March 2013, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Danny Westneat Demonstrates Confirmation Bias: Sometimes, you see a cognitive error that has a kind of perverse perfection. It is so clear an example of a particular kind of error that it deserves notice — and perhaps a paragraph or two in a textbook.
For those who were asleep during that part of Psychology 101, here's a description of that common trap:
Now for the example. Last Wednesday, the Seattle Times published this article describing the unbalanced job growth in Washington state
From that, Westneat draws this conclusion:
Some readers will have already noticed that the news article describes job growth in the Seattle Metro area, but that Westneat is attributing all the job growth to that reactionary city, Seattle. According to the Census QuickFacts site, Seattle has a population of about 620,000, the two counties about 2,740,000, so the city of Seattle has about 22 or 23 percent of the metro population. In recent years, most of the area's job growth has been outside the city of Seattle.
Did Westneat interpret the data in a biased way? I see that question is so easy that almost everyone in the class is raising their hands.
Did Westneat also select the data to support his position? If you have any doubt about the answer to that question, try a different selection. Compare, for example, job growth in high tax, high regulation Detroit with job growth in low tax, low regulation Houston. You will come to a somewhat different conclusion than Westneat did.
(If you were serious about understanding the question, you wouldn't look for examples to support your position, you would look for studies of many cities, or the effects of changes in policies in single cities.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(The tone of the column made me wonder, as I have before, whether Westneat is displaying schadenfreude, whether he is pleased by the problems of the state outside the Seattle area. Westneat is an urban imperialist, so he might be pleased by problems in the rest of the state. And I certainly can't recall him writing a column on the problems of the rural poor.)
- 4:25 PM, 24 March 2013 [link]
Another Obama Foreign Trip, another embarrassing blunder.
As Daniel Halper at The Weekly Standard has reported, Barack Obama took part in a joint press conference with President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank this morning under a beaming banner of Yasser Arafat, also known as the “father of modern terrorism”.Among other things, Arafat personally ordered the murder of the American ambassador to the Sudan, Cleo Noel, and his deputy chief, George Curtis Moore.
Ever get the feeling that Obama simply doesn't spend the time preparing for these trips that he should?
(We even considered prosecuting Arafat for his part in those murders, but concluded that we lacked jurisdiction.)
- 9:00 AM, 24 March 2013 [link]
Why Do Babies Sleep So Much? Because, says Alison Gopnik, they have so much to learn.
Part of the answer is that sleep helps us to learn. It may just be too hard for a brain to take in the flood of new experiences and make sense of them at the same time. Instead, our brains look at the world for a while and then shut out new input and sort through what they have seen.(You can get around their pay wall with a Google News search, or you can just buy a copy of the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal.)
This implies to me that babies might need more sleep when they have been exposed, as the psychologists might say, to many stimuli.
- 3:02 PM, 23 March 2013 [link]
We Americans Are Weird: (Or, if you prefer, exceptional.)
A few researchers are beginning, again, to look at how cultures are different, and one of the things they are finding is that we Americans are weird. (Or, if you prefer, exceptional.)
Two examples, both classics:
Researchers found that Americans perceive the line with the ends feathered outward (B) as being longer than the line with the arrow tips (A). San foragers of the Kalahari, on the other hand, were more likely to see the lines as they are: equal in length. Subjects from more than a dozen cultures were tested, and Americans were at the far end of the distribution—seeing the illusion more dramatically than all others.Americans are more likely to be fooled by a common illusion — but less likely to be fooled by a false consensus.
One of the ways in which cultures are different is in their sense of right and wrong. (Take a look at the different results in the "ultimatum game" for examples.) But you can't say that in many departments on college campuses.
(Heck, you can't even say that men and women are different, if you are a man and you are implying that men do some things better, on the average, than women.)
As many (most?) of you know, much of what we think we know about people comes from the study of Americans and other Westerners. Even worse, much of it comes from the study of undergraduates, especially undergraduates in psychology courses.
It is good to see that Joe Heinrich, and others, are trying to replicate those results with other cultures — and not entirely surprising that they are often finding how different people in different cultures can be.
- 2:45 PM, 23 March 2013 [link]
Democratic Professionals, Republican Amateurs: Sometimes, it's useful to review the basics.
In all the talk about what the Republicans should do differently, I haven't heard anyone note one of their long-term disadvantages in winning elections.
Put simply, Democratic candidates are more likely to be professionals, and Republicans more likely to be amateurs. The Democratic candidates often have spent their entire working lives as politicians, and the Republican candidates come to politics later in life after successful careers doing something else.
We saw an extreme example of that difference in our last presidential election. Obama has spent almost all his adult life as a politician, the only exception being his single year at Business International. In contrast, Romney came to politics — he would probably say public service — only after a long and brilliant business career.
So no one should be surprised that Romney was not as adept, politically, as Obama.
If we look at the presidential candidates, beginning in 1952, we see the same Democratic advantage in every election but one:
In all those pairs, I would say there is only one, Ford-Carter, in which the Republican was more of a professional than the Democrat (Nixon, unlike Kennedy, did have a real career in law, if you are wondering about that pair.)
If you look at gubernatorial candidates in most states, you will see a similar pattern.
There is no obvious way for Republicans to overcome this disadvantage, even in the long run. The party that favors less government is unlikely to attract as many men and women who want to make careers in government as the party that favors more government.
Nor should they try to, in my opinion. That Republican candidates almost always have extensive experience outside government often makes them better at governing than Democrats because they have a better understanding of the problems from the other side.
After George McGovern left office, he invested in a motel, which failed. After that failure, he admitted that he had been too supportive of regulation while in office. Most Republican candidates know about those problems long before they take office.
- 10:53 AM, 22 March 2013 [link]
Green Gangsters? In cartoons, at least.
And there may even be a few in real life. Most criminals have some scruples, some crimes they won't commit, so it is possible that a few adhere to the tenets of the Green religion.
- 8:41 AM, 22 March 2013 [link]
I don’t have the words to describe the cowardice of Congress or the depravity of the gun lobby, which conspired to kill the assault-weapons ban. I can’t explain the apparent impotence of President Obama who vowed to “use whatever power this office holds” to convert the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School into commonsense common good.Fournier feels strongly about the issue, so strongly that I would say that he is unable to think clearly about the subject. (It's a common problem. I usually don't write posts when I am angry, for that very reason.)
He does not, for instance, even touch on the definition problem. You can, without doing too much violence to common usage, describe an "assault weapon" as a military rifle capable of automatic fire, a rifle that can be used as a machine gun. Those have mostly been banned since the 1930s. Or you can try, as Senator Feinstein has done, to ban weapons that look like those automatic rifles, and that, as we have learned, is almost hopeless.
Although his position is irrational, we should recognize the strength of his feelings, and recognize that many others, including many "mainstream" journalists, share those feelings.
And we should understand that we can't reason them out of their positions, since they didn't come to those positions by a rational process.
(In some states, it is possible for individuals to buy automatic weapons, but I don't think any state makes that easy.)
- 8:29 AM, 22 March 2013 [link]
Andreas Georgiou Made Greek Financial Statistics Honest: (Or at least more honest than they were.)
That may have been a mistake for him, personally.
When the crisis began, ELSTAT was part of the Ministry of Finance. At the time, Greek figures almost always carried a footnote in European statements to indicate that Eurostat had been unable to verify whether they had been established independently and in accordance with the applicable regulations. Since 2004, the European statistics agency had sent 10 delegations to Athens with a view to improving the reliability of Greek figures, but apparently to no avail. In January 2010, it issued damning report which contained accusations of falsified data and political interference.If Cassandra were still around, she might sympathize. Telling the truth doesn't always win you friends.
- 6:59 AM, 21 March 2013 [link]
Why Is President Obama Visiting Israel? You can get an answer to that question by looking at who didn't come with him, and who did.
If Obama was going in order to strengthen diplomatic ties, you would expect Secretary of State John Kerry to have joined him on the visit. (Instead, Kerry is scheduled for a follow-up visit.)
If Obama was going in order to strengthen military cooperation, you would expect Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to have joined him on the visit. (Instead, Hagel is scheduled for a follow-up visit.)
Obama isn't visiting all by himself, however.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is accompanying President Obama to Israel, adding a decidedly political element to Obama’s first trip to the Holy Land as president.You don't have to be a cynic to conclude that the visit is part of the 2014 election campaign.
(Are those follow-up visits scheduled just in case the Obama makes a political mistake, and needs someone to clean up after him? That's probably too cynical, but they are, I am nearly certain, intended as part of the campaign show.)
- 2:22 PM, 20 March 2013 [link]
Rand Paul Sounds Kind Of Weaselly on this issue, doesn't he?
I'd say the simplest explanation for the apparent conflict is that when he sponsored the "Life at Conception Act", he was looking forward to the Iowa caucuses, but in that CNN interview, he was saying what he actually thinks.
(For the record, the Catholic Church accepts abortion as a lesser evil when it is necessary to save the life of the mother. Also for the record, the Republican platform, and their presidential candidates, for many years accepted abortion only in the cases of the life of the mother, rape, and incest. It is odd that Paul did not say that he agreed with the church or with the party, when asked about exceptions.
If I recall correctly, the 2012 Republican platform eliminated those three exceptions, but Romney said that his position had not changed.)
- 1:46 PM, 20 March 2013 [link]
Ten Days Ago, I said that Obama's second honeymoon was ending. Today, The Hill comes to the same conclusion.
(It will be months, probably, before we can test my prediction that Obama's approval ratings will continue to decline, slowly and irregularly.)
- 8:35 AM, 20 March 2013 [link]
Rational, For The Most Part? That's how the Washington Post describes the Obama administration's policies on missile defense, in a softly-worded, but devastating, editorial.
Here's the part of those Obama policies that the Post thinks is irrational:
Still, the fact remains that the United States has removed from its plans the missile that Russian officials previously cited as their foremost concern, just a few months after President Obama promised the Kremlin “greater flexibility” on missile defense after his reelection. In doing so, the administrating has eliminated the possibility of a defensive system that would give the United States two shots at an Iranian ICBM — what in Pentagon jargon is called a shoot-look-shoot capacity. It also has decoupled the European missile system from the defense of the continental United States. These compromises could have made sense as part of a broader agreement with Russia on missile defenses. To undertake them unilaterally, for what are portrayed as purely budgetary reasons, is imprudent.A compromise that doesn't make sense is, of course, senseless.
(And, as they note, the Russians still aren't happy with us, so we don't even seem to have gotten any good will out of this.)
What the Post doesn't mention, but should, is that Obama has a long history of opposing missile defenses — like almost every other politician on the left. It is fair to wonder whether his more recent, and quite limited, support for missile defenses is simply a bow to political realities, not something he really believes in.
- 8:07 AM, 20 March 2013 [link]
Mark Bittman's Roasted Root Vegetables: Real cooks almost certainly know about this already, but if, like me, you are not a real cook, you may appreciate the recipe.
It's especially good, I think, on cold, wintry days.
For four servings you'll need 1½ to 2 pounds of mixed root vegetables, such as: carrots, onions, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, sweet potatoes, or turnips, and a head of garlic. Except for the shallots, cut the vegetables into 1½ to 2 inch chunks. (He also says to peel the vegetables, but I don't bother with that, except for the shallots.)
You'll also need some butter or olive oil and a few sprigs of thyme or about a tablespoon of rosemary leaves.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
If you are using butter (about four tablespoons), melt it in a large roasting pan over a burner and then add the vegetables and the thyme or rosemary, shaking them to get them covered with the butter. Ditto, if you are using olive oil, except that you warm it, rather than melt it.
Cook in the oven for about a half hour, shaking the pan once or twice. (I just use a spatula to turn all the pieces.
Break up the garlic into cloves and add to the mixture.
Cook for another half hour or so, again shaking the pan once or twice. (I have had good results with just 45 minutes total cooking time, perhaps because I cut the vegetables into smaller pieces. I don't think the time is particularly critical. If the vegetables seem tender enough to me, when tested with a fork, I take them out.)
Salt and pepper to taste. Add minced parsley leaves if you like them as a garnish.
The roasted vegetables go well with beef or ham.
They are good leftovers, warmed up in a microwave, so I always make extras.
(He thinks that the carrots, onions, and garlic are essential, and the rest are up to your taste. So far, I have always substituted shallots for the onions, but have been thinking of trying a mix with just potatoes, carrots and onions.
(I have mixed feelings about Bittman. I have found his recipes easy to follow, even for a clumsy amateur like me. But he turned me off when he went from telling us how to cook things to scolding us for being politically incorrect about food. So I have taken to ignoring his recent columns.)
- 7:48 PM, 19 March 2013 [link]
Print Your Own Rocket Engine Contest: if you have a 3-D printer and are looking for a challenge, here you are.
Over the last few years multiple companies, institutions and individuals have started building nano-satellites and other small satellites. These little satellites are packed with electronics and range from the size of a computer chip to a smart phone to a pumpkin. With their communication and research capabilities, they have multiple applications working individually or in coordination with one another. But, with the high cost of earth to space transport, how in the world are they going to get up into space?You won't get rich from this contest, since the top prize is just $5,000, but you may get a little, temporary fame.
(If you are wondering what kind of material you could use in such an engine — I was — they include a design guide for "3D printing stainless steel".)
- 12:24 PM, 19 March 2013 [link]
Roland Martin Notices The Republican Strength: I had been planning to write a post making exactly these points, but Martin did it for me.
Here are two key paragraphs:
On the national level, the GOP controls the U.S. House of Representatives while Democrats control the U.S. Senate and the Oval Office.Republicans currently hold 30 governorships, Democrats 20, and an independent 1.
In state legislatures, the 2010 election left the Republicans in the strongest position they had been in since at least 1946. The party lost some ground in 2012, but kept most of their gains.
And they have done that in spite of a hostile "mainstream" media and a pop culture that often derides their values.
- 8:54 AM, 19 March 2013 [link]
Greens Versus Infrastructure Jobs: Democratic politicians like President Obama and Washington Governor Inslee often make contradictory promises; they promise Green activists that they will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and they promise construction unions that they will build up our infrastructure.
The most obvious way to do the second is to improve and extend our highways, which will mean that people will drive more, emitting more carbon dioxide as they drive. To get around that problem, some of the more honest Democratic politicians promise to spend more on public transportation which, they assure us, will cut down the emission of that wicked compound, carbon dioxide. (Such projects can reduce carbon dioxide emissions, in principle, but usually don't, in practice.)
Or, as often happens here in Washington state, they find ways to spend billions, without reducing congestion or adding to the road network. For example, Washington state is currently spending billions to replace a raised highway in downtown Seattle with a tunnel that will have the same, or perhaps slightly less, capacity.
(The less honest politicians simply ignore the contradiction. The less intelligent politicians don't see the contradiction.)
But when forced to choose between Greens and construction workers, our current Democratic politicians almost always choose to pander to upper class Greens, rather than provide working class jobs.
And that, as James Taranto notes, is what President Obama is doing, now that the election is over.
So the reality of Obama's governance turns out to be even worse than the repugnant declaration "You didn't build that." For the next 46 months, Washington will operate under the principle "Don't even THINK of building that."So much for all those Obama promises to improve our infrastructure — and create jobs.
- 7:44 AM, 19 March 2013 [link]
Would Seattle Times Reporter Andrew Garber Like To Commit Journalism? If so, I have some questions he might want to put to our new governor, Jay Inslee, who is, Garber tells us, an "authority on climate change".
(An authority according to left wing activists, but perhaps not according to actual climate change experts, for example, Bjorn Lomborg.)
1. In the last fifteen years, how much has the earth warmed?
2. Fifteen years ago, climate activists such as James Hansen predicted our current temperatures. Were their predictions accurate?
(Hansen is usually described as a scientist, but I think he stopped acting like a scientist years ago.)
3. Over the last fifteen years, what do insurance payments show us about the trend, if any, in weather-related losses?
If Garber takes the time to ask Governor Inslee these three questions, we may all learn something interesting. Except, perhaps, Governor Inslee, whose mind appears to be made up on this subject.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Garber may — or may not — want to know the answers to those three questions before he presents them to Governor Inslee. If so, he can find the answers to the first and second here, where there is a nifty graph from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the answer to the third by asking Roger Pielke, Jr..)
- 6:51 PM, 18 March 2013 [link]
Is The Washington Post Following The Spirit Of Our Civil Rights Laws? (The letter of those laws I will leave to the lawyers specializing in that field.)
That question occurred to me — again — after I read this column by ombudsman Patrick Pexton. (It was his last substantive column; his last column was a routine farewell.)
In the column, Pexton quoted an anonymous Post reporter, who was having a disagreement with an anonymous, socially conservative reader:
Replied the reporter: “The reason that legitimate media outlets routinely cover gays is because it is the civil rights issue of our time. Journalism, at its core, is about justice and fairness, and that’s the ‘view of the world’ that we espouse; therefore, journalists are going to cover the segment of society that is still not treated equally under the law.”For that reporter, those who hold traditional values about, for example, same-sex marriage are equivalent, at least roughly, to racists.
As it happens, such traditional beliefs are common in many religions, Islam, Catholicism, most branches of Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and many others.
I think it likely that many journalists at the Post would agree with that reporter that those holding such views are bigots.
And this, I believe, might lead the journalists to violate the spirit of our civil rights laws.
As I am sure you recall, those laws protect against discrimination for religious reasons, in exactly the same way that they protect against discrimination for racial reasons.
But if those who hire at the Post (and similar news organizations) see people holding those traditional religious views as bigots, then they are unlikely to hire people with those views. So, for example, if as a good Catholic you agree with the new Pope on gay marriage, you would be wise not to tell that to an interviewer, if you were trying for a job at the Post. In fact, you would be wise to conceal your religious beliefs entirely.
(Possible exceptions: Favored "oppressed" minorities. For example, I could imagine the Post hiring a Muslim, even though he held views on marriage that would exclude a Catholic from even being considered.)
If the Post wants to be certain it is following the spirit of our civil rights laws, then it should investigate its recent hires. If none of them have, for example, traditional religious views on gay marriage, then the Post might want to try a little harder to follow the spirit of our civil rights laws.
That might even save them from a damaging lawsuit by someone with traditional religious values.
- 1:06 PM, 18 March 2013 [link]
"Obama Flies A 747 To Chicago To Tout His Fuel-Saving Plan" I wouldn't have linked to this Andrew Malcolm post — except that I don't think that Obama would realize that post title is funny.
Seriously. I really do think that Obama is that oblivious, to some kinds of criticism.
- 10:52 AM, 18 March 2013 [link]
Need Another Reason To Distrust Banks? The European Union has just given us one in Cyprus.
The eastern Mediterranean island becomes the fifth country after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain to turn to the euro zone for financial help during the region's debt crisis.(There is an error in the second paragraph: So far, the levy on the accounts hasn't happened; it has just been proposed. It still has to be passed by the Cyprus parliament.)
If you are wondering why the finance ministers proposed this levy on bank accounts, you can find the explanation, probably, here: "Almost half Cyprus's bank depositors are believed to be non-resident Russians."
Cyprus has the reputation, probably fairly, for being a place the Russian rich can launder their money. No doubt the EU hopes to get some of their ill-gotten gains.
But the proposed levy is still a mistake, because depositors all over the world will see it as a warning.
(If you need more details on this crisis, the Washington Post has them.)
- 9:01 AM, 18 March 2013
The proposed levy isn't quite as bad as most accounts make it, because the depositors would get stock in the banks in return.
Those with anything above 100,000 face a levy of 9.9%, as under the previous plan. Depositors would be compensated with the equivalent amount in shares in their banks.Which might or might not be worth something in the long run.
- 8:16 AM, 19 March 2013 [link]
If You Can Make It In New York, You Can Make It Anywhere: Terrorists appear to share that view with entertainers.
“The picture of New York you get is that you’ve got people targeting it, you’ve got [terrorists] living there and you’ve had it in the past used as a recruitment center, then you have a pretty big problem,” said Robin Simcox, a researcher at the London-based Henry Jackson Society.(After New York, the next two states were Florida and New Jersey. One thing the three states have in common is large Jewish populations.)
In Europe, I suspect that the city that attracts the most terrorists is the one that French officials dubbed "Londonistan".
- 7:55 AM, 18 March 2013 [link]
Voters Prefer Democratic Candidates — and Republican ideas.
More voters trust the Democratic Party than the Republican Party on budgetary issues, according to the results of a new poll for The Hill — even though a strong majority actually prefer Republican fiscal policies.For example:
Notably, a plurality of respondents in The Hill poll agreed with [Republican budget Chairman Paul] Ryan’s assumption: Forty-five percent of voters said ObamaCare should be fully repealed, while just 37 percent said the law should be fully implemented.This disjunction poses interesting problems — and possibilities — for both parties.
You'll note, for instance, that the best general election strategy would be to be a Democrat with Republican ideas. (Assuming, of course, that such a candidate could win his party's nomination.)
- 7:31 AM, 18 March 2013 [link]
Global Climate Models Versus The Data: The Daily Mail has published a useful graph that shows the growing conflict between the predictions of the global climate models — and the actual climate.
The awkward fact is that the earth has warmed just 0.5 degrees over the past 50 years. And Met Office records show that for the past 16 years temperatures have plateaued and, if anything, are going down.And the source of the graph? A draft from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. (The Mail has decorated the graph a bit, as you can see.) You don't get much more official than that.
(This would be a good time to review a point I have made before, in my disclaimer, and elsewhere. The global climate models are not "science" in the strict sense of the world. They are computer simulations, based, we hope, on sound science. But the problem is so complex that these simulations necessarily simplify greatly.
For example, they divide the atmosphere up into "cells". The more cells, the better the simulation, typically. But the computation difficulties go up very rapidly with the number of cells and so the designers have to compromise.
They can attempt to test their compromises against past data, but that risks falling into a well-known trap. If you tune your model so that it fits past data, you can, with enough parameters, always get a good fit, just as a good tailor can make a suit fit a growing boy. But both the model and the suit may no longer fit, after a few years. And I am beginning to suspect that that is exactly what has happened to these models.
(And if you don't tune it, then you will fear that you made the wrong compromises when you built the model.)
As a result, outsiders can judge the predictions from these models only against the actual data — and every year in which the models give an incorrect prediction should lessen our confidence in them. (Insiders can look at the logic of the code, and the way the code attempts to capture the underlying physics.) )
- 4:14 PM, 17 March 2013 [link]
Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
And if you would like to go beyond the green beer, the pinches for those not wearing green, and the rivers dyed green, you may want to read this Wikipedia biography of the saint. We know little about the man for certain, but what little we do know is fascinating.
(Republished from 2008, and if you still haven't read that article on St. Patrick, let me urge you to do so.)
- 7:40 AM, 17 March 2013 [link]