Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

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This blog translated:


Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people.

Currently reading:

Songbook by Nick Hornby

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

You should read:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Bobos In Paradise by David Brooks

Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright

Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best

Books written or edited by my professors (well, only the good ones)

Nick Barr

The Economics of the Welfare State

The Welfare State As Piggy Bank

Chris Dougherty

Introduction to Econometrics

David Gewanter

The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (ed. with Frank Bidart)

In the Belly

The Sleep of Reason

Meredith McKittrick

To Dwell Secure

John McNeill

The Human Web (with William H. McNeill)

Something New Under the Sun

Max-Stephan Schulze

Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945

Greater Blogtopia

Abu Aardvark
Across the Atlantic
Asparagus Pee
Bohemian Mama
Brazos de Dios Cantina Carl with a K
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Conceptual Guerilla
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Dilettante's Guide to Life
Egotistical Whining
Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
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Head Heeb
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Impolite Company
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Loopy Librarian
Mark Maynard
Martin Stabe
More White Teeth
No More Mr. Nice Blog Notes on the Atrocities
Open Source Politics
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Peevish...I'm Just Saying
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Risa Wechsler

Sha Ka Ree
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Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
Talking Dog
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2004 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac

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"Phantom Planet" by Phantom Planet

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

"One Plus One Is One" by Badly Drawn Boy

"Sultans of Swing" by the Dire Straits

"Best of the Talking Heads" by the Talking Heads

How Shareholder Reforms Can Pay Foreign Policy Dividends, James Shinn, ed.

Weaving the Net, James Shinn, ed.

Fires Across the Water, James Shinn, ed.

Panasonic ES8017SC Men's Triple Blade Pro Curve Rechargeable Linear Shaver

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Sunday, August 31, 2003
Arnold Schwarzenegger is refusing to participate in a debate this week. Cruz Bustamante, Tom McClintock, Peter Ueberroth, Arianna Huffington and Peter Miguel Camejo will all participate in the debate.

So what's Arnold afraid of?

Well, that he has no ideas for how to deal with the problems that California is facing.

That he has no political experience whatsoever.

That he's a habitual philanderer.

The rumors about whether he committed statutory rape.

The recently unearthed 'Schwarzengangbanger' that he spoke about in Oui Magazine.

That he's apparently sexually harassed half of the women in Hollywood.

That he's been friendly with Kurt Waldheim.

That he apparently used to enjoy listening to and giving away records of Hitler's speeches.

That he used steroids. And may have sold them on occasion too.

The questions that have been raised about whether he was involved in auto theft and passport forgery.

That he has attempted to cover up nearly all of the above at one time or another.

That all of the above question his judgment, and seem to indicate that he belongs more in San Quentin than Sacramento.

A little pointless prognosticating

The sports pundits are pointing to last night's game as evidence that Ohio State is still rolling along, even without Maurice Clarett. I'm still a little worried.

The game seemed more to be evidence of Washington's weaknesses - Cody Pickett seemed unready, their running game stunk to hell, and their secondary was mediocre. For Ohio State, the defense certainly did its job well enough - it seemed a little too vulnerable to the short passes, but given that Washington had little choice but to run those dump plays, it's still good enough. Craig Krenzel, for that matter, was, as always, better than advertised.

It's the running game that frightens me. Hall and Ross were adequate, but neither showed the game-breaking quality that Clarett had (or, for that matter, that Hall and Ross occasionally appeared to show last year). Ohio State's best big play runner last night seemed to be, of all people, Craig Krenzel (nothing against Krenzel's running, but it's just not a good sign). That left them using the pass to set up the run, rather than trying to use the run to set up the pass, and left them too reliant on going long. This worked just fine against the Huskies, whose secondary was less than stellar. Against a team with a stronger secondary, though, Ohio State could be vulnerable, though.

Clarett will be out, in all likelihood, for at least six games, which knocks him out of the games against N.C. State in Columbus in two weeks, and the (night) game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall, three weeks later. Both games, I think, will present a far tougher challenge for the Buckeyes than anyone realizes right now. I'm not going to go flat out and say they'll lose - I certainly hope they won't - but they're going to need to get a better running game - and soon - if they expect to dominate as they did against Washington.

Incoherent blogging

Interesting Ian Buruma article today in the New York Times Magazine on anti-Semitism and perceptions of Israel's role in American foreign policy.

Saturday, August 30, 2003
Rep. Bill Janklow (R-SD), charged with second-degree manslaughter as well as traffic violations for speeding through a stop sign and killing a biker in the process, is refusing to resign. On one hand, the precept of 'innocent until proven guilty' should be remembered. On the other hand, any Congressman who is sufficiently suspected of such a serious crime - or, for that matter - any serious crime, to be charged, ought to be giving serious thought to an immediate resignation.

Then again, if you scroll down to the bottom of this New York Times article, it may be that Janklow was injured worse than originally thought, and may not be operating with a sufficiently clear mind to be making a decision. Which, paradoxically, means that he may also be in no shape to hold office either. Catch-22, I suppose. There is, of course, no Congressional equivalent of the 25th Amendment.

So you're going to lie to Congress ...

Well, it seems that Dick Cheney personally lied to Congress (well, to be clear, not directly to Congress, but to the Comptroller General of the GAO, which is, in effect, an arm of Congress). It seems that Cheney claimed that his office had provided the GAO with "documents responsive to the Comptroller General's inquiry concerning the costs associated with the [Energy task force's] work" - which the GAO had attempted to get released - when no such thing had been done (nor has the information been released in full to date).

I don't think that this can reasonably be claimed to be grounds for impeachment. The constitution allows for impeachment in cases of "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." This certainly does not fall into the first two categories and the third and fourth are a stretch given that Cheney's lie cannot be considered any form of perjury or violation of the oath of office. It still should be, I think, reason for a public apology on Cheney's part and a probable censure. The executive has a duty to tell the truth at all times, whether under oath or not, and failure to do so cannot be tolerated.

(via Eschaton)

Friday, August 29, 2003
Ass that I am, the wish list has been updated.

Flood the Zone Friday, #2

(see here for background, here for the original idea and here for this week's primer).

President Bush's leadership - or lackthereof - on the environment is clearly out of step with the vast majority of America. The administration is simply in lockstep with the worst elements of big business, rolling back basic regulations - even attempting to raise the allowable level of arsenic in drinking water, and now wants to allow nuclear waste to be allowed to leak into groundwater. Sounds like a great idea, no? Meanwhile, Christie Todd Whitman - barely qualifiable as a moderate on environmental issues - has been pushed aside out of the EPA in favor of Mike Leavitt, whose environmental record and troubling history of corruption bespeaks the intent of a return to the days of James Watt.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003
I've managed to get a hold of copies of both the Spy article from 1992 by Charles Fleming and the Premiere article from 2001 by John Connolly that detail the schenanigans and misbehavior of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Neither of them paints a pretty picture. Unfortunately, for reasons of copyright law, it is my understanding that I cannot, say, reproduce either article in full here. The Premiere article is, however, available here at an archive site (incidentally, the article was pulled from Premiere's web site shortly after Arnold announced that he was running for governor). I can provide copies to anyone who wants one, however.

The Premiere article includes the following accusations:

- Inappropriately touching Denise Van Outen, Melanie Sykes and Anna Richardson (all British TV hostesses at the time) during a 2000 press junket for The 6th Day.
- Pulled a woman's breasts out of her shirt during the production of Terminator 2 and fondled Linda Hamilton during a limo ride with his costar, as well as director James Cameron (who was then having an affair with Hamilton), and others (Hamilton has reportedly denied that the latter incident took place).
- A highly inappropriate comment to the female producer of one of his movies, while both were standing before her husband.
- Engaging in oral sex with another woman while on the set of Eraser in 1996 (this is the famous 'eating is not cheating' episode)
- Berating wife Maria Shriver shortly after she became pregnant during the production of Total Recall and a claim that Schwarzenegger was having an affair with costar Rachel Ticotin at the same time.
- Inappropriate behavior in a Beverly Hills restaraunt by Arnold and his entourage.
- Attempts by Charlotte Parker, Schwarzenegger's then-publicist, to deny press coverage of Wendy Leigh's book Arnold: An Unauthorized Biography - by offering her publisher either a large amount of money or an authorized biography. Parker was apparently subsequently fired when she could not prevent the spread of news of his infidelities.

The Premiere article also includes rumors of his reported use of steroids. The rumors seem fairly speculative, mostly based around news of Schwarzenegger's heart surgery in 1997, in which he had aortic valves replaced by pig valves, and the general commonness of steroid use among bodybuilders in the 1970's. The author of the article, John Connolly, did note that the accusations are dealt with elsewhere in some detail, principally in Leigh's book and True Myths a book by Nigel Andrews.

The Spy article includes (besides a nude photo of Schwarzenegger ... ewwwwwwwwwww! - ed.) the following accusations:

- The well-known Nazi party membership of Arnold's father (sins of the father, etc.) and his public support for Kurt Waldheim (or, as the article calls him, "renowned Nazi Kurt Waldheim"), as well as the less well-known claim that "in the 1970's he enjoyed playing and giving away records of Hitler's speeches."
- Another claim that Arnold was caught 'in flagrante delicto' on a movie backlot.
- Inappropriate comments to a store owner (though not directed at the store owner).
- The story behind a photo taken by "Spanish millionaire and notorious gay playboy" Paco Arce that shows Schwarzenegger eating breakfast off fine china while wearing a tanktop and tight underpants and standing in front of numerous copies of Playgirl. (that's seriously weird, no doubt, but doesn't directly point to anything illegal or, for that matter, inappropriate).
- More stories of attempts by Arnold's entourage to prevent the publication of Wendy Leigh's book, including four reported break-ins to the book's publisher while the book was being prepared (no connection to Schwarzenegger or his minions could be established). Schwarzenegger's side reportedly also offered Leigh a settlement for a libel lawsuit related to an article she had written about Arnold for the British tabloid News of the World that included demands for a large sum of money, a full public apology, and a promise from Leigh not to include in the book any allegations of homosexual experiences, steroid use, steroid sales, auto theft or passport forgery - despite the fact that no one had previously laid any such accusations (well, publicly) against Schwarzenegger.
- The insistence of Charlotte Parker that an interview Schwarzenegger granted to Time would be ended immediately if the interviewer brought up Wendy Leigh's book, the Nazi party affiliation of Arnold's father or steroids, and more odd behavior by Parker towards various journalists.

Some of the allegations are clearly more damaging than others. It seems certain that Schwarzenegger has an endless history of inappropriate and misogynistic behavior towards women that is simply intolerable - and, quite frankly, seems to make Bill Clinton look like a damn choirboy. Between the two articles, I count nine women, and three definite affairs (if, unlike Arnold, you count oral sex as cheating). The accusations of steroid use (and, for that matter, apparently sales) are quite damaging, but not immediately confirmable. Similarly, Schwarzenegger cannot be held responsible for the behavior of his father or his staff, though he should be considered partially responsible for the behavior of the latter - after all, he hired them and paid them to behave as they did. And I haven't even delved into his apparent admiration for Hitler or the questions about auto theft and passport forgery ...

Given a man with such an perpetually abhorrent personality, and, for that matter, a lack of apparent direction as to how he would behave in the future - policy-wise or personality-wise - can anyone tell me why it is that this man is in first or second place in the polls in the California recall election?

UPDATE: And then there's his reported affair with Gigi Goyette which apparently began while she was underage - and he was already married. (via Mark Kleiman)

Sunday, August 24, 2003
The good news: I'm back in Georgetown, and UIS hasn't yet figured out a way to break my internet connection.
The bad news: I have an ungodly number of errands to run in the next couple of days before classes start. And my TV isn't quite working yet. Working on that ...

Surprisingly, my computer seems to have started up quite well after almost a year sans use. The mouse is dying, but it was dying before I went to London. Meanwhile, Blogger is now putting me to the new, idiot-proof, idea-proof, version of Blogger, and I can't figure out how to bring up the old interface that I was used to. Bugger ...

Friday, August 22, 2003
I'm going to be spending the next couple of days moving my stuff back to DC. It'll probably going to be a few days before I can get back here with anything remotely more insightful more than a string of curse words expressing my frustration with the university bureaucracy and the folks at University Information Systems who'll be mucking up my internet connection shortly ... somehow, I just know they will.

Flood the Zone Friday, #1

(see here for background and here for the original idea).

It's time to face the fact - the presidency of George W. Bush has been a fiscal disaster. We are now running record deficits at the federal level, with the national government forced to borrow inordinate and unsustainable amounts that are making the purchase of government bonds riskier and requiring the government to raise the long-term interest rates - thereby contracting the economy even further - while worsening the reputation of the American government in bond markets. Meanwhile, numerous states are forced with enormous revenue shortfalls and are forced to raise taxes in their own right, marginalizing the tiny benefit of the Bush tax cuts - tax cuts that primarily kick in later, not now when they are needed, and are primarily directed at the rich - those who are actually least likely to spend the money now and get the money multiplier working. The tax cuts, as a result, are not economically stimulative - they are simply graft by new means. These tax cuts have worsened the fiscal and monetary situation of the U.S. economy and left the U.S. economy dragging along with high unemployment and barely noticeable growth in the two years following the end of the recession. The only attempt to raise government revenue and create some semblance of fiscal and monetary sanity was the institution of high tariffs on imported steel - a move that distorted markets severely, hurting many industrial producers significantly, and has provoked our trading partners, leading to possible retaliation and fines by the WTO.

In short, the Bush economic policy has been an irresponsible and wrongheaded attempt to get the economy going again. It has been, and will continue to be, a failure, until some semblance of reason in our economic policies can be re-established.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

The Failed State

In my continuing effort to come up with crackpot ideas about how to reform government (see also here), here's a new one:

California is facing a gigantic fiscal crisis, and as Kevin Drum has pointed out here and here - none of the gubernatorial candidates in the upcoming recall election seems to offer a particularly good plan for closing a $25 billion budget gap without equally painful tax hikes and cuts in crucial services.

So here's another idea: break up the damn state.

Government, to a certain extent, is intended to take advantage of economies of scale - that is, it becomes cheaper to produce as more and more of it is provided. In reality, though, not all government duties exist in economies of scale, and many economies of scale become worn down as levels of production become sufficiently large. Were economies of scale endless, it would make sense to produce everything in the world through a single central government. This clearly does not exist in reality. So, in other words, it becomes time to consider significant levels of decentralization. At the end of the day, however, it may simply be that the services that are constitutionally required of a state simply cannot be provided for 50+ million people by a single entity.

And, yes, I do realize that there would be significant political ramifications to such a move, particularly in the Senate. Of course, it is does not necessarily follow that California should be the only state to be broken up - Texas and New York also offer the same opportunity.

In the comments to this post, Nitin Julka (who currently runs a blog with a few of my high school classmates at Hawken) suggested that I go home to Cleveland and start up a new newspaper to compete with the godawful PD (which doesn't even bother with a true website for me to link to*)

Um, thanks, but I don't think it'll work.

God knows the PD stinks. Most of the articles outside of the metro section are wire reports (including much of the op-ed and sports sections). The paper has been getting physically narrower and narrower in recent years in order to save on newsprint. I don't think anyone actually reads the sports section. The paper is hyperactively conservative in a rather Democratic city - often making a run at the WSJ for most neanderthal editorials (well, at least when they're coherent).** And scarily enough, the paper has actually gotten better in recent years, since Doug Clifton became the editor-in-chief. Unfortunately, they still have a long way to go to become competent.

Unfortunately, I don't think that it's going to happen. Fairly few cities have two newspapers today. Although there are other cities roughly of Cleveland's size or slightly smaller among them - Detroit, Cincy, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.*** Still, most of those cities face some difficulty in supporting two newspapers, particularly in a lousy advertising market, and rely on agreements between the two in order to keep both in business.**** The PD's problems in maintaining decent advertising revenue does not bode well.

Most of the growth in newspapers right now is in smaller, tabloid-size newspapers that contain mostly advertising and a small amount of news, directed primarily at two markets - transit systems and young professionals - and sold at a low price or given away free. Newspapers of this type have been started up in a number of places in recent years - Boston, Washington, Chicago and London's Metro - have been created as offshoots of existing newspapers. Such a market does not exist in Cleveland. For one, the Rapid isn't much of a transit system, and the cold weather and lack of pedestrian traffic means that most newspapers are sold through subscriptions and in-store-sales, not out on the street.

Finally, while Cleveland doesn't have a true second daily newspaper right now, the suburbs have the Sun papers - which also stink and probably could be easily defeated - and the Akron Beacon-Journal, which is actually a pretty damn good newspaper. The best outcome that I can think of really, is that the Beacon-Journal just muscles the PD out of Cleveland and ends up as the primary newspaper for both markets.

*They do, however, put up some of their articles every day at the portal.
**I really wouldn't take so much offense at this if Cleveland were a solidly conservative city, but it simply isn't. The editorial page simply does not come anywhere close to reflecting the civic reality.
***Pittsburgh is an anomalous case, as one of the papers is backed to the hilt by an extreme wingnut, and doesn't rely on the normal financial channels.
****Which, conversely, makes now the time to buy in on the low, I suppose.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
I think my e-mail account has been infected by the Sobig worm, as I just got this:

"From: XXX | This is spam | Add to Address Book
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2003 12:24:01 -05300 (CDT)
Subject: Email Quarantined Due to Virus

The Email Message: Thank you!,
Sent To: XXX

Contained the following virus that could not be cleaned:
Scenarios/Incoming/Inbound Scan: A virus has been detected:

Anyone know what I can do about this?

Oh, this makes me very, very angry (best said in a Marvin-the-Martian-like voice)

The Ohio Republican party is reportedly mulling plans to rearrange Ohio congressional districts (via Eschaton). The districts would be gerrymandered out of turn in order to further favor the chances of Republican candidates. This, despite the fact that the Republicans controlled the redistricting process the last time around - unlike Texas, where the redistricting had to be done by the courts - and despite the fact that Republicans already hold a 12-6 advantage in the House delegation. Mind you, statewide, Democrats have lost most major elections in recent years by about 55-45. This would imply that the House delegation should actually contain only 10 Republicans. Unlike Texas, where redistricting could conceivably add four or five seats to the Republican caucus, redistricting in Ohio could only expect to add one or two seats, at most. More likely, it would push both party delegations towards the extreme wing of their parties, where only three really are now (Tubbs Jones, Chabot and Boehner). The tendency of the state to elect moderates on both sides of the aisle, in other words, could be destroyed.

Admittedly, the Republican party was forced to institute an unusually fair and balanced (no, really) plan in 2000. This was not the result of any court order.* The plan was forced into effect due to a combination of odd forces - Rep. Sherrod Brown's threat to run against Gov. Bob Taft if his district was torn apart and a desire to prevent the embarrasment of seeing Jim Traficant re-elected from a jail cell. So we got stuck with a plan that mirrored the political reality, favoring Republicans marginally, rather than the distortions that the assembly may now attempt to enact.

Gerrymandering in Ohio actually has a fairly checkered history, and I'm increasingly convinced that no one quite understands the political demography of the state well enough. The Democratic attempt to gerrymander the state wholesale in 1990 failed significantly. The old 19th district, mostly held by Steven LaTourette, was originally designed as a Democratic district (Eric Fingerhut was elected as a Democrat in 1992, but the district subsequently trended increasingly Republican). The 10th district is often thought of as a possible Republican target, primarily because Martin Hoke held it from 1993-97 and because of the socially conservative tendencies of its voters - which are mirrored well by Dennis Kucinich, the seat's current holder. These ideas, however, ignore that most of those social conservatives in the district are still quite Democratic, and the fact that Hoke was elected both times against Democrats who were marginal at best (one was actually under indictment). Given recent history, it is not inconceivable that any attempt to redistrict could fail, or even backfire.

Interestingly, there's no mention of this in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today. Then again, it's not much of a surprise given the general crappy quality of the paper. Really, they mostly collect wire reports. And you certainly won't find any mention of it online - BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE A @#*&@#% WEBSITE. The idiots just post some (but not all) of their articles on the portal every day. Morons.

*Actually, it's my understanding that Ohio has been and still is technically in violation of the Voting Rights Act, having one less black-majority district than it should be forced to contain. The sheer demographics of the state, though, would require a second black-majority district to have such convoluted lines as to be illegal. Thus, no one wants to take the issue to court.

UPDATE: I cleaned up some grammatical and vocabularical mistakes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Not Geniuses wants to flood the zone, every Friday, starting this Friday. Damn good idea.

This Friday will be fiscal irresponsibility day.

We're number 1! We're number 1!

OK, so there's nothing like a random e-mail to break out of a little writer's block. Actually, it's not so much writer's block as a host of other concerns dealing with my marathon week that have monopolized my time of late and left me with little time to be concerned with political and economic matters or anything else worth writing about (here, that is).

Anyway, Prof. Brett Marston of Marstonalia asked me to comment on my thoughts as to the recent news that the U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country. Roughly 1 in 37 adults either are in jail or have been in jail at some time in their life. For a black male, the number drops to 1 in 3.

My (anal retentively numbered and overly wordy) thoughts:

1. Insofar as this reflects the societal tendency of Americans to act violently and commit crimes, well, that stinks, and we need to proactively work to minimize this in the future, but I don't have any problem with what has been done here.
2. Insofar as this reflects the increase in the length of sentences, this makes me quite angry. It's not that I have any problem with reasonable sentencing - say, the 18 year sentence received by the Dutch activist who killed Pim Fortuyn, is a wee bit absurd, to put it nicely, for premeditated murder. On the other hand, sentencing someone with three non-violent felonies to life in prison is not reasonable, either. We are moving increasingly far away from a justice system and penal system based on the concept of rehabilitation and towards one based on retaliation.* Longer jail sentences are far more difficult to justify as a means to rehabilitate criminals - particularly given the state of American prisons. This, I believe, is something that is damaging to both criminals and to the greater society, and simply cannot be justified in the long run on any level.
3. Depending on how one looks at it, our police are either doing a very good job or a very bad job.
4. We are effectively disenfranchising an increasingly large segment of the population by refusing benefits and certain rights to certain former criminals. While punishment may be a part - and an important one - of rehabilitation, the wholesale and permanent denial of rights and benefits to former criminals both works contrary to the rehabilitation of individual criminals and undermines the entire basis of rehabilitation as a greater concept.

*I should explain that I hold dear the concept that our justice and penal systems should be based solely on rehabilitation. Indeed, this is my sole justification for opposition to the death penalty (I also believe the death penalty to be cruel and unusual, certainly, and administered in a wholly nauseating and absurdedly unfair manner, but the former is simply my opinion, one among the many million, and the latter is simply a procedural problem, not an underlying flaw)

Monday, August 18, 2003
I was just watching MSNBC - well, flipping channels, technically - and Joe Scarborough, of all things, suggested that a Marine who was found guilty for using a government-issued credit card to buy herself a car, motorcycle, furniture and breast enlargement surgery be publicly beheaded rather than serve the 14-month jail sentence (and probable dishonorable discharge) that she has received.

To be fair, Yellin' Joe did not suggest that Lance Cpl. Sherry Pierre be flayed alive, have her corpse dragged by her entrails throughout the Pentagon and have her head placed on a pike to discourage further fraud.

Sunday, August 17, 2003
What a damn mess

So, let's see. I managed to move most of my crap and assorted belongings 100 miles to the east yesterday, as the beginning of my move back to school. I get to move it again 550 miles to the west two days from now, and then 350 miles to the southeast three days later. If I had just been able to do this directly, it would have been one long afternoon and not quite 250 miles.

Makes sense, no?

Saturday, August 16, 2003
Yes, I do expect someone to give me a free t-shirt that says "I survived the New York 2003 Blackout" or something to that effect.

And by the way, walking from midtown to Brooklyn (and making a return trip not too long afterwards) in oppresive heat is techically possible, but still not a good idea.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
There's some sites in the blogroll that need to be pulled out (defunct, merged, etc.). I'm happy to take any suggestions as to what to add, just leave them in the comments.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Monday, August 11, 2003
There's an ongoing debate in the fields of political science - well, at least in some of the stuff I've had to read for classes in the past - as to whether parliamentary or presidential systems of government are empirically better at producing effective and stable governance. There are all types of advantages and disadvantages variously attributed to the two systems of government, though the argument at times seems to devolve into a pointless quasi-rivalry between American and European academics serving as apologists for their homeland. Worse, though, the argument simply seems to ignore the fact that humankind is really quite diverse. That is, some systems work better in some places than others.

Yet, as I find myself watching the partisan squabbling that has come about in many states in recent years – and been nearly disastrous in California, New York, and many others - I have to wonder if we have really made the right choice for ourselves.

Of the 50 states, 49 of them have nearly identical state legislatures – bicameral legislatures using some form of FPTP voting. There are certainly some minor differences - a few states require various qualified majorities for certain bills, runoffs if a majority is not reached, various forms of redistricting - and no two states naintain the same degree of centralization. But the only real exception to the pattern is Nebraska, which maintains a non-partisan unicameral legislature.

It'snot as if this uniformity is a time-honored pattern. Not every state always had a legislature that looked like the Congress. Indeed, at independence, the state legislatures were quite varied. But, over time, most of the idiosyncracies have been removed as states have amended their constitutions or brought in new ones altogether.

So why not experiment? Why not find out if another system might work better in certain states? And am I insane to bring this up?

The more I see things, the more I have to wonder if a little experimentation isn't warranted. The time has come to let states experiment with their systems of government. There should be nothing preventing states from switching over to a parliamentary system - or some hybrid, for that matter. What works in New Hampshire might not be the best system for Wyoming, and vice versal. Perhaps it is time not so much to throw out the baby or the bathwater, but to remodel the entire damn bathroom. And, hell, if it doesn't work, we can always go back to the same old crap.

Sunday, August 10, 2003
Kevin Drum weighs in with his predictions as to the California recall campaign. He foresees the following:

1. About 55-60% of the voters will vote to oust Gray Davis.
2. The courts will not stop the election.
3. The vote to replace Gray Davis will break down as follows: Bustamante - 33, Schwarzenegger - 25, Bill Simon - 12, Arianna Huffington - 7, Tom McClintock - 7, Other Republicans - 6, Peter Ueberroth - 5, Minor party candidates - 5.

The second prediction is, from afar, pretty much a crapshoot, and the first isn't much more reliable (contrary to the conventional wisdom, two months is an eternity in political campaigns - while American elections tend to drag out over a year or more, most countries with parliamentary systems can cram an entire general election into 6 or 8 weeks).

As to the third, I think that Kevin underestimates the minor party vote and overestimates the role of Arianna Huffington. With the entry of Schwarzenegger, she's lost the celebrity-who-speaks-English-with-an-accent vote. And much of the environmenalist-directed votes will be headed back to Peter Miguel Camejo, the Green candidate whom Kevin consigns to the minor party candidate bin. Camejo got 5% of the vote last year on his own - as did the rest of the minor party candidates put together - no mean feat for a Green Party candidate in such a large state (though, admittedly, he was clearly aided by the anti-Gray Davis vote on the left). Just as McClintock and Simon will play spoilers for Schwarzenegger - whose support will likely drain away somewhat as his past and his refusal to release his tax returns come into play - Camejo will eat into Bustamante's support.

UPDATE: Schwarzenegger has released his tax returns. Never mind that point.

Saturday, August 09, 2003
I've come down with some nasty cold/flu/congestiony/sinus infection-like/soar throatish thing. For some reason, I feel a need to write that down here. Yecch.

Thursday, August 07, 2003
There's an interesting CNN interview up with Jerry Springer, in which he says that the show now wouldn't be an issue in next year's election, but given that the show remains under contract next year, he felt that it would be impossible to simultaneously campaign and tape the show, both because of the impact on the political campaign through reputation and because of the diversion of time.

In other words, he's still open to running in the future. 2006 should bring up a couple of interesting elections for Springer to consider. Mike DeWine will be running for re-election, and has never engendered the same sort of popular reputation in Ohio that Voinovich has. He's been elected and re-elected against opponents with little name recognition or money. The governorship will also come open in 2006. Ken Blackwell, currently the Secretary of State, is the likely Republican candidate (admittedly it is early), but is not particularly well-known, and may lose support from Republicans in the southern part of the state because of his politics. Being black may also put him at a disadvantage with some of the more redneck-like segments of the population. Time will tell, etc., etc.

Dumb thoughts o' the day

1. Does California law prevent animals and inanimate objects from running for governor?

2. After reading this, I wonder if it'd be possible to get Bush to resign and become baseball commissioner. After all, even he can't do any worse than Selig.

Ignoring the political ramifications for a second, am I the only one surprised that the announcement by Arnold Schwarzenegger (whatever the hell the spelling is) that he's running for governor has received so much more press than the announcement by Lt. Gov Cruz Bustamante (whatever the hell the spelling is) has broken ranks and is running for governor?

UPDATE: OK, so it's now news at CNN.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: So, how long until the Onion puts up a story headlined "Everyone Running for Governor of California"?

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Now Issa has pulled out. What the hell is going on here?

On second thought, it's there, not here, and I'm not sure I want to know the answer.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003
Springer's not running. Dammit.

(Yes, I know Eric Fingerhut and I like Eric Fingerhut, but I don't think he stands a realistic chance - ceteris paribus - against Voinovich)

UPDATE: Link changed to reflect the fact that the original article had its relevant content deleted.

I'm hearing a rumor that U.S. forces have caught Saddam Hussein.

More on this as it does (or, doesn't) develop.

UPDATE: Probably nothing to it. Nevermind.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Damn blogspot

Monday, August 04, 2003
Mark Kleiman has put up a nice little summary of the Valerie Plame Wilson affair for those wishing to get a grasp on the issue.

Sunday, August 03, 2003
Dumb thought o' the day

Why is it that some states and localities require 2/3 majorities to enact tax increases but only 50% + 1 to enact a tax cut?

Fiscal management by consensus should cut both ways, no?

George Will has an interesting article in the Washington Post today (good lord, did I just write that?) about the growing trend of incivility in American politics.

Interestingly, three of the four cases he cites seem (to me, admittedly) to reflect worse on the Republicans involved than the Democrats involved. I know that some will disagree with me on the first two cases - the Texas redistricting battle and the yelling match between Bill Thomas and Pete Stark - while the third incident is pretty clear-cut - it involved the court battle by Gov. Kenny Guinn (R-NV) to raise taxes despite a law requiring a 2/3 vote by the legislature to do so.*

The fourth case, incidentally, was non-partisan. As Will wrote, "The Illinois Supreme Court just ordered the state to give all judges, including Supreme Court justices, a raise. Budget difficulties caused the governor to veto a cost-of-living adjustment for judges. The Supreme Court says this violates the Constitution's requirement that judges' salaries shall 'not be diminished.'" The judges decision seems somewhat spurious - their nominal salaries did not decline, though their salaries will drop in real terms (unless deflation takes hold).

Anyway, this gets me to my point: judges should never hear cases involving the remuneration and privileges of the judiciary. Hello, massive conflict of interest.

This isn't the only case that I can even think of involving this sort of situation at the moment. In Brazil - yeah, not in the U.S. - a bill to reform the social security system is currently being debated in the legislature. It would curtail extra benefits that have been accorded to government workers but not to those in the private sector. After various members of the judiciary spoke out against their loss of benefits, the governing coalition was forced to create an exception in the bill so that members of the judiciary will retain the older, more expensive, benefit system - thus lowering the likelihood that the bill would be found unconstitutional.

The truth of the matter is that I can't come up with some ingenious solution to this off the top of my head. I don't really know how things should be re-organized here. But just as judges should be expected to recuse themselves from cases involving conflicts of interest with private matters, they should be expected to recuse themselves from cases involving conflicts of interest with public matters.

*The Nevada State Supreme Court found for Guinn, arguing that the duties enumerated in the state constitution and the need to provide sufficient funding for them overrode the 2/3 rule. The state legislature then passed the tax bills by the 2/3 margin necessary in order to avert a constitutional crisis. There is currently a movement ongong to recall Gov. Guinn.

The Sunday Telegraph is reporting that an American official has warned Mamadou Tandja, Niger's president, to silence the Nigerien government from offering any comment on the uranium scandal. American officials have apparently denied that there was any attempt to gag the Nigerien government.

This smells, particularly given that no one has made any attempt to implicate the Nigerien government in any way to date, at least that I know of.

Am I the only one getting ads for a free copy of Ann Coulter's Treason when pulling up Altercation?

Saturday, August 02, 2003
Around the blogosphere in 80 seconds

The folks at PointBlog have started up a French-language Carnival of the Vanities, I think (my French really isn't that good).


I've been meaning to write about the Valerie Plame affair for a while. Mark Kleiman has done a good a job as anyone - in the blogs or the mainstream media - of covering the affair. For those who haven't heard of it, it appears that someone leaked the information that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer to columnist Bob Novak and others in order to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson, the former U.S. Ambassador who was sent on the undercover mission to Niger to investigate the claims that Iraq was buying uranium, and found that the claim was false. As Plame was working covertly, the dissemination of information about her for political purposes - which appears to have been a criminal act - was a criminal act. It's rather disturbing on many levels, really.


Added to the blogroll recently: Hawken, CyberEcology, and the Speculist, which officially launches on Monday.

Jerry Springer is expected to make an announcement on Wednesday as to whether he will run for the Senate next year. Judging by what I've seen to date, it seems pretty likely that he will run. It should, to put it nicely, be rather interesting.

(DISCLOSURE: I've done some work in the past for State Sen. Eric Fingerhut, who will also be running for the Democratic nomination)

As I've said before, I think that Springer actually stands a decent chance. The notoriously incompetent State Democratic Party has repeatedly run no-names from Cleveland in recent years. They might actually be able to get away with this were they able to get enough turnout in Cleveland, Toledo and Youngstown to deal with the lack of support in the southern half of the state, but this has never been the case. Springer is from Cincinnati, but has enough name recognition to get decent turnout in the north while his brand of populist politics should play better in the south than past Democratic candidates, people who simply couldn't connect with rural voters.

There are two major problems that Springer will face. The first is Fingerhut, who will undoubtedly fall well behind Springer in the initial polling. Given the historically low turnout in Ohio primary elections, however, Fingerhut could pose a serious challenge come primary day. Basically, if the Democratic presidential nomination has not been decided by the time the Ohio primary rolls around (which hasn't occurred in as long as I've lived there), Springer will probably walk over Fingerhut. If the presidential nomination has been clearly decided by then, then Fingerhut could still eke out a victory in the primary.

The second problem will be Voinovich. Voinovich is generally popular statewide, though I've never been entirely sure of why. Until he stood up to President Bush over the budget last year, I couldn't point to a single achievement of his, following 8 years as Mayor of Cleveland, 8 years as Governor and 4 years in the Senate. But, in addition to doing nothing particularly well, Voinovich hasn't done anything particularly badly. Springer would probably do better to wait two years and run against Mike DeWine, who is far less well known and inspires far less love than Voinovich, despite an additional 4 years in the Senate.