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Monday, July 30, 2007

Harry Potter Blogging

I am on p 114 of "The Deathly Hallows" and notice a very important message

Spoiler alert for the 3 other people who haven't finished the book.

"It Opens at the close" I guess this refers to a heavy locket mentioned in "The Order of the Phoenix" which no one could open.

update: now page 158. A while ago, I predicted

When cleaning 12 Grimauld Place a heavy locket which no one could open was found.

In book 6 (half blood prince) we encounter the concept of Horcruxes. One bit is in his reconstructed body, another was in the Riddle diary (killed in book 2), another was in a ring destroyed by Dumbledore.

One is clearly in a locket once belonging to Slytherin.

This was replaced in its former hiding place by an ex follower of Voldemort who signed R.A.B. . One Regulus Black (brother of Sirius) was once a follower of Voldemort. He was quickly killed after he tried to switch sides. I assume he is RAB and that the locket is the one found in 12 Grimauld place. I guess that there will be an effort to find where Kreacher hid it, then it will be discovered that Fletcher sold it. This should be good for hundreds of pages.

All correct so far (only have Kreacher's word on Fletcher) except for the bit about "hundreds of pages".

Update: well my old predictions are basically all correct. I blew it and made an incorrect prediction about the meaning of "it opens at the close" which has nothing to do with the locket.

Friday, July 27, 2007

In which I comment on one graph in a book without even knowing for sure what is graphed.

Matthew Yglesias writes

Ezra Klein has the link to a fascinating paper by Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen about the ugly reality behind political decision-making. Rather than try to summarize the paper, I'm going to steal this one graph and talk about it, since I think it encapsulates things nicely:

I'm not going to even bother stealing the graph. Click the link.

I think there is much less than meets the eye in that graph if I understand correctly that people were asked to give a number from 1 to 7 on more services vs reduce spending. The reason is that the 1-7 scale is abstract and there is no reason to believe that people mean the same thing by the same number.

Consider two people who have the exact same views on policy choices let's call them Bill and Hillary Clinton. They both are democrats and both know their views are far from those of Republicans. Neither is a 1 (third way and all that) but Bill might call himself a 4 (super centrist) and Hillary call herself a 3. There is no problem about their beliefs about policies and parties, just their mapping from beliefs about policies to this arbitrary scale.

Now consider say Gerald Ford. He was against universal health care, but he considered himself a centrist. He might call himself a 4 (same number as Bill but different meaning). There is nothing irrational about Bill Clinton considering himself a centrist and identifying with the Democratic party and Gerald Ford considering himself a centrist and identifying with the Republican party. They disagree only about the meaning of the word centrist (or the number 4) which has no precisely defined connection with policy or with parties or with anything concrete.

To get an interesting graph, Bartels and Achen probably asked about specific policy questions summarized the answers for the x variable (actually for all I know the figure your showed was made that way). Now that is interesting. But an argument based on the assumption that an abstract number from 1 to 7 has a precise meaning and should govern our voting is silly.

Now I use such data myself, but the interesting question is whether it has anything to do with anything outside of the questionaire, not whether it is an exact measure of something important.

More general rule. If a discovery can be easily explained by assuming that a variable (here leftiness) is measured with error, then it is uninteresting. Applying this rule would imply refusing to publish most published work in the social sciences.
Why don't Goldsmith's have spines ?

Who is the eminent legal authority named Goldsmith ?
a) Jack Goldsmith the assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel who concluded that the NSA warrentless wiretapping program was illegal but quietly reached agreement with Bush to allow it to continue.
b) Peter Goldsmith, baron Goldsmith who concluded that the invasion of Iraq was illegal because it was not authorized by UN security council resolution 1441 but quietly reached agreement with Tony Blair on a way to fudge the issue.

How lovely that two great nations have been served by two men at the same time with the same last name, almost exactly the same role, the same intelligence, the same understanding of the law, the same crumb of integrity, and the same total lack of spine.

Also you. have. got. to. be. kidding. me.

Our Goldsmith co-edited "On "Nineteen Eighty-Four": Orwell and Our Future"
He certainly was well prepared for his future job dealing with the NSA program wasn't he ?

I don't want to be alarmist, but the next book he wrote is entitled "Who Controls the Internet? ..." so, I assume, that having worked for B.B. Bush in Oceania he will go on to control the internet.
Will Gonzales Blame Bush ?

Below I make totally twitty comments on this important post by Spencer Ackerman and Paul Kiel.

Much of it reviews the TPM and TPMuckraker interest in Gonzales's insistence phrasing all of his denials concerning the NSA warrantless wiretapping program as referring to "what the president has confirmed." This leads the TPMavins to conclude that a broader denial would be demonstrably false. In particular, on the topic of recent possible perjury

Most significantly, when Gonzales first testified to the Senate on February 6, 2006, about the NSA's domestic surveillance, he at first used the term "terrorist surveillance program" -- the new choice for describing what Bush disclosed. But when Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) asked Gonzales about press accounts reporting that Comey and Goldsmith objected to the "terrorist surveillance program," Gonzales abandoned the construction. He said he was "only testifying about what the president has confirmed." And when it came to that, he said, "I do not believe that these DOJ officials that you're identifying had concerns about this program." The disagreement, Gonzales said, was about “other matters regarding operations.”

That is, he said way back then, that there was something going on other than what the president confirmed. As it became clear how much Comey and Goldsmith objected, many have asked what else.

Until today, I saw 3 possibilities.
1. Gonzales simply lied hoping that Comey and Goldsmith wouldn't squeal. Now he is nailed.
2. There is a completely different (and much worse) program we know nothing about.
3. In his own mind, Gonzales distinguished NSA warrantless wiretapping I and NSA warrantless wiretapping II. The transition would be the changes as a result of Comey et al.'s objections. Thus he would be prepared to parse his apparent perjury explaining that, without mentioning any such distinction to the senators, he wasn't talking about what they were trying to ask him about. This is the theory presented by Ackerman and Kiel, and it sure makes sense.

Now I just thought of a 4th possibility.

Bush's confirmation was definitely dishonest. He claimed "I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations." This is clearly false. The word "known" is very strong, much stronger than inference based on evidence sufficient for a warrant. Casual use of the word "known" for "suspected" or "possible" or "true with probability 1%" is a very typical form of Bush administration dishonesty and/or sincere irrationality, so I barely noticed the blatant dishonesty. However, it might be key to a possible Gonzales defense strategy.

Let me present the following defense of Gonzales

AG "Bush lied to the American people. He admitted that there was a program, but he only admitted a tiny fraction of the warrantless interceptions. Thus when I talked about "the program the President confirmed" I referred only to the interception of conversations of people known to be linked to al Qaeda, that is Mr X and Mr Y who are currently on trial. The thousands of other people whose communications were intercepted based on data mining and other crap, are not part of the program the president confirmed. Since the president chose to make up a new sub program to confirm, which has nothing to do with an nonexistent operational distinction between known al Qaeda operatives and people who just use pre-paid cell phones to call Pakistan, I chose to dodge questions by rephrasing them as questions about this program invented by the president on December 19, 2005. No one has objected to tapping the phones of Mr X and Mr Y, so I'm totally innocent.

That is, the distinction between the NSA program and the program described by the president could exist only because the president lied and convessed only a tiny part of the NSA program thereby creating a new sub program. If the presidents confirmation clearly does not correspond to the NSA spying program, Gonzales is in the clear. He never claimed that "the program the President confirmed" existed before January 19 2005.
Parsing Parsing

I always thought that "parsing" referred to careful analysis of speech or writing to determine its meaning, and, hence was related to reading not writing. In careful speech or writing is "careful phrasing" not "parsing". Since Bill Clinton said "it depends on what the meaning of "is" is," "parsing" has been used to mean deliberately deceptive phrasing. Something that has to be parsed to be distinguished from a lie.

Thus "It depends on what the meaning of "is" is" is parsing -- here Clinton explained why his alleged perjury was an accurate statement that his affair with Lewinsky was not current or in the present (rather than the past) at the time that Paula Jones' lawyer carelessly asked "is there a sexual relationship involving you and Monica Lewinsky" or whatever.

Just as Clinton's proof that he did not commit perjury was considered to be aggravating not exonerating, his act of careful interpretation of his deliberately deceptive but true statement has lead to the use of "parsing" to mean "carefully constructing deliberately deceptive but true statements." as in

At issue is whether Gonzales' assertions that there was "no serious disagreement" within the government about the TSP was so misleading as to amount to perjury, or whether his distinction between TSP and Program X was merely a careful parsing -- perhaps misleading but not, to use Sen. Arlen Specter's word, actionable.

yech (not to mention that I think "careful" is superfluous. "Careful parsing" is like "dishonest perjury" or "dishonest Gonzales").

Strange but true, the Wikipedia is no help giving the original technical meaning of parsing which is now called "diagramming a sentence".

update: Before getting to the substance of the important article by Kiel and Ackerman, I'm going to go all twitty and parse some more. I love parsing. I would parse all day if I could find anyone willing to listen to me (or read a 24/7 parsing blog).

picky point 1: who revealed the NSA warrantless spying program ? "In December 2005, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau broke the story of the Terrorist Surveillance Program for the New York Times" [snip]"What President Bush described was far more constrained than the surveillance Risen reported." If I were Lightblau my wrath would be Risen.

Picky point 2 (I mean it's just the constitution)
"Prior to 9/11, such surveillance had to be approved by a FISA judge so as not to violate the 4th Amendment."

Also post 9/11 such surveillance had to be approved by a Fisa judge so as not to violate the 4th Amendment. The 4th amendment hasn't changed and it is being violated . I think the correct phrasing is "Prior to 9/11 the executive branch did not conduct such surveillance unless it was approved by a FISA judge so as not to violate the 4th Amendment." "had to be" is a statement about the nature of "such surveillance" and its relationship to the 4th Amendment (allowed only with a Warrant) . The fact that the Bush administration has falsely claims that it doesn't have to choose between getting warrants and violating the 4th Amendment doesn't mean they don't have to choose.
Oddly a comment on the post below contains a link to a post on quantum measurement paradoxes. Oddly Lepp at Cornell does not seem to have permalinks so here is a google search which shows that Google considers Neil Bates the web's leading expert on "quantum measurement paradox"

That reminds me of this from my archives, except for the fact that the commenter tyranogenius AKA Neil Bates seems to know what he is talking about.

I wrote

Another locally realistic violation of Bell?s inequality ?

On December 9 2003 I was thinking about the EPR experiment. I am actually thinking about the
experiment as proposed by E P and R, not the experiment as performed. There are
four basic but very weird points to remember in order to understand the proposed
experiment. One is that electrons spin around sort of like little globes but that the
absolute value of the angular momentum is always hbar/2 no matter from which
direction you look at them. This is not like, say, the earth which spins around the
North-South axis so the angular momentum is less if you look down another axis.
The second strange fact is that you can?t measure the angular momentum of one
single electron around two different axis (one version of the Heisenberg
principal). This can be understood as measuring around one axis changes the spin
around another axis. This makes sense in terms of comprehensible things like
macroscopic magnets because the way to measure spin is with a magnet and a
magnet does change spin. The third strange fact is that sometimes you know that
the spin of two electrons around any axis is opposite. This is true if the two
electrons are in what is called a singlet state. This means that even if you can?t
know which way (clockwise or counterclockwise) each electron is spinning
around both the North South axis and the East West axis you can know that the
two are spinning in opposite directions around each axis. The fourth strange fact
is that, according to quantum mechanics the correlation between ?spin is
clockwise around the North South axis? and ?Spin is clockwise around the North-
East South-West axis? is greater than one !!! that is the probability both are
clockwise is greater than the probability that the spin around the North South axis
is clockwise and the spin around the other axis is whatever and unmeasured. I
won?t be able to explain this so that it makes sense. It is clearly crazy. It is also an
experimental result not just a theory. I am sure I will never understand this, so I
can?t explain it. Trying to grasp this fact, and it appears to be a fact (see below) is
like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.

Now the point of EPR is that Heisenberg shmeizenberg you can use the singlet
state fact to test the quantum mechanical correlation greater than one by
measuring the spin around N-S of one of the electrons and the Spin NE-SW of the
other. They were very sure that the experimental result would disprove quantum
mechanics. After some decades the experiment was finally performed (with light
not electrons) and quantum mechanics was confirmed. I gave up.

Then I heard about the work of Luigi Accardi and Massimo Regoli. They have an
argument that you can reconcile the experimental result with a locally realistic
theory (one that makes sense as correlations are less than or equal to one) if the
singlet state is a statement about measuring spin around one magic axis (NS say).
The quantum craziness comes from treating electron 2 is counterclockwise around
NS as equivalent to electron 1 is clockwise around NS AND electron 2 is
counterclockwise around NE-SW as equivalent to electron 1 is clockwise around
NE-SW. What if the singlet state had to do only with the N-S axis ?

An objection is that the singlet state fact has been tested for many directions and
always works.

I have a slightly modified version of the Accardi Regoli story (which is probably
in one of their working papers which I haven?t read). Here the experiment is we
have electrons that were in the signlet state flying out of a source each one
through an electromagnet which can be oriented NS or NE-SW. If both
electromagnets are oriented the same way, the spins are opposite. If the
experimenter moves the electromagnets so they are not oriented the same way, the
electrons see this and don?t act like singlet state electrons at all anymore. This
means that the EPR experiment result is not equivalent to a correlation greater
than one.

OK so the little electrons are spying on the experimenter. There are two things.
Which way does he point the electromagnets and are both turned on (measuring)
or not. If they are oriented on the same axis then the measurement of electrons
going through magnet 1 does not depend on whether magnet two is turned on and
the measurement of electrons going through magnet 2 is always opposite. If they
are oriented in different directions, then the measurement of electrons going
through magnet 1 depends on whether magnet two is turned on. This is an effect
of an event which took place a long time ago (by flying electron terms) so there is
nothing impossible about it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Robert Samuelson wrote a very very bad op-ed which contained a claim which interested Matthew Yglesias

eliminate tax subsidies (mainly the mortgage interest rate deduction) for housing, which push Americans toward ever-bigger homes. (Note: If you move to a home 25 percent larger and then increase energy efficiency 25 percent, you don't save energy.)

Yglesias notes that 0.75*1.25<1 and suggests a remedial arithmetic course. I am willing to go further and make a personal sacrifice. I have a mustache. I am willing to support an unconstitutional law that no person who had a mustache on July 26 2007 can ever write an op-ed ever again (damn that would ban Matt too. Cut it off before it's too late).

The argument about houses and global warming interested me. This is one of my obsessions. I think that an important part of the world carbon budget is being ignored. The use of wood in construction causes carbon sequestration.

Greens might hate me for saying this but cutting down trees and building houses reduces global warming. Consider 2 possibilities. 1) We stop building more and more huge houses and let the forests reach equilibrium or 2) we repeatedly clear cut forests and use the wood for houses. In case 1, no carbon is fixed in the forests (in equilibrium photosynthesis and rotting cancel out). A tree farm or repeatedly clear cut forest fixes tons of C02 (humans remove the wood before it has a chance to rot and plant new saplings which grow real fast). If we build more and more houses and don't tear down the old ones (think Northern Virginia) a lot of carbon ends up in houses.

So if I assume that wood used in construction never rots or burns I calculate that carbon sequestration from the lumber business is going on at a rate of about 500,000,000 tons of wood a year. Residential emissions of C02 are about twice that. I have the weight per mole of carbon of wood and C02 at my blog. The point is that carbon sequestration by turning forests into tree farms is a huge huge deal in the USA (and aren't we net importers of lumber buying more from Canada than we sell ?).

So far I have used

residential emissions of C02 about 1,2 million tons per year (metric) (this is mostly via demand for electricity not direct emissions from heating and cooking and stuff).
Ruthless theft from nature of lumber by board foot (falsely called production)
48,773 million board feet.
a board foot is 2.36 liters and wood floats so I will say a board foot weighs about 2kg

The old wood to C02 equivalence wood is about one third water. The rest is mostly cellulose weighing (about) 38 grams per mole of carbon so pulp wood would weigh about 57 grams per mole of carbon. CO2 weighs 48 grams per mole of carbon, that is, 48 tons per million moles.

So one thousand board feet contain as much carbon as 2*48/57 = 1.68 tons of C02.

If the wood used as lumber never rots or is burned (very big if) the timber industry sequesters carbon at a rate equivalent to 82 million tons of carbon a year. That is not tiny compared to residential C02 emissions.

Of course much of lumber is used for non residential construction and some C02 emission due to huge houses are not direct but come from increased fuel for commuting from absurd exurbs.

Still the construction corresponds to one year's increase in housing not the stock of housing. The annual increase in residential C02 emission was about 1.4% per year from 1990 to 2006 so roughly times roughly 18 million English tons about a quarter of gross sequestration due to the timber industry of 82 million tons of C02 equivalent.

I'd guess that the increase in housing would reduce global warming if people would just commute in Priuses.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Joe Frank tells me

A study showed that people all over the world sleep 2 hours longer when
a sleeping pill is colored blue. The exception is Italians but only the
men. The blue color reminds them of soccer.

he cites radiolab
In Front of Yoo's Nose:
Glenn Greenwald and George Orwell again

Greenwald writes "as is true for all authoritarians -- indeed, it is one of their defining mental attributes -- there is no bar against holding fundamentally opposite views simultaneously as long as each is used to strengthen the cause and defend the Leader."

Orwell wrote about this frequently. The Newspeak word for it is "blackwhite" (took me a while to figure out that I should just google 4 newspeak words which sent me to the wikipedia).

Finally finding the example, which google says is "In Front of Your Nose" (google can be so rude) I confirm that Orwell followed Shaw his interest in such beliefs

The two utterances do not always come from the same sources, but there must certainly be many people who are capable of holding these totally contradictory ideas in their heads at a single moment.

This is merely one example of a habit of mind which is extremely widespread, and perhaps always has been. Bernard Shaw, in the preface to Androcles and the Lion, cites as another example the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which starts off by establishing the descent of Joseph, father of Jesus, from Abraham. In the first verse, Jesus is described as ‘the son of David, the son of Abraham’, and the genealogy is then followed up through fifteen verses: then, in the next verse but one, it is explained that as a matter of fact Jesus was not descended from Abraham, since he was not the son of Joseph. This, says Shaw, presents no difficulty to a religious believer, and he names as a parallel case the rioting in the East End of London by the partisans of the Tichborne Claimant, who declared that a British working man was being done out of his rights.

The Tichborne Claimant (silly me I googled the Tichbourne Claimant) was Arthur Orton, an English working man, who claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne (1829–1854) the missing heir to a fortune. Clearly Orton could either be a British working man or someone who had legal rights to the Tichborne fortune, but he couldn't be both.

I had given up on finding the Orwell quotes but something forced me to write this post. Actually Greenwald did when he wrote "War is an inherently dangerous and reprehensible option, even in those extremely rare cases when it is just."

Oh my. Is it really possible for something to be both reprehensible and just ? Horrible and just yes (the allied war effort in World War II was both) but "reprehensible" (I mean the allies did some reprehensible things in the course of the war but they weren't just. Other acts were just but not reprehensible).

It can be confusing. Orwell, for example, was seriously confused about the morality of sector bombing at times. Hmmm anyone ever seen George Orwell and Glenn Greenwald at the same time ?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Post Debate Pretentiousness

Yglesias notes

The morning after, I'm reminded that the intriguing difference of opinions in the debate was Barack Obama saying he'd be happy to meet personally with the heads of Syria, Iran, whatever whereas Hillary Clinton emphasized that the Bush administration had sidelined diplomacy too much, but said she'd only go so far as to actually meet with these people as the end of a diplomatic process, lest the meeting become a propaganda coup.

I think they wiffed a hanging curve ball. I think there is a correct answer to that question. It involves pretending no one mentioned Syria.

The answer is I would meet Ayatollah Khameini who is, in fact, in charge. I wouldn't participate in the pretense that Ahmedinijad is in charge, for one thing he is more extreme than Khameini, for another it implies accepting the false Iranian assertion that Iran is a Democracy.

This is a strong condition on a meeting AND a way to remind people that scaring the public with Ahmedinijad is participating in a charade.
What Ezra Said

Monday, July 23, 2007

I'm going to defend Tim Russert

Matthew Yglesias writes

As Steve Benen says, Steven Hayes is clearly insane. That said, is Hayes more insane or less insane than Tim Russert, who decided that Bob Woodward, David Brooks, and Steve Hayes would be a good balanced panel to discuss the news?

Duncan Black answers the first question but not the second

However, over at think progress Satyam is pretty interested in that meet the press. Yglesias and Atrios note that it is now official according to the Bush administrations top expert that the Bush administration fudged the evidence before invading Iraq. They don't note that Russert had something to do with getting that officially announced on TV. I list to the snip at think progress. Russert uses Hayes' book to introduce McConnell's damning criticism. I'd say it was worth putting an insane person on TV in order to reconcile getting the fact that the intelligence director believes something about the Bush administration that many Americans think justify impeachment (search for Iraq) with the obscure rules of US journalism

TR But did the policy makers hype the intelligence ?
MM I think that's a judgement that the American people have to make.

Google rates this blog as the second leading site for information on
infant mortality in cuba versus usa and infant mortality in cuba verses

Until now I had great faith in google, but there's something messed up here. I mean come on, google has got to be kidding me. There isn't even a typo (usual way for google to send me traffic is some search contains the same misspelling as one of my posts).

update: Google says this is the number one source for information on
Pareto Efficiency Joke. I am not at all dismayed by the scarcity of Pareto Efficiency Jokes on the web, but I am still worried about the lack of interest in infant mortality in Cuba.
Steve Kaplan and Joshua D. Rauh have a fascinating paper on the very upper tail of the income distribution.

I met Steve Kaplan in 1978. Now Matt Yglesias (who was not born yet then) links to him. I have long had the impression that Yglesias and many others (including Picketty and Saez) overestimate the role of CEO compensation in the increased incomes of the super rich and now Kaplan and Rauh note the wonderful fact that "the top 25 hedge fund managers combined appear to have earned more than all 500 S&P 500 CEOs combined (both realized and estimated)."

Now I have read the introduction to the paper. Clearly a lot of the analysis of income of people other than corporate officers involves strong assumptions and very little data. However, the comparison of CEO compensation and the top tail of the income distribution is pretty solid and they conclude that CEOs of nonfinancial corporations are 2% to 6.4 % of people in the very top income brackets (top 0.001% and 0.0001%). This isn't really a surprise. Total compensation of CEOs of fortune 500 firms is less than $6 billion, not something which Everet Dirkson would consider real money. They get a lot of heat as they have to report to shareholders, but they are not many of the super rich.

The most striking feature of the introduction to the paper is that Kaplan and Rauh have no guess who most of the super rich are. They (try to) look at CEOs of non financial firms, financial service sector employees from investment banks, hedge funds, private equity partnerships and mutual funds, corporate lawyers, athletes and celebrites. They find (estimate guess ?) that they have found about 15% to 26.5% of hte people in quantiles top 0.1% and above. Who are the others ? They guess (total guess now) that they might be "trial lawyers, ececutives of privately held companies, highly paid doctors and independently wealthy individuals" hmmm. I'd guess that there aren't many doctors paid that much. Trial lawyers can be estiamated (they never get more than 33% of huge settlements which are rare and public). My guess is that there are a lot of rentiers (independently wealthy). Consider the Forbes 500 (wealth not income). A lot of them are hiers and a lot more are people who owned land in areas which then became cities. Huge wealth times reasonable management of that wealth implies huge income.

Anyway the message "It's mostly not CEOs" is solid (actually it was before the paper was written) and they did a huge amount of important work which I didn't even read.
What's in a name
Playing with Google.

Sitemeter told me that someone got here after googling congressman tom waldman. Odd, Tom Waldmann is my father, but the post had nothing to do with congressman Waldman or my family. The post referred to the most hawkish ruthless living rabbi I know of -- Eliezer Waldman.

So I went to and searched for Waldman. They got one thorough search engine over there. Searched the text of a huge pdf on Worldcom
Which shows that one Robert Waldman is a bond analyst at Salomon Smith Barney who was the first to warn the market that WorldCom's books were cooked. That's my nnamme (my name is Waldmann) and my very fifth post here* was on the hot hot exiting topic of accounting standards.

*my faulty memory lead me to think it was the very first post till I checked.

I should of clicked on "representatives" which would show that there is no congressman Tom Waldman , Tom Waldman was an administrative assistant to Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) who has written a book.

At Robert's stochastic Thoughts we find links the old fashioned way -- we google them.
Plan B

Mark Kleiman argues against trying to impeach Bush and Cheney. He is very convincing, although, in a way, he proves too much, showing it would be bad to impeach just one of them and neither will be impeached. He proposes a plan B which is very tough, confrontational and smart.

Anyway, I want to propose plan C for crazy. The problem with trying to impeach Bush and Cheney is that it would make Pelosi President. I think she would be a fine president, but impeachment requires Republican Votes in the Senate and no way are they going to give the White House to the Democrats. Plan C involves electing as speaker a reasonable, honest, intelligent Republican Congressman after the House sends the bill of impeachment to the Senate. That way the Senate (including the necessary 16 Republicans and Lieberman) could put a reasonable Republican in the White House.

The reason Plan C is crazy is that it assumes the existence of a reasonable, honest, intelligent Republican Congressman.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

In Spite of All Evidence to the Contrary, I am not Jim Anchtower and I am not dating a Black Chick. I am, however, glad to know that I'm not the only person who finds this argument logical

"Shit, if I knew when I was going to be late, I wouldn't be late. I ain't some fortune teller."

or has this kind of problem

On top of that, I had to do a major overhaul on the Festiva. It was running a little weak, so I decided to give it a tune-up. Change the plugs, the rotor, distributor cap, the oil. Plus the backseat was all full of soda cups and burger wrappers, so I had to throw all that stuff out.

OK OK my car which is running a little weak and is full of trash is a Fiesta but Fiesta and Festiva are synonyms right ?
Rupert's Ross Rags Romney

My first ever link to The Boston Herald

Casey Ross has the goods on Garrity who recently resigned as the Romney campaign's director of operations . Bush's underlings think they are above the law, Garrity thinks he is the law.

We have

Two additional sources confirmed that the badges - described as bright silver plates with a state seal attached - were first created and used by Garrity while Romney was still governor. Under state law, it is illegal to use a badge without authority, an offense that carries a fine of not more than $50.

The state seal belongs to the state not to its governor. Maybe Garrity thinks it's good luck for staffers to impersonate law enforcement officials as the current President's campaign staff did so.


Garrity is ... under investigation in New Hampshire for a separate incident in which he allegedly told a New York Times [NYT] reporter to stop following Romney’s motorcade. He also allegedly told the reporter his license plates had been run. Garrity has denied through his lawyer that he checked the reporter’s license plates.

Again intimidation in the service of the ex governor. However, impersonating a police officer can be habit forming. Garrity originally got in trouble for a purely personal incident

Garrity remains under investigation by the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office for allegedly impersonating a law enforcement officer in a May 13 phone call to a Wilmington plumbing company. During the phone call, Garrity allegedly referred to himself as “Trooper Garrity” and told the plumbing company its driver was operating erratically. A spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said the investigation remains “open and active.” Garrity’s attorney has denied that he made the phone call.

I suspect that Mr Garrity has a strong view on the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, given how little he might want people to know who he calls.

Garrity's history, but that doesn't mean Romney is out of trouble in the Silver Badge of Cowardice scandal.

In addition to Garrity, other aides who used the badges included advance staffers Mark Glanville and William Ritter, the source said.

Also the campaign made a firm denial which will keep the issue open

A spokesman for Romney issued an e-mailed statement. “No one on the Mitt Romney for President campaign is authorized to use a badge, nor has the campaign provided anyone with a badge,” the statement reads. “Jay Garrity is not working on the campaign because he continues to be on a leave of absence.”

Rut Ro.
Jim Henley Gives a Hostage to Fortune

One Day Lord Voldemort Tripped Down the Stairs and Died

Or something. Man, I hope that’s not what really happens or I’m going to be the most hated blogger in history.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Kossacks work for the Czar, provided he pays above market clearing wages.

Get a load of this

As of this posting daily kos readers have voted 38 to 0 that they believe that firms can increase profits by raising wages (that is they believe in efficiency wage theory).

Now it may be that my joke no answers were provocative and made some vote yes to spite the imagined capitalist pig me, but I am amazed. I have to try this out at or something.

I have managed to get heated debate by proposing to soak the richest 3% and by proposing allowing medicare to really seriously bargain over pharmaceutical prices.

I might add there is something seriously weird at, since I managed to get 4 votes in a poll and 4 comments with the headline "Possible Medicare Formulary Outreach." Something gives me the impression that at least 4 employers of Kossacks don't know about efficiency wages.

My employer, the Italian public sector, knows and is absolutely totally opposed. For non Italian readers, the most I can stand to translate is this brief summary --

The Italian highest court of appeals has ordered a firm to rehire employees and pay them back wages, because the firm found that they were not actually working by videotaping them violated their fundamental right as Italians [to goof off] -- no sorry mistranslation -- to privacy.
In the name of all that is holy and grammatical

Did Glenn Greenwald split an infinitive ?

"Thankfully, the U.S. has the moral credibility to vigorously condemn such totalitarian and abusive practices."

I didn't expect to fortunately live to laughingly see the day.

What Would George Orwell say ?

"The defense of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms"

Oh OK. As emily letella would say: never mind or to Americanismicly put it another way hot diggity dog with a marshmallow on top.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The absolutely wonderful Mark Thoma points me to a question asked by the absolutely wonderful Kieran Healy

Here is a likely poorly-specified question for biologists, prompted by wanting to buy Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us and then reading a story about genetically modified mice. Weisman’s book asks how the world would change and what of us would survive if humans were all wiped out overnight or just disappeared by something (a virus, the Rapture). The premise is unlikely (something that kills people—all people—but leaves the rest of the world standing) but intriguing.

So I wondered, what if, long, long after our disappearance, some other species arose on earth at least as intelligent as us and eventually started doing evolutionary and molecular biology. Let’s say they have a working theory of evolution much like our own. Now say for the sake of argument that a bunch of transgenic organisms produced by humans have survived and prospered in the interim. So our future biologists find things like a bacteria that produces insulin, or a plant that secretes insecticide, or rice that is high in beta carotene, or more exotic stuff as needed.[1]

I’m wondering, would such organisms even present themselves as empirical anomalies? (That is, how much would you have to know about genomes and evolution for them to seem odd?) And if they did seem odd, how would they be explained? That is, would the evidence of their intelligent design by a previous, now-extinct species be clear? You can see that I’m just irony-mongering here. Would some Arthropod-staffed functional-equivalent of the Discovery Institute point its claw at some of these organisms, saying they were anomalies that could only be explained by the intervention of a divine intelligence? Would Charles Crustacean find a story that could account for their evolution by natural selection? I’m particularly interested in whether the artificial provenance of transgenic organisms would be clear on internal evidence alone. I don’t know anything about this stuff, so probably the answer is “Yes” for reasons obvious to experts. But if it weren’t …

From the sound of Weisman’s book, though, internal evidence wouldn’t be all that was available. Our putative Arthropod successors would likely be able to conjecuture as follows: “The lost civilization who did this is probably the same one responsible for leaving those giant goddamn piles of steel-belted rubber rings and miscellaneous plastic items piled around the place.” To which someone would no doubt reply, “Come off it, no organism that spent its time making rubber tubes and piling them up in giant mountains would have ever been smart enough to figure out genetic engineering.”

[1] It occurs to me that rice requires a lot of cultivation to prosper, but there aren’t any humans to take care of it. Hence, “insert example as needed.”

I think it very likely that genetic modifications would survive and be detectable. I might mention that I have a BA and an MA in biology although I am an economist.

One reason to think this is that there are known exceptions to a very simple random mutation plus selection version of the neodarwinian synthesis. Many organisms contain what appear to be retrovirus genomes (or something similar). They do not help the host but do to little harm to be eliminated by selection. Members of the same species often have very different numbers of these things. It has been concluded that they have made copies of themselves, that is, the DNA is, in a sense, a product of a parasite organism not the normal mutation of the hosts DNA. These little things are not intelligent, but they were once anomalous and are a new addition to the standard model -- and they were detected.

One important issue is that much of our genome (and much more of Xenopus' and much much much more of lillies) is apparently selectively neutral. There is a lot of DNA (as a fraction of the genome) that doesn't appear to do anything useful. It imposes almost no cost as the amount of DNA in grams in an organism is tiny.

A bacterium which contains the coding region for insulin, but does not produce insulin (do to a mutation in the promoter) would not be at an evolutionarily relevant disadvantage compared to wild type. It would take a very long time for random drift to cover up the strange presence of a Eukaryotic gene in a bacterium. It might not be clear that it got there via intelligent manipulators, but it would an anomaly.

I'd guess that b Thuringiensis toxin (insecticide) producing plants would have an advantage (and didn't exist before humans as the relevant mutation didn't occur). The appearance of the same gene in totally unrelated organisms and in nothing in between would be very very strange. the arthropods might even notice that the plants are good mammal food.

Golden rice is clearly manipolated (and this would be clear even if the rice benefited). Many genes not found in other grains are all in the same spot in golden rice (I think). this is a result of popping a whole metabolic pathway in with one fell swoop. This is not a normal pattern for eukaryotes (roughly things other than bacteria) and is anomalous.

I'd say we are already well past the point that our interventions in genomes will be undetectable for tens of millions of years.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bigoted Metaphorlovingpseudoagnosticatheism redux

Mark Kleiman correctly notes that P.Z. Myers misunderstood his earlier critique of Myers (I noted this too in comments to Myers reply).

On one crucial point he misreads my argument. I didn't say that most believers are self-aware of the metaphorical/mystical nature of the beliefs embodied in the traditions they follow; I haven't done the appropriate study, and it would be a hard study to do.

But the fact (if it is a fact in this case) that most of the people who believe some idea believe a trivial or vicious version of it doesn't show that the idea, properly understood, is false, let alone that it is stupid and worthless.

The key point is that Kleiman wrote only about "adult" understanding of religion and declared most people to be non "adult". Thus he certainly shares Myers' contempt for most Americans, an odd position to take in a post accusing someone else of bigotry.

I think Kleiman is partly responsible for the misreading as he is deliberately vague about his religious beliefs (which I think most people would consider to be non existent just like mine and Myers'). He does it again (in spades) in his reply

No one even professes to believe any more that there's a perpetual party on Olympus, with Zeus presiding over a dysfunctional family, but Hermes and Athena represent real forces in the world, and there is much to be learned from the myths about them and their modern re-tellings. (Cf. Cryptonomicon.)

OK so clearly he doesn't believe in Zeus but does he believe in "an infinite, omniscient, beneficent, immortal being "without form, parts, or passions:"" I think he gets around to saying that he doesn't, but he is much more eager to say that he doesn't believe in Zeus and that he doesn't think that the image of God in the Sistine chapel is photographically accurate.

Oh and to extend the quote, the "tradition" which Kleiman cites is dishonest. The full quote "a religious tradition that says that God is an infinite, omniscient, beneficent, immortal being "without form, parts, or passions:" That religious tradition also declares immense respect for The Book, whether The Book be the Torah, the Bible or the Koran, yet it introduces concepts that aren't in The Book at all. I haven't studied any of The Books (ok I haven't even read one cover to cover) but I challenge Kleiman to come up with any passage which contradicts the literal interpretation of the assertion that God made man in his image. In contrast, that is not the only passage in the Torah that clearly asserts that God has passions
"Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses".

a form and parts

"Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, [b] clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank."

And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."

Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.

I wonder how Prof. Kleiman interprets the metaphorical meaning of mooning Moses.

Is The Book to be read like a novel ? Like a human effort at understanding the meaning of life which is imperfect or is it The Book ? I much prefer a tradition which claims to have something to do with Judaism but which interprets the book as metaphor to the tradition which takes it literally, but the first is completely illogical while the second is coherently genocidal. Fortunately I don't think even the dread Waldman takes The Book seriously nor did Kahane and thank the metaphor of God for that.
It's so hard to find good help in these post Roe V Wade days.

Tom DeLay blames Roe Vs Wade for prosperity which is bad because it implies immigration.

DeLay: Abortion linked to undocumented immigration.

At a College Republicans gathering, former congressman Tom DeLay attempted to blame abortion for undocumented immigration:

“I contend [abortion] affects you in immigration,” DeLay told the Washington-area gathering. “If we had those 40 million children that were killed over the last 30 years, we wouldn’t need the illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today. Think about it.”

DeLay says the problem is that US born US citizens have too desirable job options, so they don't do the jobs illegal immigrants are doing. Now I wouldn't mind if Mr DeLay had to go to work picking fruit, but I'm glad that US born US citizens can find better jobs and that the US economy is providing jobs to foreigners.

I might add that the US wouldn't need illegal immigrants if it increased the legal immigration quota. Same immigrants but not illegal. Since DeLay agrees that we need them, why is he opposed to legalizing them ? Wouldn't be racism would it ?

Actually I'm glad he isn't off picking fruit. DeLay is so extreme and so dumb that he says what other Republicans think. His prominence makes it harder for them to hide their lunatic evil extremism.
Pullout proposal lacking a Plan B

Maybe I shouldn't have been so hard on the Washington Post headlines.

Via Andrew Sullivan

"Pull Out Proposal Lacking a Plan B". Gawker makes the appropriate joke. Here's mine: why do you never want to date a neocon? Because they always say they're going to pull out and they never do.
Andrew Sullivan and Ramesh Ponnuru debate


Most of the time, however, when people say that our rights come from God what they are most concerned about affirming is that those rights are not created by human beings. That, it seems to me, is true, or else there are no human rights at all.

But why could what we understand as human rights not be, in fact, the contingent achievement of a contingent civilization, i.e. the West? And why can these rights not be defended as contingent human achievements that have advanced human dignity and well-being? It seems to me that the mark of the epistemological conservative is precisely a capacity to defend the contingent without illusions and with passion. I can see, in other words, why many would ascribe such rights to God, but not why they can only be ascribed to God. But this is, I guess, a deep divide within conservatism - between those of us who see no reason why humanists and secularists cannot defend the West on contingent grounds and those who believe that only transcendent faith can defend a contingent constitution.

It seems that Sullivan and Ponnuru agree that human rights were created either by God or by humans. They also don't seem to believe there is another possible view. I believe that human rights have always existed and were not created by anything. I might be wrong, but I do exist. The belief that one can not believe in moral absolutes without believing in God seems widespread (see Michael Gerson of course). Where did it come from ?

I happen to agree with Ponnuru that, as a matter of definition, rights that are "he contingent achievement of a contingent civilization," are called civil rihts not human rights. A human right must belong to all humans including the first who sure was up to any achievements of any "contingent civilization,".

However, I also think that people can love and protect human rights even if they believe that they are contingent achievements of a contingent civilization, that is, I think the question of whether human rights exist separately from our belief in human rights is not important, so on the main issue I agree with Sullivan.

By the way, Thomas Jefferson was pretty damn secular and that didn't prevent him from writing " We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;". "from that equal creation they derive" was changed to "and are endowed by their Creator" by an amendment. I think the little historical fact that the original draft of the declaration of independence did not appeal to a creator to claim that men have inherent rights tends to rather weaken Ponnuru's position. The fact that more traditionally religious delegates had the majority, does not imply that their greater insistence on bringing God into everything important was necessary to the project.
Truth, Tolerance, Certainty and Knowledge.

It is considered intolerant to say that one believes that someone else's deeply felt belief is false. This has become so rare that it has become shocking even coming from Pope Benedict. This seems to me to be a distaste for logic. It is hard to hold contradictory beliefs at the same time, so it is psychologically difficult (and I would guess dangerous) to try to agree with everyone's religion.

Yesterday, I thought maybe the secret is doubt. There is a difference between saying, for example, "I am Christian so I think that Mohammad was not a prophet" or "I am Moslem so I think Christ is not divine" or "I am atheist so neither" and saying "I am sure Mohammad was not a prophet". Logic does not prevent us from thinking that each of two contradictory claims might be true.

My problem is that I have no doubt that Christ was not divine and Mohammad was not a prophet and I don't want to admit that I am intolerant.

Now my only defense is that I don't think that I know that Christ was not divine, that is, my belief (which I hold without doubt) is not justified or proven. This is easy, because absolute knowledge is impossible. Justification or proof only exist within systems of justification or proof, so knowledge can be knowledge within the Christian faith or given faith in the scientific method or somethin, but it can't be just plain knowledge.

Another way I can be tolerant is to note that my atheism has a similar origin to the faith of the religious, that is I don't think that they made a mistake in reasoning which I didn't make. That is, I don't the that the cause of my belief is a valid proof that it is true.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mark Kleiman claims to be agnostic. I dare to disagree (I'm glad I don't believe in eternal punishment either for the sin of pride or for the sin of blogging like a twit as I am).

update: I like this, via Mark Kleiman much more. Now *that* is what I call a metaphor.

Religious thought, writing, and speech, at its adult level, is always metaphorical. "Humans are created in the Image of God," taken literally, is nonsense,

update II: Mark Kleiman reconsiders.

if you remember that it is a part of a religious tradition that says that God is an infinite, omniscient, beneficent, immortal being "without parts or passions," which is the opposite of finite, finitely rational, ethically challenged mortal beings with physical bodies and emotional drives. It makes no more sense as a proposition in comparative primatology than "My love is like a red, red rose" makes sense as a proposition in botany. But it's a very powerful metaphor for the ethical proposition "Human beings are not to be damaged or degraded." (Of course religious writers don't generally assert that "God" names a metaphor rather than an entity, any more than the actor playing Hamlet looks at the audience and says, "I'm not really the Prince of Denmark" or any more than a Pynchon novel carries a disclaimer on the title page, "None of this stuff really happened.")

Confronted with the verse from Robert Burns, Meyers would no doubt say: "She is not! Why, she doesn't even have petals, and her reproductive strategy is entirely different from that of a rose." And Gerson would reply angrily, "If you don't believe in the petals of your beloved you have no objective reason to have sex, and the species will die out."

Considering "God exists" as an empirical proposition on the model of "the Earth is a spheroid," there's no evidence for it. It corresponds to no observation or well-formed theory, and the attributes usually attributed to the metaphorical entity are, in logical terms, mutually inconsistent. (Really, It's not very hard to prove that One doesn't equal Three.) Believing literally in the old but remarkably fit white guy with a long beard that Michelangelo painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling makes about as much sense as believing in unicorns. So, as between Gerson and Meyers, I side with Meyers, since "The proposition you maintain has no evidence to back it up and is, moreover, incoherent" is a stronger argument than "Yes, but I couldn't stand it if the proposition were false."

But if, like anyone who has thought deeply about these matters, you think of God as an especially potent metaphor (or, to put in more flowery terms, "a mystery to be understood only in part, and then by faith") — if you think that, then the whole debate is pointless. Both Gerson and Meyers are just being silly: it's two blind men debating the nature of the elephant while groping around different parts of a Land Rover.

Footnote The word "agnostic" gets misused in this debate. An agnostic is not someone who says "In my mind, it's even money whether God exists or not." An agnostic, properly speaking, is one who doesn't think "God exists" is a proposition that can be argued about, either because the relevant evidence can't be gathered or because it wasn't an empirical proposition in the first place.

OK what do we call someone who thinks "Of course religious writers don't generally assert that "God" names a metaphor rather than an entity, any more than the actor playing Hamlet looks at the audience and says, "I'm not really the Prince of Denmark" or any more than a Pynchon novel carries a disclaimer on the title page, "None of this stuff really happened."" ?

I would call such a person an atheist. Kleiman is clearly saying that writing about God is like acting or writing fiction, that is, the statements are not literally true, that is that God does not exist. I am quite sure I am not misunderstanding him, as I would if I thought Burns had a very unusual looking love.

Mark Kleiman says he is an agnostic and explains "An agnostic, properly speaking, is one who doesn't think "God exists" is a proposition that can be argued about, either because the relevant evidence can't be gathered or because it wasn't an empirical proposition in the first place." Clearly he things the relevant evidence can be gathered (it is not hard to prove that 1 does not equal 3 etc.) Thus he thinks that the claim "God exists" is not an "empirical proposition."

I think that Mark Kleiman's claim is total nonsense. I can imagine a universe in which God exists (what with him being benevolent and omnipotent it would be very different from this one) and in which he showed Himself and demonstrated his benevolence and omnipotence. I think it is clear that the statement "God Does not Exist" is one that can be tested and disproven if someone convincingly GodLike shows up (I wouldn take a while to convince me of the benevolent part).

Kleiman writes that "Religious thought, writing, and speech, at its adult level, is always metaphorical." in other words, people who believe that God really does exist are not really adult. This sounds very close to Meyers who "refers to all religious beliefs as "goofy, stupid, and ridiculous."" Kleiman is claiming that all religious people are either immature or uhm speaking metaphorically without ever admitting that they are doing so (that is liars).

Now I am an atheist, and I absolutely do not have as contemptuous a view of the religious as Kleiman does. I think that mature people can really literally believe in God.

But my focus is, as it often is, with the definition of "agnostic" and "atheist" . Kleiman sets up a straw man with " An agnostic is not someone who says "In my mind, it's even money whether God exists or not."" no one imagines that someone who thinks the chance that God exists is 10% is an atheist or religious. More importantly, subjective probabilities do not at all capture the complexity of human doubt. Someone who would not bet on the existence of God at any odds but who does not feel sure that there is no God is agnostic. Kleiman strongly demonstrates that he has no doubt that God does not exist (that is no hope that God does exist). His refusal to believe that any adult really thinks that God literally exists is sufficient (but not necessary consider my case) to demonstrate his certainty.

So why does Kleiman insist that he is agnostic ? Going beyond too far, I speculate that it is because he, like many people, reserves the word "atheist" for bigoted atheists. To many people (possible including Kleiman) an atheist who respects religious people and would rather believe in God is a contradiction in terms. Someone who is sure there is no god but isn't contemptuous of religion is called agnostic. This is damaging to the language, because the same word is used for very different beliefs, from even odds to insisting that no one ever asked the question of whether God exists literally and not just the metaphor of God. On the other hand, nothing is gained by considering the word "bigoted" in "bigoted atheist" to be redundant. Kleiman demonstrates that he knows it is required for clarity even as he gives me the impression that, in his own mind, he considers it redundant.

mere fisking of the less interesting parts of Kleiman's post below.

I guess I'm glad I know that, freed from the chains of obsolete superstition, atheists are invariably tolerant, rational, and loving, and that they don't go off on bigoted rants as so many religious folks do. Because if I didn't know that independently, I don't think I could prove it from the evidence.

Failed irony. Meyers may be intolerant but compared to Leon Trotsky he is John Stuart Mill. No one doubts that atheists can be intolerant irrational and hating

After all, if I heard Jerry Falwell claim that all Muslims, without distinction, are "ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed," or heard Osama bin Laden make the same claim about Christians, I'd just nod my head and say, "Yep. Bigots." So I might easily have made the mistake of calling P.Z. Meyers a bigot for saying exactly that about religious believers in general. And that would have hurt his sensitive feelings. After all, he's not a bigot at all: "My cause," says Meyers, is simply the truth."

Now, what's the difference between "My cause is simply the truth" and "What I believe is true"? None that I can see. The gospels refer to Jesus as "the Truth." The fact that Meyers doesn't use a capital "T" doesn't make him any more open to ideas he doesn't currently hold.

Good points, but I think they are points about manners not about ontology. It is considered intolerant to say "I think your religious beliefs do not correspond to reality" but it is very difficult not to think this, given the differences in different religious beliefs and the difference between all of them and atheism. In Falwell's list if I assume he thinks that 99.99% of Moslems are deluded and that he just means they believe something which isn't true, then I find nothing objectionable in his statement (that is I would agree).

I'm not a member of any congregation or an adherent of any denomination. So it's not my self-love that protests when Meyers calls refers to all religious beliefs as "goofy, stupid, and ridiculous." It's my liberalism that's offended, and my suspicion that there might be something to be learned from very old and widespread traditions. (I've always wanted to ask someone like Meyers — or Dawkins, or Pinker — how much smarter he thinks he is than, let's say, Heraclitus or Socrates or Maimonides or Newton, who thought hard about religion and didn't dismiss it as nonsense.)

OK I'd say anyone who claims that special relativity is nonsense is ignorant or "goofy, stupid, and ridiculous." None of the thinkers above gave any hint of considering it possible. They weren't stupid. They weren't aware of evidence collected after their deaths. In particular, the argument from design made sense, before the development of modern biology. Also Newton sure was smart, but trying to figure out when the world will end by studying an alleged floor plan of the temple of Solomon was a bit goofy frankly.

Meyers , it seems to me, is just the flip side of Michael Gerson. Meyers furiously denounces as false the sort of childish religion that Gerson exemplifies but that thoughtful worshippers of every persuasion have always despised.

Always Prof. Kleiman ? I'd say Gerson's religious belief has never found an expression quite as goofy as Newton's.

update: well that was a pointless post and Brad did it sooo much better.
CostCo the anti-Walmart or the new Whole Foods ?

via Brad DeLong (who put his money where his mouth is) I see, Jim Sinegal, the chiefexecutive of Costco Wholesale,, who seems to know what he is talking about believes in efficiency wage models

Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees, [Jim Sinegal] said. And Costco's customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like that low prices do not come at the workers' expense. "This is not altruistic," he said. "This is good business."

Certainly not Walmart, but what does this have to do with Whole Foods ? Blogaddicts like me, immediately think "Jonah Goldberg, Friedrich Hegel, Liberal Fascism" when we hear "Whole Foods". The last businessman to state the efficiency wage theory so clearly was Henry Ford who was a supporter of the Nazi party.

So I have a new proposed tital for Jonah "Profitable Fascism:Totalqualitarian temptation from Ford to Costco."

I hasten to add that I am joking about the fascism and that I hereby invite Mr Sinegal to give a guest lecture at my labor economics course (no expenses paid).
The WAPO had me going there

I have been trying to resist the temptation to dump on the Washington Post. I changed my firefox homepage to I tell myself not to do it. And they know.
They are deliberately fucking with my brain. There were three stories on Web page 1 clearly designed to convince me that they had left journamalism behind.

Then, they told me that the Republicans had totally caved and were no longer filibustering and that "Senate to Vote on Troop Withdrawal Measure". Wow !

Then I read the article, eagerly, like Charlie Brown running up to kick the football and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGG

The article actually said the Senate would vote on whether to vote on the measure.
That is, the difference between a vote for cloture to allow a vote and a vote on the measure is a detail not worth mentioning in the headline.


"Senate Rejects Troop Withdrawal Measure"
rejected by a vote of 47 against 52 for.

But wait, the first sentence in the story begins "After a marathon all-night debate, Senate Republicans today blocked a Democratic attempt to force troop withdrawals from Iraq, using the power of the filibuster..." maybe maybe ....

No way. They are not going to fool me again. After Camp David (vintage 2000) I decided that I would not ever, ever be tricked again into believing that peace between Israel and the Palistinians was possible. Now I swear I have lost all hope that the Washington Post will become again what it once was. Forever. You're not tricking me again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Lights Won't Go Out in Georgia Tonight

One day before he was to die by lethal injection, convicted cop killer Troy Davis received a 90-day stay of execution Monday from a Georgia clemency board, allowing him time to press his case that he has been the victim of mistaken identity.

The prosecution's case against Davis, 38, has crumbled in the 16 years since he was sentenced to death for shooting a police officer working a security detail in Savannah. Most of the key witnesses in Davis's trial have recanted their testimony, and some have said they lied under police pressure.

But none of those witnesses testified during Davis's appeals -- in part because federal courts barred their testimony -- and Davis was scheduled to die at 7 p.m. Tuesday.


After several trial witnesses recanted or altered their testimony, Davis's attorneys asked for an evidentiary hearing, at which the new testimony could be aired. But U.S. District Judge John F. Nangle denied the request, citing a federal law that limits the reasons under which federal courts can review death penalty cases.

I don't understand why the legal issue was federal habeas corpus relief. What's wrong with Georgia law ? Something prevented a state court reasonable evaluation of the new evidence. I've wondered the same thing about Virginia.

With the reprieve, I feel free to link to Vicki Lawrence.
I was about to blog on the actual real live Filibuster in which Senate Mojority leader (give 'em hell) Harry Reid will force Republicans to actually filibuster in order to block an up or down vote, when I found that Mark Kleiman had made my point.

Given the increasingly geriatric nature of the Senate, making the Republicans actually conduct a talk-all-night, cots-in-the-cloakroom filibuster raises the ante substantially. If Reid carries through, he might be able to curb the routine use of the filibuster to carry out the Republicans' published threat to deny the Democratic-led Congress any legislative accomplishment whatsoever.

I might add that there are several elderly Republican Senators who are considering retirement. I'd say an additional advantage of "going to the" is that they will decide that they want to be re-elected into a filibuster enabled over 40 senator caucus even less than they want to be re-elected into an irrelevant under 40 senator caucus.

Also I can't help imagining a caucus meeting in which multiple word Mitch McConnell explains the brilliance of his filibuster everything strategy to his bleary eyed colleagues.

One criticism -- the title is careless. Did prof. Kleiman really want to write "Reid goes to the mattresses" immediately above his post "Vitter goes all in" on Senator Vitter's leisure time activities (come to think of it the second title is a bit anatomical for a respectable blog).

update: It's spreading Ezra Klein writes

Um, Taegan...

This may out me as twelve, but I really couldn't get past the headline in this story.

"McCain Will not Tap Wife's Assets"

But at least Klein is roughly about twelve. I have no excuse.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Journamalism at CNN

CNN has a running quarrel with Michael Moore about Dr Sanjay Gupta's fact checking of Sicko for CNN. One point is clear, Dr Gupta claimed that Moore understated health care spending per capita in Cuba claiming it was only $25 while it is, in fact, over $200. CNN concedes that Dr Gupta was totally shamefully wrong about what Sicko claimed, since Sicko actually reported that per capital health care spending in Cuba was $251 not $25.

One might imagine that they would apologize and try to move on, but there are still arguing. pullbackthecurtain at DailyKos fact checks the fact checking noting that this is the only point where Dr. Gupta claimed Moore made a factual error. The rest was Nit Picklering, that is presenting facts which do not contradict claims in the film but support the other conclusion. That it is possible to make a case for the defense does not mean that Moore fudged the facts as claimed by Gupta. Furthermore Dr. Gupta made a very strong claim with no supporting documentation -- that the USA is number one in patient satisfaction.

Pullbackthecurtain is devastating. I would like to add one little point. Dr Gupta claims that people in other developed countries pay more for health care via taxes, that is that their more complete public health care system doesn't come at no cost as they spend more public money on health care. This is false. Public spending on health care in the USA is higher than in almost any other country.

That is, even though only about half of total US spending is public and the vast majority of other rich countries' spending is public, the public part is huge in the USA.

See page 7 of this pdf file

In 2000 the US public spending on health care as a fraction of GDP was 6.5% higher than the G-7 average of 6.4%. At purchasing power parity US GDP per capita is considerably higher than that of any other G-7 country (and other country but Luxembourg in fact) so the US spends considerably more per capita than the G-7 average. Also US health care spending has increased extraordinarily much in the past 7 years and the public share has increased in the US (and can't increase much in other rich countries).

So, in the US aside from private health insurance US citizens pay more via taxes than people almost anywhere else including many countries with longer life expectancy. This is hard to believe but it is also true.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rule of Law Shmuel of Paul

I keep trying to remind myself that idiots have rights too. What has caused my crisis of faith ? One of the grossest first world violations of the rule of law which involves neither Richard Cheney nor George Bush concerns the Italian TV network la 7, which, according to Italy's highest administrative court, has the right to TV frequencies being used by Silvio Berlusconi to broadcast Emilio Fede (believe me that last bit is the worst part). Even though he is currently not prime Minister, Berlusconi remains above the law. This makes me very angry. It is wrong.

It is wrong even though la 7 is broadcasting an hour long special on Paris Hilton.

The law is the law. A super rich powerful scofflaw (I mean the one named Silvio Berlusconi) is a menace to the Republic. Mere stupidity is not a menace to the Republic. Even if it is very very stupid.

Oh hell, I can't make myself defend the legal rights of people who have been broadcasting moving images of Hilton's nose for the past 34 minutes.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Awesome Article in the Onion.

Funny because it is so true.

Ty Braxton, 23, continues to hide his fun and fulfilling life from the full-time employees of Hale & Dorr, the Boston law firm for which he has temped since July.


Braxton, who earns roughly one-fourth of what the firm's lowest-seniority full-time employees make, said he has no desire to make his coworkers feel bad about their "boring, shitty lives."


Though Braxton said he sympathizes with his coworkers, he added that the decision to pursue a prestigious, high-paying career path was entirely their own.

"They wanted to go for the brass ring and really live the good life," Braxton said. "What they don't seem to get is that the key to living the good life is to avoid that brass ring like the fucking plague."

Ezra Klein observes "Income doesn't define his status because, at the moment, he doesn't much need income. This will change. Quickly." Which is true, of course, but I think Ezra is just jealous.

OK seriously Klein works like a dog because he wants to help the US achieve health security and not for income or status (but I still think he is jealous of the young and carefree).
Richard Clarke part LII

After a long delay, I am blogging about Richard Clarke. and, in particular, his book "Against All Enemies." He wrote something very relevant to the a Time magazine poll about people's perceptions of politicians' religious faith. The article charmingly starts "The hoary joke that a "religious Democrat" is more of an oxymoron than "jumbo shrimp" couldn't be more wrong in this election cycle". Right, this time Democrats are religious unlike Jimmy Carter or Joe Lieberman. I should have guessed immediately that the author is Amy Sullivan who keeps discovering the idea that maybe democrats should explain that they are in fact religious and stop lionizing outspoken atheists like the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Now I have nothing against the irreligious, being an atheist, but facts are facts and a lot of US adults are confused about Hillary Clinton.

according to the new TIME poll, only 15% of registered voters believe that Hillary Clinton is "strongly religious," compared to 22% for John Edwards and 24% for Barack Obama. Perhaps more problematic for Clinton is the fact that nearly one-quarter of respondents (24%) say they know she is "not religious" — that's almost twice the nearest candidate, Rudy Giuliani (13%).

I strongly suspect that many of those 24% are intolerantly religious and disapprove or Clinton as a result and that this helps to explain her very high negatives. They are also wrong on the matter of fact as Clarke proved in his book. He describes how when a 747 blew up over the Atlantic (a fuel leak not terrorism) the Clintons went to comfort the bereaved in Kennedy airport (the airline had flown them there in a very bad p.r. move). Clarke happened upon Hillary Clinton all alone in the airport's shrine praying. Thus we know that she prays when she is alone, so she must be religious (I have never prayed whether alone or in public).

Amy Sullivan notes "Now Senator Clinton, the lifelong Methodist and one-time Sunday school teacher, is in a bind: So many voters think they "know" she can't possibly be religious that when she speaks about her faith, they interpret it as pure political posturing." I blogger before reading the whole article (oops).

Also oh my oh my who has the highest favourable minus unfavorable differential in red states ? Barak Obama. Yes red states, Barak Obama.

the lack of excitement about the Republican field may help Obama as well. His general favorability rating amongst red state voters equals that of Rudy Giuliani at 56%. And because Obama has a relatively low unfavorable rating in red states (30% versus Giuliani's 35%), his net favorability rating among red state voters (+26%) is actually better than any of the Republican candidates. Nor do his Democratic opponents come close — Edwards' net rating is +13 and Clinton's is zero, with 48% of red state voters on each side of the question.

Praise the Lord (if you believe in Him).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Max Speaks, I Listen

Max Sawicky has a list of Ten Economic Orthodoxies Which Suck.

I want to stress a point he makes in passing "I believe much of what follows is recognized by mainstream, orthodox economic doctrine. It's just that economists act as if it is not."

This is a key point which I think should be repeated (and repeated and repeated as is shown by my revealed preference).

There are two economics orthodoxies -- modern economic theory and economics 101. When advising policymakers, economists tend to stick to economics 101. When economics 101 is refuted by the data or criticized as clearly nonsense, they note that modern economic theory is much more flexible, that economics 101 is a simplified introduction and that the evidence does not prove that our theories are false.

The problem is that modern economic theory is so flexible that no evidence could possible prove that it is false, thus it isn't even a set of hypotheses let alone a theory. Of course, it also means that it is useless as a guide to policy.

The trick is that, except when confronted with contradictory evidence, economists assume that the economics 101 simplifying assumptions are a good approximation to reality and so we should assume that they are true. Thus economists are invulnerable to evidence as we can always claim we are defending only the unfalsifiable and yet able to dictate policy to those foolish enough to listen as we claim that implications of assumptions which are known to be false and made for simplicity are known to be approximately true.

Consider Max point 7 (any one would do just as well)

7. Capital fundamentalism. As with reductionism of the S&D model, growth modeling zeroes in on private capital accumulation, even though a) other factors are demonstrably important and beg for attention; and b) private capital accumulation may be a consequence of other factors, rather than a cause and appropriate object for policy. Out of an obsession with this premise, the International Monetary Fund has screwed up a lot of countries too weak to ignore its advice.

Sawicky states the conclusion of almost all researchers who have studied economic growth especially including right wing ideologues like Robert Barro. There are basically one or two economists who take capital fundamentalism seriously. They are named Brad DeLong and Larry Summers. I am not joking. There was a strong Barro vs DeLong and Summers debate in which Barro et al argued that education was the key to growth and DeLong and Summers said it was investment. Neither side allowed their academic work to have any effect on their views on policy.
Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Ira*

USA Today reports that agents of a country whose name begins with Ira definitely participated in the killing of 5 US servicepeople in Karbala. This was the event which caused the most direct Bush administration accusation against Iran.

This month, Army officials publicly alleged that Iran played a direct role in the Karbala attack.

The Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards, helped plan and direct it with Iraqi militants, said Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a military spokesman.

The Quds Force, he said, supplied Shiite militias with weapons and up to $3 million a month in aid.

Gen Berner's word is supported by en Bergner's uniform which includes a fancy general star so you better take what he is saying seriously if you are a Colonel or below. Being a civilian, I assume it is bullshit.

However, there is overwhelming evidence that agents of Ira* were involved

A previously undisclosed Army investigation into an audacious January attack in Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers concludes that Iraqi police working alongside American troops colluded with insurgents.


A column of SUVs filled with gunmen who posed as an American security team passed through Iraqi police checkpoints at a provincial headquarters in the Shiite holy city.


The investigation reveals several new details about the assault, including:

•Iraqi police suddenly vanished from the government compound before the shooting started.

•Attackers, evidently briefed on how U.S. forces would defend themselves, bottled up more than three dozen soldiers in a barracks and headquarters complex using a combination of smoke and fragment grenades and satchel charges to blow up Humvees.

•Gunmen knew exactly where to find and abduct U.S. officers.

•Iraqi vendors operating a PX and barbershop went home early.

•A back gate was left unlocked and unguarded.

Obviously we can not tolerate a government whose officers are helping our adversaries kill our troops. We have to invade Iraq.

Ooops, I forgot.

Been there done that.

Hell forget Iraq, there is clearly a stronger case for bombing the White House than for bombing Teheran (I am opposed to both approaches).
El Sicko

I haven't seen "Sicko" by Michael Moore. I hear that it is powerful enough that it might convince my fellow US citizens to establish a decent health care system. People who follow the issue understand how badly the US health care system functions.

I am interested in one specific point. Cuba vs the USA. Cuba is an astounding case, since it is a very poor but very healthy country. I would agree with many commentators that noting this was a rhetorical error on Moore's part. Most people in the US are barely willing to admit that, say, Canada, is better in some way, and are absolutely appalled by praise of Cuba (even if it is based on standard data sets).

One astounding fact is that the Cuban infant mortality rate is actually lower than the US infant mortality rate ! The latest World Health Organization rounded statistics show Cuba at 5 per thousand and the US at 7 per thousand.

I would like to mention another statistic from another source -- deaths of fetuses which weigh more than 500 grams or deaths of third trimester fetuses*, that is, late miscarriages. This is relevant as the classification of a death as a fetal death rather than a live birth followed by a death reduces the measured infant mortality rate. Different countries use different systems. I wondered if the low Cuban infant mortality rate could be explained by describing deaths which would be considered infant deaths in the USA as fetal deaths.

Data from the U.N. Demographic Yearbook (warning pdf) strongly suggest that this is the case. Cuba has a much higher rate of late fetal death per pregnancy than the USA
in 2002 (latest year available) the USA had 3.3 late fetal deaths per thousand pregnancies and Cuba had 14.0 late fetal deaths per thousand pregnancies.

This difference dwarfs the difference in infant mortality. A 500 gram fetus has a much better chance of becoming a one year old child in the USA than in Cuba.

Given the numbers, I have no doubt that the low Cuban infant mortality rate is partially a statistical artifact. I mean they are still doing very well given their per capita GNP or situation in 1959, but not as well as the standard number suggests.

* watch out, there is a footnote. The number for Cuba is for fetuses which weigh over 500 grams, for other countries, including the USA it must be based on gestational age so the two numbers might not be comparable, but I spent a long time looking for them so here they are.
The Philistines be upon the Sampson ... You do recall who the Philistines are don't you ?

Kyle Sampson holds on to his record. He remains the leading practitioner of the HR Block (named after H.R. Haldeman and not named after H.R. Clinton).

Sara Taylor tried womanfully but she just couldn't do it (executive privilege interfered).

Fortunately, there is now hope for Republican amnesiacs (very funny video you want broadband you need broadband)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Data Mining Again

The AP reports

The FBI is gathering and sorting information about Americans to help search for potential terrorists, insurance cheats and crooked pharmacists, according to a government report obtained Tuesday.

Records about identity thefts, real estate transactions, motor vehicle accidents and complaints about Internet drug companies are being searched for common threads to aid law enforcement officials, the Justice Department said in a report to Congress on the agency's data-mining practices.

In addition, the report disclosed government plans to build a new database to assess the risk posed by people identified as potential or suspected terrorists.

I say ok, ok, ok, huh ? Analyzing records of "identity thefts, real estate transactions, motor vehicle accidents and complaints about Internet drug companies" makes sense. Here there is a huge amount of information on illegal activity and there may be useful patterns which can be detected.

Data mining to catch terrorists is different. Fortunately, there is a very small amount of data on terrorists mostly because there are few terrorists and possibly because there are terrorist sleepers who are sleeping. There is no way to analyze huge amounts of data to determine apparently innocent behavior associated with terrorism.

It is possible to make a guess about typical terrorist behavior and then have a computer process a huge amount of data based on that guess. The output will be as valid as the original guess, that is, probably worthless.

The above seems totally obvious to me and yet the debate continues.