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
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Head Heeb
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
Impolite Company
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Kick the Leftist
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Loopy Librarian
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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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Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
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Vulgar Boatman
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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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Sunday, November 30, 2003
Judging by the comments in the post below, I'm not sure that my point was clear.

Replacing Daschle is all well and good, but who are we going to replace him with? We don't want to go down the road of replacing someone bad with someone worse.

Lieberman, Edwards and Kerry are running for president. Though handing one of them the Minority Leader position would be an interesting way to draw one of them out of an overly crowded presidential race, it's probably not something done easily.

Hollings, Miller, Lautenberg and Graham are retiring - in the case of Miller, none too soon.

Kennedy, Byrd, Kohl, Leahy, Inyuoue, Sarbanes and Feinstein are too old - and Kennedy, Leahy and Byrd both have enough skeletons in their closet to disqualify them anyhow.

Akaka, Levin and Baucus are too bland.

Chuck Schumer seems to be doing a great job of pissing off Republicans in his current incarnation. Whatever the hell that is. Ditto Chris Dodd and Dick Durbin, when they show up.

Clinton would be way too divisive, and lacks experience anyhow.

Mark Pryor is also too inexperienced, as are Debbie Stabenow and Mark Dayton.

Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu probably ought to worry first about getting re-elected. Putting women in control of both Minority Leader positions might well make the party look soft to men on security and military issues as well, regardless of how well it draws women.

Boxer is too liberal. Ditto Harkin, Rockefeller, Cantwell, Mikulski and Murray.

Biden is too enigmatic.

Feingold is too idiosyncratic. Way too idiosyncratic.

The Nelsons are both too conservative, and so is John Breaux (all are still well short of Zell Miller territory, though).

Ron Wyden doesn't seem to know what's going on.

Harry Reid seems better suited to his current position than being bumped upstairs (translation - he's a good backroom dealer, but not the face of leadership).

Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan and Tim Johnson are hardly different than Daschle.

Last I knew of, Evan Bayh was uninterested in a leadership position.

No one knows who Jeff Bingaman is. And after twenty years in the Senate, that's a pretty bad sign.

Jeffords would be great, but isn't technically a Democrat.

Which leaves us with, uh, Jack Reed.

UPDATE: Upon further consideration, I forgot Jon Corzine. Who is also too inexperienced.

UPDATE to the UPDATE: Fixed a very minor grammatical error.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Buzzflash wants Daschle out.

It's all well and good to be unhappy with the job that Daschle's doing. Getting rid of him, though, supposes that some Democratic senator would do a better job right now. Practically every possible leadership candidate - other than Daschle's current lieutenants, Harry Reid and Byron Dorgan (neither of whom is especially telegenic) - is running for President. Other possible choices are variously too young, too old, too far to either extreme or situated in states that are highly contested (this can be good - it probably will help Daschle's re-election chances in South Dakota - but it also runs the risk of the leadership losing an election a la Tom Foley). I'm all for getting rid of Daschle as Minority Leader, but only if we can replace him with someone who's going to do a better job.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Shortest post ever

Read this.

I've made a couple of updates to the template, adding a few links, subtracting a few inactive ones, and adding a couple of Babelfish translations, though I should point out that they only translate the sidebar and the first few posts.

Monday, November 24, 2003
I got to think during my microeconomic theory class today about the post below, and econometrical ideas of applying ordinary least squares binary to political ideas, as some economist have begun to do, in dealing with the tendency of the U.S. economy go grow and contract during years ending in certain numbers. And as I went back in my head, I realized that there seems to be a fairly strong relationship there with the tendency of the White House to change residents by party in certain election years as well.

It's generally fair to assume that the modern two-party system was first seen in 1856. Of course, one can make arguments about the Whigs being proto-Republicans, and the issue of third-parties, but I'm going to ignore those for simplicity's sake.

1856: Democratic hold
1860: Republican gain
1864: Republican hold
1868: Republican hold
1872: Republican hold
1876: Republican hold
1880: Republican hold
1884: Democratic gain
1888: Republican gain
1892: Democratic gain
1896: Republican gain
1900: Republican hold
1904: Republican hold
1908: Republican hold
1912: Democratic gain
1916: Democratic hold
1920: Republican gain
1924: Republican hold
1928: Republican hold
1932: Democratic gain
1936: Democratic hold
1940: Democratic hold
1944: Democratic hold
1948: Democratic hold
1952: Republican gain
1956: Republican hold
1960: Democratic gain
1964: Democratic hold
1968: Republican hold
1972: Republican hold
1976: Democratic gain
1980: Republican gain
1984: Republican hold
1988: Republican hold
1992: Democratic gain
1996: Democratic hold
2000: Republican gain

Years ending in a 4: 6 holds (4 R, 2 D), 1 gain (D)
Years ending in an 8: 6 holds (5 R, 1 D), 1 gain (R)
Years ending in a 2: 2 holds (2 R), 5 gains (4 D, 1 R)
Years ending in a 6: 6 holds (4 D, 2 R), 2 gains (1 D, 1 R)
Years ending in a 0: 3 holds (2 R, 1 D), 5 gains (4 R, 1 D)

So what does this show - ignoring the fact that the sample is far too small to take any conclusions at face value. Well, it shows that there tends to be far more turnover in years ending in a 2 or 0 than a year ending in 4, 8 or 6. This would make it more difficult for Democrats in 2004. On the other hand, years ending in a 4 are fairly even in terms of the outcome, while Democrats are strongest in years ending in a 6; Republicans are strongest in an 8 or a 0.

Of course, there are far more complicating factors than the economy. There are numerous issues of public policy that end up factoring into any election. The Civil War and Reconstruction helped ensure that Republican presidents were elected between 1860 and 1884. The deteriorating global situation that led into World War II (as well as the Great Depression, for that matter) helped elect Democrats between 1932 and 1952. For that matter, there seems to have been far more of a general willingness among voters to accept that economic fluctations were natural before World War I, rather than the current state where political figures will be blamed for failing to ensure full employment (I may be overestimating the change in voter's priorities, though I suspect this to be a result of the transition away from a largely agriculturally dominated economy).

For that matter, it can be easily debated to what extent the President actually has control over the economy, as the Fed controls monetary policy largely outside the hand of the President, and the Congress does much of the deciding on the actual final elements of the budget. To the extent that the President actually does control the economy, a large element of that control is the ability to sway public confidence.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that there have been numerous instances in which the President did not win a majority of the popular vote: 1876, 1888, 1912, 1916, and 2000. The elections in 1876 and 2000 were particularly problematic and controversial, quite obviously.

In other words, this whole thing seems pretty frivolous, though I still find it quite intriguing.

Thursday, November 20, 2003
There's an interesting article in the New York Times today about the difference in stock market performance when Democrats and Republicans are in the White House.

It seems that, far and away, since 1927, the stock market has performed far better with a Democrat in the White House than a Republican on Pennsylvania Avenue. Under a Democrat, the market has returned about 11% above the T-Bill rate (essentially, this is the return you get for being in the stock market rather than just holding a relatively risk-free security, not the return above holding cash), while Republican administrations have returned only about 2% above the T-Bill rate, generally in more volatile markets. In other words, Republican administrations are riskier to investors and earn lower returns.

The findings seem to be broadly true, even if you break the long period into subsections (which is probably necessary given the huge impact of the Great Depression and World War II).

I should point out a couple of caveats. First of all, the stock market is not the economy and vice versa. The outcomes of growth in the two are highly correlated, but are not directly related.* Second, if there is a causal relationship here and not just a coincidence, it is probably related more to market confidence than anything else. The President lacks direct power over monetary policy - the Fed gets that - and shares direct control over fiscal policy with the Congress, though realistically it is very difficult for a President to reject a budget passed by Congress because of the political repurcussions. In other words, it's not what the Presidents do, but what markets think of what the President, Congress and the Fed do that matters.

*Though, as I'm fond of pointing out, "Excluding the 1970’s from consideration – the oil crises were caused externally and wreaked havoc with the economy – the last Democratic president to lead the U.S. into a recession was Harry Truman ... the last Republican president to serve a full term and not lead the U.S. into a recession was Rutherford Hayes ... So basically, Republicans claim to return money to the voters by lowering taxes, but end up costing them money by lowering income."

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
I have, for the most part - until now - not bothered to comment about the candidates for the Democratic nomination. This was for a number of reasons, but primarily centered around the early date, and lack of a firm allegiance to any candidate.

My political views are, by most measurements, closest to those of Howard Dean or John Kerry. I wanted someone with more experience than Edwards, better established positions than Clark, and, well, I just don't like Joe Lieberman - I don't think he's remotely Republican, I just don't think he'd make a good President. And Kerry's campaign never seemed to be going anywhere.

I believe in a strong foreign policy, but worried that Iraq was a distraction from dealing with actual terrorist threats - though I suppose I was more supportive of the idea of overthrowing a bloody dictator than Dean. On domestic affairs, I was fairly closely aligned with Dean, though I worried about his position on gun control - but I had a hard time believing that he would actually seek to loosen current laws rather than probably just leaving things as they are. I found myself worried sometimes about some of the wingnuts who I saw drawn to Dean too - though, as Robert Kagan pointed out yesterday, many seem to be doing so because they misread Dean's views on Iraq. I would've been happier, I suppose, had more of them been drawn to Kucinich, but the big tent is, after all, a good thing.

Of late, though, I've had a harder and harder time siding with Dean. His flip-flopping on Middle East issues didn't really bother me - frankly, I change positions on that issue about twice a day. His recent rallying to protectionism disturbed me, but, like the gun control issue, I had a hard time believing that he'd do anything stupid there.

But then I read something like this - Dean is calling for greater regulation of business enterprise.

I'm hardly a voice for endless deregulation. In fact, I think given our current economy, we've got things pretty close to right ... though things were probably a little better as of a couple of years ago, with a slightly stronger FCC, SEC and EPA, among others (including anti-trust enforcement). And I'll happily accept the case that recent deregulations have been fairly botched, though I think this speaks worse of the methods by which deregulation was carried out, rather than blaming deregulation itself. Properly carried out - as has been done in other countries - deregulation of certain industries can turn out quite well for almost all parties involved, particularly through the ending of rent-seeking behavior.

Calling for wholesale, broad re-regulation of "utilities, large media companies and any business that offers stock options," however, is just stupid, both from a political standpoint - it will alienate numerous large companies that will give more money to George W. Bush - and economically - creating tremendous deadweight losses.

Proper regulation is certainly necessary to ensure proper behavior and to make certain that there are no violations of anti-trust, environmental and other laws. Attempting to regulate entire markets, however, is costly and foolhardy.

Uh, y'know, it's only sports, but this might be a slight conflict of interest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Random tech support

I'm having some issues with my web browser (actually, my computer isn't adequately functioning either, but that's a separate matter). For some reason, when ever I click on the scrollbar on the side of my browser, it automatically scrolls down two pages. Yeah, I know I could just use the scroll button on my mouse or hit the page up/page down buttons, but does anyone have any idea how I can fix this? Thanks.

Monday, November 17, 2003
You need a scorecard ...

Ezra Klein, formerly of the Klein/Singer blog has moved from Not Geniuses to Pandagon, and has been replaced by Nico Pitney. No word on whether a player to be named later was involved in the trade.

Meanwhile, I passed through unconditional waivers, as no one was willing to pick up my $20 million a year contract. There has been no word on whether I will be sent to the minors, given my unconditional release, traded, or kept here.

Sunday, November 16, 2003
Cavs win! Cavs win! Oh my god, the Cavs actually win!

Yeah, well it doesn't happen too often.

And while I'm on the subject, I'd just like to restate the fact that I am in favor of mandatory steroid testing, both in-season and out of season, with severe penalties and significant suspensions and fines for any violations whatsoever, for baseball players ... and the team owners as well.

Saturday, November 08, 2003
Most of my growing up was done in Cleveland, one of the colder and snowier major cities in the U.S. Being so damn cold and snowy, people would sometimes leave up their outside Christmas decorations for a while until it was sufficiently warm, and enough of the snow had melted to make getting the decorations down a safe possibility. Some of my neighbors would also keep turning the lights on at night. Usually this lasted for a couple of weeks after Christmas, but I can remember one particular household that had a habit of leaving their lights up and operating well into February or March.

However, in Georgetown, I've noticed an annoying tendency this year to leave Jack-o'-Lanterns outside past Halloween. And it's really getting disgusting, since many of them are now rotting away, particularly after the rain of the last couple of days.

Pointless football question - what would be the call were, on an onsides kick, the receiving player to touch the ball and knock it out of bounds before anyone from the kicking team lays a hand on it?

Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Um, if you flip back and forth between CNBC and MSNBC right now, Jerry Nachman is on both channels simultaneously.


UPDATE: I should point out that this post will only be timely for the next minute or so, and will be pretty well useless after that point.

Monday, November 03, 2003
John Snow said today that the U.S. is not seeking a weaker dollar. He also went on to add that the earth is flat and that the Easter Bunny is real ...

OK, I'm not one to argue against a moderately weaker Dollar. But shouldn't the Treasury Secretary have learned a thing or two from his predecessor about how not to behave in public? Shouldn't he have learned not to speak out of his arse in such a manner that makes it clear to anyone who is listening? Does it not behoove the man to think before he speaks?

There's a fair amount of hubbub going around about this Dave Lindorff article in Salon, which talks about the possibility of restarting the draft.

I really, really don't see it happening any time soon. Really.

First of all, the draft is only justifiable if the Bush administration are willing to acknowledge that Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere will require long-term committments, something that they have been highly unwilling to do until now. Few in the federal government are going to publicly admit what Donald Rumsfeld privately admitted in the now-somewhat-infamous memo. The draft was only restarted in the 1950's with the acknowledgement that the Soviets presented a clear long-term threat.

Second, there just doesn't seem to be much of a groundswell for a return to the draft. Tryng to push for it would be a tremendous political risk that seems unlikely to be chanced in the year leading up to a Presidential election.

Third, the military and much of the DoD oppose it, favoring an all-volunteer/career service rather than having to quickly train unhappy and ill-prepared conscripts. Moreover, accepting a return to the draft on their parts would be to admit that the all-volunteer/career service has essentially failed to win the peace in Iraq.

Although the article notes that the Bush administration is pushing to fill vacant spots on draft boards, it also notes that Reagan acted similarly in 1981. Although I don't know whether Reagan made any push to restart the draft at that time, the outcome clearly ended with the maintenance of the status quo.

Now, I should point out two personal things: I am not opposed to the reinstitution of a draft, so long as it is not gender-biased as the past draft was, and allows young people to serve their country through public service outside of the military should they choose to do so. This would both encourage greater public service on the part of young people - something that seems to be lacking nowadays - and also would maintain an all-volunteer/career military service. Such public service should include higher education, which does clearly provide positive externalities to the whole of society. As the article points out, the educational loopholes that allowed men to avoid the draft by staying in graduate school ad infinitum during the Vietnam War have been closed. While the loopholes were clearly extremely inequitable, they do the wrong thing by discouraging further education rather than encouraging it. The correct means of dealing with the inequities that the exemption would provide would be to create better means of access for poorer young men and women to attend university - which means lower tuition and better financial aid. Reintroducing the draft would create an additional source of uncertainty that would actually discourage those same individuals from attending school entirely.

I should also point out that there is little chance of my actually being drafted, so my views on this subject may be a little skewed as a result. Even if the draft should be reinstated, I have a whole list of minor ailments that would preclude me from more or less any military service ... certainly nothing more dangerous than a desk job. (thankfully nothing of them are degenerative or life-shortening problems).

(via Not Geniuses, who picked up on it from Tapped)

Sunday, November 02, 2003
I really have no reason to link to this story, except for the sole reason of allowing me to excerpt this quote:

"The government says more than 200 monkeys have been relocated to Gandhi's parliamentary district about 125 miles east of New Delhi. Gandhi denies it. 'It's all rubbish,' she said. 'Not one monkey has been relocated to my constituency.'"