November 2008, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Steve McIntyre Has Been Trying to Replicate Michael Mann's Statistics:  But McIntyre doesn't always enjoy trying to figure out what the famous climate scientist has been doing.
If anyone feels like sticking needles in their eyes, I'd appreciate assistance in trying to figure out Mannian verification statistics.  Even when Mann posts up his code, replication is never easy since they never bothered to ensure that the frigging code works.  Or maybe they checked to see that it didn't work.  UC's first post on the matter wondered where the file c:\scozztemann3\newtemp\nhhinfxxxhad was.  We still have no idea.  This file is referred to in the horrendously written verification stats program and it may be relevant.
If you read McIntyre regularly, as I do, you were probably surprised by that paragraph.  McIntyre does not use that kind of language often.

What's the dispute about?  Mann has, for years, tried to reconstruct past temperatures with "proxies", things that we can measure and expect to vary with temperature.  In particular, Mann has used tree rings, or, if you want to be fancy, dendrochronological records.  McIntyre believes that Mann has erred in his data analyses of these proxies.  (This Wikipedia article describes their best known controversy.)

Statistical errors would not be surprising in this kind of work.  It is unlikely that a researcher would be both a good climate scientist and a good statistician.  Or, for that matter, a good climate scientist, and a good programmer.

I can follow only parts of McIntyre's discussions, so I have no settled opinion on whether he is correct in his criticisms in this post, and elsewhere.  But he does seem to generally have the best of these arguments.

(Incidentally, McIntyre argues — probably correctly — that standards are tougher in the mining industry (where he made his living) than in climate science, because false claims about ore bodies can get a company into serious legal trouble.)
- 1:54 PM, 30 November 2008   [link]

More Evidence That We Are Entering Another Great Depression:  From the latest report on personal income.
Personal income increased $42.4 billion, or 0.3 percent, and disposable personal income (DPI) increased $45.1 billion, or 0.4 percent, in October, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) decreased $102.8 billion, or 1.0 percent.  In September, personal income increased $8.0 billion, or 0.1 percent, DPI increased $11.6 billion, or 0.1 percent, and PCE decreased $33.7 billion, or 0.3 percent, based on revised estimates.

Real DPI increased 1.0 percent in October, compared with an increase of less than 0.1 percent in September.  Real PCE decreased 0.5 percent, compared with a decrease of 0.4 percent.
If these "declines" continue at the same rate they did last month, our personal income will be only a half trillion higher by next October.

So, we have more money to spend, but are spending less of it — which is probably a good thing — in the long run.

(More on personal income in this earlier post, along with a link to an interactive table from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.)
- 1:34 PM, 28 November 2008   [link]

Like Depictions Of Alien Creatures?  Then you'll like this video of a squid — that appears to have elbows.

Not much is known about this genus, but you can find some scraps in this Wikipedia article.
- 12:39 PM, 28 November 2008   [link]

Paul Krugman Hasn't Gotten Over His Bush Derangement Syndrome:  A better economist, and a more decent man, Greg Mankiw, corrects Krugman, gently, perhaps more gently than Krugman deserves.
Judging by this objective criterion, it looks like the two administrations [Bush and Obama] are drawing economists from roughly the same talent pool.

Of course, if one defines "grownup" as a person who agrees with Paul Krugman, and "hack" as a person who does not, then one might come to a different conclusion.
But having that syndrome helps Krugman fit in at the New York Times.  And may even have helped him win his Nobel reprimand.  (In the past, as far as I can tell, the Nobel committee usually gave their awards to economists who deserved awards, but they may have decided that they would get more publicity if they started giving out reprimands, instead.)

(In his post, Krugman provides still more evidence for my joking theory that his columns, and now his posts, are written by a graduate student — who is trying to discredit Krugman.  Yes, I am still joking, but the theory does explain much about Krugman's posts and columns.)
- 9:57 AM, 28 November 2008   [link]

David Broder Says That Barack Obama Is "Supersmart":  Here's Broder's evidence for that conclusion.
I have talked to two people on the fringe of the transition team — both members of Congress with major responsibilities in the economic area.  Both have been asked for input by Obama and both say that the quality of his questions — and the follow-ups — were a measure of the depth of his knowledge of the situation.
Without knowing the two people, much less the questions, I can't say much about his argument.  But, on the surface, I would have to say that Broder does not make Obama sound "supersmart".  It is, in fact, fairly easy to ask seemingly impressive questions, especially if you have a good staff to prepare you.  (And, of course, with people jockeying for jobs in an Obama administration, we can't dismiss the possibility that these two people are flattering Obama in order to help their prospects.)

Dana Milbank listened to Obama, rather than anonymous people on the "fringe of the transition team", and was less impressed.
President-elect Obama had nearly finished his third news conference in as many days yesterday when he decided to favor his audience with one more tasty morsel of information about the just-announced members of his economic team.

"I want you to know that both Paul and Austan have special turkey-cooking recipes, if anybody out here needs some advice on how to make the ideal turkey," Obama offered.

Let's leave aside the question of whether credible cooking advice could come from Carter Fed Chairman Paul Volcker or University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee.  Let's also look beyond the question of whether, at a time when the economy has gone afoul, we want it run by people who specialize in making "the ideal turkey."

The real news is that Obama had clearly run out of things to say.
Even if he is "supersmart".

I suspect that Milbank's picture of Obama is closer to the truth.
- 6:42 AM, 28 November 2008
"Supersmart?"  Not about India and Pakistan.
Naturally, the U.S. media is following the terrorist crimes in Mumbai, India, as well they should.   But, the attacks seem to be the Old Media's only interest where it concerns India and Pakistan, of late, for they've completely ignored the several mistakes that Barack Obama has already made with his attempts at foreign policy with the two embattled nations.

Back on November 11, I noted that Obama had made his first mistakes with both India and Pakistan by mishandling early talks with their leaders (or not having them at all, as the case may be).  During his first major effort to contact foreign leaders as president elect, Obama called Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari but neglected to call India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.  This short shrifting did not sit well with the Indian government.

Then, Obama appointed to his transition team a woman named Sonal Shah whom the Pakistanis say has ties with a violent Hindu Nationalist Party in India that they claim is responsible for a rampage in Gujarat, India that killed many Muslims and Christians.

Worse, during his outreach to Pakistan's Zardari, Obama promised that he'd help settle the trouble between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and he did this without asking India if his help was wanted by India.   As a result, India got its nose out of joint and immediately said that Obama's "help" with Kashmir was not wanted.
I wouldn't call myself "supersmart", but I think I would have avoided two of those blunders.  (Naming Sonal Shah to the transition team may have been a mistake by his staff, not Obama.  He probably doesn't know about her connections.)  Calling the president of Pakistan, but not the prime minister of India, and offering to help settle the Kashmir problem are both astonishing blunders, the kind of blunders that would make Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice wince.

Incidentally, Warren Huston says that these mistakes have been ignored by American news organizations.
- 3:27 PM, 28 November 2008   [link]

Catch, Repair, And Release:  That's what we have done with some terrorists.  It doesn't always work out well for us, as Ann Coulter explains.
After being captured fighting with Taliban forces against Americans in 2001, Abdullah Massoud was sent to Guantanamo, where the one-legged terrorist was fitted with a special prosthetic leg, at a cost of $50,000-$75,000 to the U.S. taxpayer.
. . .
Upon his release in March 2004, Massoud hippity-hopped back to Afghanistan and quickly resumed his war against the U.S.  Aided by his new artificial leg, just months later, in October 2004, Massoud masterminded the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in Pakistan working on the Gomal Zam Dam project.

This proved, to me at least, that people with disabilities can do anything they put their minds to.   Way to go, you plucky extremist!

Massoud said he had nothing against the Chinese but wanted to embarrass Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for cooperating with the Americans.  You know, the Americans who had just footed — you should pardon the expression — a $75,000 bill for his prosthetic leg.
He doesn't appear to have been grateful for the new leg.
- 6:24 AM, 28 November 2008   [link]

Another Terrorist Attack In India:  One of the worst ever.  And the attack is not over, if the press accounts are correct.
Britons and Americans have been taken hostage at a Bombay hotel during a terrorist attack in India which has left at least 80 people dead.

Police said that gunmen were reported to be holding an unknown number of Western hostages in the exclusive Taj Palace hotel, which was among seven targets stormed by terrorists armed with guns and grenades.

Teams of gunmen earlier stormed luxury hotels, tourist attractions and a crowded station in an attack that left a further 90 people wounded.

The gunmen also attacked the police headquarters in the south of the city, which is India's commercial capital and also known as Mumbai.
More on the attacks from the New York Times, the Times of India, the London Times, and the BBC.  The BBC also has a set of pictures.

(In September, I wrote about another set of attacks in India, a set that targeted the poor of New Delhi.  Those attacks received little coverage outside of India.  I hate to say this, but the terrorists may have learned from that experience and this time chosen targets that will be of more interest to the Western press.)
- 1:29 PM, 26 November 2008   [link]

First Experiences With The Mini-Note:  Yesterday, I took the HP 2133 to a local coffee house for a preliminary field test, and it passed easily.  I could sit in the coffee house, surf the internet, and check my email with no problems.  The keyboard and screen are good enough for light blogging.  The netbook is light enough to carry almost everywhere, and looks tough enough so that I wouldn't worry too much about carrying it in a backpack, even without extra padding.

It automatically connects to all the publicly available WiFi connections I have tried, without any fuss.  (I had some problems with connections at first, probably because I didn't turn on WiFi.)

It plays MP3s (and an open source equivalent, ogg files) without fuss.  The sound is OK through the built-in speakers, but better through earphones.  The function keys controlling volume work just as they should so you can turn up, turn down, or mute the speakers, without starting a program.  When you plug in earphones, you turn off the speakers.

It displays photos well enough to be usable, though no more than that.

I've installed one upgrade, an eight gigabyte SDHC card for data storage.  I thought that necessary, because there are only a few hundred megabytes of storage free on the main four gigabyte flash drive.

And, now for some negatives.  It does boot slowly, about two minutes counting the time for log in.  There are no installed games.  It has a webcam, but there is no support for it.   A hardware scan doesn't show it, and there is no software installed to use it.  (Apparently, all the HP 2133s have webcams, though HP has not always been clear on this point.)  There are open source webcam programs for Linux, including one called, no kidding, Cheese.

For now, the system is usuable enough so that I do not plan to replace the operating system with one more suitable for this little netbook.  Partly that is because I have other, higher-priority things to do; partly that's because I would rather wait until the Ubuntu team solves the problems for me.

(Amazon is no longer offering this model at their bargain price.  So, if I were still thinking of buying a netbook, I would wait until the Linux version of the Mini-Note 1000 comes out.  It doesn't have as rugged construction, or as nice a screen, but it is better in other ways.  And others might want to wait for HP to refresh the HP 2133 line.)
- 9:53 AM, 26 November 2008   [link]

Should We Believe what Obama now says?
Barack Obama yesterday introduced his new White House budget director, Peter Orszag, vowing to conduct a "line by line" review of the federal fisc.  Most incoming chief executives promise that sort of thing.  But here's a detail that really caught our eye: As part of his plan to kill government programs "that have outlived their usefulness," the President-elect singled out farm subsidies for the rich.

If he really means it, this would be big news.  Mr. Obama cited a recent Government Accountability Office report that found that of the 1.8 million people receiving farm payments from 2003 to 2006, nearly 3,000 had incomes above $2.5 million, which ought to make them ineligible for aid.  Nevertheless, they cashed in to the tune of some $49 million.  Having written 40,000 or so editorials against this corporate welfare over the years, we'd love to see a Democrat join the fight.
Or should we believe what he did while he was a senator?
President Bush actually sought a $200,000 annual income cap on subsidy payments, but Congress couldn't bring itself to vote on anything below $750,000.  And even that got killed by the likes of Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, who as it happens helped Mr. Orszag get his current job running the Congressional Budget Office.  The Members ended up passing a $300 billion bill in which nearly every crop, from corn to sugar, won subsidy increases.  Mr. Bush vetoed it in May but was overridden.

The vote in the Senate was 82 to 13.  Mr. Obama missed the roll call, issuing a campaign statement saying that the bill was "far from perfect" and would have preferred "tighter payment limits."   However, he added that "with so much at stake, we cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good."  And he then went on to rake Mr. Bush and John McCain (who opposed the bill) for "saying no to America's farmers and ranchers, no to energy independence, no to the environment, and no to millions of hungry people."   In other words, given the chance to support cuts in farm subsidies for the rich, Mr. Obama chose instead to attack his Republican opponents for doing precisely that.
For now, I will believe what he did.

If Obama actually changes course — and risks losing some farm state Democrats in 2010 — I will applaud him, but will note that he was not telling us the whole truth about farm policy during the long campaign.
- 6:56 AM, 26 November 2008   [link]

Justice Sanders Is Ashamed Of His Childish Outburst:  Here's part of the story, in case you missed it.

Richard Sanders, a justice on the Washington State Supreme Court, has never been one to shy from controversy or blunt language.  And last week, as he sat at a Federalist Society dinner and listened to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Sanders reached his tipping point.

After listening to Mukasey defend the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies — its detainment practices at Guantánamo Bay, its interpretation of the Geneva Conventions' reach — Sanders stood and shouted "Tyrant! You are a tyrant!"

"Frankly, everybody in the room was applauding or sometimes laughing, and I thought, 'I've got to stand up and say something.'  And I did," Sanders told The Seattle Times Tuesday.  "I stood up and said, 'Tyrant,' then I sat down again, then I left."

Here's the part of the story that you will not see in the Seattle Times.  Justice Sanders first refused to admit that he was the heckler, and then tried to justify his childish outburst, claiming, absurdly, that he was not a heckler because he only yelled once.

That's the behavior of a man who is ashamed of what he did — but not quite ready to admit that he was wrong to do it.  Parents of small children and adolescents will be familiar with the pattern, first a refusal to admit bad behavior, and then an attempt to minimize and justify the behavior.  It is probably too late for Justice Sanders to grow up, but he should try, anyway.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Note that the Seattle Times reporter, Ken Armstrong, did not bother to get a reaction from one of Sanders' critics.

Full disclosure:  I have voted for Justice Sanders in the past, and might vote for him again — depending, of course, on his opponent.)
- 6:25 AM, 26 November 2008   [link]

Bad Spelers Lose Money?  Apparently.
A handful of new Web sites with names like Typo Bay and Typo Buddy are out to help shoppers save money by searching eBay for misspelled brand names.  Such items often have fewer bidders because they don't appear in search results for people who spell the items correctly, and therefore can be had at a cheaper price.
- 5:05 PM, 25 November 2008   [link]

Jump-Start?  The metaphors that politicians use have fascinated me for many years, ever since I read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language.  So, when I heard that Barack Obama wanted to "jump-start" the economy, I immediately wondered what he was saying — and whether he meant what he said.

Here's a brief account, with some context:
In his second of three economic news conferences in three straight days, President-elect Barack Obama Tuesday introduced Peter Orszag as his budget director, promising to eliminate wasteful Washington spending at the same time as he seeks a massive stimulus package to "jump-start" the flailing financial world.

Mr. Obama said that given his push for an aggressive stimulus package he could understand concerns or questions that he might represent "more of the same when it comes to Washington spending.  And the answer -- I want to be very clear -- is no," Obama said.  "We are going to have to jump-start the economy.   And there's consensus that that requires a bold plan to make the investments in the future.  But we have to make sure that those investments are wise.  We have to make sure that we're not wasting money in every area."
And what we notice immediately is that Obama did not think about the metaphor he was using.   As anyone who has had to jump-start a car knows, it is almost always a very simple procedure, requiring only a little time, and usually some help from another motorist.

After you have gotten the car started, you may have to invest in a new battery, or possibly an alternator, but you seldom have to do even that, and you almost never have to make any further investments.

You may think that I am being picky, but I learned from Orwell that when a man abuses a metaphor, as Obama did in his statement, he is usually not thinking clearly.

And when we look closely at what Obama said, we find more evidence for that conclusion.  Obama is saying three things in that brief statement, that the economy needs a stimulus, that the stimulus should be one that has long term benefits, and that he will try to counter-balance the cost of the stimulus by cutting back on waste.  Unfortunately it is hard to combine those three.  If we want a fast-acting stimulus, then we have to accept some additional waste.  Investments in the future are almost always poor at stimulating the economy, simply because it takes so long for them to have an effect.

Does Obama understand all this?  I have seen no evidence that he does.  Instead, it looks as though, by simultaneously promising us a stimulus, investment for the long term, and cuts in waste, that he is still in campaign mode, promising everything to everyone.
- 3:59 PM, 25 November 2008   [link]

It Worked In Michigan:  Let's try it nationally.  Obama's strategy to create millions of new "green" jobs?  Michigan Governor Granholm has already tried it.
Granholm and Obama have much in common: They are both young Democratic party protégés, both are charismatic personalities, and both are left-wing, Harvard-educated lawyers with little experience running anything prior to assuming office.  Like Granholm, Obama appears to have little grasp of market economics, but prefers showy public-works programs and utopian visions of bridging a carbon-addicted America to a new green economy that will employ millions.
. . .
How has Granholm gone about creating this new green economy?  With mandates and targeted tax breaks — just as Obama will likely propose.  Granholm spearheaded a state Renewable Power Standard that mandates 20 percent of Michigan's energy come from wind power by 2020, and she has showered tax breaks on alternative energy companies.  Watch for Obama to do both on the national level.
On second thought, maybe it didn't really work in Michigan
The result has been a Michigan economy that has drowned under Granholm's watch, with unemployment tripling to a nation-leading 9.3 percent at the same time that Michigan's debilitating economic fundamentals — high taxes and overgenerous concessions to organized labor — have gone unaddressed.  Granholm, however, has missed few opportunities for photo ops touting the companies that have benefiited from her tax handouts or her road-construction spending.
Granholm is on Obama's transition team.

Henry Payne is being a little unfair when he blames Granholm for all of Michigan's economic ills, but it would also be unfair to think that she deserves none of the blame.

But Obama may be interested in different Michigan numbers than Payne is:  Granholm won re-election in 2006 easily, 56-42.
- 11:02 AM, 25 November 2008   [link]