Thursday, September 30, 2004

Live Debate Blogging

by Tom Bozzo

Kerry opened stiff. Bush looks to be concentrating to pull out apposite talking points. Mentioned Russian hostage tragedy but not this morning's atrocity in Iraq. Kerry strikes back on OBL.

Will be curling up with my Citadelle martini henceforth.

Update 8:32 PM CDT: Near end of martini. Bush still seems to be struggling with his affect, which probably means that Prof. Althouse will be swooning.

Update 8:44 PM CDT: Did Bush just drop another "love" blooper? Maybe will skip the 2nd martini.

Update 8:52 PM CDT: Neither candidate is consistently looking at the camera, but the location seems friendlier to Bush. Kerry should practice addressing the camera before the next debate.

Update 8:58 PM CDT: Kerry's responses are stronger, though. Bush has been sounding like a badly scratched record.

Update 9:05 PM CDT: Mmmm, marzipan. Bush says "moolah" instead of "mullah;" "nuculer" (twice). Time for fresh drink!

Final Update 9:32 PM CDT: Good finish for Kerry. Plus, what Kos says. Good night.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Professor Bainbridge on Interstate Shipments of Wine

by Tom Bozzo

I've actually been a fairly regular reader of conservative UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge's blog. The non-partisan content there has included entertaining wine- and car-blogging, and the wine part has been split off into its own blog, Professor Bainbridge on Wine -- link happily provided, FWIW. If he pulled in the car blogging (and threw in a bit of real estate and sports blogging), it could be the "Personal Journal" of the blogosphere.

Prof. Bainbridge calls limits on interstate shipments of wine a "pet bugaboo" and links an amicus brief for a Supreme Court case(*), authored by a star-studded and (probably) ideologically varied cast of economists, including three Nobel laureates, that concludes that such limits are not economically justified. (It would have been more accurate of the Prof. to call this, correctly, an AEI-Brookings [Joint Center for Regulatory Studies] piece, rather than just AEI, which would enhance its credibility on the left side of the aisle.)

The conclusion is no surprise, as most mainstream economists (this one included) tend to regard restraints on trade as undesirable as a rule, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, and would thus share Prof. Bainbridge's "bugaboo." Indeed, the economists note that the wine market, while not subject to much empirical study, is unlikely to have characteristics that would make it an exception to the rule.

In fact, the reported conclusion something of an understatement, the fault of a poor single-sentence abstract on the AEI-Brookings Joint Center site. Once the economists get past a plodding (and to my mind uncompelling, though I claim no insight as to what SCOTUS might find compelling) section on how the restrictions make it somewhat harder and more expensive for conoisseurs in certain states -- not Wisconsin, thankfully -- to obtain some boutique wines, they get into the heart of the matter, which is that wine shipment restrictions and other such trade regulations act very much like taxes on the public that support narrow interests, here local liquor middlemen. These are sometimes justified in the name of "orderly market conditions" (brief at 3**), which should be taken as code for "check your wallet." (***)


(*) Actually, two cases involving Michigan liquor laws.

(**) In the case of regulations on liquor sales, "promotion of temperance" and "protection of minors" are also cited as state interests. It is left unremarked that the nature of the restrictions under consideration, which discriminate against out-of-state wineries, effectively negates those reasons, as it's permissible to get loaded on Michigan hooch and allowing any shipments would seem to facilitate enterprising teenagers' efforts to circumvent the drinking age (****).

(***) In Wisconsin, a Depression-era minimum price law is supported by the petroleum marketer and convenience store associations, who don't want Wal-Mart and Woodmans to compete away their profit margins on gasoline sales. The Wisconsin law is notable from an antitrust standpoint in that it makes some non-predatory pricing illegal.

(****) Not, from the looks of UW campus-area bars, that they actually would need to go to such lengths. Plus, someday I'll start doing proper HTML footnotes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Back to the Eighties

by Tom Bozzo

The creepiest record in my collection (by a wide margin*), which I submit would measure '[expletive]ing creepy' or better on the creepymeter, is Coil's 1987 EP of unreleased themes for Clive Barker's "Hellraiser", rejected by the studio for the soundtrack for being, presumably, too creepy. For "Hellraiser." Play it in a dim studio at 3 A.M. at the risk of your own wits.

I Googled "coil consequences discography" to verify the title of the record -- one site suggests that what I'd always taken as the title ("The Consequences of Raising Hell") is actually an alternate. OK, so long industrial music. The search results yield a hit or two for This Mortal Coil, a sort-of 4AD Records "supergroup" including, among others, members of Cocteau Twins.

This takes me back to one of my most vivid and formative college radio memories, from 1985, WXDR (now WVUD) DJ Tom Capodanno back-announcing Aikea-Guinea with "God, isn't that the greatest record you ever heard?!" No, actually, but I did spend the next four years as a serious indie rock junkie.

And, harking back to the days when the internet was relatively useless but cool (at least given that almost everyone online had .edu addresses or the foreign equivalent), the Cocteau Twins offer a little riff from "Carolyn's Fingers" [mp3] for use as a system startup sound, which sadly is not as useful in MacOS X as it would have been in System 7.x, for which I spent plenty of time fine-tuning the assignment of samples of various "D'Ohh!"-type utterances to various system events that could have been spent on my dissertation research. And there's a cheesy video [pop-up with QuickTime video], which I wouldn't have guessed existed (**), to Aikea-Guinea.

Meanwhile, their old label 4AD's homepage advertises, among other things, the vinyl rerelease of three Pixies albums from 1987-9. Amazingly, I can find the Surfer Rosa/Come On Pilgrim CD despite the lack of rational order to the collection -- in the car for a 1988 moment or two on the way to work tomorrow. The pacing of the M|A|R|R|S "Pump Up the Volume" video (1987) is almost languid.

I also see that the indie backcatalogue at the iTunes music store is finally filling in (see, e.g., the iMix "lonely is an isight"), which is a potentially dangerous development (to the household budget) as this is an attractive substitute for trying to digitize a lot of old vinyls or tracking down rare CDs at collector shops.

But the most shocking thing of all was hearing Guns N' [sic] Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" at the gym earlier this evening, and thinking it's not such a bad song after all. I felt very old.

(*) I really don't have many creepy records. Weird ones, maybe, but not generally creepy.

(**) Though Factory Records (cf. 24 Hour Party People) was responsible for far cheesier videos in the early '80s.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Tim Michels: Pants, Meet Ignition Source

by Tom Bozzo

Based on the primary campaign advertising stressing (among other things) Tim Michels' Inspiring Personal Story (TM), one might have thought that his campaign against Russ Feingold would at least make a pretense of running a clean race.

On second thought (*)...

A Michels ad on reimportation of drugs from Canada offers a bush-league (**) lie: Michels says "Unlike Russ Feingold, I'll fight for your right to buy safe and affordable prescription drugs from Canada." Feingold personally denounced the ad, saying he has "no problem with people criticizing my votes... The fact is my record is the complete opposite of what Michels says it is." The Michels campaign's retort is that they are addressing the lack of "results." (Never mind Bush administration opposition.) This does not have plausible deniability for a truthful defense.

The lame Capital Times story treats this as a he-said, she-said issue. It is not. Feingold is a cosponsor of S.2328, the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act of 2004 (a.k.a. Imports of Prescription Drugs bill). While S.2328's sponsorship is primarily from the Democratic side of the aisle, its cosponsors include Trent Lott and John McCain. Here is additional reaction:

Tom Frazier, executive director of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, listened to a tape of the ad and described it as ‘‘false.’’

‘‘In fact, Senator Feingold is co-sponsor of the best (importation) bill out there,’’ Frazier said. ‘‘You certainly cannot say that he’s not in favor of (importation). It’s simply not true.’’

In summary, Michels lied. Period.

Update 9/27/04 PM: The editorial pages of the Cap Times (this afternoon) and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (yesterday) agree.


(*) The news that the Michels campaign is being brought to us by many of the folks responsible for Mark Neumann's dirty 1998 run makes this less than a surprise.

(**) This is small-b "bush" because the president's more skillful handlers usually craft statements are unfalsifiable, technically true in some sense but highly misleading, or something else short of a bald-faced lie. But this Washington Post review of the situation in Iraq comes as close to calling Bush and Allawi liars as journalistic decorum would seem to allow.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Bumper Stickers of the Damned

by Tom Bozzo

1. BC'04 bumper sticker, Chevrolet Corsica, reddish-violet or dark magenta (?) paint. Thursday afternoon, Whitney Way between Old Middleton and Mineral Point roads.

2. WORT (Madison community radio) and Nader/LaDuke 2000 bumper stickers. Bumper attached by two bungee cords to body of Honda Civic wagon. Friday night, Monroe Street near Edgewood College.

Marginal Benefit < Marginal Cost?

by Tom Bozzo

The Wisconsin Democrats went to court to try to throw Nader off the ballot. Apparently there is a technical defect with the slate of electors listed by the Nader campaign. The Elections Board had previously deemed the flaw insufficient to warrant the relief requested. The Nader campaign offered the usual response that they're trying to "avoid a debate on the issues." Whatever.

Analysis: This is somewhere between a waste of the Democrats' time and resources, and a minor tactical miscalculation. Nader can be as easily neutralized by directing resources to 'retail' efforts like GOTV in Dane and Milwaukee counties, while ignoring Nader's all but invisible campaign. All these legal tactics seem to do is contribute to Nader's persecution complex.

In partial contrast, in Florida, the Democrats were arguably right not to try to challenge Bush's ballot status over apparently late-filed ballot papers -- noting Prof. Froomkin's statement of the irony that it was the Republicans insisting on strict application of election laws in 2000 -- but wrong to ignore the Republican incompetence and failure-to-play-by-the-rules angles.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Yet More Adventures in Polling

by Tom Bozzo

Curse words were muttered in the Marginal Utility master bedroom this morning when Wisconsin Public Radio reported that the latest Badger Poll showed a 14 point lead (RVs, leaners pushed) for Bush.

The poll was almost immediately labeled an outlier by both campaigns.

The internals (note: PDF), which trailed the Cap Times story a bit, suggest more of the funkiness seen in the Gallup and NY Times polls, noted elsewhere. Party ID was strongly GOP-tilted (29D/36R/25I). The 2000 election question responses were also fun: 61% Bush, 35% Gore, actual result 47.8% Gore, 47.6% Bush.

At least the UW survey folks seem to recognize these as potential anomalies to be explained, though the explanations are reliant on a moderate degree of cognitive dissonance among the surveyed. The Bush/Republican ID bounce is explained as a sympathy effect of the CBS 'memogate' flap ("response to short term campaign developments" when the survey was in the field). If this were true, though, one wonders why Kerry wouldn't see a sympathetic bounce from the Swift Boat Vets for "Truth." The 2000 election result is described as "typically show[ing] a clear advantage for incumbents unless they are wildly unpopular." I've certainly heard of this (with respect to Kennedy, for instance), but it seems like a big effect for an incumbent who isn't especially popular. (Particularly given that the effect is higher than that measured in the March '02 Badger Poll, when Bush was still riding the post-9/11 approval surge.) An amusing detail is that Democrats and independents appear to retrospectively over-report their support for Nader.

Update 9/24/04: Previous Badger Polls have yielded party identifications not (statistically) significantly different from the Harris results cited at Left Coaster (and two posts ago). This is Badger Poll XVII, and XVII independent trials gives around a 58% cumulative Type I error probability. Outlier result is not improbable. This is arguably bad news for Tim Michels, who fared poorly against Russ Feingold in a Republican-friendly sample. I would be surprised, however, if both races weren't close.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Afghanistan and Iraq

by Tom Bozzo

In the previous discussion of Ann Althouse's reader poll on the connections (or lack thereof) Bush and Kerry draw between Afghanistan and Iraq, and the implications for voter decision-making, I deferred discussing whether the majority of her readership was actually right on the merits. As promised or threatened, here goes. Afghanistan first.

Afghanistan was the war nearly everyone (including the two Johns) would have fought, had it been someone else's decision, as there was an obvious causal nexus between the Taliban rule and al Qaeda terrorism. It's also obvious that the administration, in trying to wage the ground war at low financial and political cost by relying heavily on indigenous surrogates in the early going, has yielded a situation that's not obviously better than the mess in Iraq and, of course, has evidently failed to bring either Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar to justice.

A silly economist illustrates the basic problem. James Miller of Smith College suggested last month that the free market might get OBL if the U.S. bounty for his capture were raised from $25 million to $1 billion. The larger reward would, he argues, "motivate firms to join the hunt for Bin Laden." And the magic is that the taxpayer wouldn't be out a dime in the absence of success. I'd have sworn that some major blogger(s) had some fun at Miller's expense, but Google isn't cooperating in my efforts to figure out whom.

The obvious flaw in Miller's reasoning is that we might have caught bin Laden but for (one supposes) considerably less than a billion dollars' worth of publicly financed ground offensive in December, 2001. Consider this Washington Post lede from April, 2002:

The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.

and, among other things,

[Gen. Tommy Franks] misjudged the interests of putative Afghan allies and let pass the best chance to capture or kill al Qaeda's leader... corrupt local militias did not live up to promises to seal off the mountain redoubt, and some colluded in the escape of fleeing al Qaeda fighters.

The Bush "Agenda for America" effectively treats the Afghan war as won. (See here for reality check.) The Kerry plan emphasizes the need to finish the job, including expanding ISAF control outside Kabul and restraining Afghanistan's burgeoning opium trade. Advantage: Kerry.


Meanwhile, Brad DeLong's (must read) Sept. 21 daily reason not to re-elect the president says just about everything I could on why Iraq is different:

Edward of Obsidian Wings asks a straightforward question: "What have our 1,000 [currently 1,040 U.S. and 135 other coalition -ed] troops died for?"

This question has a straightforward answer. The first 100 [139 U.S. and 33 U.K.] died (and the first 500 were maimed) to liberate Iraq from a dreadful tyrant who had no operational ties with Al Qaeda, no weapons of mass destruction, posed no threat to the U.S., and posed little threat to his neighbors.

And to add some icing on the cake he draws the connection between the administration's "catastrophic success" in the initial campaign and the increasingly quagmire-like present situation:

The next 900 died (and the next 4500 were maimed) because:

1. Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to show that we could conquer, occupy, and control Iraq with a small force all by ourselves so that the Syrians and the Iranians would be scared of what we could do with the rest of our army.
2. Nobody in the White House dared propose any change in policy when it became clear to everybody that Cheney and Rumsfeld were wrong.

Further conclusions to draw from this straightforward answer are left as an exercise for the reader.

What DeLong said.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

And Speaking of Biased Samples

by Tom Bozzo

A Gallup poll reports Bush up by eight points among Wisconsin "likely voters." The Left Coaster examines the poll internals and finds an oddity: apparently excessive inclusion of Republicans in the sample.

This poll was based on a sample which contained a party ID breakdown of

GOP: 38%
Dem: 32%
Ind: 32%

Yet an October 2003 study of the Wisconsin electorate by Harris Interactive, found the following party ID for the state:

GOP: 28%
Dem: 29%
Ind: 31%

Same goes for Iowa and the Gallup national poll too.

There are a couple of issues. One is that the methods used to determine "likely" voters may systematically shift measured voter preferences. But the Gallup sample of registered voters is apparently Republican-heavy, too. Since voter registration status should be easier to measure in principle, it's probably necessary to know more about the fundamentals of the sample design and interview protocol. Getting a random sample of voters by dialing phone numbers is not a trivial matter. Issues like the contact scheduling, the method for selecting a respondent, etc. (regarding some of which the Gallup methodology FAQ is vague), can easily color the survey results by systematically departing from the ostensible (in-principle unbiased) sample design.

Meanwhile, the Gallup poll results should be treated with suspicion. Do not conclude from them that Bush has an insurmountable lead, or indeed any lead at all.

Update 9/21/04: Robert Waldmann, commenting on a large-sample poll by ARG (showing the race very close nationally), offers the related thought that most polling sample sizes, and hence reported margins of error, seem to be selected so as to hide small biases. That seems not implausible, as typical poll MOEs (3-4%) give low signal-to-noise in very close races.

Start With a Biased Sample...

by Tom Bozzo

...get a "striking" answer.

UW law prof and blogger Ann Althouse polls her readership as to whether the presidential choice should be made on the basis of the connections (or lack thereof) Bush and Kerry draw between Afghanistan and Iraq, and who comes out on top. The result: overwhelmingly (75%) for Bush! Oh no!

But "seriously." Assume for the sake of argument that Bush and Kerry supporters are equally likely to self-select into the poll and to stuff the ballot box. The poll result is still scarcely more striking than an intentional walk. The problem lies in some external information that Prof. Althouse doesn't seem to have accounted for: her own peculiar notoreity and its probable effect on the composition of her readership.

For family and friends who don't follow the Madison blog scene, Prof. Althouse's claim to fame is as a sort of Rovian fantasy of the "security mom." She's a self-professed Democrat for Bush (via some sort of lingering post-9/11/01 bond, though she claims to have voted Edwards in the Democratic presidential primary), an academic at a famously liberal institution, and moreover one who takes frequent digs at John Kerry via her blog, and has been linked by prominent conservative bloggers for doing so. This has apparently given her a spike in readership, of the sort that doesn't care about the views from the 100 Wisconsin Avenue condos. So if you poll a bunch of righty blog readers, and perhaps a few Madison academics who may need to stage an intervention, what do you expect?

More on the substance of Prof. Althouse's poll question in a subsequent post.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Sunday Morning by Some Numbers

by Tom Bozzo

Number of dogs jogging along Howard Temin Lakeshore Path for Dog Jog: Lots.

Number of dog-shy toddlers panicked by Lots of Dogs: Zero (happily).

Ratio of "Run Against Bush" t-shirts to jogging dogs observed defecating along path: One.

Number of unbelievably crappy cars observed en route to brunch in Middleton bearing BC04 sticker, leading to What's the Matter With Kansas moment: One (Ford Aspire).

Secret handshakes exchanged with guy in 325Ci over Kerry bumper sticker: One (mitigates feeling of wussiness induced by Arctic Silver Boxster with Kerry and Feingold stickers, on the paint even, seen on Thursday drive to work).

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Tim Michels is Somewhat Forgetful

by Tom Bozzo

As reported in the Capital Times:

On Tuesday, state Republicans picked Tim Michels, a relative unknown who ran largely on his experience as an Army Ranger and who, in his acceptance speech, vowed to renew the Patriot Act (*).

"I believe the Patriot Act is the reason there have been no terrorist attacks in three years," he said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.


Apparent contribution of the USA PATRIOT Act to bringing the anthrax perpetrator(s) to justice, by Michels' logic: nil.

Bonus: Those successful terrorism prosecutions. Oops. And this.

(*) Just about as irritating as the practice of giving legislation a short title that resolves to a politically loaded acronym is the lazy reporter's habit of shortening the acronym to an even more loaded popular title.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Stupid Headline Watch II: Washington Post edition

by Tom Bozzo

Iraq: FUBAR. Trade and budget deficits: unsustainable. Economy: undead, at best. Our public discourse: trashed.

"Kerry Drops Ball With Packers Fans" by Jim VandeHei

This story is nearly 1,000 words of sheer clowning on page A9 about a slip of the tongue where Kerry last month called the place the Packers play "Lambert Field" instead of Lambeau Field. This sounds like it has plausible deniability for a simple slip of the tongue, though evidently our golden tongued leader can't resist the opportinity to attack. (Kerry has apparently also made a couple other shocking sports mascot slips on the road, too.)

This was news to me, even though VandeHei contends that it was carried in "papers throughout the state."

Fact check: a search of the archives of the Packers-besotted Wisconsin State Journal and Capital Times revealed a single story, at the bottom of an August 30 column (which generates three search hits, apparently due to multiple Cap Times editions), by local liberal gadfly Stu Levitan. This is not prime placement of the story.

I recall Wonkette noting restlessness among the Kerry press corps. So I offer KE04 some friendly advice: send a bottle or two of Scotch to the back of the plane.

Evening update: In light of Nicholas Kristof's "glass house" piece in today's Times, I've been reminded of the following:

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Strategic Voting

by Tom Bozzo

The polls have just closed for the fall primary. Here in the Wisconsin 2nd, essentially all the Democrats ran unopposed, including incumbent Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Russ Feingold. Meanwhile, the other party had a four-way race for the U.S. Senate nomination and a showdown between Alan Keyes wannabe Ron Greer and probably-more-moderate-guy Dave Magnum (not his original name). Wisconsin has nonpartisan voter registration, and anyone can vote in either primary -- just not in both.

What's a boy to do? Sabotage, suggests UW philosopher Harry Brighouse over at Crooked Timber. Vote Greer and Michels.

For the congressional race, the logic is easy enough. After two close races against moderate opponents (and a bit of help from redrawn district boundaries), the very liberal and openly gay Baldwin took 66 percent of the vote against the right-of-Keyes and openly homophobic Greer. In a rematch, Baldwin would almost certainly get to spend "another ineffective two years in Washington championing a far-left agenda of universal health care and similar pipe dreams" as the fine State Journal editorialists put it (do they look out their windows?).

Feingold's case is trickier. His approval and re-election ratings were fine in the most recent (mid-summer) polling I've seen, and his campaign should be much better funded than the '98 squeaker win versus former WI 1 Rep. Mark Neumann. The big issue the Republicans hope to hit Feingold with is his lone vote against the USA PATRIOT Act, which seems less radical in hindsight and a likely non-winner (though I'm a fuzzy liberal Madisonian, so what do I know). Harry's suggestion is based on the theory that Michels will have a harder time running to the center and is somewhat less well known, but he has an Inspiring Personal Story (TM) of small business wealth, military service, and family life, on which he has been campainging with some success. The Republican primary campaign has been very expensive, and none of the campaigns are currently well funded, though that will undoubtedly start to change as of tomorrow.

So I'm nervous about Michels, but remember Dennis Mueller teaching me, back in the day, that there was a vanishingly small probability that my vote would actually be decisive, and I held my nose and bit. Suzanne ended up voting sensibly, to ensure that a write-in for D. Duck wouldn't foul the Democratic side of things. Turnout in our ward was very light -- I was voter #332, with less than 1/2 hour to go in the voting. (The probability that I could determine the Madison Ward 66 outcome is perhaps not so small.) By comparison, there were 1,279 votes for president in the ward in 2000.

Bedtime Update: With about half the vote in, it looks like we'll get our "way" with Michels but not Greer. The big loser is car dealer Russ Darrow, who had name recognition and far outspent his opponents. Act of contrition if necessary: I will applyconsider applying a Feingold bumper sticker to my car's paintwork if it's going to be close.

Breakfast Update: Michels didn't need the "help." I can't say I'm sorry for Greer. Lest Magnum's win seem like a shift towards moderation, Mary Panzer, the state senate majority leader, was dumped by her constituents by a nearly 4 to 1 margin for not bankrupting state and local government fast enough.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Dialogues of the Toddlers

by Tom Bozzo

Two-Year Old: Daddy, work?

Daddy: Yes, Daddy's going to work this morning.

Two-Year Old (enthusiastically): Yaaayyyyyy! (Clap, clap.)

Daddy (less enthusiastically*): Yay.

*Note: I love my job. Really.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

How Bad is Sex on TV for Teenagers? (Annals of Questionable Research)

by Tom Bozzo

Bad, says this paper from the September '04 Pediatrics (via Jeremy Freese, who appears to have discovered it via In the upper realms of the blogosphere, right-of-center political scientist Daniel Drezner reluctantly gives the social conservatives a point based on this study, conducted by RAND Corporation researchers (and Dale Kunkel of UCSB, perhaps best known for reasearch on TV violence and the effect of the V-chip).

Based on an analysis of survey responses from 1,581 teens, the authors estimate that a one standard deviation increase in the amount of sexual content viewed on TV by teens has the same effect on the likelihood of engaging in sexual intercourse of being 9 months older and the effect of being 17 months older on a range of lesser behaviors, some of which may constitute sex by the Seinfeldian definition. How much sex is in one standard deviation? We are not told. It's claimed, but not exactly shown, that this is not a lot.

My take? I don't expect to be hiding the DVD's of "A Mighty Wind" (rated PG-13 for "sex-related humor") or "Young Frankenstein" (rated PG, presumably in part for innuendo involving the good Doctor, the Monster, Inga, and Elizabeth) on the kids just yet -- once they're interested in something spicier than Elmo's World, that is.

I say this because the actual paper did not bowl me over with its airtight analysis.

Now, the suggestion that kids are influenced by TV is not exactly a bold claim requiring extraordinarily compelling evidence. However, this paper commits a basic analytical error of such a magnitude that I'm surprised it got past the Pediatrics referees: it fails to control for the respondents' exposure to sexual content in all other media.

Since it's hardly inconceivable that kids who are exposed to a lot of racy TV also listen to racy music, print, are influenced by the increasing sexualization of children's clothes (cf. Freese's adjacent coming-of-Apocalypse post), etc. -- classic "confounding" factors, in short -- there must be immediate doubt that the reported effect of televised sexual content is actually all from TV, whatever other methodological failings might be present in the study.

The non-economist commentators have noted the study's use of 'longitudinal' data (i.e., the same kids were surveyed at two points in time) as a means by which the authors can separate correlation between watching sex on TV and having it in real life from causation. Indeed, the paper's clever wrinkle is that it predicts behavior in the later period with TV viewing in the earlier period, which is at least a prima facie showing of causation in one technical sense of the word. However, the authors do not demonstrate the absence of causation in the other direction, from sexual behavior to TV viewing. So there may or may not be a "feedback loop" between the media exposure and sexual behavior.

As for the rest of the analysis, this is a pretty classic example of statistics writing that makes it very difficult to evaluate the data, methods, and results. (This paper would not do well by the standards applied by Stephen Ziliak and Deidre McCloskey (PDF) to econometric results published in the American Economic Review.) Among other things:

So, as usual, do not trust, and always verify.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Creative Editing in the SCLM

by Tom Bozzo

Today was a curious day for the Washington Post.

On my usual morning visit, I saw this fact-check article, "Giuliani Charges Lack Context" by staff writer Glenn Kessler. Not seeing a page number, I took it for an online-only story, but was kind of glad that someone was pointing out that Giuliani was not exactly telling the entire truth in his Monday speech.

Around lunchtime, as I usually do, I took in Bob Somerby's Howler, where much of the day's piece took Kessler on for being far too polite about Guiliani's gross dissembling. Somerby's kicker was that Kessler didn't even address Giuliani's most egregious falsehood, the reference to Kerry's votes on the $87 billion appropriation for Iraq, ending with the punchline about the two Americas and how Kerry could vote for the exact same thing different ways in each one.

Every informed person should know that in reality, Kerry favored one version of a controversial bill and opposed another, while Bush favored a different version (that eventually enacted) and threatened to veto others. So subject to an appropriate transformation, Bush and Kerry are in the exact same position on the $87 billion. Even though President Bush has never specifically said (to my knowledge) "I threatened to veto the $87 billion before I signed it," it's what he did! Such a statement would be true!

Somerby's statement struck me as odd, since I would have sworn that I saw the $87 billion addressed in the article. Somerby may often be sarcastic, but his research is sound. I followed his link. No mention of the $87 billion. I visit my browser history and close examination reveals two different URLs -- the reference to the $87 billion has been edited out of the story between the original online posting and the story being buried on A22.

The editorial decision has the effect of massively recontextualizing the published portion of Kessler's piece. Think Borges' "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote".

In the published version, Kessler takes on Giuliani's statements regarding the Israeli security wall, whatever Kerry really said about "leaders" supporting him, and whether Kerry is for or against the war, all of which are shown to take Kerry out of context. With the possible exception of the last, it is fair to say that these are not the sort of resonant issues over which the Republicans have been bashing Kerry.* So by omitting reference to the archetypal "flip-flop" and arguably Giuliani's biggest anti-Kerry line of the night (certainly the soundbite from the speech that I heard on NPR the following morning despite my best efforts to avoid it), the defense of Kerry comes off as a collection of nit picks. But if the Republicans are being misleading misleaders over the $87 billion (as they are), then the rest of their effort to dissect the Kerry record for supposed flip-flops itself devolves into nitpicking.

The other editorial decision of note was to terminate the Giuliani quote before the two Americas crack in the longer version. Why? As Somerby's addendum notes, the entire quote shows not merely lack of context-providing on Giuliani's part, but rather blatant falsehood, as the "context" completely belies the punch line. Giuliani said "exactly the same thing" and it just plain wasn't. If the climactic attack is false...

So why did the Post pull the punch for a story to be buried on A22? Was even Kessler's mild "contextualizing" too hard on St. Rudy for the capital's "real" newspaper?

Update 9/2/04: Today the Times apparently gets in on the act, as a criticism of Commerce Secretary Evans' comments on Kerry's tax cut record disappears from an article by Adam Nagourney, according to Somerby. Post title modified accordingly.

* And even there, Kerry's real position, that Bush was right in some sense about needing to prevent Saddam Hussein from becoming a threat, but the administration's implementation of the policies was wrongheaded and inept, is hardly inexplicable and arguably the plurarlity view.

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