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
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Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
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Head Heeb
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
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Kick the Leftist
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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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Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
Talking Dog
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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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Friday, October 31, 2003
About the reported 7.2% GDP growth during the third quarter.

First of all, it is certainly a blip. This is not to say that it isn't impressive (wow, a triple negative), but that 7.2% annual GDP growth simply isn't sustainable in a developed economy. Blips like these have certainly been seen in the past. As Krugman points out, the question is whether it can be sustained. If we see something along the lines of 3-4% GDP growth during the fourth quarter, then we'll be looking at a real recovery. If we drop back down to 1-2% growth, than we won't be. Moreover, as Brad DeLong points out, a recovery isn't going to be sustainable if it doesn't lead to job creation.

Secondly, it ain't the tax cuts, people. For one thing, they took place months ago, and the checks were largely received months ago, and people will start to spend them as soon as they get an inkling of the cuts (basically, they'll borrow for what they want now - this is basic multitemporal utility theory). Although the money multiplier isn't immediate, it seems that the growth can largely be explained by a combination of military spending, borrowing facilitated by extremely low interest rates due to a highly accomodationist monetary policy and a the drop in the Dollar, which has finally begun to bring the trade balance back to some semblance of sanity.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Just when you think that the political dialogue can't go any lower.../Temporary descent into blogosphere navel-gazing

Donald Luskin is threatening to sue Atrios.

Might I point out that the prospective defendant is, at least until now, anonymous and probably none too easy to track down? And that the prospective plaintiff is a moron? (and that's not libel, as it is quite true)

Oh, and I'd follow suit, except I seem to have done so pre-emptively (and rather subconsciously too)

Tuesday, October 28, 2003
For those wondering about why we're still hearing about whispers of deflation, both from the Fed today and from pundits recently, we are actually a fair degree closer to deflation now than where we should be at. Although CPI inflation has picked up in recent months, two things are worth keeping in mind:

First, a good amount of that is probably the result of energy price fluctuations. I haven't bothered to actually look up what the core inflation is doing before I write this, but energy prices tend to introduce a whole mess into inflation calculations.

Second, the CPI overstates inflation by about a percent or so, according to most studies. This is due to a combination of factors, largely measurement error and substitution bias (when a price rises, a consumer is likely to buy less of that product and more of a similar product that hasn't gone up in price - when this occurs, the CPI will note the price rise but will be slow to notice the change in preferences).

For that matter, the CPI measures consumer price inflation, which isn't the only set of prices out there. Still, it's a much more reliable proxy for actual inflation than the PPI or any other index that I know of.

We probably are in a better situation vis a vis the chances of inflation today than we were a few months ago, but we're not out of the woods entirely.

UPDATE: I should also point out that this means that real interest rates aren't as low might otherwise seem, and may not actually be negative.

Sunday, October 26, 2003
Well, the Russian government seems to have gotten itself into something messy.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the chairman of Yukos, one of the two giant oil companies, has been arrested. This comes a couple of months after one of his chief lieutentants was thrown in jail. There is little doubt that Khodorkovsky and his fellow oligarchs committed any number of crimes during the crazy years that followed the fall of the Soviet Union and the privatization of the creaking public firms. Some of these were simple technical violations of the privatization laws, while others probably committed far more serious crimes.

The problem is not so much that Khodorkovsky and his fellow oligarchs are being punished for their past misdeeds. The problem is that Khodorkovsky and Yukos have been singled out, possibly because Khodorokovsky had been willing to support opposition parties financially and had publicly speculated that he would run for President in 2008 when Vladimir Putin retires. The question remains of just who is running the show here - it's not entirely clear whether it would be worse if Putin is calling the shots to use the government for his own backing or if he had lost control over part of the government apparatus and let other misuse the institutions.

Undoubtedly, the arrest of Khodorkovsky will create an enormous amount of turmoil in most any market related to Russia. Starting tomorrow, the Ruble will drop (which won't be bad for Russia insofar as it encourages exports), and the Russian stock market will undoubtedly take a pretty severe tumble, much as it did when the government has previously moved to arrest Yukos elites.

Saturday, October 25, 2003
Sorry about the prolonged absence, but I've been busy with a combination of midterms and job interviews (no offers yet, unfortunately), which have cost me pretty much any semblance of free time lately. The hard slog is pretty much over for a couple of weeks, thankfully, but I've been at a conference all day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Almost done. I'll be back here soon, hopefully.

Saturday, October 18, 2003
There's an interesting article on the British backlash against CCTV cameras.

Which has been far too long in coming, really.

The cameras are ubiquitous in any city of any size in Britain, both for security and to catch speeders. One of my professors stated that, on average, each individual is being watched by a half-dozen cameras while in London (I have no way of actually checking the number).

It's pretty clear that the cameras aren't being used too efficiently. The speed trap cameras often seem to be placed in areas where they're more designed to catch speeders than minimize accidents. There were a couple of cameras on the Kingsway, I'm fairly certain, and it was a dead straightaway that was generally too congested to allow serious speeding except on nights and weekends. Moreover, the speed trap cameras are often not well marked, meaning that many don't slow down in their vicinity.

The security cameras are even less efficiently used. Clearly there is some use for them - many of those in the city were erected in response to IRA bombings, as the article notes - but many of them are sitting around in areas where they're plainly not needed (like the neighborhood I lived in, for one). I can't imagine that these are ever put to any real use. Why a country feels it needs a CCTV camera for every 24 citizens is really beyond me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Why, yes, we do have a business school

In a review session for an upcoming midterm in International Relations, one of my fellow students actually asked: "How do you spell NSC?"

Monday, October 13, 2003
Today, we answer the age-old question: Is Bill Safire really that dumb?

You betcha.

Safire is criticizing Howard Dean for denying saying that, as far as the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein by the American military, "the ends do not justify the means," as John McCain criticized him for saying.

The problem is, Dean never said that.

The entire quote is as follows:

"It's a victory for the Iraqi people ... but it doesn't have any effect on whether we should or shouldn't have had a war ... I think in general the ends do not justify the means."

It's pretty damn clear from that quote that Dean's comment about "the end not justifying the means" was directed at the war, not specifically at the actions of the military leading to the deaths of those two monsters. No one, to the best of my knowledge, tried to make the case for going to war for the purpose of taking out Uday and Qusay.

To a certain extent, the problem here can be attributed not to Safire, but to McCain, who clearly took the quote out of context in his comment.* Safire, however, is clearly either smart enough to realize the mistake and has chosen to perpetuate it in a despicable and disrespectful manner - ignoring the fact that Americans are actually smart enough to read and understand what Dean actually meant in the first place, whether they agree with it or not - or is just really, really stupid.

*The story in the Times writes of McCain's comment thusly:

"For instance, Mr. McCain cited Dr. Dean's remark that 'the ends do not justify the means,' in reference to the death of Saddam Hussein's sons. 'I was astounded,' the senator said. 'The ends were to get rid of two murdering rapist thugs and the means was the use of American military intelligence.'"

I am willing to accept that Sen. McCain may have mistakenly taken Gov. Dean's comments out of context, but Safire can make no such justification, having had days to look over it and write this idiotic column.

Kevin Mackey is getting a second chance. Damn time.

Sunday, October 12, 2003
Very, very busy (mostly at procrastinating, but still ...)

Posting will be even more intermittent than usual over the next two weeks or so. Sorry.

Friday, October 10, 2003
Also from the "the professors think they're funny" file

One of my professors asked us "you do know what a radio is, right?"

I hate it when they get nervous and try to respond with humor before exams.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Mark Kleiman has moved from here to here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Arnold has apparently been elected as governor in place of the recalled Gray Davis.

And I would like to announce that I will no longer consider the state of California a legitimate member of the Union, being on leave until such time as it comes to its senses.

Man, I'm going to have a hard time finding a flag with 49 stars.

UPDATE: Edited for a really stupid vocabulary mistake, which I'll blame on my near total lack of sleep of late.

Well, it's certainly going to be a rather interesting day, what with the recall and all.

Although, as a steadfast Democrat - as well as being utterly horrified by Schwarzenegger's personality - I am naturally opposed to the recall, but am rooting for a tie, purely out of spite for the state of California and the idiots behind these shenanigans. Or maybe a rainout.


One of my professors - someone fairly well known in the studies of international relations, actually - asked my class this morning "where the Bretton Woods conference was held."

Monday, October 06, 2003
Ego strutting

Oliver Willis makes some good points about the blog bubble, and how the role of blogs in America today is often overestimated by those who run and read them.

Of course, y'know, I made more or less the same point four months ago.

Sunday, October 05, 2003
I'm not going to make any point over the seriousness or validity of the Israeli airstrike in Syrian territory. Frankly, I lack the expertise to make any judgments there.

I will say this, however, to anyone thinking about listening to the Syrian line that this strike is a serious escalation in the conflict that threatens to internationalize the situation: It ain't. With Israeli military might clearly predominant in the region, and the Syrian state rotting internally, serious conflict is extremely unlikely. This is rhetoric, plain and simple.

Schwarzenegger's campaign manager, Rep. David Dreier, has blamed Gov. Gray Davis for the releasing of information that Arnold has groped 15 women, at last count.

So, let's see: It's Gray's fault that Arnold decided to grope, fondle and feel up all those women.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Seriously, Gray Davis does not control the LA Times and, more importantly, if the allegations are true - and Arnold has more or less admitted as much - how they were released is of no matter, unless some law was violated in the releasing.

Thursday, October 02, 2003
And it keeps on coming...

ABC News is reporting that Arnold Schwarzenegger voiced his admiration for Adolf Hitler in an unpublished book proposal in the 1970's.

This really shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Spy reported 11 years ago that Schwarzenegger liked listening to records of Hitler's speeches and gave away copies.

Damn, this stuff took far too long to surface.

The temperature here has really dropped in the last couple of days, and it's only going up into the mid-50's now. Which brings me back to one of my favorite little inside jokes at Georgetown, the inability of the southerners here to deal with anything even slightly cold. Having been raised in Cleveland, I have no problem with it and am still wearing short sleeves and shorts. Plenty of people, though, are walking around wearing a parka over a hooded sweatshirt and the like. Wimps.

The Plame investigation has been expanded. Meanwhile, the Republican party seems to be refusing to back off its attempts to tarnish the reputation of Joe Wilson. Which is completely irrelevant to the crime committed by someone in the White House, of course.

Do they really think we're that stupid?

On second thought, don't answer that.

It's nice when the guy who wins the Nobel Prize for Literature is actually someone whose work I have read. Or for that matter, for a change, someone I've actually heard of.

And the truth comes into the open about Arnold, here and here.

Well, sort of. It's really just the tip of the iceberg. See here and here. The articles in Spy and Premiere that I have copies of list include nine separate allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and three confirmed extramarital affairs. Not to mention accusations of statutory rape, steroid use, steroid sales, auto theft and passport forgery.

And why, exactly, is this man leading the polls?

UPDATE: In fairness, I should note that one individual is cited in both the Times and Premiere stories - Anna Richardson, a British TV hostess whom Schwarzenegger reportedly groped.