly not be approved even if patients were told of the results of the study and signed a form swearing that they wanted to give placebo a trial even though they fit the characteristics of a group in a trial where placebo treatment implied a 20% increase in death rates.

Just doing it without explaining anything to the patients is fine however.

Some decades from now I want a calculation of how many lives were saved or lost, because people with high CRP but not the other characteristics were not prescibed statins and I want the un-named advocates of that approach to be named.

In exchange I would be glad to promise that if their advice doesn't cause a positive number of human deaths I will surrender my left testicle.

The attitude of critics of the alleged overuse of pharmaceuticals (Sidney Wolfe allowed his name to be used) is to me indistinguishable from that of global warming deniers. They recommend not doing something which the evidence, such as it is, supports because there should be more studies.

The article by PAM BELLUCK stresses the risks of statins and the fact that subgroups within the study might have benefits less than those risks. That would principally be a risk of death of one in one million. How excellent would the other risk factors have to be to identify a group with high CRP who would have longer life expectancy without Statins ? Has any such differential in the benefits of statins ever been found (including in animal studies)? Ask an expert.

Oh and what about giving statins to people who are perfectly normal and healthy in every way. Are their benefits ? Do they outweigh the risks ? We have no 0 (zero) evidence on this, because no such experiment has been performed or would ever be allowed. I don't know about animal studies. I certainly think that a study of the effect of statins on life expectancy in normal mammals would be interesting.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Random Yglesias

Polling We Can’t Believe In

I think a post-election Gallup tracking poll is really what we don’t need. If this past election revealed anything, it’s that all too many people don’t grasp the concept of “random variation” in this kind of thing. But suffice it to say that if you do a poll of roughly Gallup’s size and take a three day rolling average, you wind up generating all sorts of neat-looking vaguely sinusoidal curves that people then dream up narratives to “explain.” The whole thing’s a waste of time, and ultimate does more to misinform people than to help them understand the world.

For Yglesias it appears to be a methodological a priori that "neat looking vaguely sinusoidal curves" no matter how large are all due to random variation. IIRC in all of his posts on the topic, he has never tested the null that this or that vaguely sinusoidal curve can be explained by random variation, never calculated a standard error and never made any argument which has anything to do with "Gallup’s size".

If I calculated correctly, the sinusoidal curves which Yglesias thinks people wasted time on were not due to random sampling (that is the null that they are was rejected at the 5% level). They were temporary and thinking up explanations was a waste of time, but that doesn't mean they were due to random sampling.

I find it odd to talk about sample sizes and variation due to random sampling without performing calculations.

update: This is at his usual level of brilliance (which is high) as he finds something interesting to say on the topic of "Why Newt Gingrich shouldn't be President" which is about like finding something interesting to say on "one plus one equals two." No snark here I mean it -- brilliant. On the other hand I thought he didn't like "scare quotes".


IIRC Yglesias argued that convention bounces were just noise. This is very hard to reconcile with data over many elections. Also hard to reconcile with data over many polls.

I claimed that there was a significant Obama's overseas trip bounce (good for Obama). In each case, I think my data mining was relatively minor. I mean I decided to look for a bounce about then in advance. The choice of exact days was ex post and allowances for that can get p-levels over 5%.

OK so what makes me convinced. First the alleged bounces also appear in other polls (more or less).

I would say there are two competing hypotheses.

H1: noise due to random sampling fed through a 3 day filter creates curves to which people give interpretations.


H2. There are short lived shifts in intentions to vote in the population (perhaps even corresponding to the interpretations) added onto the sampling noise.

I think it is easy to test the null H1 against the alternative H2 but I haven't done it. According to H2 numbers in different polls are positively correlated. Also numbers from one poll will correlated even if the moving average windows don't overlap.

I do not think it makes sense to ask people how often they changed their minds or repeatedly interview the same people. Consider an example. Mr X sometimes feels "undecided but maybe leaning towards Obama" and sometimes feels "undecided but maybe maybe maybe leaning towards Obama". I think it is possible that if he is in state 1, he will respond to a poller pushing him for a name by sayinng Obama and in state 2 will insist on undecided (pollsters press people who say they are undecided). This is a true change in voting intentions as measured by pollsters. It has nothing to do with sampling error. It also has little to do with electoral outcomes.

I think that my hypothetical Mr X would have no sense that he changed his mind. However if he is in state 1 at and in state 2 in t plus one week the results of polls including him will be different. Most importantly I would guess that if he is interviewed at t and says Obama then re-interviewed at t + 1 week he will say Obama again with positive probability (note I assume that if not asked at t then he would say undecided at t+1 week). Once people have stated an opinion, they are somewhat reluctant to say they have changed their minds unless they think they have a good reason to change their minds (anchoring has been experimentally demonstrated even if the original statement was in answer to a question of the form "pick a random number between ...").

Now, if he exists, my Mr X creates a problem roughly similar to sampling error. The shifts in voting intention are so tiny that a more exact measure would be 0 votes shift not one (for example maybe the probability that he votes for Obama goes from 51% to 53% which is more like 50% to 50% than like 50% to 100%). This problem is not removed by refraining from pushing undecided voters or by counting only voters who say they are sure how they will vote. Ms Y might drift back and forth from "undecided leaning Obama" to "probably Obama" and her responses from first undecided then Obama if pressed to first Obama. Mr Z might use "sure" to mean subjective probability 95% and have his subjective probability that he will vote for Obama drift from 94% to 96%. Anywhere you draw the line, there will be people close to it who drift across for no important reason and with almost exactly 0 change in the probability distribution of their actual vote on election day.

Now, as a practical matter, I entirely agree with Yglesias, that the effort to explain the movements of polls is wasted (at best). A shift from "undecided maybe leaning towards Obama" to and from "undecided maybe maybe maybe leaning towards Obama" tells us almost nothing about the expected outcome and so is almost exactly as informative as shifts due to sampling error. I mean if it is August the difference between short lived and non-existent is immaterial.
The Ground Game -- Cause or Effect.

I am about to (gulp) open a semi debate with Nate Silver.

Silver argues that the data show the importance of the get out the vote ground game.

Indeed there is a strong correlation between the difference in the fraction of people who said they were directly contacted by the Obama campaign and the McCain Campaign and the difference between Obama's performance on election day and in the composite of polls.

If one interprets this as cause and effect one calculated "Roughly speaking, each marginal 10-point advantage in contact rate translated into a marginal 3-point gain in the popular vote in that state."

However, there is another explanation of the correlation. Many people are contacted by a campaign when the campaign has a lot of volunteers. The campaign has a lot of volunteers when the enthusiasm level of its supporters is high. If a large fraction with very high enthusiasm (enough to volunteer) is positively correlated with a large fraction with enough enthusiasm to actually vote, then the pattern is explained. Note this is possible even if one assumes that volunteers, GOTV etc have no effect on voting at all.

The pattern can be explained by enthusiasm causes a lot of people to volunteer which implies a large fraction of voters are contacted and also that enthusiasm causes high voting for the candidate compared to telling a pollster that one supports the candidate but then not bothering to vote.

A dumb idea about how to tell the direction of causation is to look at what happens with paid GOTV workers. Paying people to GOTV isn't a sign of enthusiasm. The conventional wisdom is that such an approach doesn't work and that you need volunteers. If one made the conventional wisdom shut up at that point and declined to think for a second, one might conclude that this shows that the causation is enthusiasm causes high GOTV and coincidentally votes not GOTV wins candidates votes.

However, the standard explanation also makes sense. Paid GOTV workers are not convincing but arther irritating. GOTV with volunteers work, because it is clear that the volunteers really believe what they are saying.

I don't see any reliable way to determine true causation.

Friday, November 07, 2008

What Digby Said

This has been my first edition of "What Digby Said" but, I'm sure, not the last.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama Wins North Carolina

North Carolina just voted for an African American President, a Female Democratic Senator who is willing to talk to atheists Kay Hagan* and a Female Democratic governor Beverly Perdue.

This is the state which kept re-electing Jesse Helms (always by narrow margins).

The Times they are a Changing. In fact, they seem to have a changed.

*Hagan herself is devoutly Christian as, indeed, is Obama and I would guess Perdue
Headline from the Web Page of Italy's Top Circulation Daily La Repubblica

Barack lavora al "drem team"

nei mei sonyi li italyani non scriveranno in inglese senza controllare l'ortografia

Look who's typing.

Now corrected. As far as I know drem team was up only for a few seconds. I almost didn't manage to capture the screen (but I have it)

In other news Italian Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi said that that Obama "E' giovane, bello e abbronzato" (is young handsome and tanned). La Repubblica (where they hate Berlusconi more than I do because he tried to buy it and fire them all) they note that ABC has broadcast the translation. Among many others

"Successivo" means "next" click to see the next photo of a front page (clearly Berlusconi was jealous that Obama was on front pages around the world).

The first time tragedy, the second time farce, the third Berlusconi government burlesque.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Irrational Exuberance

OK so I have been moving my mouse around having fun here

and I was disappointed that there were no vote totals on a white area.

Then I though "Oh that's Cuba. Barack isn't even on the ballot there --

To the tune of the lion sleeps tonight

B Obama Ba. Obama Ba. Obama ba Obama ba Obama ba
T: In the US , the mighty US, Obama wins tonight

B: He’s not named Osama
T: Ooo Weeee You uu Uwie

B Obama Ba. Obama Ba. Obama ba Obama ba Obama ba
T: In Ohio, because of Cleveland, McCain will lose tonight

B: by the river that burned
T: His hopes go up in flames

B Obama Ba. Obama Ba. Obama ba Obama ba Obama ba
T: In New England, all of New England Obama Sweeps tonight

B In ..clu ..ding New Hampshire ?
T: Ooo Weeee You uu Uwie

B Obama Ba. Obama Ba. Obama ba Obama ba Obama ba
T: Oklahoma in Oklahoma McCain will win tonight

B: Not Just him Inhofee
T: Wha Whahhhh woe-oh is me

B Obama Ba. Obama Ba. Obama ba Obama ba Obama ba
T: In Nevada, the high stakes gambler is crapping out tonight

B He is rolling snake eyes?
T: Ooo Weeee You uu Uwie

B Obama Ba. Obama Ba. Obama ba Obama ba Obama ba
T: In Hawaii home state Hawaii Obama wins tonight

B: Aloha Bush forty-three
T: Ooo Weeee You uu Uwie

B Obama Ba. Obama Ba. Obama ba Obama ba Obama ba
T: Colorado red Colorado is turning blue tonight

B don’t steal water from me
T: Ooo Weeee You uu Uwie

B Obama Ba. Obama Ba. Obama ba Obama ba Obama ba
T: In Chicago South side Chicago Obama stomps tonight

B don’t take that literally
T: Ooo Weeee You uu Uwie

B Obama Ba. Obama Ba. Obama ba Obama ba Obama ba
T In the district the federal district McCain will get some votes

B that means more than one
T Ooo Weeee You uu Uwie
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wing├Ęd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!


Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh, hear!


Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh, hear!


If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.


Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

OK I understand that in about a month Europeans will figure out that Obama's actual policy proposals would be right wing here.

But I am planning to enjoy that month a whole whole lot.
I've Always been an Atheist

but I have never been more happy about the consequences of some unknown person saying "There is no God."

Sometimes slime doesn't pay.

Also the McCain campaign seems to have gotten African American turnout in Philly from huge to GINORMOUS by running the Write stuff ad.

update: On the Dole.

update 2: Opinions on existence of God differ

In North Carolina, Kay Hagan (D) defeats incumbent Liddy Dole (R)
Joe Sudbay (DC) · 11/04/2008 08:30:00 PM ET · Link
13 Comments · reddit · FARK · Digg It! · Stumble It!

There is a god.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Talking about the elections with my 11 year old Italian born daughter K.

RJW: many people have already voted.
K: fow whom ?
RJW: Obama but people who vote today might go for McCain
K: Only matters if there are enough of them and the absentee ballots might go for Obama
RJW: No they will go for McCain. Military officers overseas vote absentee
K: and the African American private soldiers won't vote this time ?
RJW: ... birds chirping ... OK that's going on the web.

She's 11 years old.

All translated from Italian.

Monday, November 03, 2008

He Came with the Wind

How do I send Bill O'Reilly this link ?

And how would Margaret Mitchel react to a song wich uses the rhyme "O'Hara - Tara" entitled "There's no one as Irish as Barack Obama" ?

I'm having fun tonight -- of course "Tomorrow is another day".

Via Mark Kleiman (who is I'm sure part Irish too).

I doubt that the Irish Barack Obama would approve of this T-Shirt.
Make Paul Krugman Eat His Words

OK this is directed at the very small intersection of Krugman haters (very numerous), Georgians (very numerous) and readers of this blog (very few).

Paul Krugman predicts that Saxby Chambliss will be the future of the Republican party.

He also predicts that Democrats will pick up 7 seats in the Senate.

You can totally cover his face with egg by voting for Jim Martin.

Don't do it for me, don't do it for Jim, do it for the future of the Republican party (and to make Krugman look like a fool).

the Republican rump, the party that’s left after the election, will be the party that attends Sarah Palin’s rallies, where crowds chant “Vote McCain, not Hussein!” It will be the party of Saxby Chambliss, the senator from Georgia, who, observing large-scale early voting by African-Americans, warns his supporters that “the other folks are voting.”

For example, Larry Sabato, the election forecaster, predicts that seven Senate seats currently held by Republicans will go Democratic on Tuesday.

Needless to say, the potential voters Acorn tries to register are disproportionately “other folks,” as Mr. Chambliss might put it.

Click here and stick to Krugman

Now Jim Martin has his faults too. For one thing he seems to think that I actually know Georgians. Hell the only (former I think) resident of Georgia I know is Jonathan Kulick and that's the wrong Georgia.

So Jim e-mailed me this folksy demand.

Dear Robert,

There are now less than 36 hours remaining until the polls close on Election Night. I know that many of you have already voted, but we need your help to contact as many voters as possible before tomorrow’s voting begins.

I wanted to take a moment to write to you one last time regarding what this campaign is all about. Please forward this email to at least 10 friends or family members who can vote in Georgia tomorrow.

The real difference in this race is this - Saxby Chambliss supports George Bush economics, and I believe that we need to make our economy work for the middle class again.

Chambliss and his friends in Washington have spent millions of dollars to smear my 35-year record of public service on behalf of all Georgians.

The truth is this - I was proud to serve our country in Vietnam. I helped pass the toughest crime laws in Georgia. And I helped pass the largest tax cut in Georgia history, eliminating the sales tax on groceries.

Saxby Chambliss supports the failed economic policies that got us where we are today - no rules for Wall Street, wasteful spending and record deficits, and tax breaks for the special interests. And he still doesn't get it. Just last night, in our final debate, he defended the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, but resisted any kind of stimulus package to help the middle class.

I don't have to tell you that the middle class is hurting. I won't insult your intelligence. But apparently, we do have to tell Saxby Chambliss.

As I said in the debate last night, are we better off today than we were six years ago? The answer is "No." We need a new Senator - someone who will stand up for the middle class in Washington. I will be that Senator for Georgia.


Ballance at AP

Calvinball version. Calvin Woodward draws a ballanced conclusion "Each in his own way, John McCain and Barack Obama have produced enduring myths, amplified by their running mates and supporters."

Odd I thought the McCain campaign lied constantly (their myths don't necessarily endure) while the Obama campaign was relatively honest.

Lets fact check Calvin

Obama saddled McCain with a bum rap when he accused the Republican of wanting a 100-year war in Iraq back in the spring.

OK kids what punctuation marks are used in that sentence ? I count 1 period and no 0 (Zero) quotation marks. Now when one is accusing someone (Obama) of making a deceptive paraphrase of a quotation ("maybe a hundred") doesn't one normally use a direct quote of the allegedly deceptive paraphrase ?

Not if you are playing Calvinball. I think the myth is that Obama "accused the Republican of wanting a 100-years of war" (see how quotation marks work). That would be a crazy accusation, since obviously McCain wants victory not war. Also Calvin might have mentioned that McCain has never described a period of war which would be unacceptably long but has always dodged the question to escape into the could cuckoo land in which Iraq is South Korea (and Calvin Woodward is an honest journalist).

Obama accused McCain of wanting to privatize Social Security, which he doesn't. Now he accuses McCain of wanting to privatize "part" of Social Security, which he does, as one option that younger workers could choose.

Note the only quote the word that makes Calvin consider the statement true. Also "wants" is difference from "declared his willingness to vote for in 2005." (same goes for Joe the plumber who is free to believe that Obama is lying).


"We have to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much," McCain says, again and again.

That's a seriously inflated figure cited by McCain for the value of U.S. oil imports from countries hostile to America. In fact, the government says the U.S. spent less than half that sum on crude oil and refined petroleum projects from foreign sources last year, and most were from friendly countries such as Canada, Mexico and Britain.

Obama upped the stakes when he used the figure, boiling the vast web of oil and debt transactions down to two countries: "Nothing is more important than us no longer borrowing $700 billion or more from China and sending it to Saudi Arabia," he said. "It's mortgaging our children's future."

OK kids which phrase is found in McCain's claim that isn't found in Obama's ? Yep you got it "a year". Obama sure didn't up the stakes when he changed $ 700 billion a year to various countries to "$ 700 billion" with no reference to the flow being repeated year after year.

What is US debt to the PRC ? "It is estimated that China holds over $900bn in a mix of US bonds." looks like Obama rounded down to be safe (although it could just be that the Telegraph has a left wing bias).

Did Calvin cut the quote to make it true while claiming it was false ? Does Calvin have a reading comprehension problem ? It doesn't matter. He works for the AP.

McCain's health plan is distorted, in turn, by Obama.

"Your health care benefits will get taxed for the first time in history," Obama warns voters in attacking it. He often leads voters to think that's the full story. Hardly.

Well here is a quote. Too bad the quoted claim is absolutely true. Calvin's assertino taht Obama distorts McCain's claim is supported by the unsupported allegation that Obama leads people to think something which he didn't say.

_$4 billion: "John, you want to give oil companies another $4 billion" in tax breaks, Obama told McCain in a debate.

In fact, McCain supports a cut in income taxes for all corporations, and doesn't single out any one industry for that benefit.

That is to say that, in fact, what Obama said is completely true. Also I don't think that US voters who overwhelmingly support higher taxes for corporations would be pleased that McCain promises tax cuts for non oil companies.

_$2,500: That's how much Obama says his health care plan will bring down costs for a family of four.

This is what's called a "forecast". Forecasts have to be made if we are to make decisions. One can challenge a forecast if one knows something. Calvin chooses, instead, to assert in so many words that all forecasts are myths. To him all are equally bogus so he can contribute nothing to serious debate.


_$882 billion: "Senator McCain would pay for part of his plan by making drastic cuts in Medicare _ $882 billion worth," Obama said. Obama ads claim McCain would cut benefits by 22 percent.

McCain's plan proposes neither. He wants to save money the same way Obama wants to _ by making programs such as Medicare more efficient.

Obama's claim misrepresents what a McCain adviser said in a Wall Street Journal story and adds distorted analysis from a partisan think tank to come up with something that goes against what McCain says he would do _ protect promised benefits from being cut.

OK here we have a quote of Obama, but we don't have the quote of Holtz-Eakin (or the name for that matter). When claiming that a paraphrase is a distortion, one normally quotes the allegedly distorted statement. In this case it wouldn't work, because Obama is right. Note that there would have to be major cuts in benefits paid even if administrative costs were reduced to zero (given how low they are).

Calvin makes an absolutely false claim when he says "McCain's plan proposes neither. He wants to save money the same way Obama wants to _ by making programs such as Medicare more efficient." Obama is not stone ignorant about the US health care financing system so he doesn't imagine that he will find inefficiencies in programs like Medicare which is highly efficient. Rather he thinks that the gross inefficiency of private insurers will not be able to survive competition with a medicare like program. I admit that long term he wants to evaluate the effectiveness of procedures and this will save medicare money too. Also he certainly hopes to save medicare money by promoting preventive care.

Huge cuts with no change in benefits ? No Obama is not hallucinating.

It is as if Woodward had said "Obama wants to draw blood by sticking a hypodermic needle into a vein. McCain wants to get some blood the same way Obama does -- by squeezing it out of a stone." But, of course, Woodward is a journalist so he can't be expected to know that administrative expenses aren't just the same in all parts of the US health care financing non system.

OK the score so far is that Calvin Woodward accuses the Obama campaign of spreading 7 myths. He generally supports his claims by not quoting Obama or by assuming that if he doesn't know something it isn't true.

I'd rate him 0 out of 7. Your mileage may vary.
Finally Reconciled to Cell Phones

I resisted cell phones considering them a status symbol (really kids they once were a status symbol). I understand that now everyone has a cell phone and poor and/or young people don't have a fixed phone, but the hostility lingered, especially because my cell phone makes an irritating beep when its battery is low, which is almost instantly and one of the many things Paul Krugman and I have in common (hmm beard, grey hairs, co-authored with Brad DeLong, don't like Bush) is poor cell-phone reception at our houses.

Now finally I embrace the wireless age. Nate Silver notes that people contacted by cell phone are much more likely to say they will vote for Obama (probably not just because cell phone reception in the exurbs and countryside is horrible see above).

Now if my damn phone would stop hiding from me, I would be at peace with the radiowave cells.

Via Krugman's co-author and mine Brad DeLong