Thursday, November 30, 2006

Filling a Not-so-Sad, but Soon-to-be Empty Place

by Ken Houghton

Since I was running late, my normal morning radio programming was up to the Yeshiva League Sports Report (think "Seven-foot Jews
in the NBA / slam-dunking- / my alarm clock rings" without the humor). Which left button-pushing. And one of the disadvantages of driving in Newark is that reception of The Rock of New Jersey fades.

The short of it is that Jim Kerr on New York's ONLY Classic Rock Station was the only thing tolerable. (The alternative to discussions of Britney's recent displays-of-quiff and commercials for [redundancy alert] bad Fox and ABC television shows.) And he was talking about a gentleman in Kansas City who has given away tens of thousands of dollars a year for the past few decades (over $1.3MM all told, iirc), and who will probably have to stop after this year.

In this holiday season, as the time has come to think of sending cards, sending one to:

Secret Santa
P.O. Box 5891
Kansas City, MO 64171

would be a mitzvah.

George W. I. Thomas Bush

by B. Strong

There's a certain amount of irony in Bush describing a pullout plan as lacking realism, considering he's widely quoted as saying "we're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

*Title reference is to W.I. Thomas, an American sociologist who is best known for the quote, "if men define situations as real they are real in their consequences." **

**Of course, the quote itself is from a book that Thomas coauthored with his wife, Dorothy Swaine Thomas, an amazingly prolific scholar in her own right. Academic history has not, however, seen fit to give her partial credit for the "Thomas theorem."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Could Have Been the Best P*ss*ng Match of the Past Week

by Ken Houghton

I am not always kind to Brad DeLong. (see here, for instance. Or here. Or here.) This is more in sorrow than in anger, as he appears to still believe we have—or can return to—the political environment of 1998, 1999, or even 2000 (a position the consequence of which, he notes, to his credit).

But for sheer DeLong smackdown, it takes a pro. Or in this case two pros, responding to this comment of DeLong's at Max's place:
I wouldn't call Medicare and Medicaid a problem, but an opportunity. We project that our doctors and nurses will be able to do lots of cool expensive stuff that we want to see happen, and we have to figure out how to pay for it. But this is a "problem" only from a weird point of view.

First, Barkley Rosser:
You're over here in Defend Social Security Central after the stuff you just put up over on your blog? [presumably this, though possibly this as well] Did those people you worked with in the Clinton Treasury really get to you that deeply? And who did appoint those folks to the SSA back in the late 1990s who came up with those off-the-wall ridiculous "intermediate" forecasts that lead clowns like Sebastian Mallaby to their odiferous pontifications?

Maybe Medicare and Medicaid are not "a problem," but their finances are a problem right now. [Social Security] still has a rising surplus while they are in deficit, and worsening. You have said that we need to do something to (about) [Social Security] because there is a 40% probability that it might be in serious financial trouble in 2050? Medicare and Medicaid are in serious financial trouble with a 100% probability right now!

Now that's a dignified rant, slamming the details in and twisting the knife in the first 'graf, melding the twain in the second. Roddy Piper would be proud, but we might expect DeLong-as-Hulk-Hogan to rise from the mat.

But it's a tag-team match, with better choreography (possibly choreoanimated by Paula, not Alfred, Marshall?). The definitive smackdown comes from Dean Baker:
I note [Brad DeLong's] comment here that the problem of Medicare and Medicaid is that we expect doctors to be able to do all sorts of cool things, but we just don't know how we will pay for it.

Well, for our Hamilitonian friends there [reference and context] should be some easy answers if they were consistent in the positions they advocated. For starters, how about free trade in highly paid professional services. If we made our licensing standards for doctors fully transparent and made it as easy for hospitals to hire foreign doctors as it is for Wal-Mart to import shoes, then we would have no shortage of highly trained doctors from places like India and China who would be happy to work in the United States at less than half of the wages of U.S. doctors.

For a second step, how about getting rid of the patent protection that makes drugs and medical equipment so expensive. Wal-Mart is selling most generics for $4 a prescription, if we didn't have patent protection, nearly all drugs could be sold for this price. All that nifty new medical technology would also be available at very low cost (how much labor and material go into a cat-scan reading?), if it was not patent protected. Yep -- we have to find an alternative way to finance research, but if economists looked at where the money is (rather than how to drive down the wages of manufacturing workers), we would have dozens of mechanisms that are vastly more efficient than our corrupt system of patent supported research.

Finally, we would be looking to have a more efficient system of health care delivery. Administrative costs consume at least 20 percent of health care expenditures (much more if you add in the wasted time by businesses and individuals). A universal Medicare type system would be far more efficient.

The fact is that we know how to deal with our health care cost problems, but the special interests block reform and the economists are willing to accommodate them.

I was hoping there would be a reply from DeLong, but I'm now convinced that this is it:
Will shall be the sterner,
heart the bolder,
spirit the greater
as our strength lessens

from the greater context here:
The most interesting part of this, for me, is the last paragraph. Matthew Yglesias is serving notice that, at least as far as he is concerned, Rubinomics is dead. Rubin and us spearcarriers moved heaven and earth to restore fiscal balance to the American government in order to raise the rate of economic growth. But what we turned out to have done, in the end, was to enable George W. Bush's right-wing class war: his push for greater after-tax income inequality.

We will try to argue for fiscal prudence and stability in the councils of the Democratic Party. But I fear this is a bellwether—that we will lose, because the choice will be presented as between (i) left-wing things that are good for the nation, and (ii) centrist things that simply enable another round of right-wing class war by the rich and their minions a decade hence.

Dealing with reality is a bitch sometimes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Vatican 90210

by Ken Houghton

Stephen Colbert just recited some Revised Standard or New American Version of the Nicene Creed.

True God of True God? (nee Very God of Very God)

Tom (or anyone else qualified to comment), I need a reality check; is that the version you know? Or did the back-to-basics movement get taken over by the American Girl crowd?

Tom adds: It's "true God from true God" (see the comments). As translations of an aspect of the mystery of the Trinity into human language go (i.e., neither the Father/Mother nor the Son is less than 100% God), I'd have to stick up for the modern vernacular's superior comprehensibility given that usage of "very" as "truly" is not so common.

Bitch Speak; We Listen

by Ken Houghton

Visit Acephalous. Link to that piece (not this one). Ping technorati.

I personally suspect the premise is bogus, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as it were.

Mamma Mia!

by B. Strong

A couple of weeks ago, Ken wrote a post about the All-TIME 100 albums. Somewhat flippantly, I commented on ABBA's absence from the list, after which Tom noted that the Brits, at least, seem to appreciate ABBA.

Brits, and, evidently, Swedes. Enough for 500,000 visits per year to an ABBA museum, according to museum's founders.

Which led me to wonder, how many other bands or singers boast their own museums, not including exhibits in multi-band museums (e.g., the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)?

Elvis. The Beatles. John Lennon has at least one, in Japan. Freddie Mercury gets a statue (though not a museum) in Montreux, Switzerland. (It wouldn't surprise me if Freddie's statue gets more visitors annually than Graceland, demonstrating once again the veracity of the adage, "location, location, location." And, in keeping with the ABBA theme, "money, money, money.")

There must be others.

You Learn Something New and Depressing Every Day

by Tom Bozzo

Charlie Stross explains why the death of Alexander Litvinenko probably should scare the willies out of us.

(Post title courtesy of The Onion Store.)

Picture of the Day

by Tom Bozzo

From the Rev. Brendan Powell Smith.

(Lots more new stuff up at the Brick Testament, via LUGNet.)

Law (Professors) of the Schoolyard

by Tom Bozzo

In yesterday's Total Drek guest post, I said I usually eschew the Wingnut Watch. Today's the exception that proves the rule, really!

I've been a few days behind in my blog reading, even for indispensible sites, so I am a little late to the party. Still, take a look at this brilliant argument from Ann Althouse (no link to her, you know how to find it if you're so inclined):
Glenn Greenwald is such an idiot. [emphasis in original.]
SECOND GRADER: No, you're the idiot, idiot!

And then, Glenn Reynolds comes to her defense, showing off all the rhetorical skills a Yale J.D. buys you (apologies to Yalie Oscar and numerous other Yale J.D.s) and hurling:
Glenn Greenwald is extraordinarily lame. [emphasis in original, link omitted.]
SECOND SECOND GRADER: Lamer, lamer, lame-er! Neener neener neen-er!

I await the big NYT article on the implosion of the brightest [sic] lights [sic] of the conservasphere into mindless vituperation.

[...]

[...]

[...]

[crickets chirping]

OK, well, maybe if they start using the F-word. Hope springs eternal.

So the flap is over the use of the terms "Christianist" or "Christianism." Reynolds, showing why he's called Prof. Lloyd Christmas in some circles, objects on the grounds that it creates a "false equivalence" with "Islamism." Avedon Carol explains very nicely why this argument is silly. Note also, it's not that there isn't such a thing as "Christianism."

Really: the Wisconsin LGBT community, and to a lesser extent all other unmarried Wisconsinites, were just constitutionally enshrined as second-class citizens in a vote that was motivated by what can only be called Christianist hardball politics. (Even if it backfired on its chief architect, the Congressional election loser and presumptive future lobbyist John Gard.) What of all that "Christian nation" rhetoric? Just so much bullsh*t to turn out the rubes?

Ann is apparently now pulling the twin tricks of decrying Greenwald as "extremely partisan" (direct quote, not Altmouse parody!) even as her post-election thought [sic] was:
Only pacifists and isolationists should feel good about the way this election was won.
Which is both extremely partisan and totally wrong. (Hello, James Webb not happy? Joe Biden?) Meanwhile, she wonders aloud — evidently, going for the Purple Teardrop with Clutched Pearls Cluster — why people don't just engage her instead of trying to make an "enemy" of her.

Short answers, regarding which I have some personal experience:
1. Ann doesn't like engagement on terms other than submission, and she tends to take disagreements very personally, which inhibits lively discussion;

2. Her actual arguments on policy matters that may be of interest to "political" bloggers from the reality-based end of the spectrum frequently range from the nonexistent to the terrible, so much legitimate disagreement is likely. I mean, she's someone who supports George W. Bush primarily on national security grounds!
The second-to-last words. Greenwald's post title was "The Meaninglessness of Tenure." Ann replies, "But I do love the pathetic jealousy of your post title." OK, so tenure allows Ann to dump lots of time into activities that I understand to be between a fifth and a tenth as lucrative on University of Wisconsin pay scales as "scholarship." Is this something to brag about?

The last words: If you're going to insult someone, do it well. I think Roy at Alicublog points to a good one for Ann: "She plays dumb with great brio." (*)

Thus endeth the rant.

(*) Said in reference to Jennifer Coolidge, lately in "For Your Consideration."

Monday, November 27, 2006

That Time of the Year

by Tom Bozzo

Dear Friends of Marginal Utility,

The 2006 holiday card featuring the Adorable Offspring should be available relatively early this year. If you received last year's card, have not since moved, and take no action, you will receive one this year too. Otherwise, e-mail me (see sidebar) and we will happily add you to the list, update your information, or even remove you upon request.

If you want to send us a holiday card featuring you and/or your Adorable Offspring, please so indicate and I'll respond accordingly.

Wishing you a happy and not-overly-bludgeoned-by-commercialism holiday season,

Tom, Suzanne, John, and Julia

Meanwhile, At Another Ranch...

by Tom Bozzo

I have a post up at Total Drek discussing efforts to explain the virgin birth of Jesus as a natural phenomenon (silly) in comparison to efforts to rationalize flood myths (not so silly, as it turns out).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Shamu sighting

by Ken Houghton

SeaWorld has the advantage, even on a Major Holiday Weekend, of being perceptibly less crowded than Disney, which meant that we got to do everything we wanted to do there, even arriving late.

Rosie, as you can see, enjoyed the Shamu show:

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Even in the post 11 Sep 19732001 World, Miracles Occur at Airports

by Ken Houghton

As I may have mentioned, I sent the wife, children, and m-in-law Southbound Monday morning, having classes and work commitments until Wednesday morning.

Slept three hours of the next 48.

End result was that I made last-minute edits to a file at 5:45a.m.—and forgot that Excel saves large files extremely slowly as a matter of memory management. And the company VPN had thrown me off the system hours before because it needed to do an antivirus update. "I love technology; it's MSFT I can't stand."

Interim result: at 6:15, I'm desperately burning a CD, calling the boss, and e-mailing a ZIP file from my home account to work (which requires a few workarounds).

End result: I leave home around 6:30--for a 7:45 flight.

Worse, I forget how far long-term parking is from the modified Newark Airport and decide not to spend the extra ca. $50 parking within monorail range.

Consequence of the action: arrive to check bag ca. 7:18—past the time limit.

BUT the courteous Continental attendant asks where I'm going. "Orlando." Her eyes widen a bit; no one has given that answer in a while, I'm certain. "7:45." She cuts me to the front of the line; the bag is checked late, but checked. I don't know how you're going to make the flight, though, she said.

"Begging and pleading," I tell her honestly.

I have forgotten that Wednesday is not Monday, but that air traffic those days is reversed Thanksgiving Week.

I go to the first security attendant, telling him the truth, having learned The Lesson of Josiah Bartlett long ago. He puts me through the crew check-in line.

I make the flight, running the length of the C corridor at Newark in untied shoes, almost four minutes before they are scheduled to close the cabin door.

Pictures to follow tomorrow.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Good Thanksgiving Was Had By All

by Tom Bozzo

The Thanksgiving portrait of the children was a lot harder to get than I expected. The cranky autofocus was less the issue than rampaging preschooler silliness. For some reason, they were responding to "say cheese" cue by saying "cheese" and jumping up. Getting them to hold hands helped keep bums on the family room steps. So did being Sneaky Daddy and taking the picture while they were winding up for the "cheese."

IMG_3873

I'd say if you want Thanksgiving food photography, head over to the NinaNet, but for various reasons only ingredients are visible now. Tune in later, I presume. The city smelled really good while Suzanne and I were taking our Thanksgiving bike ride, though until someone invents the smell-o-web, you'll have to use your imagination.

John's red ears indicate our success at nearly running out those atomic preschooler batteries. The crash occurred during dinner, where the whimpering boy was a minor damper on the occasion. John wound up heading up for bed at 6.

Astonishingly, he filled up on celery and carrots (OK, plus some crackers and pretzels) beforehand and basically didn't touch dinner. He particularly won't touch mashed potatoes under any circumstances, whereas Uncle Steve and I would have been happy as children if Thanksgiving Dinner consisted solely of mashed potatoes and gravy. Go figure.

We have another unnaturally pleasant day on tap, so more perhaps after we try to soak up some sunshine. It'll take a lap of Lake Monona plus a trip to the gym to work yesterday off.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Back, Sorta

by Tom Bozzo

Whereas Ken is off to Florida needing only the classic Onion "I Just Love Corporations" t-shirt for daddy-wear (*), we'll be hosting my mother and brother as is our usual practice.

I'll have to do something if current pictures of the Adorable Offspring are to be posted. The most recent imagery is unusable due to lack-of-focus; if there's one reason to send our ancient digicam to a well-deserved retirement (it being about 200 in immature-consumer-electronics-product years) it's that its autofocus was utterly pathetic in low light conditions, and its dip in Lake Monona a couple years ago didn't help.

But despite the holiday visits, and even though our letter carrier dropped off a package with 1,080 hot-off-the-press pages of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day (**) and the long-awaited Criterion Collection DVD of Krzysztof Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Véronique" (***), I'll be around subject to thinking of stuff to write about.

----------------------

(*) To shy people everywhere, let me say that Onion t-shirts are surefire ice-breakers, though I would recommend the "classic" logo shirts over the current selection of slogans. Though "You Learn Something New and Depressing Every Day" is pretty good.

(**) No, I don't really care if Michiko Kakutani thinks it sucks. It would be worth it if only for the immortal jacket copy:
With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places.
Yet is a work of quasi-historical fiction! Who'da thunk?

(***) And so I am spared wondering why there's a market for a 20th Anniversary Edition of Transformers: The Movie (true!) but not for this classic example of Truffaut's saying about the cinema and pointing cameras at beautiful women.

The B*llsh*t Moose Rides Again

by Ken Houghton

Anyone out there who didn't see this coming?
Marshall Wittmann, is one of the great career vagabonds, ideological contortionists and political pontificators ever to inflict himself on a city full of them. [emphasis mine]

The NYT again displays its desire to lower standards. *Sigh*

Skipping Chinese and a Movie This Year

by Ken Houghton

Wife has decided to make reservations with Da Mouse. (Valerie may have had some influence on this decision.)

So I'm going to leave the heavy lifting to Kim for the duration, which probably means until Tom posts "We gave them alcohol, they gave us tobacco, let's celebrate" Day pictures of the kids.

Selected notes:
  1. The Prestige is a marvelous film, faithful to the book, and should be seen in the theatre.

  2. Checked out this recording of Bill Bolcom and Arnold Weinstein's cabaret songs. The liner notes make it look as if Arnold doesn't exist—to the point of discussing the lyrics as if they were Bolcom's. The playwright who wrote Red Eye of Love deserves better.

  3. With the family already gone, I saw some of Studio 60 in real-time for the first time this year. (Switched between it and the Giants game, trying to figure out which was more of a disaster.) Mannion's live-blogging may be getting lazy (though this week's post-mortem is good), but it's not really possible to blame him for trying to play baccarat with a poker hand.

  4. Joss Whedon to Rob Thomas: "You couldn't figure out what to do with her once she got out of high school, either, I see. Too bad."


Hasta la vista! Don't forget to write!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

From the Files ...

by B. Strong

... of "Unsupported Theories Dressed in Needlessly Complex Methods with a Side Order of Jargon," I present this article, from the most recent issue (71[5]) of American Sociological Review:*

The Institutionalization of Fame: Achievement, Recognition, and Cultural Consecration in Baseball, by Michael Allen and Nicholas Parsons**

"This article examines the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame as a cultural consecration project. It argues that the legitimacy of any consecration project depends on the cultural authority of the organization initiating the project, the rigorous selection procedures used by this organization, the relative selectivity of its outcomes, and the existence of objective differences in merit between the consecrated and the unconsecrated. However, prior research suggests that the relationship between merit and consecration is mediated by a series of social characteristics and contextual factors. This study proposes a theory of cumulative recognition, which asserts that the likelihood of consecration is affected by the cumulative effects of social characteristics and circumstances, prior social recognition, and media discourse, as well as by objective differences in achievement. The results of discrete-time event-history analyses of the outcomes of the Hall of Fame elections over the past four decades provide substantial confirmation of this theory. Overall, it is concluded that the procedural and substantive rationality exhibited by the Hall of Fame contributes greatly to its cultural legitimacy as a consecration project."

Translation of the results: When casting their Hall of Fame ballots, sportswriters are more likely to vote for players about whom sportswriters have written a lot of articles than to vote for equally productive players about whom sportswriters haven't written a lot of articles.

Yet simpler translation: Sportswriters vote for (i.e., they like) players who they write about (i.e., they like, usually).

Broader implication of results: Different measures of the same group's opinions are often correlated.

Thanks for clearing that up.

Now, about that support for the theory of legitimacy in cultural consecration projects...



* Lest you think I'm just picking on the abstract, the paper contains a series of dropped balls, strike outs, errors, and blown saves. With unlimited time, one could write up a full critique (if only to get to use all these puns).

UPDATE: A good friend is thinking about writing a comment on the article for ASR. He noticed an interesting result about which the original authors don't much to say: the more teams players have, um, played for, the longer it takes them to get into the HoF (net of productivity and media recognition). He has some plausible explanations for the result, all of which are testable if he could get his hands on the authors' data. Let's hope they read and are swayed by Jeremy's accountability-in-sociology" article.

**No, not THAT Parsons.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rutgers-Newark Achievements Update

by Ken Houghton

It was a good week last week for Rutgers-Newark, which won the Fed Challenge for the NY district and will be competing in the finals in Washington, D.C., next Tuesday (28 Nov).

The Newark team defeated defending champions SUNY-Geneseo. Coming in third in the NY region was Rutgers-New Brunswick.

Strangely, we have not yet received any e-mails about this accomplishment from President McCormick, though there is at least this on the main website:
The nation is noticing the newfound success of the Rutgers football team, which is ranked in the top 10 for the first time in school history. But Rutgers football is hardly the first of the university’s programs to earn national and worldwide distinction. Academic programs from history to practical mathematics at The State University of New Jersey have long been outstanding in their fields – and that would not be the gridiron.


UPDATE: Here's the NY Fed link to the Rutgers-Newark win.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Milton Friedman may have been correct about the Rutgers football program

by Ken Houghton

There are two major events that happened last week in Rutgers team sports. One is that the football team beat Louisville on a last-second field goal. The other is that the Rutgers-Newark Economics Team qualified for the finals of the FED Challenge.

There are differences: Rutgers football achieved a Top Ten ranking for the first time in a long time, if not ever. The FED Challenge Team, on the other hand, qualified for the finals for the second year in a row (though 2005 was the first year they ever qualified).

But only one of those—you can guess which—resulted in an e-mail from Richard L. McCormick declaring it "a triumph of teamwork and dedication on the part of our players and their coaches" and declared
As a national spotlight shone on our campus, our Rutgers players carried themselves and represented their university with poise and determination. And our students, alumni, faculty, and staff, along with fans all over the state, demonstrated tremendous spirit in support of the team. I thank you all for your pride and enthusiasm.

Nine days later, the unheralded University of Cincinnati Bearcats became bowl-eligible and likely ended Rutgers's one-week run in the College Football Top Ten.

In the interim, as noted here and here, Milton Friedman died. The relationship between the two includes that Friedman was a long-time opponent of spending money on his alma mater's football program, as this Star-Ledger article (from before the loss yesterday) notes.
And while admitting that most universities rarely turn a profit on a football team, [Rutgers] officials said increased ticket sales and a trip to a postseason Bowl Championship Series game could help defray the $13 million it costs to run the team, perhaps even help fund other programs.

And I gave at the office. (Having, in the interim, been eliminated from any realistic possibility of playing a BCS game only makes this statement more absurd.)

Note the hope held out—"perhaps even help fund other programs"—probably believed by those same people who claim (exception noted for the state of Georgia) that lottery monies "go to fund education."

As it turns out, though, Friedman may have been correct even if one limits consideration solely to the athletic department:
But as Rutgers is enjoying its gridiron success, it's also axing six intercollegiate sports, as part of efforts to save money after the state cut more than $66 million in school funding. At the same time, more of the money that is available is going into the football program....

"Once you pull the plug on these six sports, they're never coming back," [Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, Chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee] said.

The sports to go are men's heavyweight crew, men's lightweight crew, men's fencing, men's swimming and diving, men's tennis and women's fencing.

And it's not as if the tradeoff is going to make football profitable:
A Rutgers report to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2004-05 year, the latest available, shows the football program breaking even with $10.7 million in revenue. But that included nearly $3 million in university support and student fees, Wooding said.

against a "savings"
Rutgers athletics officials have said...eliminating the sports will save about $800,000 the first year.

And ignoring the BCS optimism, Bowl games aren't exactly found money:
Rutgers received $1.25 million for last year's Insight Bowl appearance, its first bowl appearance in decades. But after paying for everyone to go to the game, including players, coaching staff, additional university officials and family members, the university was $19,000 in the red.

That's a long string of money-losing activity against a possible payoff some time in the future.

And the future just moved at least another year away.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Day 2: Friedman RIPs become more balanced

by Ken Houghton

DeLong in Salon (h/t DeLong; watch the commercial)

His fellow Rutgers alum Max Sawicky

d at Lawyers, Guns, and Money

and, via d, a brilliant appreciation by Richard Adams.

Follow-up: Max is the first person to deal explicitly with what many have mentioned in comments: Friedman and Chile.

Never Happier to be Wrong: Why 2006 hasn't been 1998 Redux

by Ken Houghton

Still trying to play nice, I'm a week late in noting that, this time, at least one Republican* paid attention to the will of the voters.

*All right, it was Lincoln Chafee, but he's only slightly closer to the current Republican Party in his belief system than I am—somewhere Left of Lieberman, to be certain—and caucused with them.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

In the long run, Milton Friedman is all dead

by Ken Houghton

There are appreciations aplenty of* Rutgers alumnus Milton Friedman in the blogsphere today (Mark Thoma notes the publication of Friedman's possibly-final WSJ editorial from the day after he died); endemic to a person dying and the general de mortuis nil nisi bonum of civilized society.

I'll post more tomorrow, perhaps—Virginia Postrel's 2003 hagiography in the NYT is well worth discussion, especially as it appears the only person with whom she spoke was Ben Bernanke—but I want to refer to ways in which so-called rational thinking can lead one astray, and Friedman and Stigler's Roofs or Ceilings (September 1946) (warning: PDF) (h/t DeLong, way back) should be a classic example of this.

The authors wish to compare two periods of housing crisis in the San Francisco area: immediately after the 1906 Earthquake and the then-current return of soldiers from fighting overseas in World War II (and, perhaps though not mentioned, the disinterment of the Japanese-American communities). The two periods are clearly not directly comparable, so they searched for evidence of a common proxy.

Let's ignore that they are ballparking numbers back-of-the-envelope style and focus instead upon the thing that amazes them, which is not that it takes 36 days (18 April - 24 May 1906) for the newspaper to be printed again, but rather that that issue has few people advertising to rent housing:
The classified advertisements listed 64 offers (some for more than one dwelling) of flats and houses for rent, and 19 of houses for sale, against 5 advertisements of flats or houses wanted

The authors contrast this with 1946:
[I]n 1946 there were 30 advertisements per day by persons wanting to rent houses or apartments...During this same period in 1946, there were about 60 advertisements per day of houses for sale, as against 19 in 1906.

There are several fundamental leaps of illogic in the above comparison:
  1. The authors compare one day of advertisement with an average over several months
  2. The authors treat the first day a paper is published in over five weeks as if it were a "normal" day. (One doubts James Hamilton teaches this approach to time series analysis to his La Jolla students.) This leads to:
    1. Assuming that people would have voluntarily paid for adverts without knowing when they would be published
    2. Assuming that people would view the first paper published, five weeks after the event, as one that would have people scanning classifieds for price-takers or price-makers
    3. Assuming that other options found and explored in the intervening five weeks would not affect the desire to advertise
    4. Assuming, most importantly perhaps, that people who have been homeless and without their possessions for five weeks would have the available resources to buy an advertisement and would view that as a proper allocation of their more-than-usually-scarce resources.

  3. The authors seem to believe that a negative productivity shock (houses destroyed, producing homeless families with reduced resources and infrastructure) is directly comparable to an increase in demand (returning soldiers and families with plenty of argent de poche preferring to disrupt neighborhoods choosing to locate themselves in San Francisco).
  4. The authors leverage this specious comparison of two different types of market failure — though their argument in the 1906 case appears to be that it did not fail—under extraordinary circumstances to argue that the market should be left to itself, as it is self-correcting.

And what would the effect of the solution be?
After a year or so, average rents might be up by as much as 30 percent. But even this would mean a rise of only about 5 percent in the cost of living, since rents account for less than one-fifth of the total cost of living. A rise of this magnitude...is hardly likely to start a general inflation.

Ah, the good old days, when a 5% COLA was nothing serious, and rents and rent-equivalents were only 20% of the COL itself.
No solution to the [San Francisco area] housing problem can benefit everyone; some must be hurt....Existing methods of rationing housing [i.e., those who built the neighborhood are permitted to remain living in it-kh] are forcing a small minority—primarily released veterans and migrating war workers, along with their families, friends, and relatives—to bear the chief sacrifice. [emphasis mine]

So (1) the majority are currently benefiting from the policy and (2) those who are not benefiting are those whose relocation to the area is one of convenience, not necessity—that is, they could choose to live elsewhere with minimal interruption, as the "crisis" is a local phenomenon, while the current residents have built and established their neighborhoods, their relationships, shopping patterns, and their own "family, friends, and relatives" who would be separated on an involuntary, piecemeal basis.

Why does this solution appear to be addressing a problem caused by the very people who have the most viable alternatives?
As a final note to the reader—we should like to emphasize as strongly as we can that our objectives are the same as yours: the most equitable possible distribution of the available supply of housing and the speediest resumption of new construction. The rise in rents that would follow the removal of rent control is not a virtue in itself [emphasis mine]. We have no desire to pay higher rents, to see others forced to pay them, or to see landlords reap windfall profits.

Good to know that would just be collateral damage, along with uprooted neighborhoods and the removal of any incentive for tenants to maintain the property they rent.
Yet we urge the removal of rent ceilings because, in our view, any other solution of the housing problem involves still worse evils.




*This one may be especially worth reading.

Trying to Play Nice 1:The All-TIME 100 Albums

by Ken Houghton

With Drek on DL and Kim confusing tits and ass, I'm trying to delay my threatened "Real Economists Are Complete Idiots" post and be distracted (for now) by The All-TIME 100 Albums.

There's no Pink Floyd on it, the authors boast. Which is probably a good thing, since it would have been Dark Side of the Moon and not the far-superior Wish You Were Here, or even Animals. At least that's what one must conclude when they list Raising Hell instead of King of Rock or their spare, eponymous first album, or Stop Making Sense (not even their best live album) instead of either Talking Heads 77 or More Songs about Buildings and Food*, or Songs in the Key of Life over Innervisions (though they do, at least, include the weaker Talking Book as well). (I'd argue Hearts and Bones over Graceland (as evidence Simon agrees, one need look no further than Negotiations and Love Songs) and Off the Wall over Thriller as well, but the populace has spoken.)

A few things are obvious, if we assume their list is reasonable:

  1. The album really is dead. Only one disc since 2000 (Kanye West's The College Dropout is not just a collection of tracks/hits/singles.
  2. There are very few musicians or groups that actually produced great albums in the plural. Here is a list of the entities with more than one album listed:
    1. Radiohead
    2. Prince
    3. R.E.M.
    4. Bob Dylan (but nothing between 1966 and 1997. Uh, guys?)
    5. U2
    6. the aforementioned Stevie Wonder
    7. The Rolling Stones (nothing after 1972)
    8. Davie Bowie (Hunky Dory as the second choice, over Diamond Dogs [a true concept album] or even Aladdin Sane?)
    9. Van Morrison
    10. Miles Davis
    11. The Beatles
    12. Aretha Franklin, and
    13. Frank Sinatra (the two oldest albums on the list)
    14. James Brown, but the second is the Star Time box set)

  3. There are several outright-weird single selections. In addition to those mentioned above, strange sole entries:
    1. The Clash, London Calling
    2. Led Zepplein, IV
    3. Madonna, Like a Prayer

  4. Noting that they specifically call the list "the greatest and most influential records ever"—no reference to rock, and enough jazz (Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, Bitches Brew) and country (Red Headed Stranger, certainly, Coat of Many Colors maybe, but Ropin' the Wind?) on the list that they seem to be serious, why is there absolutely no classical album? Not Bernstein conducting Shostakovich's 5th (1959), or either the history (1955) or the parody (1990) Glenn Gould recording of J. S. Bach's Goldberg Variations? Or the Bolcoms and Birtwhistles and Bryars, conducted by Slatkin or Rattle or even Tilson-Thomas (though specifically not Boulez).
  5. Same complaint about country. They seem to know it exists, but neglect, say, Songs of Kristofferson (which Willie re-recorded and released, minus one song). Or Roses in the Snow? Or, even if you're only limiting to crossover, the quintessence of all, Sweethearts of the Rodeo?
  6. Modern jazz is also underrepresented. The waves of amazement that greet that statement make listing albums (e.g., the original (still OOP, which is one of the primary reasons I still own an 8-track player) VSOP album or either the follow-up or the live disc)
  7. I own (or have owned; see VSOP comment above) far too many of the albums on this list for it to be viable. Breakdown by decade:
    1. 1950s - 1/4 (Miles)
    2. 1960s - 14/22
    3. 1970s - 18/29
    4. 1980s - 8/18
    5. 1990s - 4/18
    6. 2000s - 0/9

    So I own 45 of the top 100. Some of the dropoff in the 1990s is related to taste. (I feel even less of a need to own Hole's Live Through This now than I did in 1994.) Some in the 90s and almost all in the Noughts is due to TIME's strange delusion (as a friend just noted via e-mail) that "compilations of dead artists count as great albums."
  8. Sadly—and this may be a corollary of the above, there are no Great Surprises on this. This is a safe list, the MOR of "influential" albums (of course it includes The Velvet Underground and Nico, but not White Light/White Heat).

For those who think of rock as wild and rebellious, this is the list that eliminates that delusion.

But at least I'm not picking on Greg Mankiw. Yet.

RIP, Milton Friedman

by Ken Houghton

He was a Rutgers alum, so I have a soft spot for him.

His Free to Starve is a classic of some sort. Over the next few days, I may post some excerpts from the man who prose Brad DeLong recently described as "a model of simplicity and lucidity."

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium

by B. Strong

Sign: "Please don't flash the great white shark"

Query: Why, is it a bottom feeder?


Thanks very much, I'll be here all week.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dear Reader(s)

by Tom Bozzo

I'm looking at another work-related vanishing act until next week. Please entertain yourselves with the blogroll — or perhaps the contributors will step in (hint, hint *) — until then.

(*) But probably not Drek, to whom we wish a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

by Tom Bozzo

Jacob Weisberg apparently thinks (via DeLong) that "free trade is the real election casualty," which is silly — I'd hope that an endless stream of American casualties in George W.'s Excellent Middle-East Adventures will be the real electon casualty, at least down the road; though the value of Joe Lieberman's campaign pledges may fall first.

Even if Weisberg were right, the Hicks-Kaldor-Pareto fallacy being what it is, I'm not convinced I should care. It also doesn't bother me that my shiny and still relatively new ICBM (*) was assembled in China. But while doing some office tidying, I did come across a postcard, stuck to some packaging for the laptop sleeve, saying:
Waterfield bags are designed and made in San Francisco, where rent is high, labor expensive, and competition is intense. We wouldn't go anywhere else.
I don't imagine we'd be worse off in the Hicks-Kaldor-Pareto sense if that attitude were more widespread.

-------------------------------

(*) Intel Chip-Based Mac.

Monday, November 13, 2006

"Price" vs. "Cost:" The Case of AIDS Treatment

by Tom Bozzo

An item inside yesterday's NY Times reported the remarkable progress made towards making HIV infections a treatable chronic disease — for the rich world, anyway. The lede:
An American found to have the virus that causes AIDS can expect to live for about 24 years on average, and the cost of health care over that time is more than $600,000, new research indicates. [emphasis added]
This is an occupationally-driven pet peeve, but the use of "cost" there is malapropos. With two-thirds of the "cost" driven by antiretroviral drugs, the price of care has relatively little connection with its cost.

As Dean Baker often notes, if drug patent monopoly markups were taxes, economists all over the political spectrum would be manning the barricades over the resulting tax distortions. That the markup covers desirable research expenses is only a partial defense, since Baker also observes that the private research yield for drug markup dollars is pretty low: those dollars are also competing with general corporate overheads, reminding relatively well-to-do middle-aged men of their options for erectile dysfunction treatment, etc.

Then there's the late fashion of pricing life-saving drugs as the market will bear — i.e., the brink of revolt by desperate patients and their insurers. You can see this practice defended because the effects of the drugs are so great, or perhaps because it's reflecting "market valuations" of the products. But the ability to charge what the market will bear is not a market outcome, so arguments via free-market "justice" don't apply.

What's interesting is that the price of the basic HIV drug cocktail is within sight of what's bearable given typical health insurance premiums (which are pretty unbearable). The underlying economic cost looks to be no worse than that for various other common chronic conditions, once you figure that the $1,000/month price of the cocktail is almost all markup.

Another interesting thing in the article is that it says that only about 45% of U.S. HIV patients actually got the antiretroviral cocktail per a 2003 survey. Thus:
“This is really an optimistic [treatment] scenario” in the study, and the true cost is probably lower, said Jennifer Kates, director of H.I.V. policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation. [Emphasis added.]
It would seem that drug pricing makes it appear to be cheaper to get AIDS and die sooner than to have an extended period of relatively good health on the drug cocktail. I leave as an exercise whether the true (social, economic) cost of state-of-the-art HIV treatments really is higher than that of non-treatment.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reasons Tom Toles is a Priceless National Treasure, Part 3

by Ken Houghton

If Brad DeLong is correct (e.g., here or here or here or almost any of these), there inevitably must be an unbundling of Washington Post assets.

Someone needs to move pre-emptively for Tom Toles.

I want this one silk-screened.



UPDATE: DeLong delvers a veritable knock-out punch of update(s).

Who'd Have Guessed?

by Tom Bozzo

The Iraqi health minister says 150,000 Iraqis have been killed by insurgents.

Add in the insurgents killed by the Iraqi government, insurgents and Iraqi soldiers killed by the coalition forces, and civilians caught in miscellaneous crossfire and you might get, what, a few hundred thousand?

Give 'Em An Inch...

by Tom Bozzo

Flush with their victory on the same-sex marriage and civil unions ban, the next segment of that bridge to the 19th century for the ban's proponents is to modify Wisconsin's no-fault divorce law. So Group A can't get married even if they want to, and Group B has to stay married even if they don't (*). Greeeeaaat.

Meanwhile, Ald. Brenda Konkel reports receipt of an e-mail from an ungracious taxpayer demanding that the city and county terminate domestic-partner benefits pursuant to the amendment ASAP. To restate a point I'd made in the comments earlier, it would take a pretty stupid judge to be fooled by the argument that offering certain similar employment fringe benefits to married and single people alike constitutes an institution substantially similar to marriage. Then again, I think of some of our theoretically top-tier lawyer-pundits and am alarmed at the possibilities.

For one thing, if marriage amendment proponents are inclined to argue that employment benefits are substantially all there is to marriage, then it isn't committed same-sex couples who are devaluing the institution. Indeed, rationales for the ban like Bishop Morlino's suggestion that there's "no right to redefine marriage" create something of a catch-22: by that standard, you sure as hell can't redefine marriage as a set of economic arrangements. Even assuming arguendo that economic aspects are what will determine what's substantially identical to marriage, then it would seem that at a minimum the tax preferences and joint property rights/responsibilities would have to be part of the deal.

Of course, it's possible that Konkel's e-mailer was just out to save a buck. Regarding that, an insight of Gary Becker's that I won't snark about is that discrimination is costly — to the discriminator. We'd pay for that in lower-quality employees and/or in alternate forms of compensation that fly under amendment supporters' radar.

In a way, I could care less about the "marriage" part of the amendment. As for the civil unions ban part, I can imagine that someone will try to push an "advantage" against the single so that portion of the amendment will be repealed before my children have a chance to be snared in it. Here's hoping.

-------------------------------

(*) As the child of divorced parents, I speak from personal experience in suggesting that as tough as divorce is, trying to force people who can no longer stand each other to stay together is worse.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The concise summary and a plea

by Ken Houghton

Patrick summarizes the reaction to results expected and realised, and picks his true hero for this election cycle.*

He may be correct, but especially today let us not forget Michael J. Fox, who may have no Elvis in him**, but who went to the Show Me State to campaign for Claire McCaskill and showed them—and the rest of the country—that actions have consequences.
Early on, it was unclear what impact a statewide ballot measure on stem cell research would have on the race. A defining issue of the campaign at first, it faded a bit from the spotlight in the fall only to resurface when the actor Michael J. Fox threw his support behind Ms. McCaskill, who favors the research, in a commercial that showed the toll Parkinson's disease had taken on him.

The stem cell initiative appeared to be winning, with 51 percent support after 94 percent of precincts reported results.

Donations to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research can be made directly here.



Photo mirrored from
here, taken 12 July 2005 by Jemal Countess - (c) WireImage.com


UPDATE: Steve Gilliard (h/t Brad DeLong) notes another big reason to thank Ned Lamont. But it's time to do something positive and possible, and most people are likely to find it easier to click the link above and donate than to move to Connecticut and subscribe to Lamont's cable company.

*This will especially be true if Lieberman changes from his campaign pledge to caucus with the Democratic Party, or resigns to become Director of Faith-Based Initiatives—Secretary of Defence appears to be taken—as some pessimists view as possible/likely. I hope for their sake that Lieberman will not turn his back on the party members who reaffirmed his seniority and supported him.

**I don't blame Fox personally for that abomination in Back to the Future in which the white boy—over the bleeding telephone—teaches Chuck his licks. Well, not entirely, but, well, actions have consequences.

The World Turns Upside-Down: Arizona PUTS ON its Rainbow Shades

by Ken Houghton

The 1978 World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) was held in Phoenix, AZ. Guest of Honor (GoH) was Harlan Ellison, who refused to stay in the hotel because, iirc, the state refused to support the Equal Rights Amendment. (Again iirc, Patrick and/or Teresa worked the convention in some significant capacity.*)

In 1987, the state, under later-convicted and impeached Governor Evan Mecham, explicitly refused to honor rescinded the state's celebration of a Federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.. This produced one of the great Public Enemy songs of all time, and enough ill will that even the NFL paid attention, moving the 1993 Super Bowl from Tempe to Pasadena.

Suffice to say, the state does not have a history of inspiring confidence.

Yesterday, they apparently became the first state to recognize that "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State" includes marriage licenses issued by the State of Massachusetts (and, one expects and hopes [worth reading in full], other states) to people of the same gender.

That's right: ARIZONA became the first state to reject a voter referendum to ban gay marriage.

Don't get me wrong; they voted self-interest:
The amendments have been broadly worded to invalidate not only same-sex marriage, but also domestic partnerships. Opponents of the ban argue that the broad wording affects heterosexual couples as well as gay and lesbian couples; for instance, they warned voters that unmarried senior citizens living together could lose the right to visit each other in the hospital.

but the voters of Arizona, unlike several other states (sorry, Tom), noticed that their interest was at stake.

When history is written, yesterday's Arizona vote will be viewed as a vote of, for, and by the people. May it be the beginning.

(Not) Deep Thoughts

by Tom Bozzo

I can't really feel too bad this morning, and it's not just the relative lack of hangover and the carbohydrate rush from the Trader Joe's Honey Graham Squares either.

That the civil unions ban passed was disappointing but not unexpected. At least in my ward, the vote was 1214 "no" to 162 "yes." The Republican Senate candidate also came in third, 52 votes behind Green Party candidate Rae Voegeler. Some GIS magic may follow later if time permits.

Maybe the Upper Midwest is worse than the rest of the country this time around — in some strange ways, like just who was voting for Amy Klobuchar and Tim Pawlenty up there in East Dakota? But hey, the Doyle-Van Hollen combination has a brighter side than Green-Falk, and I'm pleasantly surprised that the good folks of the eighth Congressional district sent John Gard back to Sun Prairie. The national scene clearly is a lot more positive, even if Macacawitz and/or Mr. Burns should manage to eke out win(s).

Meanwhile, displaying the kind of punditing that gets you on the NY Times op-ed page, Ann Althouse sez:
When the Republicans win -- don't you know? -- it's not because people actually want them to win, but because they have devious ways of jacking up the numbers. That way, if Democrats win even a modest margin, it's a dramatic turnaround, a sea change. [Emphasis in original.]
Quick observations:
  1. The Democrats actually won big. (Update: Really big!!1!!!1!)
  2. Politics has increasingly become an incumbent protection racket. This has, indeed, become something of a science as GIS technology has allowed fine-tuning of the gerrymandering art. So picking up 30 House seats now is no less of a big deal than picking up 45 back when the races tended to be more competitive. Not to mention that losing four incumbents and having two more reddish-state incumbents trailing in the Senate is a debacle for Liddy Dole. See also #1.
  3. Democrats got the most votes in three of the last four Presidential races, and considering #2 and the Senate's overweighting of small states, frequently lead in the aggregate voting. The design of the legislature might not quite be a "devious way of jacking up the numbers" (though clearly there are those, too), but it is not obviously the case that the demos really loves Republican policies or Republican rule in general, as opposed to (often unaccountably) a few specific Republicans.
---------------------------------

Oh, and my choice for Best Compact Car — the Audi A3 — won the AutoWeek reader's choice poll!!!11! W00t!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Do... Not... Count... Chickens!

by Tom Bozzo

Since I ended up here two years ago, I really really don't want to start gloating too early.

Still, I'm glad enough that it looks like my co-blogger will be wrong and Sen. Man-On-Dog will be returning to private life (I doubt Ken will be too hurt).

Wisconsin polls have just closed. I'm guardedly optimistic that Doyle and Falk will prevail . It would take a very good day for the No side to prevail on the same-sex marriage referendum, let alone the death penalty question.

The exit polls are suggesting a strong showing for Doyle, and by 2004 standards a realtively close race on the same-sex marriage amendment. On the latter, not surprisingly, it appears as if it will turn out that Homophobic Men Suck. Dudes! It's easier if you just admit you're gay.

I'm going to pile in to Martini #2 and await further returns...

1998, Part 2: Vote, but Expect the Worst

by Ken Houghton

In a previous post, I noted that the 1998 interregnum—the time after which the Republican dominance had been roundly thwarted as the people made clear that they neither supported impeachment nor the Republican policies of the Gingrich Constituency, but before the new Congress was sworn in—was highlighted by the lame-duck house voting for impeachment, against the express will of its constituents.

Let us look at just one example: the election of NJ-12 (which, I hasten to note, is not my district). The 12th was drawn to be a stridently Republican district, with a lot of "old money." Until 1998, it was represented by Michael Pappas. Pappas's opponent that year was former physics professor Rush Holt.

Very few gave Mr. Holt much of a chance: until Mr. Pappas sang the praises of Ken Starr on the floor of the House.

Shortly thereafter, the New York Times tried to portray Mr. Pappas as a moderate voice who might prevent the repudiation of the public's will.

You know the rest.

The lame-duck Republican congress—knowing the public didn't want it, knowing that they were doing it for no reason other than spite—pulled a final audacious act aimed straight at their base.

It was something that never would have happened if the new Congress had been seated, and it arguably set the stage for the past eight years (and beyond).

I don't know what this lame-duck Congress will pull, if the election goes the way 83% of you appear to believe it will, but history is not kind to the idea that they will not do the most insane thing they can.

Tom's certainly correct; that's not a reason to vote for them, and even less of one not to vote. But it's also a reason not to just celebrate tomorrow, but also plan for the Gathering Storm.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Impact of Social Forces

by B. Strong

A new ranking of sociology departments is about to come out in the American Sociological Association's newsletter, and it's creating a bit of a buzz in some sociology blogs (see here and here).

Jeremy identifies one source of skepticism about the rankings, namely that the measure of productivity is based on three journals: the two undisputed flagship journals in the field, and a third journal, Social Forces, about which there is far less consensus about its impact, prestige, average quality, and so forth (see post and comments here). As Jeremy points out, because SF publishes more articles than the other two journals, it ends up having a greater impact on departmental productivity scores.

The end result is that departments whose faculty publish a lot in Social Forces and relatively little in AJS/ASR will land higher in the "objective" rankings of productivity than they will in more conventional departmental ranks based on "fuzzier" reputational measures. The fuzzier, reputational rankings, however, presumably give more implicit brownie points to departments whose faculty are publishing in the "big two."

Out of curiousity, I replicated the Hausmann et al ranking exercise using only ASR/AJS articles from the last three years. Well, 3 years minus one issue, in the case of ASR: I couldn't find the table of contents for November's issue, 71(5), on line yet. As in the Hausmann paper, I gave each ASR or AJS article a weight of 1, distributed equally across the institution or institutions where the author(s) is currently employed. A "department's" productivity is simply the sum of the weights.

(Now might be a good time to point out that I agree completely with many of the other critiques levelled at using journal articles to rank departments. It disadvantages "book" departments, obviously, but it also disadvantages departments whose faculty publish path-breaking, discipline-changing articles -- wherever they appear -- every once in a while rather than "incremental progress" papers at more frequent intervals. My intent in producing the table below is simply to see how much Social Forces affects the productivity scores, and should not be seen as an endorsement of the general validity of the enterprise.)

Without further ado, here (in Excel) are the full results. The top 11 "departments" (but see below) are as follows, with their productivity scores in parentheses:


Some observations:

1. Notre Dame, ranked 5th in the "big three" version, falls to a tie for 31st in the ASR/AJS version.

2. UNC drops from 2nd in the big-three version to a tie for 6th in the big-two version. This suggests that UNC does get a boost from Social Forces, but the faculty and students are also doing an extraordinary good job of publishing in ASR/AJS.

3. There is a far less concentration of articles by author or department than I, at least, would have guessed. The 228 articles in the data were produced by nearly 175 different authors employed by 136 institutions. (Granted, the data include a special AJS issue on agent-based modelling, in which over half of the papers were written by scholars who aren't employed by sociology departments and/or who work outside the US. Still, that's just one issue.) The average productivity score for a department is 1.8, and the median is 1 .

4. It's misleading to attribute the productivity scores to departments, because they're measures of a university's productivity in sociology. This may seem like a minor correction, but some departments benefit enormously from having strong social sciences elsewhere on campus, particularly in business schools. Between 33 to 50% of article productivity in the Chicago, Columbia, Stanford, Penn, and Northwestern "sociology departments" (and, of course, 100% of MIT's 17th ranked productivity) comes from faculty and students who aren't paid by the school's sociology department.

For some purposes, the distinction doesn't matter. If you're a prospective graduate student using the rankings to get an idea of the intellectual resources in sociology at a given school, it may not make that much difference whether the resources are located in the soc department or somewhere else on campus. (Then again, it may -- the permeability of departmental boundaries can vary over time and space.) But if you think that a high "departmental" ranking is unequivocal evidence of a particular university's commitment to the sociology department, well, think again.

At the very least, we should be acknowledging that the Hausmann method is not comparing apples to apples. The dispersion of sociologists across departments within an institution also makes me skeptical that there's any terribly accurate way to adjust by faculty size, as the Iowa team did in the late-1990s version of this exercise.

If you take the non-soc department faculty out of the productivity score for a department, here's what happens to the rankings (top 10 only):

I should mention that I'm a bit less confident about these rankings, because it's sometimes hard to tell from a website whether someone is "really" in the department or not. Obviously, misattributing just half an article is enough to move a "department" from 10th to 4th and vice versa.

The basic lesson, though, is that seemingly small measurement choices can have a large impact. It's just a coincidence that with the last constallation of measurement choices, my alma mater gets two sociology "departments" in the top five. Really.

The Question of the Year: What Genius is behind the "Work in Progress" that is Iraq?

by Ken Houghton

Gene at Battlepanda brings the question home, if Iraq is a "work in progress," who is running the project? The title of the post—"Iraq: Botticelli or Jackson Pollock?"—strikes me as optimistic, though "Jack the Dripper" leads to thinking of Major General William Caldwell as "Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper," which is at least the correct connotation.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Wisconsin Governor's Race: A Dispatch from the "Party of Ideas"

by Tom Bozzo

Just so we know what the Mark Green campaign is all about. Via the Capital Times, a recent Green campaign mailing:
The brochure features a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge superimposed on a field of cows grazing and claims that "some things from San Francisco just don't fit in Wisconsin. Jim Doyle's liberal agenda is one of them."
In defending the flyer, the Green campaign highlighted one good reason to vote for Doyle, and for that matter to Just Say No on the marriage and civil unions ban. Fear of Teh Gay may be how the Rovian party motivates its troops, but as has been pointed out elsewhere, the broader agenda is anti-sex.

Green spokesman Mike Prentiss said that the brochure is consistent with Green's opposition to domestic partnership benefits for both gay and lesbian couples and unmarried heterosexual couples.

Indeed, the text of the civil unions ban even-handedly prohibits civil unions with rights equivalent to marriage for straight and gay couples alike. Evidently, extending second-class citizenship to all unmarried people in some to-be-determined ways is not a bug of the amendment, but a feature. So if you're inclined to vote yes on the amendment because you're not gay and therefore you think it can't affect you, please think again.

He denied, however, that the mailing was implicitly anti-gay in its reference to San Francisco, a city known for being gay-friendly.

A liar and a coward — what a winning combination. It is amusing to note that the present political climate requires the Green campaign to deny gay-baiting even as they're transparently doing so.

Prentiss said the reference is intended to remind voters of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., whose district includes San Francisco. Neither Pelosi's name nor her image appears anywhere in the brochure.

So I don't know whether sticking needles in Nancy Pelosi voodoo dolls is a standard feature of services in conservative evangelical churches. But even in House races, fear of a Nancy Pelosi reign seems to be a weak branch for Republican candidates to grasp. (For one, I'd assume Pelosi's name recognition is relatively low despite the Republican demonization campaign.) After all, here's Pelosi:

As for Dennis Hastert, while official portraits look like this...

...more recent images show the Speaker to have lately Let Himself Go:

Frankly, I know who I'd rather let my children near.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Just to go on the public record...

by Ken Houghton

I may be the only person outside of the Oval Office who doesn't think the Democrats will take either house of Congress on Tuesday. But that may just be optimism about avoiding what will be a great horror.

After all, we have been through the Republican Repudiation before. In 1998. The Experience of a lame-duck Republican Congress should be remembered.

It was a bitter, nasty month, climaxing with the "impeachment" of the president by a Congress whose explicit plan to impeach had been explicitly repudiated by the voters.

What's the "wish list" for this Congress? Permanent extension of the tax cuts? Permanent repeal of the Estate Tax? As most of the blogsphere knows, neither of those is likely to be permanent, though the distribution of the new taxes is likely to be as unbalanced as the effort.

If I'm betting, exempting the accounting profession from being a profession will be a priority.

The question is social issues. For the Congress that already believes the First and Fourth Amendments, and the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution don't exist to be followed, how much can be accomplished during the lame-duck session?

Your guess is as good, or better, than mine. Suggestions welcome in comments.

Friday, November 03, 2006

This Geek Moment Brought To You By Parallels Desktop for Mac

by Tom Bozzo

It's kind of neat watching your CPU core usage in Activity Monitor on one screen while running a Stata job on your Windows XP virtual machine on another screen (*).

That is all.

Update: By request (I can't actually show what I was running, and would need to take the camera into work to show the dual-monitor setup)...

Stata-on-VM-on-OSX
(Click to embiggen.)

(*) Even though the good folks of StataCorp have long supported the Mac, my formerly all-PC employer only licenses the Windows version.

The Dreadful Dick Dawkins Part III

by Drek

This week I've been engaged in something of a series on Richard Dawkins and the responses to his new book. On Wednesday I posted over on Total Drek about a debate between him and a Catholic apologist that Dawkins supposedly lost. I concluded that he didn't do as well as I might have hoped, but that he wasn't defeated- he just lost. Monday I posted here at Marginal Utility on a review of Dawkins' book in the New York Times. Generally in this period I have been defending Dawkins against what I feel are unreasonable attacks.

Today I complete the series by spreading the attention a little more widely from Dick Dawkins to atheism generally, and I do so in an ironic twist with the help of the goons over on Wild Bill's Blog. Recently they mentioned an article to be found in Wired magazine titled "The Church of the Non-Believers." Wild Bill even went so far as to remark:

Interesting article in WIRED on the unholy trinity Dawkins-Dennett-Harris. Their atheist extremism may be selling books but is it winning converts?


"Indeed?" I thought, "Atheist extremism?"

My interest was piqued. So, I wandered over to Wired to see for myself.

The article by one Gary Wolf is, indeed, quite interesting, and begins as follows:

MY FRIENDS, I MUST ASK YOU AN IMPORTANT QUESTION TODAY: Where do you stand on God?

It's a question you may prefer not to be asked. But I'm afraid I have no choice. We find ourselves, this very autumn, three and a half centuries after the intellectual martyrdom of Galileo, caught up in a struggle of ultimate importance, when each one of us must make a commitment. It is time to declare our position.

This is the challenge posed by the New Atheists. We are called upon, we lax agnostics, we noncommittal nonbelievers, we vague deists who would be embarrassed to defend antique absurdities like the Virgin Birth or the notion that Mary rose into heaven without dying, or any other blatant myth; we are called out, we fence-sitters, and told to help exorcise this debilitating curse: the curse of faith.

The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there's no excuse for shirking.

Three writers have sounded this call to arms. They are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. A few months ago, I set out to talk with them. I wanted to find out what it would mean to enlist in the war against faith.


As you can see, Wolf has set for himself an interesting task: an exploration not simply of Dawkins' book and his arguments, but of the growing number of "atheist extremists," if you will, who seem to be cropping up. I, of course, take issue with the "extremist" label. After all, what this batch of vocal atheists are doing is merely what countless religious groups have done for time immemorial. Namely, politely observe that in their opinion every other religious system is wrong. And let's not mince words, such a claim is virtually definitional of religious systems with the possible exception of Unitarian Universalism, which is so permissive as to hardly qualify as a system. In any case, "extremism" is only applicable insofar as this new behavior is revolutionary compared to what atheists used to do- stay silent and stay hidden.

From this modest beginning Wolf embarks on an interesting and mostly sympathetic voyage into modern atheism. In the process, he gets us a little close to understanding why atheists seem to be so rare. As a first step he begins asking his associates at gatherings, "Who here is an atheist?" What happens next is instructive:

Usually, the first response is silence, accompanied by glances all around in the hope that somebody else will speak first. Then, after a moment, somebody does, almost always a man, almost always with a defiant smile and a tone of enthusiasm. He says happily, "I am!"

But it is the next comment that is telling. Somebody turns to him and says: "You would be."

"Why?"

"Because you enjoy pissing people off."

"Well, that's true."


And so we see one of the lived realities of atheism- mostly it's something to be hidden and, when it does come out, all sorts of things are ascribed to the atheist. Such as that he, or she, must just enjoy being provocative or inflammatory.

Yet, I can't quite disagree with that assessment, at least not entirely. It is one of the unfortunate truths that many atheists are just a bit... uncooperative. The reason isn't too hard to see, and Wolf even points it out:

As one said, "Atheism is like telling somebody, 'The very thing you hinge your life on, I totally dismiss.'"


Too true and it explains the perception of atheists as argumentative: if being an atheist means privately deciding that most of the world is, as Dawkins argues, experiencing a collective delusion, you must have a great deal of self-confidence or be a terrible egotist. Unfortunately, I often think it a little of both.

This is also, unfortunately, the reason why atheists are so poorly organized. The sort of independence and will that lends itself to the declaration that god does not exist doesn't make group-building terribly easy. The very thing that unites us ironically also divides us.

Atheism is also, as Wolf points out, rather cerebral and doesn't "quicken the blood." This is true- if the basis of religion is a collective effervescence, then atheism is in some ways a faith without a religion. Indeed, the groupings of atheists that do exist may not inspire much ardor:

As the tide of faith rises, atheists, who have no church to buoy them, cling to one another. That a single celebrity, say, Keanu Reeves, is known to care nothing about God is counted as a victory. This parochial and moralistic self-regard begins to inspire in me a feeling of oppression. When Adams starts to recite the names of atheists who may have contributed to the television program Mr. Show With Bob and David between 1995 and 1998, I leave. Standing in the half-empty parking lot is a relief, though I am drenched from the heat.


But, then again, Buddhism isn't known for its fire-and-brimstone sermons, but rather for its sublime spirituality. If there's any term I would use for the beauty of an atheistic worldview, "sublime" would definitely be it. Likewise, all religions are probably spearheaded by the irrascible and the independent, so that's hardly an adequate explanation for the current invisibility of atheists and atheism. These are obstacles, to be sure, but not insurmountable ones.

Looking at it from a different perspective, we may not know why atheism is so invisible, but we do know why it refuses to die. In a world filled with a bewildering array of religious doctrines and believed deities, what could be similer than the idea that they can't all be right? More fully, why need any of them be right? And so, atheism is, if not a popular idea, then one that is brought forth by the very religious doctrines that seek to replace it. Moreover, when one asks the question, the discussion invariably gets interesting:

So is atheism true?

There's good evidence from research by anthropologists such as Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran that a grab bag of cognitive predispositions makes us natural believers. We hear leaves rustle and we imagine that some airy being flutters up there; we see a corpse and continue to fear the judgment and influence of the person it once was. Remarkable progress has been made in understanding why faith is congenial to human nature – and of course that still says nothing about whether it is true. Harris is typically severe in his rejection of the idea that evolutionary history somehow justifies faith. There is, he writes, "nothing more natural than rape. But no one would argue that rape is good, or compatible with a civil society, because it may have had evolutionary advantages for our ancestors." Like rape, Harris says, religion may be a vestige of our primitive nature that we must simply overcome.


But this may seem awfully harsh to many as, indeed, it seemed to Wolf. So, he went in search of someone to help him with his woes:

THE DOCTOR for these difficulties looks like Santa Claus. His name is Daniel Dennett. He is a renowned philosopher, an atheist, and the possessor of a full white beard. I suspect he must have designed this Father Christmas look intentionally, but in fact it just evolved. "In the '60s, I looked like Rasputin," he says. Children have come up to him in airports, checking to see if he is on vacation from the North Pole. When it happens, he does not torment them with knowledge that the person they mistake him for is not real. Instead, the philosopher puts his fingers to his lips and says conspiratorially: "Shhhh."

...

Among the New Atheists, Dennett holds an exalted but ambiguous place. Like Dawkins and Harris, he is an evangelizing nonbeliever. He has campaigned in writing on behalf of the Brights and has written a book called Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In it, the blasting rhetoric of Dawkins and Harris is absent, replaced by provocative, often humorous examples and thought experiments. But like the other New Atheists, Dennett gives no quarter to believers who resist subjecting their faith to scientific evaluation. In fact, he argues that neutral, scientifically informed education about every religion in the world should be mandatory in school. After all, he argues, "if you have to hoodwink – or blindfold – your children to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct."


And so we discover a somewhat kinder face to the "New Atheism." Not all rhetoric and harsh criticism, but also a certain amount of gentleness. Likewise we come to a very useful perspective- if an ideological system has to be propped up by ignorance and falsehood, does it really deserve to be perpetuated? I think most of us would answer "no," except, perhaps, when it comes to religion.

So out of all this, this deep voyage into the nature of atheism, does our writer come to any conclusions? Well yes, of a sort:

Where does this leave us, we who have been called upon to join this uncompromising war against faith? What shall we do, we potential enlistees? Myself, I've decided to refuse the call. The irony of the New Atheism – this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism – is too much for me.

The New Atheists have castigated fundamentalism and branded even the mildest religious liberals as enablers of a vengeful mob. Everybody who does not join them is an ally of the Taliban. But, so far, their provocation has failed to take hold. Given all the religious trauma in the world, I take this as good news. Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd. If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn't necessarily mean we've lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.


This "extremism" in response to extremism, this alteration of atheism to a level of assertiveness comparable to what we are accustomed to in established religions, is too much for the author. Fair enough, I suppose- I don't much care for a lot of Dawkins' rhetoric either.

That is not, however, the reason why atheism is not more widespread than it is. There are in reality two reasons.

The first, and less problematic, is the very lack of organizational strength I alluded to earlier. Atheists have no unity, no community, we are in some ways rather anomic. This problem, however, can be fixed and new and existing atheist institutions are growing stronger. If there are still few such organizations, then there are certainly many more allies, like the Center for Inquiry. If the skeptical movement is not wholy congruent with the atheist community, it certainly enjoys considerable overlap. Given time, I believe the institutions will be there and, along with them, considerable strength. Doubtless the sage, who has recently been harassing my co-blogger, could offer us some tips.

But the real failure of the New Atheism is not its extremism. Extremism is often highly appealing and traditionally spreads very successfully. No, the failure of the New Atheism, and of atheism generally, is this: Its message is almost entirely negative.

We atheists spend much of our time debating theists- often when we first "come out" as atheists. This gets us used to having to reject theism or, if you're a theist, to rejecting god. Yet, in becoming accustomed to all this, we become so ready to voice our rejection of superstition and mythical skybeasts, we often forget entirely to vocalize the beauty of our own beliefs.

Atheism is, for many people, defined by what it is not, rather than what it is. atheism is not the belief in god, true, but for most people that's where it stops. Beyond that the philosophy seems empty and, quite likely, meaningless. Perhaps many more people that we realize have doubts about religion, perhaps many more doubt the existence of an all-powerful being than surveys would lead us to believe, but if the alternative to fantasy is... nothing... can we blame them for refusing to wake from their delusion? If there is one theme that seems to run through objections to atheism, including the critiques of Dawkins we have reviewed this week, it is this notion that however flawed the religious view of the world may be, atheism has not even that much to offer.

It is time for atheists to push for something more than a closet. It is time that we became if not liked, then at least respected and accepted. It is time that people did not respond to our presence in social occasions with the belief that we are necessarily combative. All of this is true.

But if we are truly going to achieve these goals we must do something more: we must learn to take a chance. We must begin to describe not just the foolishness of our detractors, but the worth of our own position. Our beliefs are noble, they are good, and there is a sublime beauty to our vision of the universe. To atheists mankind is not a bunch of ruly children to be ruled with the paddle, or disgusting sinful creatures marred by the behavior of our remote ancestors. To atheists humans are flawed creatures that, amazingly, strive to become more perfect than they are now. To atheists humans are not destined to a very limited and, ultimately, pointless existence- we are the masters of our own future. We can become as great or as base as we choose. What could be more wonderful than that?

It seems that what many people find objectionable in atheism isn't this new extemism, which is shared by many popular movements, nor its rejection of alternatives, which is shared by all other faiths, nor even its lack of institutional power, all religions lacked it once. No, what people find objectionable is what they perceive as a total absence of a message of hope.

So let's finally share it with them.

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