Monday, February 28, 2005

The "West Wing Syndrome"

by Tom Bozzo

There must be something in the water. I am in a ranting mood this evening.

Today, on behalf of a college friend, I paid a brief visit to the right blogosphere to track down a site that ended up being Joe's Dartblog, a TTLB Large Mammal blog run by a member of Dartmouth College's class of '08 as a sort-of junior Instapundit. So says Dartmouth economics professor Andrew Samwick. This may be true, though not the entire blogiverse would take that as the intended compliment. (Samwick's credibility with me as a smart conservative economist flew out the window when he linked Alex Tabarrok's Marginal Revolution declaration that the Bush budget "looks pretty good" as "intelligent and succinct," when anyone who knows the first thing about the federal budget should have recognized that the usually sharp Prof. Tabarrok was only succinct this time.)

Dartblog proprietor Joe Malchow can perhaps be forgiven, for now, for among other things having no clue about competition law, seemingly of either the U.S. or E.U. variety — e.g., that multinational firms actually may be subject to local laws and regulations in the jurisdictions where they operate — so long as his readers are aware that things college freshpeople (oops, first-year students) consider abhorrent are not necessarily so.

(Update: Joe Malchow responds at Dartblog. My surreply is here.)

Now, I'm not constitutionally averse to engaging with the other side (as here), but finding the Dartblog involved wading through some of the usual tiresome blather about the Big Bad Oppressive Leftist Academy (not a link to a righty blog; via Majikthise) at blogs run by very conservative and presumably well-to-do men with homoerotic screen names (not that there's anything wrong with that), and basically this has left me fed up with the common right blogosphere theme that the right has some sort of absolute advantage over the left in well-reasoned argument. This belief ought at some point to run up against the problem that the American political right is run by — as Oscar incisively puts it — spokesmodels with so little non-ideological motivation that even some smart conservative ideologues (not that there's anything wrong with that, either) start worrying about it, and sooner or later turn around on policy grounds.

Prove me wrong if you can, but as far as I can tell, it doesn't happen. Indeed, it seems to be pervasive enough that I will dub it the "West Wing Syndrome" for future reference. The Syndrome is, in short, the irrational belief that the political leadership of the right is principled. You may, or should, recall that even in the superior Sorkin-run days, the West Wing parallel universe was inhabited by partisan conservatives who were both principled and sexy. Compare Ainsley Hayes to reality's Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin.

Another test case for West Wing Syndrome is Condoleezza Rice, whose recent redefinition of bête noire has further fueled some Rice '08 fantasies — see the exchange between Maureen Dowd, Tim Russert, and Bill Safire on yesterday's Meet the Press (search for "matrix" or "dominatrix" on the page) — though not so much yet that this blog doesn't still come up as the third Google search return for "Rice 08." It is, I propose, West Wing Syndrome that leads some center-to-righties to complain about the supposedly poor hearing room behavior of the likes of Richard Ben-Veniste, Barbara Boxer, or Joe Biden rather than Dr. Rice's job performance. After all, the memo didn't say how Bin Laden was determined to strike the U.S. And look at those boots! Those powerful, powerful boots.

Thank you, we'll be back to complaining about lousy economics reporting in Sunday Styles tomorrow.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Academy Awards Nearly Live Blogging V

by Tom Bozzo

Best Actor, then bedtime. Jamie Foxx takes it for Ray, which happens to be one of a handful of films nominated in major catgories that I've actually seen. With two small children in the house, I don't expect to enter an actual theater until the inevitable office hooky-playing expedition to the Point UltraScreen for Revenge of the Sith; we actually don't spend much of our free time with DVDs, either, though we do try to make them count. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the other that, er, comes to mind.

Admission: I saw the rest of the show. Whatever Ann Althouse said about Clint Eastwood, I might have agreed with, if I'd actually seen his picture. But wait! She didn't say anything, so I have to link this post instead.

Academy Awards Nearly Live Blogging IV

by Tom Bozzo

Original Score winner Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's wife gives Spike Lee a good run for the funkiest eyeglasses award. He credits her for some of his better notes. Cf. Trois Couleurs: Bleu.

Well, at least they didn't forget about Poland.


Academy Awards Nearly Live Blogging III

by Tom Bozzo

The minor award line-ups are presumably an efficiency enhancing alteration of the program, but they strike me as not a little humiliating to the nominees. Isn't there other filler to get rid of?

Update: Chris Rock acknowledges the slight: drive-through Oscars next year.


Academy Awards Nearly Live Blogging II

by Tom Bozzo

I thought until now that the Sideshow Bob hairdo was a pure entity of the cartoon world, but the Counting Crows' performance of a song from Shrek 2 (which I haven't seen) proves me wrong.


Academy Awards Nearly Live Blogging

by Tom Bozzo

I give Chris Rock an A for the opening monolog. If not for the annoying detail that George W. Bush will actually be President unitl January 20, 2009, his efforts at reminding the world why Bush actually deserved to be fired would have been right up there with the Emperor telling Luke Skywalker that the Death Star II was fully operational.

Update: Simulblogging Tonya Brito is also amused; also simulblogging Ann Althouse seems to be a bit less so.


Dialogues of the Toddlers: Why I'm Never Getting an SUV

by Tom Bozzo

Bathtime, this morning:

D: ...and I think they'll have treats at swimming today. [Last day of the session, they haul out special water toys.]
J: No swimming!
D: You love swimming, big guy.
J: Go in Daddy's car.
D: Sure, we'll go in Daddy's car.
J: Daddy's car is cool.
D: Did you say Daddy's car is cool?
J: Yeah.

Here's Daddy's car, sticking it to Ken Mehlman of the RNC. (*)

Here's a quick-but-trenchant analysis of the problem with SUVs, from my good friend Oscar:
As the baby boomers hit mid life, dominant culture became very concerned with their mid-life issues. Their tanklike family vans gave way to tanklike SUVs -- family vehicles disguised, through clever marketing, as mid-life-crisis sex machines.
And more (getting very meta, sorry):
Marginal Utility makes a trenchant report that the "what'll they think of next?" quality of SUV names has exceeded the absurdity threshold with the "Subaru Tribeca." I personally felt this had been acheived with Porsche's "Cayenne," which promised to open the world of herb and spice names to the SUV industry.
Actually, Porsche has a broader naming lameness problem, even if "Cayenne" is the pits. May I offer the first mid-life crisis and income sheltering joke about the forthcoming Cayman sports coupe (previously thought to be a hardtop Boxster)?


* Last fall, Mehlman was quoted as saying something to the effect that BMW drivers and gun owners, or maybe gun-owning BMW drivers, vote for Bush. (At least the last two are, admittedly, likely to be true in general.) In my increasingly upscale but still quite liberal neighborhood, there was actually a modest BMW drivers for Kerry/Edwards contingent last fall, though I imagine that we're somewhat less likely to be gun owners than the general population.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Large Mammal For A Day

by Tom Bozzo

With our guerrilla war on the link hierarchy under way*, Oscar and I have already improved to Slithering Reptiles in the TTLB ecosystem (as of Friday evening; this morning's ecosystem update is not yet complete, but it looks like Oscar will advance a step), the question arises: how far can the madness go? And where will it have gone when it's gotten there?

1. Theoretical limits of the linking game

Here are the TTLB ecosystem categories above us, the minimum links required for entry (Friday evening, ceteris paribus), the minimum ecosystem rank, and the marginal blog in each. The top three categories are fixed, and roughly 1,000 blogs fall into each of the next four. In total, there were 20,517 blogs registered with the ecosystem.
We'd need to recruit a modest conspiracy of our own to unseat the Reason Foundation folks at Hit and Run, let alone Vodkapundit or the the estimable Volokhs. (A few determined people with long-running blogs could conceivably mount an assault on Instapundit's top-of-the-heap 5,015 links.)

Large Mammal, though, can probably be achieved without outside help. My blogger profile's posting statistics haven't been updated in ages, but I know that I've written around 325 posts to date, which sets an upper bound on my unique inbound links from a single source. That is more than sufficient for the Large Mammal cutoff. Oscar's average posting frequency isn't quite daily, and his official stats are similarly outdated, but I'd still guess it still would be technically possible for me to make him a Large Mammal on my own.

2. What, are we nuts?

While seeking to recruit co-conspirators on Friday, I noted that the ecosystem needs more liberals and more women. Those obviously are not mutually exclusive categories; please don't write to complain. The list of marginal blogs for the ecosystem categories perhaps this view: exactly one left-of-center blog out of seven — I'm not even going to try to evaluate Moloch Now for possible irony — would occur with 6.25% probability with the center suitably defined. And they all appear to have male proprietors.

Certainly, Oscar and I will at least briefly shift the rank-adjusted balance of the ecosystem slightly leftward as we ascend, though we won't do anything for gender balance.

Now, to Nina's post, she has a good point about the potential trap of feeling obligated to write solely to preserve one's status metrics. Even though we're writing specifically to manipulate our status metrics, at least I can say that the game is still fun. Maybe we'll need to enter into a pact to terminate the game when otherwise routine blogger personality issues become its only driving forces, but I don't think we're there yet.

Beyond that, Nina has a point: it's the actual communication that sometimes emerges from the blogging that really matters. We've already demonstrated the ease of manipulation of the TTLB rankings. It's arguably the case that we'll stay pretty invisible at the theoretical limits of the game — the Large Mammal club is just too large to be exclusive, why some of its members strive to move up — unless it accumulates more participants.

That leaves us with Art for Art's Sake as the driving factor, maybe with an accompanying shot of testosterone. There's nothing wrong with our current exhibition, in the blogiverse equivalent of a back room of the Grace Chosy Gallery. Still, we might reasonably aspire to a spot on Canyon Road or maybe even in NYC, if perhaps not quite a million square feet of saffron fabric in Central Park.


* Oscar calls the effort "Project Bozzo," but my hazy recollection of that phase of the blogger dinner (after dinner and some wine, before karaoke) is that it was his idea, and I was simply the guy who determined that it was feasible. I am inclined for whatever reason to decline the honor and refer to the project generically, at least until we make Playful Primate.

** The head shot of Moloch looks like a Photoshop alteration of the image of Ambassador G'Kar from Babylon 5. Babylon 5 fans might investigate my sense of pattern matching and decide whether to take offense.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Friday Baby Extra: Getting Used to Vertical Playing

by Tom Bozzo

Link Bombing

by Tom Bozzo

I see that "Oscar" and I are, in fact, on with a little link game he cooked up at blogger dinner. We have both, between our organically appearing links and our respective directed efforts, ascended to Slithering Reptile status in the TTLB ecosystem. Embarrassingly, I see that Oscar has moved me much closer to the next level ("flappy bird") than I've moved him. So I clearly need to get on the ball (or off it, were I a particular baseball collector). And every link is an example of why The Columnist Manifesto is one of my actual favorite blogs.

If others can chip in a total of three or four Columnist Manifesto links, I figure Oscar should be a "flappy bird" at the end of the next round of TTLB processing, assuming we aren't banned first.

(Note: After further considering the Gresham's Law implications, I've concluded, "What the heck." It's not exactly like we're spambots; on the contrary, this is more like a public art project. Plus, I'm not actually diminishing any informational value of blog links, since I actually do want you to read Oscar if you aren't already doing so. So there!)

Update: See also Brad DeLong for some theory, and also here (via DeLong) at 'super hanc petram.'

Miscellaneous Ramblings for Friday Morning

by Tom Bozzo

1. I'd been telling a friend, via e-mail (or, more accurately, was meaning to tell this friend, as I managed to absent-mindedly trash the draft e-mail while trying to save it), how weird it was to go from the fall blogging era, when I could identify most of the visitors here by IP address divination, to the present situation in which most visitors are strangers. Then yesterday's blogger dinner A-bomb hit — sending the Site Meter count soaring to 568 visits for the day, shattering the old record of ca. 230. On a recent normal day, you would put a decimal point between the 6 and 8. I continue to be amazed at the level of interest shown by the blogiverse in our dinner partying habits.

2. My recent post about the questionable direction of Audi styling is really an emergent property of my own car nuttery, but an implication is that other Audi intenders would do well to get an A4, A8, or TT before they take on the marque's new styling direction, nice as the new FSI gas engines are. If you've already done so, good for you! (This was discussed, briefly, at blogger dinner.)

3. One thing you might not know about me is that if I'm forwarded an obvious urban legend via e-mail, I'll often write back. To everyone on the distribution list, in all probability — doing my little bit to try to preserve the information commons. The first time I did this, over this scary crime warning, there was a marked drop in the number of forwarded e-mails of any description that I received.

4. That said, I don't want to discourage the truly funny, shockingly inane, or both. I cracked up just yesterday over a forwarded malapropism, "blog-o-scope" ("blogosphere" was intended).

5. The delightful nerds, geeks, and dorks link forwarded by Ann adds a second observation of a UW-Madison economics PhD alum with a uniquely cool job: "rocket economist." (Other example.) Blogger dinner also featured an extended discussion of the potential merits and demerits of being considered a dork, a nerd, and/or a geek, as well as some self-identifications of the blogger dinner attendees. This sort of thing might get podcasted in the future, don't you know. For the record, I have a Fortran compiler (g77) installed on my PowerBook, and is almost always running on it, whatever that makes me.

6. I like "blogiverse" as a companion to the Technorati concept of the link "cosmos," but directional divisions like "right" and "left" don't apply to a universe as they might a sphere. This leads to unfortunate inconsistencies in the Marginal Utlity style book.

7. While the time stamp on this post reads early Friday morning, it's actually very early Friday morning. Early baby bedtime hubris gave way to crying jag induced insomnia.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Happy, Happy Parents

by Tom Bozzo

Near-live blogging: both children are in bed!

Google Factoid of the Day

by Tom Bozzo

This page is currently the third-listed search result for "Rice 08."

Funny Money

by Tom Bozzo

You might think that blogger dinner is just a lot of food, drink, innuendo-laden karaoke, and simulblogging. (Actually, simulblogging was extremely limited this time, and Jeremy has yet to offer any after-the-fact blogging of the dinner.)

Well, quasi-serious discussions of the organization of the blogiverse happen, too. Links, as I like to say (though not at that link) — and, with millions of other blogs, undoubtedly I'm far from the only one — are the currency of the blogiverse. Among the cleverer tools of blog organization and self-organization, are services to track recent links and a blog "ecosystem" ordered by a measure of unique links.

The question arose as to how ecosystem status could be manipulated by a concerted linking effort. My guess is that direct manipulation of ecosystem status becomes difficult as one ascends the food chain, for while it only takes a few links to attain the next status level for me or certain of my blog pals, effecting minimal mammalian status would require maintaining dozens of links on a manipulator's blog homepage. That would not inconceivably interfere with the blog content — but then again, maybe not.

This raises another technical question. In quantifying the degree of centrality of the blogiverse's central nodes (a pet issue of mine), how should one deal with repeated links among friends?

We also talked about setting up alternative ecosystem(s). I don't recall any talk of ranking methods, but I'd think you could have fun with an aspirational ranking.

Addendum: Why we shouldn't do this sort of thing, at Crooked Timber.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Madison Blogger Dinner, Feb. 23, 2005: Some Photographic Evidence

by Tom Bozzo

The main course.

That which Jeremy is selling, Ann may not be buying.

Sad, sad bloggers.

(Addendum: I forgot to upload this one last night.) Happy, happy bloggers!

That Infernal Contraption.

Tonya gets the party started.

Jeremy takes over with his Wisconsin sociology karaoke super powers.

And yet more.

Baby News Flash

by Tom Bozzo

Julia rolled over, all by herself! The aftermath:

In other news from the baby blogiverse, Maxwell James is walking! Maybe that's why he hasn't had time to update his blog (which, IMHO, deserves a Koufax Award as the Fafblog! of baby blogs).

Blogger Dinner To-Night

by Tom Bozzo

This time, B hosts. Expected attendees include A, C, F, newbie "M," and no-longer-newbie me. Expect photos and perhaps some live-blogging this evening.

Update 7:08 P.M.:
No live-blogging here, check the other linked sites, though. Pictures and a wrap-up later.

Update 8:51 P.M.: Blogger dinner is experiencing a simulblogging crisis. A is trying to figure out what to post for her guest stint at MSNBC. We've been trying to convince her to blog about the prospective UW study of the effects of tasers on drugged pigs, but it's unclear whether we can convince her to do so. "M" is resisting simulblogging, and is instead filling in F on chess babes. I've been handed the C laptop to break my non-simulblogging vow, but I don't have the cable to offload the pictures from my camera, so that will still have to wait for later. B has closed her PowerBook and is setting up a karaoke device. "M" and I are plotting to achieve mammalian status in the TTLB Ecosystem by continual reciprocal linking. (There would be worse ways.)

Update 9:02 P.M.:
Wait -- A and C have just used profanity!! B is singing!!! Simulblogging suspended until further notice...

The East-West Divide (in Madison, that is)

by Tom Bozzo

Yesterday's Tonya Show reported the bombshell that Tonya is contemplating a move to Madison's near east side from her present near west side location. This is not quite the Madison equivalent of defecting from the former West Germany to the East, but as Tonya notes, Madison neighborhoods have partisans who can be quite dramatic about such things, so keep that image in mind.

Our old neighborhood, for instance, has an annual "Twelfth Night" pageant (last year's was the 80th running) that involves production of a jokey neighborhood pride musical. See here for a still from "Nakomalot" (1964), showing how much more effort went into such things when there was no internet and little else in the way of electronic time-wasting opportunities.

(My grand idea, never produced, was "Near West Side Story," with a story involving a young couple with a small but pleasant house on Nakoma Rd. aspiring to an attractive move-up house and gangs of amateur golfers at the Nakoma and Maple Bluff country clubs. There was perhaps a bit too much class warfare to "Near West Side Story" for Twelfth Night, which is attended by some of the owners of the neighborhood's $700,000 houses — a lot for Madison — a few of whom are actually even Republicans.)

Anyway, we've considered both the near west and the near east in both of our house purchases, though we chose the near west both times.

There are undeniable attractions to the near east. In addition to the neighborhood diversity factors Tonya cites, there's the array of neighborhood amenities: the co-op, which aspires to a near west location that is hostage to the financing details of the Monroe Commons condo project, Oscar's pseudonymously blogged-about coffee houses, the Fatigued Frequent-Flyer Tavern, the cute Get More Stuff antique and gift shop, and much more. We have Pasqual's, Michael's Frozen Custard, the Polish deli I keep forgetting about, and Barrique's Wine Cave. Advantage, maybe them by no more than a nose.

The sticking point for us was, in both cases, related to the neighborhood geography and the quality of the housing stock.

We had once rejected a nice, if suboptimally laid out, house in the original plat of the suburban Middleton Hills "new urbanism" development the first time around because we weren't attracted to the 32-foot-wide lot's "feature" that you could reach out the master bathroom window and flush the master bathroom toilet next door. (Middleton Hills actually has a "Diversity Road," which I call "Laying It On Thick Street" or "Irony Drive" since Middleton Hills' actual diversity involves having both upper-middle and upper-class residents.) That is borrowed somewhat more from the near east's than the near west's version of the traditionally-sized urban lot, though even in our present near west loaction we get to wave at dog-walking neighbors through the dining room windows when we're all in our jammies having breakfast.

The other thing is that the near east is now, on a housing quality-adjusted basis, just about as expensive as the near west. A near east candidate in our 2000 search, listed at $250,000 when that was still a lot of money and nothing in Madison was selling below the listing price, had some nice Victorian detailing, but the master bedroom ceiling looked like it was susceptible to collapse from overflying aircraft noise, and a back wall whose support system made me feel like Steve Thomas from his eager early days on TOH, prattling on about the character of the place while Norm Abram and Tommy Silva shake their heads and say it all has to go.

This is all well and good and technocratic, but what should Tonya do? Oops, gotta go to work!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Know Your Push-Polls

by Tom Bozzo

"Astroturf" senior group USA Next was widely pilloried in the left blogosphere yesterday for its gay-baiting anti-AARP ad. Sam Rosenfeld argues persuasively at Tapped that this is bait for credulous MSM reporters to engage in lazy "he-said, she-said" reporting of USA Next's positions vs. AARP's. Though Ezra Klein argues that it might not matter, since AARP positions are already "balanced" by pro-privatization flacks.

As I noted earlier today, the center-to-left has had the upper hand in the preliminary rounds of the debate, but the other side has just begun to fight. Now's not the time to stop kicking them when they're down. Pre-emptive strikes on USA Next's "substantive" content are thus warranted.

One highlight of its Social Security page is the results of a poll purporting to show broad support for Social Security privatization.

Needless to say, some of the poll's wording is loaded in fairly transparent opinion-forming ways. For instance, in the question:
"Some people say we need to modernize Social Security for future generations. Others say we should leave it alone and allow Congress to raise taxes to raise more money to put into Social Security. Which of these views is closer to your own?"
"Modernize" gets about 55% support overall, and 70% from under-40 respondents. Given the choice between modernity and higher taxes, I'm hardly surprised.

This one is even more transparent push-polling:
"Would you be more likely to support allowing such a personal retirement account choice if it could be shown that it would eliminate the long term deficits of Social Security without raising taxes or cutting benefits?"
It draws a 64.9% "yes" response. However, the question is isomorphic to "Would you be more likely to smoke if it could be shown that there was no causal link between smoking and health concerns?" Sure, I'd love a cigarette with a Martini, just not so much that the marginal benefits outweigh the marginal costs.

In fact, no respectable economist believes that privatization in itself will do anything to address any Social Security funding shortfall. On the contrary, privatization is associated with a transition cost on the order of $15 trillion before any savings kicked in. The $750 billion-ish figure occasionally seen in the press is just a downpayment kept low over the artificial budget planning horizon by the Plan's expected phase-in mechanisms (starting in 2009, gradually ramping up the payroll tax diversion).

Monday, February 21, 2005

Left and Right Organization and Self-Organization: Round 2

by Tom Bozzo

Visiting from Althouse, Dave Ivers commented via e-mail on my blogosphere organization and self-organization post, offering another interesting perspective on the comparative left and right organization modes:
...[W]whether an organization is rational (designed) or natural (self-organizing) depends on, among other things, how it sees its external environment (resources and competitors).

If it believes it knows the environment pretty well and that the environment is fairly stable, then a rational organization is both effective and efficient. It is concerned mostly with becoming more efficient and maintaining its internal structures. And if it believes it knows its own goals, and knows the environment and the environment is relatively stable, then it is less open, because it doesn't need anything from the outside environment other than new resources. (Well, and to avoid or vanquish competitors.) This would be your left side of the blogosphere, maybe particularly Kos and DU.

If it believes it environment is more uncertain and/or less stable (think Virginia Postrel) then a natural org is relatively effective and relatively efficient and ready to alter its internal resources and/or behaviors to meet any change encountered in the external environment. It is concerned mainly with effectiveness (responding correctly to a dynamic environment) and survival. And, although it knows its goals, it expects to have to be ready to change either goals or strategies in the light of new evidence from the external environment, and thus tends to be more open. It is constantly searching for new resources and re-evaluating the status of competitors (who may in fact become allies or symbiotes). This sounds like the right side of the blogosphere, especially instapundit.

Anyway, no org can be completely closed or it will die (no new stuff from the external environment), and if it is totally open it would probably succumb to information overload and just twitch rather than behave.

Arguably then, the lefty blogs believe they *know* what the political environment is, and all they need to do is attract more voters (resources) or whatever. Sounds like the Democratic Party, huh? The environment may be dangerous, but it's stable and all they have to do is beat the competitor, the Republicans. The more lefty blogs go even further and resist any flow from the environment other than, I dunno -- winning elections or recounting votes or something?

The righty blogs (not including Instapundit who I don't see as righty --he's more libertarian) tend to believe that the political environment is more dynamic or less stable, and they're much more likely to be scanning the horizon for more information about new and/or available resources, the status of competitors/allies/symbiotes/enemies or whatever. They tend to accept any flow from the environment that seems to be likely to advance them toward their goal.

It's not that both don't do things in common. They do. It's more like one side is an oyster bed and the other is a school of barracuda. Same environment, different perceptions. I should point out that oysters have been around longer than barracuda.


To amplify my reply to Brayden's comment on the original post, I think it would be both a useful and interesting project for an enterprising grad student to formally validate these characterizations (mine, Dave's, Tom Maguire's, etc. — I don't mean to hereby single out any party to this discussion). The whole business has just enough of an air of plausibility combined with little enough empirical foundation that the empiricist in me wants to subject it all to the purgatorial fires of data.

Subtletlies of purpose at the "central nodes" of the networks are, I suspect, very important. Daily Kos, in particular, has what looks like a unique position as a left-blog-microcosm, and its community can do a lot of information processing that quickly can be set before its enormous main readership. The longer term question is how that capability is marshaled.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't deny any averments from the right that the left blogosphere has any sort of monopoly on intellectual insularity. Regarding the politics of blog comments, my observation has been that large-readership righty blogs with comment functions are as good at recirculating their own ideas without making them any more palatable to the other side as their lefty counterparts. I would argue that there is a large class of blog comments, common on both sides, that could be freely exchanged between the hemispheres simply by replacing references to the one side's heroes with references to its villains.


Getting back to Dave's comments, another important issue is the stability or instability of the modes of operation. One possibility, of course, is simply that "horizontal" information transfer can promote rapid adaptation on one side. As Charlie Stross puts it (discussing a Freeman Dyson article on the evolution of evolution):
We humans are a substrate for memes; the self-propagating unit of cultural evolution, intermediated and transcribed from brain to brain by the human language faculty. Memes don't obey strict Darwinism, because we can selectively acquire advantageous memes -- in this respect, they follow a Lamarckian evolutionary model. (Lamarckism has been pretty much debunked in terms of applicability to the DNA/RNA world, but is a good match for the acquisition of useful ideas.)


You've been trapped by last year's selfish memes. How are you going to survive in the new ecosystem?

Nothing fundamentally prevents the left from assimilating the modes of operation, and to some extent organization, that have successfully served the right. Nor is it necessarily the case that what's served the right will continue to do so.

From the left (and arguably also libertarian) perspective, for instance, the right appears to have sold out some of its core principles, a desire for smaller government most conspicuously, in the service of consolidating power — assuming Grover Norquist can't actually sell the Republicans on the self-deconstructing starvation part of the "starve the beast" project. The question becomes, if this eventually fractures their coalition, can they adapt their way out of the dilemma, or will some elements be trapped by the assumption that they "know" that, say, a majority of the electorate hates government as much as they do?

Also, in areas where the left has been, or looks to be, relatively successful — the Social Security privatization debate is my preferred example — elements of what might be considered the 'righty' mode is arguably in operation. We can see, via Josh Marshall's extensive blogging of the Social Security privatization politics, at least a sketch of an ad hoc coalition of most Democrats, the small remaining group of deficit-hawk Republicans, and a few other Republicans with bigger 'third rail' issues due to the demographics of their constituencies. Moreover, elements of the left and right economics blog forces have been extensively engaging each other on the economic merits; the anti-privatization case has been strengthened through careful consideration of the substantive pro-privatization arguments. With the political battle seemingly entering a new phase, the left's ability to stick to its guns should get a stern test.

An implication is that engagement is not incompatible with serving as an effective opposition.

In any event, I hope to give the organizational theory underpinnings some serious thought, and perhaps to come back with Round 3 soon.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Chrome Salesman Laughs

by Tom Bozzo

As a coupe-driving malcontent who occasionally contemplates becoming a respectable sedan-driving dad, I am periodically dismayed by the efforts of many automakers to make their cars distinctive sometimes at the cost of being attractive (poster child: the soon to be face-lifted BMW 7-Series).

It's also funny to see carmakers trying to be distinctive but ending up being derivative in all the wrong ways — for instance, the chrome trim strip running between the tail lights and above the license plate surrounds on these cars:

Saturn L300 (U.S. base MSRP $21,995)

Audi A6 (U.S. base MSRP $42,620)

Sure, the Audi's strip is daintier and adorns an overall more attractive tail. But frankly, the upswept lower 'character line' on the new A6 (see here; it's at least as pronounced in person) also says Saturn to me. And to ice the cake, I'm not a fan of the "Nuvolari" grille, either. I'd guess that someone — the runaway designer, the marketer trying to tap someone else's reptilian brain, or maybe both — will get canned for this eventually.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Drek Assignment

by Tom Bozzo

For writing this post, I "won" the right to commission a post from sociologist-blogger Drek on almost any subject of my choosing. That time has come.

Last weekend, my site meter logged a visit from the domain referred by the Google search "salvador navarro chicago." The visit entry page is here (which turned up on the fourth page of search returns), which discussed in some superficial and somewhat mocking terms the job market paper of one Salvador Navarro, who is a University of Chicago Ph.D. candidate in economics.

My post responded to this JFW post, particularly Jeremy being funny in the comments. Like Jeremy, I actually kept Navarro's name out of the discussion until at a point in the comments where I basically slipped and mentioned it. Who knows if this would have been found with the new, seemingly lower, Google search result rankings for blog posts.

Topics for discussion:
1. Assess the probability that this was a recreational visit.

2. Discuss any lack of cultural sensitivity I (and/or just-tenured Jeremy) may have shown in taking pot-shots at a poor grad student.

3. Discuss whether it matters for #2 that the grad student hails from an elite school and has a Nobel laureate for an adviser, and thus is pretty well assured of getting a tenure-track job unless he has some disqualifying personal habits that somehow aren't evident in the first interview.

4. Would I be a freer man if I suppressed or otherwise channeled elsewhere my urge to drop rhetorical bombs on my academic betters (e.g., here)?

5. Is mentioning this again just compounding the problem?

6. Discuss whether this may be related to compulsions to, among other things, drop a few too many neutronium bombs on unsuspecting planets in a computer game of our mutual acquaintance. Does it matter if I play as the Elerians?

Comment and reciprocal offer:
Truth be told, #4 and #6 are the only parts of the assignment I really care about. So I'll consider the remaining parts as extra credit, and make a non-exclusive reciprocal offer. If Drek — or anyone else, just send a link — actually writes about #4, #6 (I can suggest an alternate computer game for those not familiar with Master of Orion II), and at least one of the other issues, I'll do a request blog subject to the limitations that
This should either be fun or terminate the meme with extreme prejudice. Happy blogging!

Saturday Baby Extra

by Tom Bozzo

Julia will be sitting up, for real, Any Day Now.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The "Worthless IOU" Challenge

by Tom Bozzo

Charles Krauthammer (via the Daily Howler) phones one in to the Washington Post, claiming among other things that the Social Security Trust Fund is non-existent:
These pieces of paper [the Trust Fund's special issue bonds] might be useful for rolling cigars. They will not fund your retirement.

To the good doctor, and indeed anyone else inclined to peddle the "worthless IOU" argument, I offer the following. I will buy any U.S. federal government debt that happens to be uselessly cluttering your portfolios for five cents cash per dollar of face value. Since five percent is infinitely greater in percentage terms than nothing, this offer should be irresistible!

The objection that U.S. government obligations are miraculously valued above 5 cents on the dollar by virtue of their presence in a personal investment account shall be taken as evidence that the "worthless IOU" argument is illogical to the point of total idiocy.

Turns Out I Don't Have CEO-Size Desires

by Tom Bozzo

Some people drool over $5,000 TVs. Thanks to the local Stickley dealer's sale catalog, which was curiously delivered privately to seemingly the whole neighborhood — instead of being targeted for mailing to households of Sufficient Income (a sign of what rapidly rising house prices are doing to the perception of our neighborhood, I suppose) — I have learned that what I am inclined to drool over is a $5,000 Mission-style desk. My actual desk at the office is a big white Techline table on which a new LCD monitor rises above a field of papers broken here and there by baby pictures.

However, reading this story from yesterday's Washington Post, I see that my positional good ambitions are purely amateur in their scope.

On behalf of former chairman and CEO Joe Allbritton, troubled D.C. banking institution Riggs Bank paid $1.2 million to have an extra-large galley installed in the company's 1998 Gulfstream V jet. That is just the thin end of $100 million in company-paid aviation expenses incurred for the G-V and an older Riggs-owned Gulfstream III, overwhelmingly incurred for the personal use of the Allbrittons and of various politicians and media celebrities the Allbrittons wanted to schmooze.

Evidently, to answer my previous question about corporate jet envy, Allbritton must have been thumbing dreamily through the G-V brochure even as the lesser aristocracy were imagining themselves living the high life in the G-III.

Another juicy tidbit, in the department of the very rich are under-taxed, is that whereas Riggs spent some $5 million a year on its jets, under income tax rules that value personal use of company planes at applicable first-class airfares, the Allbrittons never reported more than $50,000 a year in income from personal use of the jets. That's about the cost of one one-way transcontinental non-stop flight in a Gulfstream. According to the Post, the Allbrittons took twenty-two purely personal trips, many with complicated itineraries, in the G-V in 2003.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

My Day

by Tom Bozzo

By Tom
That last one is an exaggeration. It only felt like I spent all the money on diapers. Still, Champagne will flow when John is out of diapers. And when Julia is out of diapers, there will be weeping at Kimberly-Clark HQ.

Organization vs. Self-Organization in the Blog Hemispheres

by Tom Bozzo

Some of you may have seen Ann Althouse's posts about her talk at the UW Chaos and Complex Systems seminar, which included a trip to the front page of the Capital Times, our more liberal and superior local newspaper.

This event, and a JustOneMinute post — linked by Max Sawicky on the left side and you-know-who on the right, among others — had me thinking about organization vs. self-organization in the blogiverse.

A Complexity 101 lesson is that intelligently organized and complex self-organized phenomena can be hard to distinguish. (Along that line, it's my view that advocates of "intelligent design" prey upon this confusion, in pushing the "design inference," to sow doubt with respect to the possibility of self-organized biological evolution.) Of course, this is not to say that organization and self-organization are equivalent.

Back to JustOneMinute, Ann's discussion focused on Tom Maguire's suggestion that major left bloggers pull their comments functions. Both TM and Ann argue (or agree) that the comments at a site like Daily Kos or Eschaton dissipate energy better spent out in the world, or at least the blogiverse. There's some merit to this for the biggest sites, where the comments are so numerous I seldom even bother to click through to them, let alone filter the tiny signal from the noise. That's not to say that vigorous and relatively on-topic comments aren't possible at larger blogs; DeLong and Crooked Timber immediately come to mind.

But I digress. For my money, TM's most interesting point concerns the role of Glenn Reynolds on the right side and the absence of an exactly comparable figure on the left. TM describes Reynolds as leader of "an almost totally disorganized pack of hungry bloggers." I'd characterize Reynolds in this context as less of a leader than an organizer, identifying content he thinks merits further attention and directing a lot of eyes there. How Reynolds got to that position is presumably the result of self-organization.

TM nominates Atrios for the left-blogsophere position (his traffic is such that an Eschaton link will generate a sizeable Eschalanche), though Atrios declines in the JustOneMinute comments on what amount to 'you-link-it, you-bought-it' grounds — a concern over being held responsible for non-linked idiocy on linked sites. That is not an irrational fear, though it's seemingly not a fear that seems to noticeably bother Reynolds.

Without an Instapundit of its own, the left — so I told Ann yesterday — is much more dependent on the comparatively inefficient internet tools and processes of self-organization. Trackbacks are irregularly used and incompletely available — requiring third-party involvement and minor HTML surgery for those of us using Blogger/Blogspot, for instance — and link-tracking services like Technorati only track small subsets of the link "cosmos" (hello, 64-bit computing!) and their effect depends critically on bloggers' interest in tracking down their incoming links to propagate potentially interesting information from far reaches of the blogiverse. As a result, it seems much tougher for a left-leaner with something to say to break out of 40-visit-a-day obscurity than it was for Ann (I am curious as to the precise triggering mechanism, if beyond Reynolds' 'hypercaffeination,' of her first Instapundit link).

So it would be nice if a lefty with sufficient traffic took the organizer's job. Given the source of the suggestion, Max ("[B]y suggesting it here, you [TM] have diabolically ensured that it won't happen") and Ann ("I don't think lefty bloggers are interested in advice from anyone they perceive to be on their right") end up weirdly aligned. So somebody prove them wrong!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Duck and Cover

by Tom Bozzo

It turns out that Alan Greenspan doesn't understand why long-term rates are so low, either. In Fed-speak:
But none of this [factors yielding a lower inflation risk premium] is new and hence it is difficult to attribute the long-term interest rate declines of the last nine months to glacially increasing globalization. For the moment, the broadly unanticipated behavior of world bond markets remains a conundrum. Bond price movements may be a short-term aberration, but it will be some time before we are able to better judge the forces underlying recent experience.

The 10-year Treasury note yield rose 6 basis points earlier today, and is up almost 0.2 percentage points since last week's trough. Greenspan has made me feel better about running away from long-term debt (as an asset in our portfolio, not the unavoidable fixed-rate mortgage) last year.

I Can't Belive We Didn't Think of This Sooner

by Tom Bozzo

After delivering John to his wooden train set in the basement this morning, I delivered breakfast to Milo (feline) singing, for the first time, "C is for coffee, that's good enough for me..."

Background note: John listens to a Sesame Street greatest hits CD almost every morning.

The main issue is that we haven't needed a substitute for Ralph's "The Coffee Song" (chords), the theme song of our early parenting days.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Rice '08: A More Unsure Thing Than I Thought?

by Tom Bozzo

Following a link from Pandagon to look at yet another calculator designed to demonstrate the wonders of Social Security privatization, I came across former BC'04 webmaster Patrick Ruffini's '08 Republican presidential straw poll showing Secretary Rice with a large lead over Rudy Giuliani — evidently not so damaged over the Kerik affair — and with the rest of the prospects only registering collectively.

Another survey of residents of the right blogosphere gave our dissembling Secretary of State (see also here from the archives) a large lead, too, and showed plenty of hard feelings towards John McCain. Evidently, derailing the Straight Talk Express on behalf of BC'04 isn't enough sacrifice for the other side's taste.

Traditional polls either aren't measuring Rice, or aren't measuring any material support for her in the actual public, depending on methodology details that I don't care to investigate at this stage of the game. I still think Rice '08 is largely a right-blogosphere delusion, though I'll back off from a planned response to this JFW post to the effect that, regardless of my pseudo-legal skills, I'd managed to talk a lawyer into buying drinks for the local blogger group with near certainty. I'll just say high probability instead.

BTW, Ruffini's calculator has to take the award for Buggiest Social Security Calculator. It yields not-a-number errors when given a scenario with zero salary growth, zero years previously worked, and zero previous Social Security taxes paid. While the zero salary growth assumption is not meant to be realistic (hopefully), nothing about the scenario should return an error from a properly functioning calculator.

Of course, as with all such calculators I've seen to date, the results are rubbish as they assume that transition costs will be financed out of thin air.

Edited 3/17/05 to correct a long-standing error in the link to Ruffini's calculator, which BTW still has the error I mentioned. link error. Evidently, the hypertext content of this blog is ignored to a woeful extent.

Fiorina: Let's Not Get Carried Away With The Gender Issue

by Tom Bozzo

It's not that sexist yahoos don't deserve a take-down. But there's not a ton of evidence that the market actually undervalued the woman-led dollars of HP earnings. For instance, as of yesterday's close, the market price of $1 of HP earnings was $18.06 (almost back to the level prior to Fiorina's dismissal, after a brief bounce), versus $18.89 for an IBM earnings dollar. I'm hardly an efficient markets hypothesis religionist, but surely this magnitude of price differential is not beyond explanation by HP's earnings growth prospects versus IBM's.

And even if HP and IBM earnings rationally deserved equal valuation, that wouldn't do much to remedy this performance:

In the ongoing executive compensation thread, whether IBM CEO Sam Palmisano deserves to be paid (in 2003) $7.9 million in salary, bonus, and incentive payouts for IBM stock performance roughly tracking the S&P 500 (the green line in the chart) may be a good question. But if getting paid the better part of $3 million a year while presiding over the disappearance of nearly two-thirds of the market value of one's company is, as a Pub Sociology commenter suggests, "never [being] given a chance," would someone please never give me that chance?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Lifestyles of the Rich If Not Famous

by Tom Bozzo

One of the now-vanished spectacles of my pre-Sept. 11th frequent flying days was the corporate wealth displayed on the general aviation ramp at Washington National Airport. (No extraordinary disrespect to the Gipper intended, but the Republicans in Congress can name the place however they wish; they can't make me use it.) The median — in prestige — aircraft parked there was a large-cabin business jet, and the mode would be the latest-model Gulfstream.

So popular was DCA for corporate aviation that, for my money, the one show of actual integrity, or at least abject fear*, on the Bush administration's part was the banishment of the fleet to Dulles and the capital's other much less convenient peripheral airports.

It was with that on my mind that we went for Sunday brunch to the Jet Room. This, for readers not familiar with the east side of the Dane County Regional Airport, is the restaurant located in the Wisconsin Aviation general aviation terminal. On a good flying day, the Jet Room provides nearly endless toddler distraction — and more than a little daddy distraction — as small planes come and go literally feet from the windows. Cautionary note: on nice weekend mornings, call ahead or expect a long wait in Wisconsin Aviation's comfy departure lounge.

Here in unpretentious Madison, the median private airplane has propeller(s) and the mode is the Cessna 172 or equivalent. On the rainy and windy morning, almost nobody was out flying. Still, while we were eating, two Cessna Citation jets arrived and one Falcon 10 was towed out and fueled for a later departure.

The typical Madison weekend bizjet passengers seem to be owners of medium-to-large local businesses and/or their families, seemingly coming back from skiing or major sporting events. (We saw a few obvious charters pull up the weekend the football Badgers played in the whatever-bowl.) There is nothing like seeing bored teenagers exit their own jet.

I was wondering, is it possible for a private jet to suck? Or, perhaps to frame the question a bit differently, what do people stuck on relatively modest jets like the Citation think when look out the window at the faster, sleeker, much larger, and much more stupendously expensive Gulfstreams, with their literally gold-plated fixtures?

The questions are far beyond my actual experience, of course. Still, in the event someone might want me to run a major corporation, I'm totally willing to consider a super-midsize.


* The general aviation ban at DCA really is ridiculous. If a disgruntled CEO was going to crash a Gulfstream IV-SP into a Washington landmark because he wasn't getting a big enough tax cut to trade up to a Gulfstream 550, it would have happened long ago.

Cooperative Meta-Advertising

by Tom Bozzo

In today's New York Times national edition, the back page of Sunday Styles (or "Women's Sports," as a friend from back East dubbed it) is occupied by a full-page color ad. Is it an ad for a Revlon product or products? Not exactly. Is it an ad for Desperate Housewives? Not exactly. I had to look at the ad carefully to determine that none of the Housewives were, in fact, depicted therein.

It is, instead, an ad for a Revlon ad campaign to debut during tonight's Desperate Housewives. Go figure what this says about the relative prices of ads in the Sunday Times and on network TV.

(Hat tip: Suzanne, who's slighly horrified that I didn't immediately recognize Julianne Moore and Susan Sarandon; in my defense, both of them were very heavily made-up.)

Addendum, 8:16 P.M. CST: Suzanne says, "I have lost a lot of respect for Susan Sarandon."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I [Heart] Butter

by Tom Bozzo

Trans fat turns out to be worse for you than good old saturated fat, says the Times.

Much of the problem, the story goes, is that trans fat has wonderful properties for highly processed foods, creating problems for manufaturers of margarines and fish sticks, as well as for fast food establishments who rely on its ability to be repeatedly reheated to keep their costs down.

However, we are food reactionaries who don't normally let that sort of stuff in the door, and are affected less than most. Crackers, essentially all of which use trans fats, are the biggest problem area. I'll have to figure out what the Owl's Nest uses for its fish fry, too.

Darwin Day

by Tom Bozzo

I almost missed Darwin's 196th birthday, but fortunately visited Pharyngula with enough time left in the evening to raise a glass.

After the influx of visitors this week from the Discovery Institute's "blog" (too chicken to enable comments!), it would have just been wrong to let the day go by unobserved.

Thank Goodness She's On Our Side

by Tom Bozzo

At Ocean, Nina has extensive coverage of "The Gates" from New York (here [link updated], and keep scrolling way down; there are also pre-opening photos). Quite a bit of it is from vantage points she gained by force of personality far exceeding her actual authorization to be there.

Take a look at the great pictures, and give her a hand!

Confidential to Michael Bloomberg: fire whomever was in charge of security for the opening.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Friday Baby Extra: Stick Out Your Tongue and Say "Goo"

by Tom Bozzo

I probably should have tried to anti-alias Julia's pupils, but the camera's redeye enhancement mode was on with a vengeance this evening. Hobson's choice was too-dark black or bright pinkish-orange.

Punxsutawney Phil Says: Six More Weeks of Ignoring Becker and Posner

by Tom Bozzo

I've been trying to avoid blogs I don't like, but the temptation is occasionally irresistible. That is not so for the blog that shall not be named or linked, delightfully sent up along with some other Madison blogging icons (thankfully not including me, as far as I can tell) by Nina here.

I thought that Proud Dad Brian (congrats on the new baby!) was going to satisfy my local Becker-Posner Blog curiosity with an excerpt from a Becker post on tort reform, which separately inspired a post here almost perfectly orthogonal to Becker's original purpose.

The passage Brian excerpted was typical of what bugs me about Becker-Posner. Becker noted the non-identity of lost wages and the economic damages, which is a fairly obvious implication of the economics — certainly not anything that would earn you an economics Nobel — and then equated economic damages and what an individual is "willing to pay" to avoid harm. "Willingness to pay" is actually a term of art in this area of economic measurement that makes what Becker says troublesome in practice, though you wouldn't know it from Becker's post.

If Becker's observation on lost wages isn't obvious to non-economists, he's perhaps done some "public economics" service, but the lapses in the details are annoying.

looking at Becker-Posner again, and found that the eminences grises were onto Social Security this week. Given that neither of them is exactly a raging socialist, I was hardly shocked that both Becker and Posner favor privatization. Still, their reasoning might as well have been phoned in by Heritage Foundation hacks.

Becker concedes that privatization solves nothing in itself, and falls back to a personal preference that government get out of the retirement business. Judge Posner, too, after tweaking the left for not preferring that government take the long view and act now, simply asserts that everyone who can afford to should finance their own retirement; public pensions should be limited to the poor.

Posner in particular fails to explain why paying Social Security taxes now, in return for benefits not unrelated to the tax payments upon retirement, can not at least in some respect be construed as partly financing one's own retirement. The partial pay-as-you-go nature of the system is not a valid defense to the shortcomings of his reasoning, unless Posner would say that investing one's (private) retirement savings in government bonds does not constitute financing one's retirement.

It's a free country, so they can prefer what they prefer, but hey: they get one vote each (thank goodness).

A particularly irritating bit of hackwork by both is hanging out the chestnut of the declining worker to retiree ratio in service of their arguments. While the projected gradual decline from the current 3:1 worker-retiree ratio to 2:1 is one of Bush's perennial crisis-establishing talking points, it is almost totally irrelevant to the case for privatization. (See, for instance, Bob Somerby quoting Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot's Social Security: The Phony Crisis [U. of Chicago Press].)

Other things equal, there is an identical problem of having to support 1 retiree, 2 workers, and the workers' non-retired dependents with the production of the two workers whether the retiree's pension comes from the public or private sector.

Relaxing the ceteris paribus condition, a plan that increased national savings would provide the 2 workers with additional capital and thereby allow them to produce more and permit everyone to consume more. But increasing national savings is in no way the exclusive province of privatization. And, alas, the nascent Bush Social Security plan doesn't actually increase national savings.

Since Becker and Posner ought to know this stuff, but act like they don't, I'm swearing off the Becker-Posner Blog again for a while.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

What Is Up With The Bond Market?

by Tom Bozzo

When last we considered such matters, right after the last FOMC action, the 10-year Treasury note yielded 4.14 percent. Since then, the big U.S. macro news has been a disappointing, but hardly disastrous, jobs report, and a FY 2006 federal budget proposal that — with smoke, mirrors, wishful thinking, and outright deception removed — looks to give us closer to a half-trillion dollar unified budget deficit for '06 and worse going forward.

And there's been some Fed tea-leaf reading to the effect that the pace of rate increases may slow, or maybe not. It depends on what the removal of the modifier "measured" means (as in "measured increases").

Yesterday's trading (mainly on the Fed watching) brought the 10-year yield down to 3.98 percent, less than 1 percent over CPI-U inflation. What are they thinking?

(I still would not chase yield even if it were dangling a La Brioche eclair just beyond my reach. My "advice" [not to be construed as actual financial advice]: if you took out a mortgage at any of the recent local interest rate peaks, as we did in the late spring when we moved, refinancing may not be a bad move.)

My candidate explanation involves, well...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Rice '08 Challenge is On!

by Tom Bozzo

Of course, it's a fellow liberal who has the guts to take me up on the challenge, albeit on terms that suggest that the TradeSports contingent is being overly optimistic regarding the Secretary of State's chances.

Guess I better put some money in one of those private accounts, just in case...

Pr[Rice '08] = 0, An Arbitrage Opportunity?

by Tom Bozzo

A few posts ago, I offered the following wager to my blog pals: if Condoleezza Rice is the 2008 Republican nominee for president, then I'll take the blogger dinner group to Charlie Trotter's. I invited responses from anyone willing to take the other side.

The TradeSports politics market put the Rice '08 contract at 6.9 when I checked this morning. This means that the TradeSports participants assign Rice almost, not quite, but close enough for this blog post, a 6.9 percent probability of winning the Republican nomination.

Since full dinner with wine at Trotter's runs, what, $200-$250 a head, dinner for six would, by advanced math, be in the ballpark of $1200-$1500. Now you might think that someone might have taken Rice and offered something worth $100 or so — say a couple rounds of blogger cocktails — if that someone believed the TradeSports market to be basically efficient.

But no! I have yet to be offered so much as one Bratfest brat ($1, for non-locals) from a would-be Rice booster, or even from another Rice non-fan who thinks it would be funny for me to pay up on a bet related to the Republican presidential nomination.

I'm shorting that Rice contract if nobody steps up.


by Tom Bozzo

Even though it ultimately yielded only one frightening e-mail, the experience of drawing the attention of the creationist crowd has left me at a loss for a good post. Plus, there's snow to shovel this morning.

So consider paying a visit to the other Marginal Utility, where Rob Horning has been musing interestingly on convenience and consumerism: here on "yield management" systems (fully safe for work) and here on the principle of "sex sells" (click-through discretion advised unless your work involves sex research*). Just please come back here later.

I respectfully disagree with portions of the concluding paragraph of Horning's yield management post. He argues that yield management makes consumers better off at the cost of eliminating illusions of control over one's economic life and of fairness. The bargain actually isn't even that good.

Price discrimination (what yield management systems do) makes some, but by no means all, consumers "better off" compared to a uniform price. Consumers positioned to pay a lower price than would otherwise be available to them get to consume something they otherwise wouldn't, but that is funded by soaking high-valuation consumers.

I'm also a little surprised that he missed this implication of the economics: perfect price discrimination would effectively make no consumer "better off" apart from the arbitrarily small incentive it takes to get them to choose to buy whatever is for sale. This is because rather than divorcing prices from valuations of products, perfect price discrimination matches prices with individual valuations, thus transferring the consumer surplus to the firm. The resulting consumption would be almost purely for the selling firm's benefit!

The bottom line, though, Horning has right.

* Regular visitors here may not be excessively scandalized, but don't say I didn't warn you! (Yes, the influx of conservative Christian visitors did spur the Imp of the Perverse to link that second post.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Science Tuesday

by Tom Bozzo

Update: Robert Crowther of the Discovery Institute links me as a "Darwinian dogmatist!" What a badge of honor!

It's not often that I see something in the course of surfing the science blogs that I've known about for years, but it happens once in a while. Here is a good explanation of some research in mathematical modeling of hallucinations and related visual cortex phenomena by Sean Carroll at Preposterous Universe. It's cool stuff, go read. The implications of understanding aspects of consciousness purely as emergent phenomena of the connections among neurons are enormous.

I had the good fortune to hear about an earlier state of this line of mathematical neuroscience back in the summer of '94, from Jack Cowan in one of the sessions of the Santa Fe Institute's Complex Systems Summer School. (I confess, I did not seriously grasp the math involved.)

Did I mention that the CSSS was the most fun I had in grad school by a factor of, like, a million? Unfortunately, the application deadline for the 2005 schools has just passed, but some of you out there may still be in the market for 2006. There were a few representatives of the social sciences, and even a law student — now working for a firm in Toronto, must get back in touch — represented in my class. Grad students with research interests in complexity, bug your advisers now!!

Thinking back to CSSS does make me wonder what the f*** possessed the New York Times to give some of its valuable op-ed page space to this "intelligent design" horseshit by Michael Behe. (Bad, bad "MSM"!!*) PZ Myers has a more than adequate takedown at Pharyngula. The Times' timing was rendered additionally infelicitous by this nice post (via DeLong) on the shortcomings of the "design inference" that circulated through portions of the blogiverse just a few days ago.

One long-standing mystery for me in this area has been the appeal to "complexity" as an anti-Darwinian argument. From Behe:
Scientists skeptical of Darwinian claims include many who have no truck with ideas of intelligent design, like those who advocate an idea called complexity theory, which envisions life self-organizing in roughly the same way that a hurricane does, and ones who think organisms in some sense can design themselves
I take it "Darwinian claims" is a straw man. Since much "complexity" modeling involves evolution of systems through pseudorandom mutation and simulated natural selection, which I would naively consider "Darwinian," the simplest explanation must be that the "irreducible complexity" argument prompts enough false inferences of design among the unsophisticated masses to outweigh the burden of being complete nonsense to a small group of eggheads.

* Maybe that was the price of publishing a relatively strong piece on the Bush budget, which while toned down from Web story posted yesterday is as close as Times decorum allows to a chant of "bullshit, bullshit, bullshit..." Wait, did I just use "shit" five times in this post? I apologize to sensitive readers.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Cosmopolitan For An Evening

by Tom Bozzo

Some of you may have already seen the evidence of the blogger happy hour turned blogger dinner with C and F. No liveblogging this time, sorry, and all of the photographic evidence has been posted.

It's quite difficult to linger excessively in a not-too-busy restaurant without getting totally plastered. Even with a diversion to pick up another restaurant's signature dessert, as a treat for Suzanne, I actually arrived home in time for the end of John's bedtime routine. With John safely tucked in, Julia promptly spit up on me.

My day at the office worked out such that I was much less hungry than my companions by the time we met up. The salad — with chicken, blue cheese and Nueske's bacon, not completely lacking in protein — was actually mine. This led to causation of the bill that was too unequal for C and F to simply split the check equally with me, what a former colleague and I termed the "karma method." Few other economists are willing to accept this method, I've found, though I favor it for the incentive to gather frequently and let karma, or at least a suitable Law of Large Numbers, even things out asymptotically.

C and F instead graciously took my marker for a subsequent evening, which I hope to make good soon. I do need more Citadelle, vermouth, and just about everything else first. (Not that the rate of consumption is anything to write home about.) But one big trip to Steve's, and I should be ready!

Yet More Misinformation on Social Security

by Tom Bozzo

Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal ran a front-page article on Social Security reform under the enormous headline "Social Insecurity."

As is seemingly obligatory, a 30-something, in this case a hair stylist, is called upon to represent the younger generation's view that they'll have to retire without Social Security:
Michele Braem, 30, mens' hairstyle director at ANIU Salon in Middleton, said young people believe personal investment, not Social Security, will sustain them in retirement. She and her husband, Scott, a supervisor at American Girl, have been putting money into their own IRAs for 10 years, she said.

"The baby boomers outnumber us," Braem said. "Unless something drastic happens, I don't think I'm going to get back what I pay in. I feel like I can't rely on it being there."
This is true only to the extent it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reality is that Social Security has a dedicated funding source sufficient to pay out a large fraction of "scheduled benefits" (a term of art that merits some additional discussion) — indeed, higher benefits, adjusted for inflation, than are paid to current retirees — forever. Why aren't the Michele Braems better informed?

This is one of several mass delusions caused by incessantly repeated mendacious statements by authority figures, of which the widespread belief in the continued existence of Iraqi WMD was previously the prime example.

Bush-voting visitors, if there are any, this is a big part of the reason why there's still a Kerry bumper sticker on my car. On Social Security, the lack of the fig leaf of 'intelligence failure' leaves no doubt as to the bad faith on the part of Junior and his administration.

In the case of this story, the weak fact check ("'Bankruptcy' is a scary term that... could easily give the wrong idea") follows 17 paragraphs of he-said, she-said, including a quote from Comptroller General David Walker with scare-inducing figures on the magnitudes of benefit reductions or payroll tax increases once the Trust Fund runs out.

Meanwhile, I'll suggest that other lefty bloggers be aware of a few terms of the debate that contribute to the confusion. Not that these go completely unaddressed, but given the terms of the debate, I worry that in our educated person's delusion that people will research accessible facts. Here are my two suggestions for the day:

1. Don't assume people know that current benefits can be paid out forever. Discussion of possible "cuts" with respect to "scheduled benefits" that are far higher than current levels is confusing, and semantically favors the privatization side since the future need to "cut" benefits is a prima facie problem.

2. The use of "real" (inflation-adjusted) returns to evaluate private account scenarios facilitates communication among serious analysts but can be bad "public economics." Most of what's in the news, and on retirement account statements that provide the information, is "nominal" returns without inflation adjustment. To the extent people are encouraged to compare nominal returns they encounter with the real returns needed to make private accounts "work," this makes private accounts look much better than they really are.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Identity Crises All Over The Place

by Tom Bozzo

Nina is told by a friend that she's developing a "Marion the librarian [reputation] in some blogging circles."

Jeremy stands accused by some of his commenters of being the Lonely Donut Man.

Both suggestions are absurd. Let's get on to a really important identity crisis, which is to say mine.

No, it's not my refusal to use my first name in daily use. It's not even really my impending loss of frequent flyer status, though that's Pretty Bad. I mean, I'm just 1,752 miles short of a million miles! For those inclined to numerology, that's exactly my house's finished square footage, according to the City of Madison Assessor. I also get a chuckle out of the smaller type used for Base Member. Would Platinum Elite be full-sized?

Very interestingly, I've received an offer that would tie my 2005 status to my credit rating: they'll move me back up for one paid round-trip by mid-May (no problemo, even with my diminished travel schedule) and a successful application for the WorldPerks Visa Signature Card, which I gather to be the high-rolling product in the Visa line. If my creditworthiness isn't up to snuff, or more likely I choose not to apply for the card, it's off to the cheap seats until I manage 25,000 flight miles.

Curious. Makes me wish JetBlue would fly here, actually.

Are you still with me? The problem is that I've been advertised by a blog pal, if not necessarily widely viewed, as the nice blogger in our gang.

How to combat that impression? Even more self-centered posts than the above? Turning on Ann Althouse for today's Frank Rich and Bill Clinton-bashing, thereby reinforcing her views of the left blogosphere? Probably not, I'm too nice. Be a lot tougher on Junior and his underlings? Likelier, though I would like to be able to get on board an airplane without being strip-searched first.

I still have to figure out a writing assignment for Drek, my prize for participating in his public sociology experiment. It will probably be seriously dorky, but since I'm nice, not so dorky as to make it a chore.

Ah well.

Sunday Baby Extra

by Tom Bozzo

Tummy time is not always the happiest time.

Go Iggles!

Addendum: D'Ohh!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Our Moderate Acquaintance

by Tom Bozzo

Yesterday in blog world ended up being "OMG I completely agree with Ann" day. And she was posting on topics of national politics, not Madison-related stuff where I am already used to agreeing with her.

Specifically, Althouse readers were treated to:
She wondered aloud whether left bloggers would give her credit for the Feingold and Social Security posts. A glance at her Technorati links indicated that I might be the first.

One other thing, Ann later suggested Condoleezza Rice as a Republican opponent for Feingold in '08. That wasn't the first Rice '08 post I've seen; Stephen Bainbridge is a Rice fan, too, for whatever reason, though he'd need her to take the anti-abortion pledge before he'd consider voting for her. That points to one big hurdle, as she'd have to get past a number of white guys with known conservative credentials.

Feingold '08 might be a long shot as long as Hillary Clinton has presidential aspirations, but is a good enough idea that it just might work. In thinking of Rice '08 as a much longer shot, I may well be underestimating the state of Republican foreign policy delusion — Bainbridge, after all, thinks that the problem in the Boxer-Rice confirmation exchange was Sen. Boxer's politeness rather than Dr. Rice's credibility — but I'll still go out on a limb and put some money on the 2008 Republican nominee being someone else. A blogger dinner at Charlie Trotter's, on my dime, perhaps? Someone want to take the other side of that?

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