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
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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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Martin Stabe
More White Teeth
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Peevish...I'm Just Saying
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Risa Wechsler

Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
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"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.

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Saturday, January 31, 2004
I think there should be an RSS feed working now. Maybe.

Friday, January 30, 2004
Looking at the various reactions to the Hutton Inquiry - see Atrios, the Guardian editorial, the continuing refusal of resigned BBC Director General Greg Dyke to admit the validity of the Hutton criticisms or pretty much any other British paper in the last couple of days - I've found it surprising how many people have argued that the report was essentially a whitewash in one way or another, with the report going all out against the BBC and in favor of Blair.

First, I don't know of anyone who leveled serious and valid criticisms about Hutton's partiality before the report was delivered. So I have a hard time accepting post-hoc criticisms of this, or Dyke's argument that Blair essentially rigged the jury, so to speak.

Second, it seems pretty damn clear that David Kelly killed himself. The Vince Foster-like conspiracy theories are pretty damn ludicrous.

Third, Hutton's inquiry was - by his own decision - limited to looking at the circumstances surrounding Gilligan's report, Kelly's death, and the accuracy of the claims about the dossier that Gilligan claimed had been 'sexed up' - as well as the subsequent reaction at the BBC. The first matter is Gilligan's responsibility, the second Kelly's, the third belongs to Blair, and the fourth the fault of the BBC. As far as the first matter, the BBC is apparently now launching an inquiry into Gilligan, as they should (and probably should have done a few months ago). The second is dead and can't - unless someone can prove me wrong - be resuscitated at this point. The fourth has led to the resignations of Davies and Dyke. It seems pretty clear that the inner workings of the BBC in dealing with serious claims of flaws in their reports need fixing. Basically, they took questions about whether a report had been falsified and just argued that the report was true and refused to look into it.

As far as the dossier - Hutton only cleared the government of the allegations that the dossier itself had been 'sexed up.' The dossier was not the whole case for war. While the dossier had apparently not been 'sexed up' - though it probably was the result of cherry-picking (as all intelligence analysis will be at some point or another) - the case for war was clearly 'sexed up' on both sides of the Atlantic. Claims about WMDs and Al-Qaeda links were clearly exaggerated. The Hutton Inquiry did not exonerate Blair of exaggerating the entire case for war, as he almost certainly did, and should not be taken as such. The Hutton Inquiry report, while a vindication for Blair, only means that the dossier was, while flawed, not intentionally falsified. The report was not a whitewash - it was just a lot more narrowly defined than most observers seem to realize.

Finally, the attitude at the BBC seems to be quite troubling. Somewhere along the line, the BBC seems to have taken the point of view that independence from the government means a reflexive opposition to it, rather than a dedication to finding the objective truth. This is hardly a new view - the BBC gave Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher fits at various times over their reporting. Moreover, it is hardly a unique problem, being a problem for quasi-independent government-funded agencies worldwide (the Bank of Japan has actually experienced similar problems over the last decade, keeping monetary policy more contractionary than apparently necessary as a means to thumbing its nose at the government). The attitude of Dyke, Gilligan and many others at the BBC seems to have been that they were right to oppose the government's backing of the war in Iraq, and were right to do so regardless of their journalistic obligation to the objective truth. And that, it seems, has been the ultimate failure here.

UPDATE: Andrew Gilligan has resigned from the BBC. Gilligan has continued to defend the bulk of his story - which was largely correct - but has at least admitted that his claim that Blair knew the 45 minutes claim was false was incorrect. He has, at least - unlike Dyke and, to a lesser extent, Davies - offered what appears to be an actual personal apology for getting part of the story wrong. Of course, it's yet to be seen if he does what Greg Dyke did and turn around in a day and two and condemn the whole Hutton Inquiry as biaset, etc., etc.

Countries I've been to

The list of countries I've visited looks a lot less impressive than the states list, I guess, and there are a couple of dubious claims there - though it was only five countries total before the year at the LSE and assorted travels. I should note that I actually slept through Liechtenstein - I was on an overnight train at the time (and I don't think I missed much) - and I was only Sweden for about three hours (I had too much time in Copenhagen and went over to Malmo for a little while - and found out that there's really nothing there).

create your own visited country map

UPDATE: On my computer, there are some random islands that show up as speckled red dots. Those are mistakes, either of the image or of my computer. Dunno which.

States I've been to

Basically, I've done the East Coast at this point, and missed out on almost all of the middle of the country.

I should note, though, that I'm not entirely sure about two of them. I seem to recall having been to Maine on a vacation in 1987, but given my age at the time, I'm not entirely sure. And while I've been through Delaware in a car or train numerous times, I can't recall actually putting my foot on the ground there, so I'm not sure if that actually counts.

create your own visited states map

Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Does anyone know the names of the statistical abstracts for Canada, Britain, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia? (I need data concerning various health, crime, government spending measures, among other things, mostly dealing with the last 50 or so years - more recent data only wouldn't be fatal, though)

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Anyone care to offer a guess as to just how many candidates will claim victory in New Hampshire in one way or another tonight?

Probably all seven.

Sunday, January 25, 2004
There's an article by Dorothy Brown, a Washington & Lee University School of Law in the NYT today in which she argues that if the President really wants to promote marriage, he should eliminate the marriage penalty. The marriage penalty, for the uniniated, is the result of flukes in the tax laws that mean that some married couples end up paying more in income taxes as the result of filing jointly than they would filing separately. Some couples, however, because of the tax laws, end up actually paying less. The problem, is though, that this accounting mess cannot be fixed without creating an even larger mess in the tax laws.

So, my question is this: Why not just eliminate the anachronism and make couples file their taxes separately, thus ridding ourselves of the distortion entirely?

Well, there are two reasons, I guess. The first is simple tradition - and the fact that it might seem 'anti-marriage,' to do so, regardless of the tax implications. The second is that it would create more paperwork.

Still, one has to wonder if it would be far easier to eliminate the disparity - and the distortions - by just ridding ourselves of joint filing entirely, rather than trying to patch up the system inadequately.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Two quick, pointless points:

1. I really don't have anything any more insightful to say about the Iowa caucuses than has been said and will be said elsewhere.
2. I did not watch the State of the Union. This isn't a partisan thing for me. I find it a pointlessly boring exercize in making promises that can't be kept, won't be kept, and probably shouldn't be kept in many instances. I stopped watching years ago - toward the end of the Clinton years - when it became clear that nothing useful would ever actually be said during a State of the Union. Frankly, I really don't understand why they still hold the damn things (yes, I realize that it's actually a partisan event at this point).

UPDATE: Upon further review, I've found out that the Constitution (Article 2, Section 3) actually requires that the President "shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union ..." though this doesn't formally say that it has to be done in a speech (and, indeed, a written report was used during much of the 19th century, until radio became a viable means to relay the speech)

Monday, January 19, 2004
I don't really see the purpose in trying to make an ironclad prediction of which Democratic candidate will win what percentage or what number of delegates. There are plenty of other people who are following things much more closely and have a better idea of what will actually happen in the next few hours. Thus, I will make the following, fairly ironclad, predictions:

1. George W. Bush will win the Republican caucus (if they're even bothering to hold them, which I'm not entirely sure of).
2. Each Democratic candidate will attempt to spin the results as a positive outcome, saying that they outperformed expectations. Even Lyndon LaRouche.
3. The State of the Union address tomorrow will, as always, include far more promises on spending and tax cuts than can actually be achieved. The speech will also run long and be extremely boring. And there won't be anything else worth watching on TV.
4. The sun will still rise tomorrow (unless you're living far enough near the North Pole that it still stays dark all day).

As you can see, I'm really going out on a limb, particularly with the last prediction.

Saturday, January 17, 2004
Antonin "Fat Tony" Scalia is refusing to recuse himself from a Supreme Court hearing on the lawsuit to force Dick Cheney to turn over information from the Energy Task Force meetings, despite the fact that he recently went on a hunting trip with his good friend, the defendant. Now, the law does seem to be fairly vague on the question of whether Scalia has to recuse himself because of the hunting trip. Then again, considering the long-time friendship between the two that brought about the trip, Scalia ought to recuse himself from the case, regardless of the trip itself.

Both the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards are upset about President Bush's recess appointment of Charles Pickering to the federal bench. The latter editorial, in particular, is more upset about the use of the recess appointment than Pickering himself. I find myself in an opposing position. Pickering is an all but unreconstructed segregationist and racist, with an horrific record on the bench that calls into question his ability to interpret the law in a sound manner.

David Brooks writes "Conservatives like me don't get a vote in Democratic primaries, but we do have an interest."

David, get over it. You're a Republican. It's not a sin (though it does question the ostensible objectivity of your columns on partisan subjects)

Writing the last post gave me a thought:

First, looking at the Democratic candidates, there are clearly more qualified candidates than can actually win the candidacy. Second, the VP nomination may go to one of the losing candidates, but there's more than two decent candidates out there. Third, the VP nomination announcement has been moving earlier and earlier in recent years - hell, it wasn't that long ago that it was a Convention-time decision - and will likely be announced within a few weeks of the presidential nomination being decided this year, to get a jump on fundraising and campaigning.

Thus, rather than just announcing a VP candidate, I have to think that the Democratic candidate should subsequently announce a partial Shadow Cabinet, as the opposition does in Britain and most other parliamentary democracies. The result would be that there would be a half-dozen or so Democrats running around the country, raising serious money for the eventual candidates and offering a counter-point to Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and company. It would also have the advantage of jettisoning the intra-party politicking for appointments that has poisoned so many transitions. In other words, instead of having two high profile Democrats out in the media, there'd be four or five.

(I'm not arguing for provisionally appointing people to every cabinet position, as this would probably divert too much time from the actual campaigning and spread attention too thin)

So, if Clark doesn't get the nod for Prez or VP, he could be announced as shadow Secretary of State or SecDef. If Edwards doesn't get either nod, he could be announced as shadow Attorney General. If Dean doesn't get either nod ... well, I dunno what would be a good position for him (Surgeon General, obviously, but that's not actually a Cabinet position, and would clearly be a step down anyway). And I'm not sure if we would want to extend this to Lieberman (Homeland Security?) and Gephardt (Commerce?), who already have jobs in Congress.

I should note that there would be some disadvantages to this idea. Most notably, it would require the losing candidates to check their egos at the door, which is never an easy thing to ask. More than that, though the shadow cabinet candidates would not need the same size entourage that each Presidential and VP candidate gets, there would clearly be a noticeable cost to this plan - though ideally less than the candidates would raise above what the President and VP themselves do.

That said, I think that any plan getting more high-profile Democrats out to the people, and getting more money into the campaign coffers is strongly worth considering.

The more I think about it, the more confused I am about who I'm going to vote for in the primary. The Ohio Primary is in early March, but I'll have to decide a week or so early, as I'm voting absentee for the umpteenth time.

For a while, I was thinking about just throwing my vote away and going with Carol Moseley-Braun, but I guess that won't work now (anyhow, she failed to register for the Ohio ballot). I won't vote for Joe Lieberman. He's too holier-than-thou - I'm not referring to the religion issue, which I really don't care about, but his general attitude. I won't vote for Kucinich, who would be an absolutely disastrous President (though, as I always find myself saying, he really wasn't as bad as most people think as Mayor of Cleveland, despite the default). And two little words (Tawanna Brawley) are enough to keep me from even thinking about Sharpton.

I'm none too fond of Gephardt, either. I think he would have been a great candidate, circa 1950 or so. His absolute tendency to demand protectionism is something I utterly abhor. I'm perfectly willing to consider a somewhat populist candidate, anyhow, but I don't think Gephardt has it down right.

I really want to like Dean. The recent attack ad in Iowa, though, hit a really raw nerve with me, however. While I'm not going to argue that Dean has to sit back and take the attacks from the other candidates, I don't think that going after the others for their votes on the Iraq resolution is going to win any votes. And anyhow, it's a moot point now. I'm perfectly willing to listen to criticisms on where the others want to go, but I don't see what's to be gained from criticizing where things were. More than that, I find myself really concerned by the composition of the Deaniacs. I have no problem with 90% of them, really, but the other 10% are so far left that I have to wonder if I want to share a tent with them.

For a while, I didn't like the Edwards campaign, mostly because it seemed to be trying to repeat the Bill Clinton formula. It's not that I have anything against a candidate being like Clinton. Edwards actually seemed to be trying to be Clinton (sans the character problems). Lately, though, he seems to be moving more from the latter to the former. There are two problems that I've had with Edwards. The first is the inexperience issue. That's not a huge thing, though, and I can easily get past that. The bigger problem is, a la Gephardt, that he's just far too protectionist.

And then there's Kerry. I agree with just about everything he's said to date. The problem is that his campaign has been horribly run from the outset, and I'm afraid that Karl Rove and company would run circles around a Kerry campaign.

Finally, there's Clark. On foreign policy, he's great - and I don't really give a damn about the semantics of where he stood on Iraq. His position probably changed marginally from week to week, as did just about everyone else's. I just can't figure out where the hell he stands on just about any domestic policy issue.

So there you have my views. Maybe I should just put up a poll and leave the decision up to the people reading this, no?

CNN reported yesterday that Bush is moving into full anti-Clark mode. Which is a little confusing since the Bushies were gunning for Dean ... or Carol Moseley-Braun ... I can't remember which.

For all the deriding of the large and fairly even field - what the hell is Kucinich doing there, anyhow? - I'm starting to think that the large field is actually a strength for the Democratic party, both as it allows to get the demons out and have the party unite behind a single consensus candidate in the end - well, hopefully. More importantly, it diverts the attention of the Republicans in targeting individual Democratic candidates. Where the Republicans could target Gore from 1999 onward last time around, there'll only be a few months to target the Democratic candidate.

Historically, it seems to me that the party with more legitimate candidates generally seems to do far better in November. (Of course, that gets into the question of what qualifies as a legitimate candidate, and whether you start counting no-hopers like Moseley-Braun and Gary Bauer, let alone perennial candidates a la LaRouche and Stassen). Still, since 1968 - the last time that the conventions played a real role in the nomination process (excepting 1976, arguably) - only in 1972, 1984 and 1996 did the party with fewer candidates win the election - each time, because the incumbent had little or no opposition. 1972 was a little anomalous, as the Democratic nomination was subjected to the Nixon dirty tricks campaign, which paved the way for George McGovern. 1996 was somewhat anomalous as well - though the Republican nomination was nominally contested, it was clearly Bob Dole's from the start. Still, the pattern seemed to hold true in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1992 and 2000.

It seems to be a definite trend - though not an overwhelming one. And getting rid of an incumbent president is never an easy thing to do. But, together, the Democrats might pull it off.

The Supreme Court has refused to issue an injunction to block the use of the redrawn map for state and Congressional races, which would drastically reshape many districts to favor the Republicans. While this does not directly decide the lawsuit, which will be heard later, it would not seem to bode well on the possible outcome of the suit once it is actually heard by the Justices. In any case, it will make it nearly impossible for the Democrats to retake the House in 2004, barring a massive anti-Bush and anti-Republican landslide (which would, ultimately, be unsustainable, anyhow).

What one would make of this relative to the Pennsylvania case, also soon to be heard - the Texas case is argued over minority voting rights, where the Pennsylvania case will decide whether a Congressional map can be deemed illegal simply on the basis of overwhelming gerrymandering - is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

Thursday, January 15, 2004
Yeah, I'd say Tom Toles definitely has it right on Bush's space plan.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
A few notes about the mess surrounding Paul O'Neill's book release.

First, I think it's worth remembering that this is a man with a habit of shooting his mouth off. I have no reason to believe that his habits have changed much since he left office. On the other hand, he's always been a gabby straight-shooter, not likely to spin things or outright lie. So I don't doubt his characterizations much.

Second, the utter hypocrisy of the Bush White House in quickly publicizing an investigation into the release of classified documents is astounding - after having acted similarly itself in releasing classified documents to Bob Woodward for Bush at War - and after having done little to push forward an investigation (which is ongoing despite its best efforts, apparently), into the release of substantive information when Bob Novak listed Valerie Plame's name.

Third, I don't think there's really anything remotely interesting in the document itself. I should note first of all that I actually haven't had a chance to read it due to technological problems since I returned to Georgetown, but am only going by news reports. The policy of the American government towards Iraq had been to call for regime change since the airstrikes in 1998. With that in mind, it would have been utter folly to not prepare plans for a possible war, as the military should be prepared for any international contingency.*Iraq had long (and regularly) been a preoccupying problem for the American government and greater global community, well before the early months of the Bush administration.

*As Josh Marshall noted awhile back: "There are plans and plans, of course. It's in the nature of Joint Staffs to have plans on hand for even most improbable of wars. (If I remember correctly, the US had battle plans even for going to war with Britain as late as the years between the first and second world wars, though perhaps it was earlier than that. Point being, it's the job of the military to have plans on hand for even the most hard-to-conceive eventualities.)"

Friday, January 09, 2004
I don't know why I bother worrying about what Charles Krauthammer writes. He's a nutter. Well, unlike him, I'm not medically qualified to diagnose him as such, but reading his columns, it seems quite certain that he's a paranoid wacko. His fear of Howard Dean has been worsening of late. Hell, even George Will writes a coherent, interesting column once in a while (though mostly on non-partisan subjects).

That said, on to Krauthammer's column today:

Krauthammer lambastes Howard Dean for saying that the U.S. isn't any safer after the capture of Saddam Hussein ... 21 days after Hussein's capture, it's too soon to tell. He then goes on to say that America is, in fact, safer. The problem is that if it's too soon to say if Americans are less safe, it's also too soon to say if we are any safer, either. The capture of Saddam Hussein may have been a turning point in the conflict in Iraq ... or it may not have been - that turning point may also have come earlier, later, or not at all. If it's too soon to tell if your opponent is wrong, it's also too soon to tell if you are right on the same subject.

Gregg Easterbrook has written a rather frightening estimate of what a moon base or a mission to Mars might cost. The moon base, he guesses, would cost about $200 billion, while a manned Mars mission would cost in the range of $600 billion.

Again, we need to have a good reason for considering either one of these missions - that is, there must be tangible external benefits that would be produced. Neither one of them would seem likely to do so in the near future (Easterbrook does note that a Mars base would be useful to producing energy via fusion reactors, but fusion reactors remain decades away if at all possible).

It's worth noting that Easterbrook has long been an opponent of much of the space program, seeing it as wasteful and unnecessarily dangerous. That said, I have to think that he's utterly right in stating that "What NASA needs right now is not an absurd, bank-breaking grand mission: It needs to spend a decade researching a safer lower-cost alternative to the space shuttle."

There's an interesting Op-Ed by David Abraham in the New York Times criticizing Bush's plan to issue work permits to certain illegal immigrants on the grounds that it mirrors European 'guest worker' programs that existed between the 1950's and 1970's, and have subsequently given significant headaches to many European countries. Numerous European countries allowed 'guest worker' programs during that period to deal with huge labor shortages. In particular, West Germany imported huge numbers of Turkish and Yugoslav workers, while the Netherlands and France imported more North African workers. Rather than going home, though, many of the workers stayed in Europe and later brought the rest of their familes along. This became a problem as the poor immigrant population strained welfare programs and the labor supply overshot the demand for labor following the oil crises of the 1970's.

The problem with this comparison is that there are a number of historical and legal differences that would minimize the likelihood of similar problems. First, relative to the total population (and total labor supply), the American program would seem to be far smaller than the 'guest worker' programs, which significantly altered the demographics of many European nations over the last half-century. Second, the American social safety net is far smaller than most European ones, and not likely to be as costly as European programs. Third, many of the problems that have resulted in Europe have come about because of the continued difficulty in assimilating non-European cultures. The result is that large immigrant populations have been kept at the outskirts of society in certain European countries. North America, on the other hand, is essentially built on immigration, and has many centuries experience in acknowledging the differences in cultures and accommodating them. Moreover, many European countries have maintained legal systems that extend citizenship by blood rather than by birth, creating untold problems down the line as second and third-generation descendants of immigrants can only claim the citizenship of their ancestral country rather than that of their residence. The American legal system, while not particularly accommodating to extending citizenship to illegal immigrants, has not punished the children for what their parents did (and has also - at times - created amnesties to allow illegal immigrants to gain citizenship). The frictures that have existed in Europe were not purely the result of the 'guest worker' programs, but from a number of unfavorable circumstances, many of which do not exist in the U.S.

Thursday, January 08, 2004
From the 'You Get What You Deserve' dept.

The University of Nebraska is apparently going to hire Bill Callahan to be the next head coach of its football team.

(For the uniniated, the University of Nebraska fired its old head coach, Frank Solich, after he led the team to an impressive 9-3 record in the regular season ... because the team didn't do any better and was no longer feared, regardless of the fact that they were still one of the best teams in the country. As a result, practically no one was willing to consider the position. Callahan, on the other hand, proved to be a total ass in alienating his entire team, describing them as "the dumbest team in America" at a press conference and nearly inciting a munity en route to a 4-12 season)

To boldly go ... where a dozen guys have been before

The whispers are growing louder and louder that the Bush administration is going to propose a return to the moon and possibly to Mars as well.

Er ... why?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the space program when it has a point. The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs were all designed to build rocketry systems that would be useful in national security - and eventually petered out when they were no longer useful to that end. The Skylab and Space Shuttle programs were intended to be used towards a variety of scientific experiments (some more valuable than others, admittedly). Among all of the manned space missions, only the one-shot Apollo-Soyuz mission went up for the sake of itself.

The apparent proposal seems to have come about - political considerations aside - because other countries are doing it. Yeah, well they're doing it because we already did it ... thirty-odd years ago. Nationalistic considerations are frankly an idiotic reason for a space program, and more than that, a near-total waste of money. Plainly speaking, the means cannot be ends in themselves - there needs to be a separate reason to do things.

The nuts and bolts seem to be pretty problematic as well. The recent success with the Mars lander aside, NASA has mucked up a lot of missions over the last decade, with numerous failures that would raise the question of whether it could really expect to successfully expect to pull off the long-term manned missions that the Moon base or Mars mission would entail.

Truthfully, there are other missions that would seem to be far more cost-effective right now, be it building the 'space plane' to replace the outdated Space Shuttle program, continuing to build the International Space Station, encouraging the commercialization of space, rebuilding the Russian space program - which could actually have quite beneficial political side effects - or looking into landers and other missions to the planets beyond Mars.

Don't get me wrong, it would be really, really cool to either send men to the moon again or to Mars. But that's not nearly enough justification.

There's an interesting article in the New York Times today about an IMF report criticizing imbalances in the American economy. It's nice to see that the problem is finally getting some attention.

Interestingly, the report seems - at least from the article - to point to the problems resulting from the large American fiscal debt. The problem is that the debt, while huge in absolute terms, isn't exactly overwhelming relative to the overall economy. The article pegs it at 40% of the overall economy (which I'm assuming is a nice but oblique way of saying GDP). The devt levels of Japan and many western European countries are far larger now. Indeed, the total American debt level was nearly equal to a far smaller GDP at the end of World War II, and total British debt accumulated to nearly 2.5X times GDP at about the same time.

On the other hand, the current fiscal deficits of the American federal government would seem to be far more problematic because of the resulting imbalances in the national income accounts, and problems in the capital accounts, rising real interest rates and a sinking currency.

Of course, it could just be that the authors of the article have a hard time telling the difference between a debt and a deficit ... which may well be the case.

In any case, any crisis is going to need a trigger, however small.

Looking at the current state of affairs in Connecticut, there seems to be a strong parallel between the currently embattled governor, John Rowland, and the current mess surrounding Pete Rose's admission that he gambled on baseball. Both seem to be far more apologetic for the fact that they were caught than the fact that they did anything wrong.

In early December, the governor denied that he had accepted illegal gifts and free work on his vacation cottage that was paid for by individual seeking work from the state ... which was subsequently proven false, as the guv eventually acknowledged. It has also recently been reported that Rowland apparently sold a small apartment in DC that he had used while in Congress to another such individual at well above market prices (the apartment was subsequently resold at a large loss).

In short, Rowland seems awfully corrupt. He has, until now, however, refused to resign, and the Connecticut legislature is considering impeachment measures. In fact, he has been incredibly combative. His wife went so far as to write a rather nasty poem criticizing the state media for actually investigating her husband's mess. Now polls are showing that a vast majority considers the governor untrustworthy, a smaller majority wants him to resign, and over 40% support impeachment procedures. Whether Rowland will actually be indicted is a little less certain, since bribery charges are extremely difficult to prove.

The man obviously has a huge ego. But with a Democratic controlled state legislature and a populace that notches a barely statistically significant level of support, how the hell does he believe that he can get anything done with nearly three years left in his term. He doesn't exactly have the same public support that Bill Clinton had during his impeachment.

In short, unless he wants to spend the next few years taking lessons from Pete Rose on ignoring the truth and pretending bad things never happened, he'd do best to offer an actual apology (unlike last night's half-assed one) or get the hell out of town.

Ok, so no one really seems to think that the Bush plan on immigration reform will really get passed any time soon. There's a fair amount of opposition on the sides, with right-wingers considering the plan practically treasonous in its implicit condoning of illegal immigration, while left-wingers see the plan as not going nearly far enough. As numerous others have pointed out, it seems highly unlikely that the Bush adminstration would actually lay down the political capital to see such a controversial proposal (as any bill dealing with illegal immigration would be) through. Few actually seem to think that the bill stands any chance of passing as a result (in any case, the requirements, fees and paperwork would likely be so onerous as to ensure that few would ever qualify).

It's pretty unlikely to get through Congress, no matter what your view on the merits of the proposal are. So, that said, one has to wonder what the political ramifications of the proposal itself will be. There's a Washington Post article here looking at the response from different groups and evidently representative individuals to the proposal.

Basically, there are two separate groups whom the Bush administration appears to be targeting to win votes from: businessmen (and farmers) who would benefit from the legalization of cheap labor and Hispanics.

As far as the former category, I think two points are worth making. First, businessmen and farmers are a fairly heterogenous constituency, and it would seem unlikely that many would choose what presidential candidate they would vote for due to this single proposal. Those who can afford to are often likely to vote along ideological lines rather than voting their pocketbook, it would seem. In any case, some of the smarter ones aren't likely to support the proposal anyhow, since it would force them to pay taxes and a minimum wage on a labor supply which they previously did not, thus raising their costs.

As far as the latter category, one has to wonder at what point Hispanics or any ethnic group would start to resent such blantant pandering. God knows I do feel that way when I start hearing such blatant pandering to my various ethnic groups and so do some of the representatives of Hispanic groups named in the article, but neither I (not being Hispanic) nor they would exactly seem to be representative of the average Hispanic voter. Many seem unhappy at the program not going far enough, the fact that it fails to include any sort of explicit amnesty, and that it would deport legal workers who have not done anything wrong (save illegally crossing the border) after three years.

Long story short: the bills isn't going anywhere, and the political benefits to the Bush administration may not necessarily go much further.

Monday, January 05, 2004
Fourteen years of lies.

Fourteen years. Four thousand, two hundred and fifty-six hits gone.

OK, so at least Pete Rose is no longer pretending that he didn't bet on baseball, despite the existence of incontrovertible evidence.

But he seems to expect that now all will be forgiven and he'll be allowed to return to baseball and manage the Reds again.

Well, no, that's not how it works.

Or at least not how it should work (yeah, I should probably stop using one-sentence paragraphs).

The man broke one of the cardinal rules of fair play in sports. OK, so he didn't use steroids. But it's hardly as if all should be forgiven after fourteen years of blatant lies. He bet on baseball and being banned for life was the correct punishment. It should stay that way. I cannot see any reason for granting mercy to such a bastard.

Love it or leave it?

James Traub wants to know how Democrats can win on national security.

OK - a few points to start off with, as far as the chances of the Democratic presidential candidate in November:

1) No matter how egregiously skewed towards the rich they were and no matter how unbearable a fiscal debt they have produced (when placed alongside an unwillingness to limit discretionary spending, anyhow), arguing for the repeal of the Bush tax cuts is not going to be an easy thing to do. It will be far too easy for Republicans to argue that the repeal would produce tax hikes for the bulk of the population rather than simply producing a return to fiscal regularity, even if the Democratic candidate produces detailed policy proposals for the money spent. Long story short: tax hikes scare people.

2) It's going to be tough for the Democrats to win on national security grounds. In times of war and general danger, there is a tendency to rally round the flag, and the incumbent government more generally. It's not unprecedented for an incumbent president to lose despite this - witness the current incumbent's father - but it certainly makes it harder.

In order to deal with 1) and 2), here's my idea:

The Democratic presidential nominee should propose that all funds produced from the repeal of the Bush tax cuts be directed towards national security projects.

Therefore, if you oppose the repeal of the Bush tax cuts, you're a traitor (well, no, not really, but it'll come across that way).

It would be, to put it nicely, a buttload of money for national security projects that is not currently available. It probably would be, if sustained over the very long run, more than sufficient to turn the U.S. into a garrison state. And whether that would be a good thing is highly debatable.

Of course, a fairly broad definition of national security could be used for such a proposal. This would not just be proper military spending, but also infrastructure projects and even programs like VOA and the Peace Corps that build goodwill abroad. Moreover, such spending should free up funding currently committed elsewhere in the federal budget for the discretionary programs that Gephardt, Dean and others are currently proposing to create through the repeal of the tax cuts.

Friday, January 02, 2004
Just out of curiosity, who the hell would've thought that co-hosting Celebrity Poker would be a good career move for Kevin Pollak?