Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

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Dan is a student at Georgetown University. He is currently trying to think of a new biography for this space.

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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
Chip Taylor
Conceptual Guerilla
D-Squared Digest
Dilettante's Guide to Life
Egotistical Whining
Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
Fleeting Impulse
Funny Farm
Grammar Police
Head Heeb
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
Impolite Company
Internet Activism
Jacqueline Passey
John Hoke
John Lemon
John Scalzi
Kick the Leftist
Kids Korner
Kieran Healy
Liquid List
Loopy Librarian
Mark Maynard
Martin Stabe
More White Teeth
No More Mr. Nice Blog Notes on the Atrocities
Open Source Politics
Passenger Pachyderms
Peevish...I'm Just Saying
Politics and Policy
Quantum Skyline
Radical Review
Random Points
Risa Wechsler

Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
Talking Dog
Tom Runnacles
Truth is a Blog
Vaguely Right
Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
Vulgar Boatman
We Report... You Deride

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Boot Bush! Donate to the DNC today

2004 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac

"Everything to Everyone" by Barenaked Ladies

"In Between Evolution" by The Tragically Hip

"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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Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Some idiot high school band decided to send a member running across the field while the band played "the composition by Franz Joseph Haydn that eventually became known as 'Deutschland Uber Alles.'"

Words fail me.

Well, words that I can actually print here.

(the band director has apologized and said that he was simply trying to be provocative)

The Justice Department today requested that the White House to preserve all relevant records dealing with the outing of Valerie Wilson as an undercover CIA operative.

Said White House Spokesman Scott McClellan: "I'd like to thank the Justice Department for their statement. We had completely forgotten to delete all those e-mails. That could've been a real mess."

Novak has been caught lying and trying to cover the tracks of whoever fed him information. And how.

Monday, September 29, 2003
To the people who keep stumbling in here looking for a photo of Valerie Plame Wilson, I don't have one, and I won't post one or a link to one even if I had it. Unlike Robert Novak, I do believe in defending our national security (a low blow, but clearly deserved).

I'm assuming that these people are coming here because I linked to a photo of Gigi Goyette, the girl whom Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently had an affair with while she was underage and he was married.

So bugger off, if that's what you're here for. Otherwise, enjoy!

UPDATE: Neither do I have nude photos of Mr. Wilson and his wife.

And to whoever came here looking for nude pictures of Arianna Huffington:


Dear god no.

Sunday, September 28, 2003
There's a poll near the bottom of the CNN page worth filling about regarding Wesley Clark's comments about the President.

For more on l'affaire Plame, see Kevin Drum - here, here, here, here, here, here and here - and Daniel Drezner - here - and Josh Marshall - here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here - and Brian Linse - here - and Atrios - here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here - and Matt Yglesias - here - and Kos - here and here - and the WaPo article, the MSNBC update and the CNN article and ... well, you should have plenty of reading by now.

Oh, and the Instapundit can't quite get his head around this one.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking that it's time to come up with a scandal for this treasonous little mess that some snitch in the White House created. And, this being DC, every damn scandal has to end in "-gate." Besides the obvious Plamegate, Wilsongate, Treasongate, Leakgate ... uh, any suggestions?

Today kinda sucked from a sports standpoint. First, the Browns lost to the *(@&%*(#@ Bengals. And, of course, it's the end of the regular season for baseball - and the end of the year for me in that regard, since both of the teams that I root for - the Indians and Blue Jays - are done. At least the Jays finished above .500 - last year was the only year that both fell below .500 since I was a year old (and I can't claim to have been exactly cognizant of baseball or anything else then).

Saturday, September 27, 2003
It is being reported by MSNBC that the CIA has asked the Justice Department for an investigation into who at the White House leaked Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak. This, if true, was a federal crime, as Plame was a covert operative for the CIA. It is believed that the White House leaked her name in retaliation to actions by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson, who led the investigation in Niger as to whether Iraq had attempted to buy Uranium there. Wilson found no evidence of any purchase, but the claim still went into the State of the Union Address.

For more, see CalPundit, Kos (with one hell of a long comment thread), TPM and Mark Kleiman.

Friday, September 26, 2003
Is it me, or are a lot of second-tier celebrities dying off lately?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Free D.C.

Josh Chafetz, guest-blogging at Los Volokhs comes out against a filibuster against an experimental school voucher program in DC (in other words, he backs the voucher program).

Even if you ignore the fact that vouchers aren't cost-effective (see the post just below this one - permalinks bloggered again) and ignore all the church-state issues,* there's a massive problem with the program: home rule.

Congess cannot simply intervene willy-nilly in state education policies whenever it wants. Nor should it. Yet because the District of Columbia has a half-assed version of home rule that subjects it to Congressional whims in order to ensure that it has enough funds to pay for services - that benefit Congressmen and other federal employees who do not pay taxes for them - the federal government can intervene in DC whenever it damn well feels like it. Which is stupid, inefficient, and patently anti-democratic. No one is challenging the ability of the District to manage its own affairs.** Yet Congress still has the unchecked ability to intervene in local affairs as it wants to.

For the record, the Mayor supports the voucher plan as a last-ditch alternative, the Council seems to be broadly opposed to it, and the population, in most polling, seems opposed but not overwhelmingly so. Not that any of it matters one bit.

*Yeah, I know, the Supremes already ruled here. I decided to bring it up again here. So sue me.***
**Well, now that Marion Barry is done.
***No, not literally.

(via Hawken, whose permalinks are also currently bloggered)

More incoherent blogging

There's an interesting interview with an advocate for smaller schools, who said the following about the cost:

"researchers at NYU did an analysis of big schools versus small schools and found that the operating costs of small schools are about 5 percent higher. But if cost is evaluated on a per-graduate basis, if you divide what is spent per year by the number of students who graduate, the balance tips slightly in favor of small schools, because the graduation rate is higher."

This compares with vouchers, which cost an enormous amount of money, and, as far as any decent study I've seen, make an insignificant impact on educational outcomes.*

*My knowledge is a little outdated. As far as I know of, the only three existing voucher programs in the US are those in Milwaukee, Florida and Cleveland. The Milwaukee program has a complex admissions system that means that it isn't a true voucher system, the Florida system essentially only existed on paper as last I knew (difficulties in meeting the requirements meant that few students could qualify). The study that I know of is based off of the Cleveland program, and it should a statistically small improvement in math skills and a statistically small decrease in language skills by students taken out of the public schools relative to what similar students scored in the public schools.

If anyone knows of anything that I'm not including, leave a message in the comments.

UPDATE: Whoops, I forgot to actually link to the interview. There I go again.

Go figure

Last Thursday and Friday, a hurricane hit Georgetown, but somehow the cable continued to work. Now, it's 70 and sunny outside, and the damn thing has been out for at least an hour now.

Monday, September 22, 2003
Frank Rich's update on the responses to his article about Mel Gibson's possibly anti-Semitic movie The Passion includes this timeless quote by the actor about the journalist:

"I want to kill him," he said. "I want his intestines on a stick. . . . I want to kill his dog." — The New Yorker, Sept. 15

Sounds like someone who has his head screwed on straight, no? (as Rich notes, he does not own a dog ... and does this not sound suspiciously like Mike Tyson's pronouncement that he wanted 'to eat' the non-existent children of Lennox Lewis?)

Sunday, September 21, 2003
Kos and Kevin Drum are linking to this Newsweek poll showing that Wesley Clark has jumped out to an early lead, with 14% of registered Democrats and democratic leaners.

Unfortunately, it's hard to get much information from this. First of all, Clark, Howard Dean (12%), Joe Lieberman (12%), John Kerry (10%) and Dick Gephardt (8%) are all within a +/- 3% margin of error (in other words, those five have support that is statistically insignificantly different from 11%. Second, with everyone so close together, it's a matter of where candidates are going, not where they are now. Clark is starting from a good point, but so was John Edwards as of a few months ago. Third, it's a #@&%^& national poll. Primaries are done by state. New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and a few other states will play a pre-eminent role in deciding who is the nominee. And this poll probably took the opinions of a handful of people in New Hampshire. For that matter, it's theoretically possible (but extremely unlikely) that every Democrat in, say, California supports Clark but no one else does.

Saturday, September 20, 2003
Next Year at RFK

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Get it over with and move the Expos to DC already. Montreal doesn't want the team, San Juan and Monterrey don't have the base to support a major league team, and Portland doesn't have a stadium for the interim. I'm sick and tired of spending all day dragging myself up to Camden Yards - and only do it once or twice a year as a result - to see a ballgame.

Repeal the steel tariffs already. They've done far more damage than benefit, that's clear, both in theoretical and empirical terms. They haven't worked, and they ain't gonna work, dammit.

Friday, September 19, 2003
I just took off the front panel of my air conditioning unit to get something that I dropped inside (don't ask). Inside was a sign saying to disconnect the unit before doing any maintenance in order to prevent electrocution.

Uh, shouldn't the sign have been on the outside?

Overall, the damage from Isabel is fairly light here. There are a ton of leaves on the ground, but a surprisingly large number of trees didn't seem to lose much foliage. The ground - where there is ground - is muddy, and there are plenty of twigs and branches to be stepped upon. I could only find one street that was fully blocked (which was the block of 35th Street just south of Prospect, which is so steep as to be all but impassable in good weather). The Potomac is clearly swollen, but doesn't seem to be in much danger of flooding here. Power is still out in surrounding neighborhoods, but the university itself still has electricity in abundance. It's still a little windy, but the sun is out, so no one seems to mind too much.

For the truly curious, we've received 2.37 inches of rain in the last 24 hours, and the wind gusts have topped out at 54 miles an hour.

So now you know.

It's come to my attention that I'm going to have to stay up until the rain stops, because the leak isn't going away and is requiring constant attention. Sooner or later, I may actually get around to non-hurricane related blogging, at least once I get done with this damn paper that I've been working on all day long.

UPDATE: But apparently it's dry and quiet over in Dupont.

Thursday, September 18, 2003
The rain just picked up again, after about a dry half-hour or so.

Insightful, no?

Georgetown will be closed tomorrow too. Which makes not a whit of difference for me, since I have no classes and no obligations on Fridays anyway.

Yeah, the rain's pretty well picked up in the last few minutes, and so has the leak. The streets are pretty deserted at this point, and it's fairly dark already. The cloud ceiling has also dropped pretty significantly in the last few hours.

And I've got my first leak. Nothing serious, just a small amount of water coming in from somewhere around the edge of the window seal.

The wind has picked up again in the last minute or two, and has pulled a fair amount of leaves off the trees. We're getting some pretty solid rain now, but nothing huge.

The wind has definitely picked up in the last ten minutes or so and the rain has picked up as well. Still nothing of much interest, though.

It just started raining. I'm guessing that the TV will go out within the next ten minutes or so (the university's cable system runs off of a couple of satellites that tend to lose the signal whenever there's any rain)

Well, it's turned quite gray and the wind has started to pick up a little, but it's hardly anything out of the ordinary so far. The side streets of Georgetown are pretty deserted, though no one seems to have moved their car. There are a few pedestrians still out there. seemingly divided between the oblivious (those convinced that the storm will be barely noticeable), the fearful (those who are hoarding about a month's supply of water and dry food) and the joggers (who, I'm convinced, would still go out were pitched battle erupt in the streets). M Street still has a fair amount of traffic on the streets, but far less than during a normal morning rush hour, and most of the shops are closed. I'm fairly surprised how much litter and debris is lying around on the streets that hasn't been moved inside or cleaned up. Some of it is clearly stuff left around from last night - although I'm sure they wanted to notify the faculty and staff, it wasn't altogether bright of the university administration to call off classes early enough for everyone to start drinking.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Classes are cancelled. Thank god. We seemed to be about the last major educational institution in the area to cancel classes. Not that the hurricane will really hit until the end of the day, anyway, but I suppose it's better not to have people going home at the end of the day. Actually, we haven't been officially notified via e-mail yet, but the school's closure hotline says so, so I'm taking them at their word. Particularly since I have as much time in class on Thursdays as during the rest of the week put together.

This hurricane is really annoying me. The last couple of days have been the first truly sunny and warm period we've had since I got back to Georgetown three and a half weeks ago. We've gotten an incredible amount of rain, and the ground is still soaked across most of campus. But, apparently we'll have to balance out the couple of sunny days with a damned hurricane.

It's still warm and stuffy outside, but the first high clouds have arrived, where the sky was perfectly blue earlier this afternoon. We haven't quite reached the sense that all hell will soon break loose yet.

Barring any other obligations, I do intend to blog through the hurricane, starting around 3 PM tomorrow or so, at least as long as the power lasts.

So you'll be treated to lots of insights such as "it's raining really hard, but not quite as hard as before" and such.

Btw, the 52nd weekly (yes, that adds up to a year, more or less) Carnival of the Vanities is back home at Silflay Hraka this week.

Current verdict on the early TV coverage of the impending 'cane: lots of flashy graphics, not much in the way of, um, actual forecasting.

(Evil Genius voice): It works! It works! My damn internet connection works!

Tuesday, September 16, 2003
The good news: I now have something of an internet connection.
The bad news: My computer still isn't fixed. I've managed to dig up my ancient laptop, which, though it has an ethernet card, seems to run about as fast as a 28.8 line. A return to normal blogging is probably still a few days away.

And that's assuming no impact from the hurricane.

Monday, September 08, 2003
Open source tech help

OK, here's the deal: my internet connection isn't working. It's not the ethernet card, which the diagnostics for show is fine. It's not my ethernet connection, which is also working fine (it works for a borrowed laptop). I seem to have a very small amount of connectivity (probably not the right description) with the internet, as I can still generally ping most sites through MS/DOS, but cannot load any websites, nor use AIM or anything else internet-related. Even when I dial into to AOL, I can still only check e-mail and use non-web functions as web sites still will not load. It's not a problem with Internet Explorer alone, because Netscape isn't working either. I have reinstalled the ethernet card driver, TCP/IP driver and physically taken the ethernet card out, cleaned it off and reinserted it.

This occurred on Saturday afternoon. I had installed Lavasoft's Ad-Aware program to deal with some spyware issues. That worked fine, but seemed to increase the number of pop-ups I was getting, so I installed a pop-up control program (Popup Stopper Free). The latter program was blocking my e-mail client from working (because e-mails will open in new window), so I uninstalled it. When I uninstalled it, I had to restart the computer, and the internet connection has not worked since then.

I'd really like not to have to do what University Information Systems wants me to do, which is to reformat my entire hard drive and reinstall Windows. Any ideas?

UPDATE: 1. I'm not getting a Mac. Regardless of all the performance issues, I'm not in a position to get a new computer right now.
2. It's not any of the worms. My computer is actually running an old enough OS to not be a possible target for the current worms.
3. It is not, unfortunately, a problem with the ethernet cable.

Sunday, September 07, 2003
My internet connection is down, and it looks like it may be a few days before I can get things completely fixed (something is very, very wrong with my computer).

Saturday, September 06, 2003
I missed the Buckeyes game today (whoever the hell decided to schedule a meeting for me on a Saturday at 9 AM has earned my eternal enmity), but what the hell happened to Krenzel? 5-20-76-0-1?!? (Does SDSU have that good of a pass defense, or was Krenzel that bad?)

Reading this and this, I get the feeling that the Draft Clark movement is not so much a campaign as a lifestyle.

Friday, September 05, 2003
Saith Kos:

"We're witnessing a profound cultural change within our military's officer ranks. There is a sudden realization that things were pretty good under the last Democratic president, and that Bush has made a profound mess of things. Under Clinton, all they had to worry about was gays in the military. Now, they have to worry about dead comrades, shattered lives, broken families, and an administration that gives lip service to our men and women in uniform while ignoring their real needs.

It won't be their votes that will matter next year. It'll be their voices -- helping dispel the notion that only Republicans can protect our republic from our enemies." (Italics added)

Uh, not so fast. Not to pick at an open sore or anything, but I think we'd probably have a President Gore right now if a few more soldiers voting in Florida hadn't voted for Bush.

Pointless book review

I finally got done with Richard Duncan's The Dollar Crisis. It's not exactly a page-turner. But then again, it's not that good, either. It's kind of funny, actually, that I just wrote that, given that I actually agree with Duncan's conclusions. He seemed a little too determined, however, to undermine his own case.

Duncan's thesis was that the U.S. is heading towards an economic crisis, barring serious intervention now. Since the downfall of the Bretton Woods system, the U.S. has sustained increasingly large trade deficits. The deficits, financed through debt, have created an enormous disequilibrium in the global economy, creating a world-wide credit bubble. Countries have built up huge stockpiles of international reserves - first financing the stock market bubble, and now financing the enormous fiscal deficit. It has also led to a deflationary pressure on consumer prices. The result has been the current contraction of the economy due to over-investment and the creation of significant excess capacity.

First of all, I have to believe that Duncan is suffering from a Cassandra complex. Having predicted the Asian crisis correctly - in 1993, mind you - he is now seeing impending crises. Duncan is probably not the first economist to over-react to being proven correct; he will surely not be the last. The Asian crisis, in any case, can be attributed both to fundamental flaws and to an evident panic in 1998.

Second, Duncan repeatedly makes use of nominal numbers unadjusted for population. This is not a significant problem were he dealing with monthly numbers, but over the course of multiple decades, significant inflation and population growth - even in the U.S. - have to be accounted for. Failing to use real per capita numbers for yearly data over a century is simply inexcusable. Over the last century we have seen nearly 20-fold inflation, by my quick estimate, and the population 5-fold. Adjusting for those two factors makes the multi-thousand percent growth of currency in circulation or foreign reserves seem far less damaging.

Third, I'm not sure that the end result need necessarily be the collapse that Duncan expects, nor do I think that it necessarily be an immediate threat. It is not entirely unconceivable that the shock that results from dealing with the twin deficits be a significant correction rather than a crisis. There are a number of factors that could alleviate the fall of the U.S., particularly a significant drop in the U.S. Dollar. And, hell, there's always the IMF.

Fourth, Duncan rails against the use of fiat money from time to time, arguing that the trade deficit was only possible with the abolition of Bretton Woods and the severing of the link between the Dollar and gold. The problem is that, as much as fiat money presents problems, the use of a gold peg seemed even worse. Duncan takes a particularly rosy view of the Bretton Woods period (even he doesn't argue for a return to the Gold Standard, which required sacrificing internal stability for external stability). Though Bretton Woods theoretically came into force in 1947, it was not truly complete until Western Europe returned to full convertibility with the abolition of the EMU in 1958. Canada wouldn't bother with joining the standard for a couple of years, and some other countries waited longer. Bretton Woods was only truly in existence from 1958 to 1971, a period which was clearly racked by increasing numbers of currency crises as speculators pushed for repeggings. The U.S. was simultaneously blamed for it's 'guns and butter' spending, which caused inflation to spread elsewhere - though some of the blame may be attributable to the unwillingness of Europeans (other than West Germany) to revalue their currencies to reflect the recovery after World War II, since to do so would have had a contractionary effect. Fiat money can, in some respects, be called the worst option except for all the other choices.

Fifth, Duncan offers the solution of some quasi-global minimum wage mechanism so as to boost the demand in developing countries. Essentially, the idea is the same behind Henry Ford's famed decision to pay a $5-a-day wage, above normal wages at the time - so that his workers could buy the same cars that they made. It's an interesting idea in theory but, as Duncan notes, it's not entirely certain how a workable system could be put into place.

Clearly the trade deficits that we have experienced over the last couple decades are unsustainable, and have had deleterious effects both at home and abroad. The time will come when we have to take our medicine too. I just wish that Duncan had actually made a sufficient argument for why this is so.

Flood the Zone Friday, #3

Let's face it. It's been a long time since we've had a president who has been particularly strong on civil liberties. After election, most presidents seem as much interested in gaining power for their administration as anything else. Still, George W. Bush seems determined to go down as easily the worst president on civil liberties since Richard Nixon. We seem to be regressing towards the days of Cointelpro and wire-tapping.

The PATRIOT ACT has allowed the government to simply claim 'terrorism' and search without probable cause. It has allowed the government to proceed without warrants in certain cases, dispensing with centuries of common law. Worst of all, the Bush administration wants the power to permanently detain non-citizens without trial. This, quite simply, is damned wrong.

Thursday, September 04, 2003
I just got back from class and turned on the debate.

So far, I've figured out this: somebody needs to punch Kerry in the gut or do whatever it takes to get him angry. And he needs to enounciate better. He could probably take a cue from Gephardt, who seems to be doing his best to channel Clinton - add a raspy southern accent and white hair (or, for that matter, Bob Graham's vocal chords and hair) and he'd be a dead ringer.

My, that's completely inconsequential.

Oh, and somebody needs to tell Kucinich to get real and learn how to pronounce his Spanish better. Kucinich was actually a better Mayor of Cleveland than people give him credit for - not that that's really saying much - but he seems completely out of his element in a debate (or reality nowadays).

For that matter, Dean needs to learn how to think a little quicker and start forming his sentences in his head before he speaks them. Instead, he's stuttering and reverting to sound bites.

And while I'm adding updates without noting them as such, somebody needs to tell John Edwards that no one knows who he is, but everyone knows his father grew up in a small town. It's past time he shut up about where he's from and starts talking about where he wants to be going.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Arnold Schwarzenegger has attempted to respond to criticism of his unwillingness to participate in this week's gubernatorial debate by saying that he will participate in a debate the week the before the recall election. Every single other major gubernatorial candidate will participate in this week's debate.

So why is he willing to participate then rather than now?

Because he (and the other candidates) will get the questions for that debate a week in advance.

Why was this man allowed to hold a press conference before his execution?

A lot of people have been showing up here today looking for photos of Gigi Goyette, the woman who Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently had an affair with - while she was underage and he was married.

For the record, I don't have any photos of her. If someone knows of where I can find one, I'll put it up or link to it, but I don't have anything now. (UPDATE: The best I can find is this. Satisfied?)

And getting traffic via those searches is still better than people coming here via a search for free male nude proms. (on the plus side, the search ranks me one ahead of Fred Phelps' website, - no chance in hell I'm linking to that bigotry)

I don't know, and I don't want to know.

(see this post and this post, as well as Wendy Leigh's book for more background on Arnold)

Too good to be true, maybe

I'm not going to argue with the economics of the matter (indeed, basic Ricardian trade theory argues that it's beneficial) - but it bespeaks the hypocrisy of the Republican party that they tout nationalist-sounding slogans all the time - and then turn around and outsource their telephone fundraising to a company in India.

(via Oliver Willis)

Monday, September 01, 2003
Georgetown. No, wait, sorry ... Georgetown doesn't really do the technical side of communications too well.

The phone system requires us to enter a PIN number to make outgoing calls. These weren't necessary until my sophomore year. Until then, as a result, students had been able to use 10-10 numbers to bill long distance to the school. I can't find my PIN number, which I apparently lost somewhere between leaving for England and coming back (the numbers are random - we can't choose them). So, using my cell phone, I called the number given to me for replacing my PIN number. The first menu on the automated system I got required me to enter my PIN. So much for that.

The entire university's internet connection goes out through a single cable. Which passes under M Street. Which has been for the last couple years (and will be for a couple more) under significant rebuilding (because of the exploding manholes). So every time some construction worker cuts the cord, we lose the whole internet connection.

And the university's cable system goes through a single cluster of satellites behind Harbin. Which, apparently seem to lose the connection every time it starts raining. And this being a humid summer even by DC standards, that has happened quite often lately. Including just now. (on the plus side, because the satellites are on the western end of campus and I'm on the far eastern edge, I can generally tell when it's going to rain a couple of minutes ahead of time)


Economics, if you can stand it

There's an interesting article by Peter Goodman in today's Washington Post discussing American pressure on China to revalue or float the Yuan. The author's conclusion is that, basically, there's little imminent chance of a revuation.

To explain, China keeps it currency - variously known as the Yuan, Renminbi, CNY or RMB - pegged to the Dollar at 8.28, with a fairly meaningless trading band of 0.1%. Because the fundamentals of the Chinese economy have improved so much in recent years, the Yuan has become drastically undervalued - that is, the free market value of it would be something significantly higher, variously estimated by most to be anywhere between 4 and 7.4 Yuan to the Dollar (this is considered to be higher or stronger because it would take fewer Yuan to purchase a Dollar). The low value of the Yuan makes Chinese exports cheaper to foreign buyers and imports more expensive for Chinese consumers than they would be at the free market rate. This creates a pressure to expand the Chinese economy - and thus makes the Chinese government reluctant to let the Yuan strengthen.

In recent years, many have suggested that the U.S. is suffering because of the flood of cheap exports from China. U.S. consumers are buying more imports from China and less able to export to China than they otherwise might. In some respects, the current predicament of the American economy is due to the pegging of the Chinese economy* (though clearly there are many, many more factors at work behind the current situation). In particular, the decline of the manufacturing sector can be attributed to the export of jobs to China.**

A revaluation would not be simply beneficial for the U.S. The pegging at the current rate has led to drastic expansion of the Chinese economy, which in turn has fueled Chinese demand for imports, no matter the pegged rate. At the same time, it has kept inflation in check during the expansion, and kept a real estate bubble from popping. Moreover, the flow of U.S. currency into China has led to enormous Chinese demand for U.S. securities, particularly T-bills, which has made the fiscal deficit tolerable until now and helped bid long-term interest rates down (until recently).

In any case, the Chinese government is clearly quite reticent to do anything to the peg in the near future. It will probably widen the trading band in the next 12 months, but is unlikely to go beyond an expansion to 1% or so. Such a widening will be insufficient to deal with the pressure to revalue. Other options, such as floating, re-pegging, or a shift to a basket peg (rather than a single currency peg), are unlikely to occur soon.

Two things are worth considering. The first is that this will be as much a political decision as an economic one. The government of Hu Jintao is not likely to want to cede to international pressure too quickly, particularly given that Jiang Zemin only recently retired (and still apparently controls much of the military). Jintao and others will not want to lose face. Moreover, the Chinese government does not want to do anything that might cause (more) domestic jobs to be lost and raise the specter of instability. More important, I think, is that, broadly speaking, the Chinese government doesn't really seem to like George W. Bush much. They never really like any American government, but were clearly irked by the war in Iraq and American behavior at the UN (not to mention the whole North Korea fiasco). They aren't going to want to do anything to smooth Bush's path to re-election.

Second, the WTO may well come into play at a certain point. Global trade laws incorporate anti-dumping provisions, and someone may well eventually start trying to raise tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to make up for the cheap currency. It's not an immediate link, but someone may well try to make a case on the merits here in the coming months and years.

*Some other countries are actually now hurt more than the U.S. by the pegging of the Yuan. The recent fall of the Dollar against the Canadian Dollar and the Euro means that Canada and the Euro-zone are actually now more exposed to the weakness of the Yuan than the U.S. than in the past.
**The American manufacturing sector is clearly in something of a long-term decline independent of China. In part this is due to various changes in the domestic and international economy, but it is also due to the increasing specialization and use of outsourcing among American firms, which leads to the reclassification of much manufacturing as service provision (English translation - part of the decline is real but part is attributable to accounting, not economics)

This just sucks.

Major League Baseball is apparently planning to keep the Expos in Montreal next year, though they may play some of their games again in San Juan, or possibly even in Portland, Oregon, or Monterrey, Mexico.

More and more, it seems that Selig and his buddies learned nothing from the contraction fiasco. Rather, they seem insistent on keeping the Expos on life support until they can kill them off once and for all - rather than actually trying to treat the patient (I apologize for the run-on metaphor).

A lot of ink has already been spilled on the issue of the economic and political questions of bringing baseball back to the District. And I'm going to say this: Washington is ready for it already. Yeah, it's still a football city, but the city never latched on to either version of the old Senators or the Caps or Wizards, but the Senators always stunk, the Wizards have been mediocre for a number of years, and the Caps have been fairly average. The Caps and Wizards/Bullets were also hurt for a number of years by playing in Landover. Yeah, bringing the Expos to DC would probably hurt the Orioles, but only marginally. With the distance and horrific traffic, going to a game at Camden Yards is about a six hour ordeal for a DC resident - and longer if they lack a car, meaning that few go more than once or twice a year. The local media pays little more attention to the Orioles than they do to any other pro baseball team.

The question is really where to put the stadium, and who will pay for it. I'm not a proponent of public financing by any means - particularly with DC as broke as it is - but I don't think that any of the alternatives are politically viable. RFK could be an adequate baseball stadium, but it's not going to produce the sort of revenue from club seats and loges that owners want. The District isn't in much of a position to pay for a new stadium, and is hampered by its unitary system of government, where most other localities can spread the expenditures across city, county and state governments. Another alternative would be to renovate RFK and build something smaller for concerts and DC United elsewhere. This would probably be cheaper, but might not satisfy anyone.

Somebody needs to figure it out already, and get RFK ready for opening day.

I finally caught the Al Franken-Bill O'Reilly brouhaha last night being re-run on C-Span2 (I was still in London sans TV when it occurred), and my thought is this: if Gary Hart isn't willing to challenge Ben Nighthorse Campbell for Colorado's Senate seat next year, what will it take to recycle Pat Schroeder?