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August 31, 2004

Murder and the Middle-Aged Ladies in Cambridge

Via The Right Coast, The
reports on the London Review of Books's sympathy for the 9-11 terrorists:...


In the aftermath of September 11, the magazine ran a series of essays,
Reflections on the Present Crisis, from 29 leading writers - or the "usual
suspects", depending on your point of view. One contributor, Mary Beard, a
Cambridge classics don, provoked much complaint with her view that the World
Trade Centre bombers had committed "an extraordinary act of bravery", and
suggested that "however tactfully you dress it up, the United States had it
coming". She concluded: "World bullies, even if their heart is in the right
place, will in the end pay the price."

This provoked an outraged response - even a boycott, ....

All this in a magazine that, on its website, meekly devotes itself to "carrying
on the tradition of the English essay". Its editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, is still
somewhat bemused. (One gets the impression that she lives in a permanent state of bemusement, but then, that's bookish types for you.) "I'm amazed. Only a psychopathic lunatic would think that a middle-aged woman sitting in Cambridge would think that 5,000 people deserved to die.

No-- that is precisely the lesson of this magazine issue. The middle-aged
woman sitting in Cambridge, in a carefully crafted essay, did say she thought
the 5,000 people deserved to die. I think she said it because she believed it.
We usually underestimate the viciousness of the Culture War, just as we
underestimated the viciousness of the Cold War-- or, more generally the Struggle
Against Communism from 1870 to the present. It's hard to believe it, but there
are nice, middle-aged people with advanced degrees who want to take away all my
property and kill me, because they think I am a bad person. This was quite
clearly the Communist line, and it is, less overtly, still the line of many on
the left today. My weblog-on-homosexuality episode in Fall 2003 showed a bit of
this feeling, but most of us don't get attacked personally, so it is hard for us
to believe. Yet it follows logically from commonly held positions. Is inequality
evil? Then you who own more property than average are evil and the government
should take away your property-- as, indeed, it does to a small extent with the
progressive income tax. Is it evil to say that homosexuality is a sin? Then
those who say such evil things ought to be punished. Is it evil that Israelis
live where only Arabs once did? Then Israel ought to be eliminated.

Americans are so bourgeois, ethnocentric, and ignorant of history that they
have a hard time grasping that respect for human life and property in general
(as opposed to the life and property of one's comrades) is not the norm in human
morality. Communism and Nazism had the courage to break away from bourgeois
Christian morality, and thus we had Stalin and Hitler killing millions of
people. I don't know if Hitler had middle-aged women from Cambridge supporting
him in this endeavor, but Stalin certainly had numerous genteel Cambridge grads
who hoped that the Soviet Union would conquer Britain and murder its leaders,
and they put themselves in great personal danger to betray their country to him.
We must remember that sincerity, courage, and charm are evils, not goods, if put
to bad use, and just because somebody smiles nicely does not mean he does not
wish you to die.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Combined vs. Separated Bargaining; Government Drug Purchases

We had a good discussion last week in the law-and-econ lunch on bilateral vs. multilateral bargaining vs price-taking. Here's the story.

Suppose Eli Lilly has a patent monopoly on Zyprexa. Compare four systems:

1. Lilly sets one price and consumers or insurance companies are price takers.

2. Lilly negotiates with each of 5000 insurance companies.

3. Lilly negotiates with each of 50 state governments.

4. Lilly negotiates with just the federal government.

Which would Lilly prefer? ....

The answer is not as simple as it might seem. If Lilly just charges one,
monopoly price that is very inefficient. If Lilly negotiates with one buyer, the
federal government, they will choose the efficient quantity, and some lump-sum
price which splits the surplus (and then the federal government will sell
Zyprexa to consumers at marginal cost). The efficiency gain might be so great
that both Lilly and consumers gain.

Cases (2) and (3) really are no different from each other-- tehy are both
negotiation instead of price taking, but negotiation with lots of buyers instead
of just one. The idea in my price discrimination notes is that if we continue to
split the surplus 50-50, Lilly won't be any better off negotiating with 5000
than it was negotiating with 1. Each of the 5000 insurance companies has (we
woudl assume) irreplaceable consumers-- if company 4322 decides not to buy from Lilly, Lilly has lost the 43,000 customers of company 4322 and can't replace

Our discussion at lunch focussed on psychological things such as the envy of
New York if Mississippi got a cheaper price, on info (how would New York know?)
and on corruption (is it cheaper to bribe 1 big buying agent, or 50 small
ones?). All those things are interesting but separate from the perfect price
discrimination idea. Yet another thing which is separate but practically
important is that there are economies of scale in bargaining. It is not that
having 1 US governmetn negotiate for all 50 states really gives it more
bargaining power, but that the 1 buyer finds it worthwhile to hire a super duper
bargaining team, spending 49 times as much on it as each of the 50 states. Thus, if the Federal-Lilly surplus split was 50-50, the state-LIlly split might be
more like 20-80 for each state because of Lilly's superior bargaining skill.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cartoon: Bush, Kerry, and Mudslinging

The Weekly Standard had a good election cartoon recently:

I don't know how accurate it is. It may be that the reason Bush isn't far ahead now is the $60 million or so of Democratic 527-organization ads that have been slinging mud at him for the past year or so.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kerry's Fondness for Communists

On July 8 I blogged on "Kerry, Langston Hughes, Communism, and the Rectification of Names". Now the Weekly Standard has an article on "Kerry's Little Red Bookshelf". It turns out that Langston Hughes is not the only hard-core Communist Kerry enjoys quoting. There is a pattern....

...I was just learning how to use Comments in July, and I accidentally erased an
interesting exchange between myself and a reader who pointed out that Mrs. Bush
had also quoted Langston Hughes on one occasion. I'll see if I can reproduce my
point now, though I don't have the links to Mrs. Bush's quote. It was this. It's
fine to quote Communists, Fascists, and suchlike if they are good poets and the
poems are not ones in which they promote Communism and Fascism. That is what
Mrs. Bush was doing (though actually Hughes left Communism at some point-- I
don't know when). Even Communists can write poems about flowers and sunshine and
puppy dogs. It is only when a person quotes portions of poems which are not only
written by Communists but can fairly be called "Communist poems" that we should
get nervous-- and this is what Kerry did. Even if the particular passage quoted
is innocuous--"Let America be America"-- it is then an allusion to the meaning
and message of the entire poem-- that there should be a Communist takeover of
the United States and the imposition of a Stalinist system. If Kerry had done
this once, it could be chalked up to stupidity-- the liberal politician
posing as an intellectual who reads books, but embarassing himself by showing
that really he just reads quotation books. But Kerry seems to have a pattern of
doing this.

Does this mean he is a Communist? No-- not literally. He doesn't have a
membership card. But it is clear who he supported in the Cold War. I don't know
who he supports now.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saving Your Brother Instead of Your Husband-- Herodotus and Confucius

You may remember the old Confucian question about what a man should do if he is
an a boat with his wife and mother and the boat tips over. Who should he save?
The Confucian answer is, "his mother", because he can always get another wife....

... The idea that wives are fungible may sound callous, but it is quite logical. If
you love both equally, how else are you to decide but on practicalities? Or, you
might be like Buridan's Ass, who was placed equidistant between two mangers and
starved to death because he couldn't decide which hay to eat.

Or, you might think that the Confucians dislike women. That is illogical right
from the start, since mothers are just as female-- more, I suppose-- as wives

I've recently found that Herodotus makes very good bedtime reading, though, with
his calm, pleasant manner and his five-minute stories, and last night I found
one which shows that the logic of the Confucian story is not just Confucian.

it is. ("Dareios" is a pretentious way to translate "Darius"-- I say,
pretentious, because if you really want to keep the Greek pronunciation, why are
you using Roman letters, and if you're so concerned about original
pronunciation, why are you saying it in Herodotus's Greek transliteration
instead of in the original Persian?)

both Intaphrenes himself and his sons and all his kinsmen, being much
disposed to believe that he was plotting insurrection against him with
the help of his relations; and having seized them he put them in bonds
as for execution. Then the wife of Intaphrenes, coming constantly to
the doors of the king's court, wept and bewailed herself; and by doing
this continually after the same manner she moved Dareios to pity her.
Accordingly he sent a messenger and said to her: "Woman, king Dareios
grants to thee to save from death one of thy kinsmen who are lying in
bonds, whomsoever thou desirest of them all." She then, having
considered with herself, answered thus: "If in truth the king grants
me the life of one, I choose of them all my brother." Dareios being
informed of this, and marvelling at her speech, sent and addressed her
thus: "Woman, the king asks thee what was in thy mind, that thou didst
leave thy husband and thy children to die, and didst choose thy
brother to survive, seeing that he is surely less near to thee in
blood than thy children, and less dear to thee than thy husband." She
made answer: "O king, I might, if heaven willed, have another husband
and other children, if I should lose these; but another brother I
could by no means have, seeing that my father and my mother are no
longer alive. This was in my mind when I said those words." To Dareios
then it seemed that the woman had spoken well, and he let go not only
him for whose life she asked, but also the eldest of her sons because
he was pleased with her: but all the others he slew.

This sees the Confucians and raises them one. Not only is a brother harder to
replace than a husband, it is harder to replace than a son.

It is interesting that evolutionary psychology would arrive at the same
conclusion as Mrs. Intaphernes (and as the Confucians). Genetically, her brother
and her son are about equally valuable, sharing half her genes, while her
husband shares zero. If the son was young enough to have appreciable
probability of dying before reproductive age, he counts for less genetically; if
her brother were too old to have many more children, he would count for less.
Darius gets this half-right--- he wrongly thinks the children are nearer in
blood to the woman than her brother is, but he rightly notes that the husband,
while dearer, is not a blood relative.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:06 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 30, 2004

Parking: The Utopian Fallacy

The other day I drove to the B-School, intending to go quickly to my office and back. I have a choice between the Near Parking Lot, which is usually full, and the Far One, which is not. On this occasion, I felt a strong pull to try the Near Parking Lot because I was only going in for 10 minutes. Why? I knew that it was irrational. If I save 5 minutes by going to the Near Parking Lot, I save 5 minutes regardless of how long I stay in the building.

I think my urge was what might be called the Utopian Fallacy . In Utopia, people would only park in the Near Lot if they are going to stay in the building a short time. For every one person who is going to stay in the building for 8 hours (480 minutes), about 48 people who stay in for 10 minutes could park. The 8-hour person would save 5 minutes; the 48 10-minute people would save 48x5= 240 minutes. So it is massively inefficient not to have a short-time-limit parking spot close by. And if everyone would voluntarily park in the lot only if they were going to be there no more than 10 minutes, we would be better off.

That, however, is not the case. My premise was that most people are *not* following this policy, and so the Near Lot is probably full.

Note that if I were planning to stay for 8 hours, and I decided to go to the Far Lot, even though I thought I had a good chance of finding the last spot in the Near Lot, that would not be irrational-- just altruistic. I would be freeing up a spot for either another 8-hour parker (in which case society is no worse off) or for 48 10-minuters (in which case I have benefitted society a lot, not an irrational thing to do if I am so inclined). But that is quite different from being a 10-minuter and going to the Near Lot just because it *ought* to have a space.

Posted by erasmuse at 12:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 29, 2004

Kerry's Anoka Lie About No Crewman Disputing Him

Maybe Clinton is not so exceptional as I thought. It's just amazing what
absolute lies Kerry gets away with. I'm not talking about just exaggerations, or
honest mistakes, or broken promises, or misstatements about facts that he
learned wrong in briefings; I'm talking about statements which are inaccurate
beyond any dispute or interpretation, and which we have strong reason to think
Kerry knows about.

For example, isn't it reasonable to suppose that Kerry knows that the crewman he
served longest with on his Swiftboat is calling him a liar? Yet ABC News tells us,


At a health care town hall meeting in Anoka, Minnesota, Senator John Kerry faced
a direct question from a self-proclaimed Independent male voter who asked at
12:31pm EST, "The two things they say about you is that you waffle on the issues and that you lied about Vietnam. So, do you waffle on the issues and did you lie
about Vietnam?"

A revved up Kerry addressed Vietnam first retorting, " All the
guys who were with me on my boat absolutely document what I've said...you're now hearing about the lie.
I am absolutely telling you the
God's honest truth with regard to what happened over there."

The Senator, who has faced increasing criticism from groups such as the Swift
Boat Veterans for Truth in recent weeks, argued that this was all a part of
"Republican playbook" and that both issues were simply meant to build a buzz
until they broke through to the public, never having a solid
base in fact

I don't see how Kerry can get out of this,and it's a relevant lie-- he is saying
that no crewmen dispute his statements, only people on other boats and this is
an important part of his defense, not an incidental one. Yet it's a lie.

In fact, as Frontpagemag.com tells us

The latest Swift Boat Vets ad is out, and it's a killer.
Stephen Gardner points out that he served on John Kerry's boat longer than
anyone else, and says that Kerry's claim to have spent Christmas 1968 in
Cambodia is a lie.
Gardner says the crew was never in Cambodia on a secret mission--not in December, not in January, never. You can see the ad here

You may believe that Kerry and the handful of crewmen and officers who support him are more credible than the more numerous Swiftboat officers and crewmen who served with him and dispute his accounts. But you can't say that nobody on Kerry's boat disagrees with him unless you believe that Stephen Gardner does not exist. Yet Kerry says it. And what does that say about Kerry's credibility on
everything else, not to mention whether he plays fair in political debates?

Posted by erasmuse at 07:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lewis on Friendship as Same Interests

In the "Friendship" chapter of (p. 63 of one edition I looked at) of Lewis's >The Four Loves he says,

"In this kind of love, as Emerson said, Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth?--- Or at least, "Do you care about the same truth?" The man who agrees with us that some question little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.

This is one reason I feel akin to a certain Mongolian Expert with whom I can
argue about consubstantiation versus transubstantiation and whether the Ten
Commandments encompass the entire moral law or not. It is a little sad that I
do not find the niceties of Lutheranism vs. Calvinism on faith vs. works as
interesting as he does. To my mind, the difference is vanishingly small, even
though the difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants is hugely
important, but the Mongolian Expert has devoted considerable care to getting
this exactly right. Maybe he is correct, and I am not, on the importance of this
topics. But you who are reading this probably think we both are silly to be
caring about such things more than about who wins medals in the Olympics or
whether the marginal tax rate should be 39% instead of 35%.

Note, by the way, the very interesting formatting of the Lewis passage. It
works well, even though it is inconsistent, putting the first first two
questions in italics and the third in quotes (with italics used for emphasis).

Posted by erasmuse at 04:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 28, 2004

Kerry's Medals: The "They're Official" Argument

I just realized something funny about the main line of defense for Kerry's medals: "The Navy gave him the medals, and all the official documents support him". I don't mean the the problem that the official documents we can see don't actually support him, or that he refuses to release many of the official documents, or the problem that Kerry and his supporters refuse to admit that George Bush's lack of bad reports or Honorable Discharge gives a prima facie case that we should believe he did fine in the National Guard until we hear contrary evidence. No, all that I realized some time ago.

No, the new thing is this: These liberals are saying, in effect,

"It's unpatriotic to doubt something asserted officially by the US armed forces in the Vietnam War. If Kerry got a medal from the Navy, he must have been a hero-- the Navy would never exaggerate, lie, or even get things wrong by accident."

This, of course, is sneered at as a conservative Vietnam War argument, though I'm not sure conservatives pushed it as much as pro-Johnson Democrats. Can we trust the body counts of Viet Cong dead? Of course-- the army says, so, and who is some amateur to dispute it? Is the war practically won (this in 1966, or 67, or 68)? Sure-- the army says everything is under control, or will be in a few months if they get another 200,000 men. The armed forces were wrong on these things, and we should expect them to be wrong on medals, for much the same reason-- they are exaggerating their own success. Is the Navy full of heroes? Sure-- just look at all the medals-- so long as you don't look too closely.

This is not, of course, to say that the army is always wrong, either. They did kill a lot of enemy, and later evidence shows that the Viet Cong were pretty much wiped out in 1968 and that in 1972 the North Vietnamese regulars were unable to conquer a single provincial capital from the South Vietnamese operating with essentially no US ground support (though with lots of air and supply support). And lots of medals were deserved. But the "Trust me. A military officer signed off on it" argument is nonetheless a weak one.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lehrer's Obsequious Fawning as He Asks Clinton Why Clinton Lied to Him

Jim Lehrer, like most newsreaders, has a nice voice that makes it sound as if he
were wise and objective. Not so. Just remind yourself of this passage below
whenever you hear Jim Lehrer talking about the news. The American Spectator
of September 2004 describes this passage from "http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/white_house/july-dec04/clinton_7-07.html">Jim
Lehrer interviewing Bill Clinton

"A prayerful Jim Lehrer approaches the Archbishop of Balderdash, heart
thumping, palms moistening, and, as he genuflects, pants splitting:

JIM LEHRER: I've read the transcripts of all the interviews you've done thus far
since the book came out, and it seemed to me--now you correct me if you think
I'm wrong--but it seemed to me as they've progressed, you've gotten increasingly
annoyed about questions about the Monica Lewinsky matter. Am I right about that?
Are you just tired of talking about that?


JIM LEHRER: I have to ask you one question about it for the record, and I'm sure
this is not going to be any surprise to you because six years ago, the day the
Lewinsky story broke--you mentioned this in your book...

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I wrote it about.

JIM LEHRER: You wrote about it in the book, that because we had a pre--already
prearranged interview, you went ahead with the interview, and I did the first
interview with you, and I asked you if you had had a sexual--improper
relationship. I kept using the past tense, and you kept saying is, "There is no
relationship." My question to you is, was that--that was an intentional dodge,
was it not?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: It was an intentional dodge because I didn't want--I respect
you. I didn't want to lie to you, and I thought that I had to, as I said in the
book, buy two weeks time for things to calm down in order to avoid having Ken
Starr and his boys win this long fight that they were fighting against me, and--
but I also said in the book that I hated it and I tried to--after I did that
interview with you--I tried to confine my comments thereafter just simply saying
that I didn't violate any laws and I didn't ask anybody else to, and that's
pretty much what I said from there on out."

Posted by erasmuse at 08:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Cry Bar in Nanking; Norm Entrepreneurs

From the
July 31 WORLD magazine:

One of the hottest bars in the Chinese city of Nanjing sports only a sofa, a few tables, and tissue paper - a lot of tissue paper. The AFP news service reports that the city’s first "cry bar," where customers can sit and cry for $6 per hour, is growing in popularity. Owner Luo Jun says he opened the bar when clients of his last business said they often wanted to cry but didn’t know when or where it would be appropriate to do so.

I was just talking with my grad students yesterday about social norms and multiple equilibria. This is a great example of Norm Entrepreneurship. Mr. Jun saw an opportunity, and took it.

Posted by erasmuse at 04:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Electoral College Map; Campaign Finance Reform

UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 5. See also the Gallup interactive state map, which has links to state polls.

The PBS Electoral College Pick-Your-Own-States Map is good. It would be even better if it put the number of electoral votes on each state, if it were accompanied by a table with the 2000 race percentages for each state, and if it could be frozen and saved after the user put in his own changes, but at least it is a start.

My forecast is Bush 328, Kerry 210, with the distribution of states in the map accompanying this entry.

The polls I trust most are at the Rasmussen Report. Note, by the way, that I, Eric Rasmus en, am unrelated to the Rasmussen of that report. I don't trust any polls very much, though. Bush still has a lot of ad spending to do, and the debates are still to come. Kerry will have even more ad spending (because of the Demo millionaires funding the 527s, where he's had something like a 60 million to 4 million dollar lead so far-- my unchecked guesses), and will also be in the debates. But so far the voters have been hit with huge amounts of free ads for Kerry in the form of the mainstream media's biased reporting. Bush's spending and the debates will go a little way towards evening that out.

Has anyone, by the way, calculated the value of the Democratic bias of the media? What I'd like to see is some estimate of the amount of newsprint and TV time that is effectively Democratic commercials, multiplied by the standard ad price for that time. I think it would swamp campaign spending, and would show that if we're really concerned about campaign finance reform, we should skip the small stuff- the billion dollars or so spent on paid-for ads-- and go right to the big money, which is the free ads in the form of news and op-eds.

Posted by erasmuse at 04:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Info-Collecting Value of Weblogs; Specific Records Kerry Ought to Release

Swiftvets.com has a very good message board are with good comments l which show how the web can combine the information and experience of thousands of people in a way that a journalist cannot copy. The journalist's problem is that he does not know which of the many thousands of people has the information-- he does not know who to telephone. A website can attract them and get them to elicit their special information.

Here,. for example, is a list that speculates on documents the Kerry camp has on his Vietnam service but is not releasing:

But let´s look at the documents that he did _not_ put up on his site:

1. The injury report that justifies his first PH. It was awarded 78 days after the date of the "wound". In comparison, the second was delayed 13 days and the third required 33 days. These were approved in Saigon - hardly an international mail problem.

2. The OPNAV 1650/3 that recommended a Silver Star.

3. The requests that resulted in two revisions of the citation for the Silver

4. The requests for the amendment of his DD-214 and the justificactions.

5. His medical records that justify the three Purple Hearts

6. Page 1 of the radio message to BuPers that transmitted the new and improved
detaching FitRep

7. Page 1 of the new and improved FitRep

I would like to see these documents.


Of course, "Dane" does not know what other documents might exist that are non-routine. The full list even of what exists would be available only if Kerry signs the Form 180 that allows full release.

Another comment, which shows how someone with military experience can read the records better than the rest of us, is this:

I now understand what the Kerry crew is doing on his web site with the FitReps.

They present his favorable FitReps starting from GRIDLEY and present the rest in
chronological order. All well and good. But we get to his Detaching FitRep from
COSDIV11 and this is followed by the second page only of "another" FitRep. The
idea is that the casual reader will assume that it is a separate FitRep. Or,
perhaps, the person that included it on the site did not understand what he was
looking at. In fact it is the replacement for the Detaching Fitrep that
supposedly never arrived to BuPers. The first page is not included because that
would show the reporting period and the reader would realize the truth of the

The inclusion of both versions on his site is a grave tactical error. It is
proof of hanky-panky. I will explain.

1. The new and improved version was requested by BuPers when Elliot was in
Newport. BuPers did not request a copy from the originating command which is the
normal procedure. Instead, they checked to see where Elliot was at the time and
asked him to resubmit. Very unusual.

2. Elliot did not contact COSDIV 11 to have them resubmit the original. Instead,
he chose to draft another Fitrep. Very unusual.

3. One must assume that it was done by memory since, if he had had a copy of the
original, he would have simply sent that.

4. But if we assume that it was done by memory, how is it that it appears so
similar to the original?

I contend that whoever drafted the replacement version had the original in hand.
Thus, this was not a case of the original never reaching BuPers but, rather, a
case of replacing the original with a more glowing version. And this required

I am willing to bet that the official records of Kerry in the archives will show
only the new, improved version of the FitRep. I bet that Kerry had the original
version in his personal files and turned it over to his staff. Not realizing the
significance of the matter, both versions were placed on his site.

To me, though, it is proof of a machination that was operating IOT help Kerry in
his bid for the Senate. And this would have been done at the admiral level. More
on that later.


Posted by erasmuse at 03:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 27, 2004

The Meaning of Life: The Peanut Goal

My wife summarizes the goal of the modern liberal's perfect society very well:

"You can eat peanuts when you want to eat peanuts"

That is-- God doesn't matter, justice doesn't matter, virtue doesn't matter-- the goal is to make sure that everyone can satisfy their bodily desires, regardless of whether they deserve to or not or the quality of those desires.

I am quite conscious that this is not a bad description of the standard welfare goal of the science of economics too. We don't question consumer preferences, or ask whether someone who gets higher utility deserves to or not, or whether utility is all that matters. For most things economists analyze, the Peanut Goal suffices, though. The problems come when we go to public policy more generally.

Posted by erasmuse at 04:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Records Kerry Won't Release

I'm willing to pass along the letter below, but since so many people, even Kerry supporters, have already wondered why Kerry won't reveal more than just 6 of his 100+ pages of records and he hasn't, I'm not sure it'll help much. I think we can deduce that release of the evidence would wreck his reputation even more.

O what a tangled web we weave,
when first we practise to deceive!

It's interesting to compare Bush, Kerry-in-August, and Kerry-in-June on this.

Bush and Kerry-in-June are in a similar position: they haven't disclosed all their military service records (I think-- maybe Bush has, but suppose he hasn't for the sake of argument) and accusations have been made casting their military service in doubt. Should they reveal their records? If their military histories really are bad, of course not. If their histories are good, though, they also should not reveal the records. The critics so far do not have much evidence, and really want to go on a fishing expedition in the records, hoping that something embarassing will turn up. In the case of Bush, this is very clear: his critics seem to be saying that BUsh hasn't turned up enough evidence of his routine National Guard service, a weak charge, and they have no evidence that he did anything improper in the National Guard. Thus, Bush coudl only lose by releasing records.

Kerry-in-August is in a different position. There is now very strong evidence that his military history is bad-- that some or all of his medals were undeserved and he has told lies about his service. IF he reveals no new evidence, he loses-- his critics have the stronger case. Thus, if his military history really is good, he should now reveal the full records instead of just the ones that he thought made him look good, and risk that some minor new problem will show up, because he will at least resolve some of the apparent problems with his medals. If, on the other hand, his military history really is bad, he would be foolish to release the records that would confirm what his critics are saying.

So, what do we deduce from his refusal to release the rest of his records?

Note, too, that his campaign made a mistake in releasing even the carefully selected records they did release earlier. As I have noted in detail in this weblog, using just those records, we can find a lot of problems in the Kerry story about his medals. An example is what I blogged on earlier today: the three different citations for his SIlver Star. It is very odd to have three different citations by three different bigwigs, and odd that the first of the three includes an incident that is dropped from the later two. But some non-expert in the Kerry campaign no doubt thought that if one citation made Kerry look good, three citations would make him look three times as good, and didn't notice the discrepancies or know that experts would find three citations a sign of fishy behavior.

Anyway, here is the letter I got:

Kerry has lied so often and so long that only the release of his records will settle the matter. This can be done simply by his completing a DOD Standard Form 180.

If millions send in a faxed or email copy to the Kerry Campaign, he may have another "change of mind."

Let's start a campaign to force him to do that.

The Form can be downloaded here:


A notice in your blogs could start a land rush campaign.

Here are the contacts:

Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc.
P.O. Box 34640
Washington, DC 20043
202-712-3001 (fax)
202-336-6950 (TTY)

Posted by erasmuse at 03:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New Kerry Silver Star Problems

Believe it or not, new flaws in Kerry's medals keep being discovered! There are some new problems with the Silver Star--- (a) the official record lists it as the "Silver Star with combat V," a medal which doesn't exist, and (b) there is not just one "citation" saying why the medal was given,but three,by three different bigwigs, and only one of them mentions the "chasing and killing the Viet Cong" incident-- the other two are just awards for managing the mission overall. Here is much of the article from
the Chicago Sun-Times, which reports on the findings of fakehunter B.G. Burkett, author of Stolen Valor.

The Kerry campaign has repeatedly stated that the official naval records prove the truth of Kerry's assertions about his service.

But the official records on Kerry's Web site only add to the confusion. The DD214 form, an official Defense Department document summarizing Kerry's military career posted on johnkerry.com, includes a "Silver Star with combat V."

But according to a U.S. Navy spokesman, "Kerry's record is incorrect. The Navy has never issued a 'combat V' to anyone for a Silver Star."

Naval regulations do not allow for the use of a "combat V" for the Silver Star, the third-highest decoration the Navy awards. None of the other services has ever granted a Silver Star "combat V," either.

B.G. Burkett, a Vietnam veteran himself, received the highest award the Army gives to a civilian, the Distinguished Civilian Service Award, for his book Stolen Valor. Burkett pored through thousands of military service records, uncovering phony claims of awards and fake claims of military service. "I've run across several claims for Silver Stars with combat V's, but they were all in fake records," he said.

The second oddity is the varying citations.

Kerry's Web site also lists two different citations for the Silver Star. One was issued by the commander in chief of the Pacific Command (CINCPAC), Adm. John Hyland. The other, issued by Secretary of the Navy John Lehman during the Reagan administration, contained some revisions and additional language. "By his brave actions, bold initiative, and unwavering devotion to duty, Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerry reflected great credit upon himself... ."

But a third citation exists that appears to be the earliest. And it is not on the Kerry campaign Web site. It was issued by Vice Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, commander of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam. This citation lacks the language in the Hyland citation or that added by the Lehman version, but includes another 170 words in a detailed description of Kerry's attack on a Viet Cong ambush, his killing of an enemy soldier carrying a loaded rocket launcher, as well as military equipment captured and a body count of dead enemy.

Maj. Anthony Milavic, a retired Marine Vietnam veteran, calls the issuance of three citations for the same medal "bizarre." Milavic hosts Milinet, an Internet forum popular with the military community that is intended "to provide a forum in military/political affairs."

Normally in the case of a lost citation, Milavec points out, the awardee simply asked for a copy to be sent to him from his service personnel records office where it remains on file. "I have never heard of multi-citations from three different people for the same medal award," he said. Nor has Burkett: "It is even stranger to have three different descriptions of the awardee's conduct in the citations for the same award."

So far, there are also two varying citations for Kerry's Bronze Star, one by Zumwalt and the other by Lehman as secretary of the Navy, both posted on johnkerry.com.

Here are the three Silver Star citations, from the Kerry Campaign website. Indeed, the later two omit the story of charging the Viet Cong soldier with the rocket launcher. Could it be that there was no corroboration of that story,i.e., that Kerry's claim was the only evidence, and somebody noticed later?


Reporting by the Washington Post's Michael Dobbs points out that although the Kerry campaign insists that it has released Kerry's full military records, the Post was only able to get six pages of records under its Freedom of Information Act request out of the "at least a hundred pages" a Naval Personnel Office spokesman called the "full file."

What could that more than 100 pages contain? Questions have been raised about President Bush's drill attendance in the reserves, but Bush received his honorable discharge on schedule. Kerry, who should have been discharged from the Navy about the same time -- July 1, 1972 -- wasn't given the discharge he has on his campaign Web site until July 13, 1978. What delayed the discharge for six years? This raises serious questions about Kerry's performance while in the reserves that are far more potentially damaging than those raised against Bush.


Burkett, who has spent years working with the FBI, Department of Justice and all of the military services uncovering fraudulent files in the official records, is less charitable: "The multiple citations and variations in the official record are reason for suspicion in itself, even disregarding the current swift boat veterans' controversy."

There's nothing on this yet, it seems, at
Swiftvets.eriposte.com, a useful website for giving the strongest possible defense of Kerry. In fact, I haven't noticed much updating there in response to all the stuff that's come out in the past week. Maybe it's just responding to Swiftvet charges-- most of the new stuff is not from Swiftvets, but from independent webloggers and people like Burkett who read the documents carefully.

Posted by erasmuse at 03:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 26, 2004

Kerry and The Postwar Truce on Vietnam Service

Herman Jacobs writes:

Never mind that Mr. Cheney has never breathed a word of criticism of Mr. Kerry's military service in Vietnam. Also never mind that Messrs. Bush and Cheney have never even breathed a word of criticism of Mr. Kerry's antiwar activities. For them to criticize Mr. Kerry's antiwar record would violate the second prong of the domestic truce. So in questioning the service, or lack thereof, of Messrs. Bush and Cheney, Mr. Kerry attempts to turn to his advantage the curious fact, mentioned above, that although the domestic truce grants honor to those who fought in the war and grants amnesties to those who actively opposed it , those in the middle (like Messrs. Bush, Cheney, Clinton and Quayle) receive no protection.

As the above story illustrates, long before the SwiftVets arrived on the scene, Mr. Kerry all by himself had succeeded in demeaning his service by transforming it into a crass non sequitur. As one vet put it, "Nobody who claims to have seen the action he does would so shamelessly flaunt it for political gain." In his run for the presidency, Mr. Kerry's Vietnam references became so ubiquitous that one pundit adopted the practice of never mentioning Mr. Kerry's name without the aside that he had "by the way served in Vietnam." With far less humor, Howard Dean and Mr. Kerry's other Democrat primary rivals made the same point, noting that his Vietnam record had "become the stock answer for almost every issue for Kerry's campaign."

The predominant quality revealed in Mr. Kerry's spinning and unspinning his personal history in the Vietnam era is that, like everything else in his political life (from the SUVs he owns but doesn't own, to the medals he tossed but didn't toss, to the war in Iraq he supports but doesn't support), he's trying to have it both ways. But because of how the Vietnam era tore this country apart and still weighs on the nation's political soul, Mr. Kerry's trying to have it both ways about that war is so much more telling than his SUV moment or even his flip-flops on the current war.

Yes, it's true that under the strict terms of our long-standing domestic truce, John Kerry was not required to apologize for the things he said 30 years ago, even though he himself had more recently tested that truce with his attacks on George W. Bush's National Guard service. But then in January of this year, to burnish his credentials as a war president, Mr. Kerry's authorized biography reported a story implying that his Swift Boat comrades had fled the scene of an enemy attack while he alone returned to rescue the wounded. Honor being such an insignificant thing to John Kerry, he probably had no idea that--with his biography reviving war crimes accusations and, more specifically, implying cowardice on the part of his fellow Swifties--he had broken the domestic truce.

The truce is over....

And those guys, unlike Kerry, know how to fight!

Posted by erasmuse at 10:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Designing a Utopian Economy

A good Economic Systems/Ethics question would be how we would want to structure an altruistic economy.

Suppose we could instill virtue into everybody so nobody lied or stole and everybody cared about everybody else's utility-- but people still had private information. What kind of economic system would attain efficiency?

We would not, for example, want everyone to give away their wealth to the poor, because then the poor would become the rich. We would not want everyone to work hard, because they'd work inefficiently hard, without detailed instructions. Some kind of decentralized system would be needed, probably using prices. But what would it be, since we could now, unlike in an Adam Smith world, rely on morality too?

Posted by erasmuse at 09:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

John O'Neill Interview; Kerry vs. Benedict Arnold

Human Events is very good on the Kerry Vietnam story. In particular, this interview with John O'Neill is utterly convincing. O'Neill knows how to lay out facts for skeptics in a plain manner.

The Silver Star story is now coming into focus. Kerry beached his boat, jumped out, and pursued and killed a wounded Viet Cong, supposedly under heavy fire. If he'd been under heavy fire, though, why didn't the enemy overwhelm his helpless boat, and kill Kerry too? And why would Kerry make himself and his boat vulnerable rather than just having his boat kill the wounded Viet Cong with its machine guns? Answer: there must not have been heavy fire--indeed, maybe not any fire. Kerry wouldn't have gotten a medal if he'd just used the boat's machine guns, and if the Viet Cong was fleeing, there wasn't much risk to Kerry or the boat in running after him with an assault rifle, so long as there were no other Viet Cong around. So Kerry went after him personally for sport, so to speak.

O"Neill makes the claim that it is very unusual for a Silver Star not to have any documentation except the after-action report. That is extremely important. Is the medal based on more than just one person's claims-- even if it turns out that the one person is not Kerry, but someone else who wrote the report? I know Kerry's people keep saying that Silver Stars are based only on multiple corroborating accounts-- but what is more precise is that Silver Stars are * supposed* to be based only on multiple corroborating accounts. Kerry broke the rules to get his Purple Hearts, so why not to get his Silver Star?

Thus, the picture clarifies of John Kerry as rigging all his medals, for glory and to get out of Vietnam, after his signing up for the apparently safe Navy job inadvertently thrust him into combat when the Navy decided to send small boats into combat.

Many people are saying, "So what?". I'm surprised. I know Clinton has lowered standards, but at least Clinton wasn't running for office as being a wonderful husband and a war hero. Kerry is running as a war hero, when it turns out that he was not.

In fact, even if everything Kerry claimed was true, he did much more for the Viet Cong than he did for America. Four months of minor exploits as a junior officer are nothing compared to the propaganda he put out for the enemy later-- propaganda he must have known at the time was false and in aid of the enemy. I wonder if he got a medal from the North Vietnamese-- a secret one, like the British spies got from Stalin in the 1930's?

It is worth reminding everyone about Benedict Arnold, who compares favorably with Kerry. Arnold was a hero both genuine and major. He was a top commander in the Battle of Saratoga, perhaps the turning point in the Revolutionary War, with personal heroism in that battle that crippled his leg. Later, he tried to turn over the fort of West Point to the British, but was foiled. THus, overall, his contribution to the AMerican cause was definitely positive, and major. Kerry made at most small contributions to the American cause while he was a junior officer. Then he made a bigger contribution-- not major, perhaps, but something noted in the history books-- to the enemy cause. THus, overall, his contribution to the American cause was definitely negative.

But I can't imagine Benedict Arnold running against John Adams for President in 1796 and saying, "How dare you question my patriotism! While you were doing lawyer stuff in Congress, I was losing the use of my leg by charging Redcoats! Kill some British, and then you can comment on my war service."

Posted by erasmuse at 09:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2004

Is the US Trade Deficit Good or Bad?

I'm trying to puzzle out the implications of something suggested by Catherine
Mann in the Summer 2002 Journal of Economic Perspectives. She said that in 2001, if investors had simply "held the market portfolio", allocating their holdings
in proportion to the size of stock markets around the world, they'd have 57% in
US stocks and that global mutual funds do that.

A longstanding puzzle is why investors all over the world don't invest more in
foreign stocks than they do.

The main question in Mann's article is whether America's big current account
trade deficits can continue. Foreigners hold American wealth equal to about 20%
of US GDP. If the return on that is 5% per year, then that means foreigners earn
about 1% of US GDP each year, leaving us locals with the other 99%. If foreign
holdings double, they'll get 2% of GDP. It doesn't sound disastrous.

The real question, though, is whether the foreign investment is raising US GDP.
If it is, then foreign holdings could be 200% of GDP and we shouldn't worry,
because it won't make us any poorer. See this in an example. Suppose Country A
has 100 billion dollars worth of factories, none of it foreign owned, earning 5
billion dollars a year. Country B has 300 billion dollars a year, of which 200
billion is foreign owned, earning 15 billion dollars a year. Some politicians
scream that foreigners are extracting 66% of Country B's GDP, and contrasting
that with the 0% of Country A's GDP that is being lost abroad. But the two
countries' citizens are actually equally well off.

Of course, not all GDP is capital income. Country B's citizens will actually be
much better off, because the huge increase in capital will drive up wages, which
all go to the citizens and not the foreigners. Also, the factories will pay
taxes which will largely go as transfers to citizens rather than providing
extra government services (e.g., extra police protection so the factories
aren't burgled) to the factories.

But those are old thoughts. Back to two new ones:

1. What are the implications of most forms of capital being
Stocks are a form of equity easily traded, and
easily held by foreigners. This particularly applies to US stocks, since we have
much stricter corporate governance than the rest of the world, and foreigners
will get a fair deal here where they won't in Europe, Japan, or the Third

If someone in Italy wants to diversify his portfolio, he should hold mostly
foreign assets. It's too dangerous to hold real estate or small businesses, so
he'll hold publicly traded stock. 57% of that is American. Much less than 57% of
wealth is American. This means there will a lot of demand for that American
stock, resulting in capital inflows into America.

I'll try a numerical example to clear things up in my head. Suppose we have
two countries, America and Other. Capital consists of tradeable widgets and
nontradeable gizmos. America has 50 widgets, and Other had 50. America has 100
gizmos and Other has 400. Thus, total wealth is 150 in America and 450 in
Other. The return on American widgets and gizmos and foreign ones has the same
expected value. Within a given country, widgets and gizmos have identical
returns, but the return is independent across countries. There is no other
source of income but the flow from widgets and gizmos.

If all goods were tradeable, an investor would want to split his holdings 50-50
between US and foreign assets. This would drive up the price of American widgets
and gizmos, because they are more valuable for diversification. If new widgets
can be created, this would tend towards the creation of more AMerican widgets,
since they're more valuable if created in America. You might think this would
explain foreign investment in the US, but it's an artifact of the model, because
actually there aren't just two countries, and "Other" is standing in for lots of
countries with returns that aren't correlated with each other.

But remember that gizmos, which are the bulk of wealth, aren't tradeable. Thus,
in the attempt to split his holdings 50-50, our world investor is putting very
heavy demand on the 50 US widgets. Starting from the initial positions, the
American is wanting to trade some of his 100 American gizmos for the 50
Other widgets. America is small enough in this model that he can do so-- in
equilibrium, it gets complicated, but I suppose Americans will end up with
something like this: 0 American widgets, 60 Other gizmos, 100 American gizmos.

The Other investor is wanting to buy those American widgets-- ideally, he'd
like to buy all 50 of them, plus 175 American gizmos, but the Gizmos aren't
tradeable. So he'll bid heavily for those 50 American widgets, since they are
all that are available for him to use to diversify. This means the American
widgets will be worth more than the Other widgets. And if new widgets could be
created, the incentive is to create them in America, not in Other.

Here's the lesson for the real world. The US has a much
bigger share of the tradeable assets of the world than of total assets. Thus,
its tradeable assets are going to be more valuable to investors looking for
diversification. This should lead to capital flowing into America to create more
of those tradeable assets, and to pressure to convert US nontradeable assets
(e.g., land) into tradeable assets (e.g., real estate trusts).

2. I'm too tired to think this through now, but I thought on the question of whether the US trade deficit is good (it shows that foreigners want to invest here) or bad (it shows that Americans want to borrow to buy foreign goods), the movement of the exchange rate would be very important. Here's what its been, from the St. Louis Fed:

Price of a Euro in Dollars

2001 01 .94

2002 01 .89

2003 01 1.06

2004 01 1.26

2004 07 1.23

This looks bad. The Euro is going up; the dollar is going down.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What Do People Think is Fair?

I was just reading a good survey article on what people think is fair (as opposed to the usual article on this topic, which asks what *is* fair),

James Konow (2003) "Which Is the Fairest One of All? A Positive Analysis of
Justice Theories," Journal of Economic Literature, 41: 1188- 1239 (December (2003)

Alas, the general impression from this long and careful article is that people don't think very hard about what is fair, and so it all depends on how you phrase the questions. They like equality, sort of, but not if people have exerted different efforts, or if equality hurts general prosperity. Thus, the numerous careful attempts to find out what people think is fair come to grief, because people haven't thought it through,even if you set up the questions so self-interest does not cloud the answer.

This is just as we should expect. In daily life, distinguishing between equality as a goal in itself, as an approximation to the equating of marginal utilities of income, and as a way to avoid envy is not important. We are still working on the implementing the idea that just because somebody knows the mayor they shouldn't have their house assessed at a lower taxable value. Something like that is bad under pretty much any ethical theory, so everybody except the academically curious postpone figuring out the precisely correct ethical theory to the day when blatant injustice has been extirpated.

Here's one excerpt that does seem worth remembering, though:

Mikula and Thomas Schwinger (1973), for example, study allocation decisions among 36 pairs of soldiers in the same unit who perform a task that generates joint earnings. They find that many subjects who perform well relative to their partners act against their own interests and allocate earnings equally, an effect that is stronger when subjects are paired with partners they like. This result, which Mikula and his colleagues have identified elsewhere (see Mikula 1980), stands in stark contrast, however, to the "self-interest" bias that almost all other researchers find in allocation experiments (e.g., Robert Forsythe et al. 1994; Elizabeth Hoffman et al. 1994). The fact that each group in Mikula’s experiments favors a rule that is to its disadvantage, equality by high performers and proportionality by low performers, suggests that his experimental design is not capturing a distributive preference for equality, which should be shared by all, but rather something closer to a "generosity bias" on the part of both groups.

This shows how hard it is to use experiments to find out people's preferences.

Posted by erasmuse at 03:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Inheritance of Inequality: Bowles and Gintis

It's remarkable what good work economist Herbert Gintis has been doing since he
turned 60. He, Bowles, and John Roemer (not to be confused with David or Paul
Romer) were the economists standardly named as "Marxian" around 1980 when I
was in grad school. All of them have done far better work-- still not quite
orthodox, but now quite sensible-- now that Communism is dead. I think they
were liberated as much as Poland was. An example is

Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis (2002) "The Inheritance of Inequality."
Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26:3-30 (Summer 2002),

which I excerpt below with my comments in italics.

Early research on the statistical relationship between parents’ and their
children’s economic status after becoming adults, starting with Blau and Duncan
(1967), found only a weak connection and thus seemed to confirm that the United
States was indeed the "land of opportunity."

This says that if father and son do differentely economically, that is a
sign of "opportunity", and, by implication, of meritocracy. No-- not at all.
Suppose, to take the extreme case, that sons are clones of their fathers and are
brought up to be just like them. What would we expect in a meritocracy? --We
would expect the son, who is identical to the father in ability, to do exactly
as well. If he does differently, that is a sign that luck, not ability and
effort, are what determine wealth.

But more recent research shows that the estimates of high levels of
intergenerational mobility were artifacts of two types of measurement error:
mistakes in reporting income, particularly when individuals were asked to recall
the income of their parents, and transitory components in current income
uncorrelated with underlying permanent income (Bowles, 1972; Bowles and Nelson,
1974; Atkinson, Maynard and Trinder, 1983; Solon, 1992, 1999; Zimmerman, 1992).
The high noise-to-signal-ratio in the incomes of both generations depressed the
intergenerational correlation. When corrected, the intergenerational
correlations for economic status appear to be substantial, many of them three
times the average of the U.S. studies surveyed by Becker and Tomes (1986).

Excellent point! If our data is bad, then correlations will be low. The test
has low power.

Most economic models treat one’s income as the sum of the returns to the factors
of production one brings to the market, like skills, or capital goods. But any
individual trait that affects income and for which parent-offspring similarity
is strong will contribute to the intergenerational transmission of economic
success. Included are race, geographical location, height,
beauty or other aspects of physical appearance, health status and personality.
Thus, by contrast to the standard approach, we give
considerable attention to income-generating characteristics that are not
generally considered to be factors of production. In studies of the
intergenerational transmission of economic status, our estimates suggest that
cognitive skills and education have been overstudied, while wealth, race and
noncognitive behavioral traits have been understudied.

Another excellent point. Incomes depend on lots of inheritable things, of
which IQ is only one.

Estimates of the intergenerational income elasticity are presented in Solon
(1999, this issue) and Mulligan (1997). The mean estimates reported in Mulligan
are as follows: for consumption, 0.68; for wealth, 0.50; for income, 0.43; for
earnings (or wages), 0.34; and for years of schooling, 0.29.

The high consumption correlation is especially interesting. Rich kids learn
to spend; poor kids don't. This implies an equalizing effect on income and
wealth (not on labor earnings), because rich kids will save less for a given

... whatever it is that accounts for their success, successful blacks do not
transmit it to their children as effectively as do successful whites.

I've nothing to add- but this is an interesting factoid.

If the heritability of IQ were 0.5 and the degree of assortation, m, were 0.2
(both reasonable, if only ballpark estimates) and the genetic inheritance of IQ
were the only mechanism accounting for intergenerational income transmission,
then the intergenerational correlation would be 0.01, or roughly 2 percent the
observed intergenerational correlation.

I think Murray and Herrnstein's work supports this. They found a highly
significant effect of IQ on earnings, but that doesn't mean the effect is
large-- only that it clearly exists. We professors are especially conscious that
the smartest people don't earn the most-- we try to send our best students to be
professors, and only our next best to be investment banker or consultants.

The concern that the tests are a very noisy measure is misplaced. In fact, the
tests are among the more reliable variables used in standard earnings equations,
where reliability is measured by the correlation between tests and retests,
between odd and even numbered items on the tests, and by more sophisticated
methods. For the commonly used Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), for
example--a test used to predict vocational success that is often used as a
measure of cognitive skills--the correlation between two test scores taken on
successive days by the same person is likely to be higher than the correlation
between the same person’s reported years of schooling or income on two
successive days.

A point I hadn't heard before. Surveys ask people how many years they went to
school-- they don't check with the schools-- so "years of schooling", it seems,
is not measured as well as AFQT scores.

Consider the case of South Africa, where in 1993 (the year before Nelson Mandela
became president), roughly two-thirds of the intergenerational transmission of
earnings was attributable to the fact that fathers and sons are of the same
race, and race is a strong predictor of earnings (Hertz, 2001). That is, adding
race to an equation predicting sons’ earnings reduces the estimated effect of
fathers’ earnings by over two-thirds. Because the traits designated by race
are highly heritable and interracial parenting uncommon, we thus find a
substantial role of genetic inheritance in the intergenerational transmission of
economic status. Yet, it is especially clear in the case of South Africa under
apartheid that the economic importance of the genetic inheritance of physical
traits derived from environmental influences. What made the genetic inheritance
of skin color and other racial markers central to the transmission process were
matters of public policy, not human nature, including the very de? nition of
races, racial patterns in marriage and the discrimination suffered by nonwhites.

Wonderful example! The importance of genetic inheritance depends entirely on
the context, as every geneticist will admit.

Osborne (forthcoming) has studied the economic importance and intergenerational
persistence of fatalism, as measured by the Rotter Scale, a
common measure of the degree to which individuals believe that important events
in their lives are caused by external events rather than by their own actions.
Her study of a sample of U.S men and their parents found that
the score on the Rotter Scale measured before entry to the labor market has a
statistically significant and large influence on earnings. Moreover, the Rotter
score is persistent from parents to offspring. T he normalized
influence of the Rotter Scale on earnings in Osborne’s study is somewhat larger
(in absolute value, namely 20.2) than the average influence of IQ
red>in our meta-analysis of 65 studies discussed earlier. The estimated
correlation of parental income with child fatalism is 20.14. The contribution of
the fatalism channel to the intergenerational correlation is the correlation of
parent income to child fatalism multiplied by the correlation from child
fatalism to subsequent income, 0.028--that is, (20.2)(20.14).

I can well believe that. Some people accept things as they are; others try
to change them. This is a just as important as IQ. Professors advising PhD
students are often frustrated by the smart student who won't try to go beyond
existing ideas. In business, this is equally important. The smart plodder is
useful, but equally so is the stupid innovator.

Table 3 is the bottom line. The total correlation to be explained is about 0.45.

Table 3:
The Main Causal Channels of Intergenerational Status Transmission in the U.S.
Channel Earnings Income
Variable Earnings Income
IQ, conditioned on schooling 0.05 0.04
Schooling, conditioned on IQ 0.10 0.07

Personality (fatalism) 0.03 0.02
Race 0.07 0.07
Total Intergenerational
Correlation Accounted For
0.25 0.32

Posted by erasmuse at 03:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kerry's Favor Towards North Vietnamese Communist "Scholars"

Captain's Quarters has a new Kerry scandal, separate from all the Swiftvets stuff, about his advocacy of giving fellowships to study Vietnam refugees to North Vietnamese Communists:

Before dissecting Kerry's intellectual failings, let's be clear about his
intent. He made it clear that he understood that half of the fellowships went to
Communist nationals in a study that purported to research a refugee catastrophe
their government initiated. Implicit in this letter is Kerry's contention that
any dissent erupting from this choice would be invalid. This letter is no mere
boiler-plate salutation for a constituent; Kerry knew the situation and gave his
blessing to Bowen's handling of it.

Is it so unreasonable to say that Kerry is sympathetic to Communism?

Posted by erasmuse at 02:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kerry-Edwards Joke--Spilling MacDonald's Coffee

Nordlinger at NRO

... a homemade joke -- sent to me by a reader, Mark Turk.
Kerry and Edwards are at McDonald's, doing some campaigning. An employee, in her
excitement, spills some coffee on Kerry's hand. Edwards wants to sue-- but Kerry
wants to write it up for his fourth Purple Heart.

I might add this:

... because he's found a regulation that says if you have four Purple Hearts,
you no longer have to answer questions from webloggers about your military

Posted by erasmuse at 02:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

NPR Approves of Spanking

It's nice to report good news once in a while-- and on subjects other than technology.

NPR yesterday had an amazing little oral essay by a lady about how she just spanked her 3-year-old boy for the first time. The theme is that spanking is good, to the narrator's surprise! After a hellish time with a boy who wouldn't sit in his carseat, a short spanking resulted in two hours of good humor for all.

It is interesting that so many liberals oppose spanking but favor, instead, various diabolically cruel psychological punishments. Why is that?

Of course, with my own kids I find that spanking is not really a physical punishment. Rather, it is a sign of heavy parental disapproval, so heavy that the crying really is unrelated to the very slight physical pain. I'm not very severe, though I try to be unstoppable, so I usually I will give a count to 5 or thereabouts before I carry out the spanking. By now, 2-year-old Benjamin will usually say, if I say, "I'll spank you if you don't do X before I count to five..." with

"Daddy, don't count!"

and obedience, sometimes grudging, sometimes complete. The very act of counting shows that I truly disapprove, and that's counting enough.

The worst pain is when I really show alarm. Last night, Benjamin tried to be helpful by giving me the hammer I needed to put up the train poster in his bedroom. I barked a sudden warning to put it down (it was heavy metal hammer, that he had to swing around to try to give to me), and he rushed to a corner and buried his head in a pillow for five minutes, despite my reassurances that he hadn't done anything very wrong.

Posted by erasmuse at 02:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kerry's Silver Star, Medal Inflation--Qando Military Experts' Observations

Qando has a very interesting discussion of the Silver Star action. Points to note:

1. Someone with military experience says that the Silver Star was undeserved because this was routine, not exceptional fighting.

2. Someone with military experience says that it has long been noted that Admiral Zumwalt was generous with medals, to keep up morale.

3. Someone with military experience says that the Silver Star was awarded for Kerry being in charge of the entire day's operation, with the killing of the Viet Cong soldier was a minor, or maybe even a negative, part (negative as being a stupid move, endangering his boat).

4. Why didn't Kerry's boat stay in the water and kill the Viet Cong with the rocket launcher using its heavy machine guns, instead of beaching (so the machine guns were out of action) and having one sailor chase him?

5. Having beached his boat and run out, Kerry left it pretty much defenseless against the Viet Cong. It couldn't move or use its machine guns. If there had been more Viet Cong in the bushes, he would have lost his boat and crew.

Here is one of the many good parts of the post:
Sometimes being in the right place at the right time has benefits.

What many commanders have done in many wars is use commendation as "impact awards". That is, he wants the award to make an impact on the unit, to stress this is the sort of results he wants, to reward those who were successful. Obviously there's the possibility that the desire to give those "impact awards" may see some, upon review, believe they just didn't rise to the level of that award. I think that's the case for many who view this now.

But then, it had a purpose, which is why it was pushed through so hurridly and awarded by Zumwaldt himself.

Look, it seems rather silly to dispute whether its deserved or not when his chain of command obviously thought it was at the time. Whether it rises to the level we expect for a Silver Star is debatable, but the bottom line is, it was awarded, not by John Kerry, but by his chain of command. And all indications are the reason was to "impact" the command, get them riled up, get them on board with the program of taking the rivers away from the VC.

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

Posted by erasmuse at 01:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thumbdrives-- USB2-Sandisk 1 gig

I just bought the new Sandisk 1 -gigabyte USB 2.0 thumbdrive for about $200.

This is a device about the size of a thumb which stores 1 gigabyte of data, transferring it quicker than a CD via a USB 2.0 port. The USB 2.0 ports tout how fast they are compared to USB 1, and I find that the difference is worth it for thumbdrives (I'm not sure about for printers, mouses, etc. ). I've replace my old USB 1 hub at the office with a USB 2 hub.

This devise will probably make my Christmas List this year.

Posted by erasmuse at 01:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Movable Type Templates

I'm slowly learning Movable Type. My newest Index Template is here. The new changes are:

1. I've added Category archives at the bottom, which list all entries in a given category.

2. I've put back the "Syndicate this site (XML)" command. A reader asked me why I removed it. I removed it because I didn't know what it did. I found a link that explains it (it is some kind of news feed to your computer from my weblog) and have added that link to my webpage too.

3. I figured out how to get rid of the blank space on the left side.

4. I found the standard DeSpamming plug-in, which strips off comments that people use just to increase the Google Count on their websites by citing them. Spammers-- you should be ashamed of yourself, and if I had my way, we'd pass a law putting you in jail for a long time. I've added the link.

5. Most of the ancillary stuff--archives and so forth-- is now at the bottom of the webpage.

I mention all this mainly because although Movable TYpe is a well-designed program, the documentation is lousy. MT currently has its default templates up on its website. What it also needs, very badly, is a set of "Alternative templates"-- various templates for the Index and other pages-- together with how the output pages from those templates look. I know it's a free program, so I'm not complaining too loudly, but this would be a good effort for some volunteer. And as a start, you can look at my template, as linked earlier in this post. I'm not the best person to set up a site listing different templates, though, since I don't know PERL or JAVA or even which of those is the name of whatever these templates are written in.

Posted by erasmuse at 01:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lexis Count on Bush and Kerry Vietnam Stories

Update: I forgot to include an intro to this. Here it is. That Liberal Media started a thread on Searches for how the media covered the charges against Bush on his National Guard service (pretty much just innuendo, by the way-- asking for positive evidence rather than giving any negative evidence about his service) versus how reporters are now trying to say that the Kerry Vietnam Fraud story which they tried to ignore has been running too long. I highly approve of quantitative measures of such things, and so offered my improvement on the Google Searches that were offered. I did a Lexis Nexis search, since it is newspapers we're interested in, not websites. I searched on August 25 on:

Previous year, full text, General News, Major Papers in Lexis-Nexis:

kerry + "swift boat veterans for truth" 11

kerry + "John O'Neill" 2

Kerry + Thurlow 6

Bush+National+Guard 205

Bush + National + Guard + Records 41

Bush + AWOL 83

Bush + Deserter 1

Of the 11 hits on

kerry + "swift boat veterans for truth",

6 don't relate any specific charges. They just say the vets are critical, or are charged with violating campaign finance laws,

3 do lay out at least one specific charge (i.e., that the First Purple Heart was for a band-aid sort of injury),

2 are just letters to the editor.

"Major Papers" includes papers such as the Los Angeles Times, Newsday Daily News (New York), The San Francisco Chronicle, USA TODAY, The Oregonian, The Seattle Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Washington Post, LA Times.

This methodology does not catch all relevant stories (e.g., The Washington Post's important August 22 story showed up in Kerry + Thurlow but not in kerry + "swift boat veterans for truth", but what is most important is the comparison between the numbers of Bush and Kerry Vietnam stories.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kerry's Bronze Star--Why Didn't the Other Three Rescuers Get Them?

I've already discussed the fraudulence of Kerry's Third Purple Heart in great detail. It is clear just from documents at the Kerry Campaign website and from a Washington Post article-- you don't need to listen to the Swiftvets if you think they're all biased and Kerry's people are not.

We can apply the same approach to the Bronze Star Kerry received for that same day's action. In essence, the undisputed facts seem to be that a man fell overboard from Kerry's boat, and after initially continuing along the river, Kerry turned his boat around to rejoin four other American boats and Kerry personally pulled the man overboard into his boat. Two men who had gone overboard from the boat that hit a mine (and were at least slightly injured) and one man who had gotten knocked off it later while trying to rescue the boat were picked up out of the water by other boats. The big dispute is over whether the Americans were subject to gunfire after the mine explosion, as Kerry, his crew, and the official medal citation say, or not, as all but one person on the other four boats says. It is undisputed that nobody in any of the five boats or of the four men overboard was hit by a bullet.

Suppose we accept Kerry's story that he was under fire while pulling Mr. Rassmun out of the water. I can't see how Kerry ought to have gotten a Bronze Star even then. Any gunfire there may have been was not too dangerous, since nobody was hit, including the men floundering in the water. And though four men were pulled out of the water, including two who were at least slightly wounded, only one rescuer got a medal-- Kerry.

Some medals are awarded just for serving in a particular war or campaign. You get those just for showing up and doing your duty like almost everybody else. Other medals, such as the Bronze Star, are for heroism, for doing something beyond the call of duty.

How do we know what is simple duty and what is beyond the call of duty? A good measure is whether you would be disgraced by *not* doing the action in question. If you don't jump on a grenade to save your buddies, you don't get court-martialled. If you don't charge a machine-gun nest single-handed, you don't have to hang your head in shame. Thus, we give medals for that kind of thing.

How about turning your boat back during a firefight to rejoin other boats in your flotilla and pick up a man overboard? Suppose Kerry had just said,

"Well, there's a lot of shooting back there, and I think it is reasonable to just head back to base and let those other hotheads deal with it. We'll just have to give Rassman up for lost-- it would endanger my boat to go back and pick him up."

I think Kerry would have been in big trouble if he'd taken that course. The other Swift boats would have returned with not a single man wounded from enemy gunfire, and if they'd taken the safe option of not rescuing men overboard, presumably that would have meant four Americans dead or captured, instead of every man coming safely back to base.

No, simple duty required Kerry to rescue Rassman. Even if there was enemy fire, what Kerry did was not heroic; it was just the ordinary stuff of military combat. Quite simply, you're expected not to run away just because there's shooting. You're expected to carry on, and shoot back, and pick up comrades who have fallen out of your boat.

Here's more elaboration on the story. A mine exploded and damaged one of five Swift boats. It seems another mine exploded and knocked Kerry's arm against his boat, inflicting what the doctor wrote later were minor contusions and throwing Mr. Rassman overboard. The citation then gets to what Kerry got the medal for (full citation http://www.rasmusen.org/x/images/kerry3.jpg">here.):

... In addition, all units began receiving small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks. When Lieutenant (jg) Kerry discovered he had a man overboard, he returned upriver to assist. The man in the water was receiving sniper fire from both banks. Lieutenant (jg) Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain and with disregard for his personal safety, he pulled the man aboard. Lieutenant (jg) Kerry then directed his boat to return and assist the other damaged Inshore Patrol Craft. His crew attached a line and towed the damaged boat to safety....

A Washington Post(R) article says,

While Kerry was rescuing Rassmann, the other Swift boats had gone to the assistance of Pees and the 3 boat. Thurlow, in particular, distinguished himself by leaping onto the 3 boat and administering first aid, according to his Bronze Star citation. At one point, he, too, was knocked overboard when the boat hit a sandbar, but he was rescued by crewmates.

The Kerry and anti-Kerry camps differ sharply on whether the flotilla came under enemy fire after the explosion that crippled the 3 boat. Everybody aboard Kerry's boat, including Rassmann, says there was fire from both riverbanks, and the official after-action report speaks of all boats receiving "heavy a/w [automatic weapons] and s/a [small arms] from both banks." The Bronze Star citations for Kerry and Thurlow also speak of prolonged enemy fire.

A report on "battle damage" to Thurlow's boat mentions "three 30 cal bullet holes about super structure." According to Thurlow, at least one of the bullet holes was the result of action the previous day, when he ran into another Vietcong ambush.

Apparently, four Americans were thrown into the water that day: Rassman, Thurlow, and two sailors from the 3-boat. All were picked up. Only one person, Kerry, got a medal for picking someone up. Why? (Thurlow, though, did get a Bronze Star for jumping into the driverless 3-boat and trying to get it under control before being thrown into the water himself after a big bump.) CNN Transcript says

THURLOW: Yes, I do. My thought is that since no mine was detected on the other side of the river, no blast was seen, no noise heard, there's two things that are inconsistent with my memory.

Our boats immediately put automatic weapons fire on to the left bank just in case there was an ambush in conjunction with the mine. It soon became apparent there was no ambush.

The rescue efforts began on the 3-boat (ph). And at this time, the second boat in line, mine being the third boat on the left bank, began to do this.

Now, two members in this boat, keep in mind, are in the river at that time. They're picked up. The boat that picks them up starts toward Lieutenant Rassmann at this time, that's the 23-boat (ph). But before they get there, John does return and pick him up. But I distinctly remember we were under no fire from either bank.

WOODRUFF: Jim Rassmann, what about that? You hear Mr. Thurlow saying there was no enemy fire at that point.

RASSMANN: Mr. Thurlow is being disingenuous. I don't know what his motivation is, but I was receiving fire in the water every time I came up for air. I don't recall anybody being in the area around us until I came up maybe five or six times for air and Kerry came back to pick me up out of the water.

WOODRUFF: Disingenuous. He says you are being disingenuous in not recalling what happened.

THURLOW: Let me ask Mr. Rassmann this question: I also ended up in the water that day during the rescue efforts on the 3-boat (ph). And my boat, the 51-boat (ph), came up, picked me up, business as usual. I got back on board, went about the business at hand.

I received no fire. But the thing I would like to ask is, we have five boats now, John's returning, and four boats basically dead in the water, working on the 3-boat (ph). If we were receiving fire off the bank, how come not one single boat received one bullet hole, nobody was hit, no sign of any rounds hitting the water while I was in it?

WOODRUFF: What about that, Jim Rassmann, quickly?

RASSMANN: There were definitely rounds hitting the water around me. If Mr. Thurlow feels that what his story is purported to be was the case, he had ample opportunity 35 years ago to deal with it. He never did, nor did anyone else. John Kerry did not tell this story. I told this story when I put him in for a Silver Star for coming back to rescue me. The Navy saw fit to reduce it to a Bronze Star for valor.

That's OK with me. But If Mr. Furlow had a problem with that, he should have dealt with it long, long ago. To bring it up now, I think, is very disingenuous. I think that this is partisan motivation on his part and for the part of his whole organization.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Thurlow, why didn't you bring this up earlier?

THURLOW: For one thing, I did not know that John had been put in for a Bronze Star, a Silver Star or, for that matter, a Purple Heart on that day. I did not see the after-action report, which, in fact, was written by John. And as the years went by, John was not running for the highest office in the free world.

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

Posted by erasmuse at 12:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 24, 2004

Tom Smith on Oliphant and the Mainstream Press as Dem Shills

Tom Smith at the Right Coast has a classic post on how Thomas Oliphant said that the mainstream press is a shill for the Democratic party.

Thomas Oliphant (whom I can never look at without imagining him in one of those propeller beanies) was there to uphold the honor of the daily press. I thought he was pathetic, but my lovely wife Jeanne thought he did OK.

Most annoying was Oliphant's repeating, over and over, that O'Neill's allegations simply did not live up to the standards of evidence required by the legitimate press. Oh please. It's rather late in the day to stand on the daily papers' claim to journalistic objectivity. O'Neill says he has sworn statements from eight officers and four sailors to the effect that Kerry left the scene of the incident of the action for which Kerry got his bronze star, and only came back later. The testimony of 12 eyewitnesses is evidence, and a lot more than the one or two anonymous sources behind many stories in the regular press.


JOHN O'NEILL: Jim, one other thing, they can look at swiftvets.com, which is the web site that has a great deal of information on it.
JIM LEHRER: Is there a web site that's comparable to that? I'm sure the Kerry --
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, it's called the daily press, which is the most difficult thing for these guys to deal with.

Too, too funny. Oliphant says that what the Swiftvets are for Bush, the daily papers are for Kerry. Meaning what? Surrogates? That's correct, but Oliphant probably didn't mean to say it quite that way.

Take a look at the PBS Transcript of the Oliphant-O'Neill exchange. O'Neill is extremely persuasive, and his tone is utterly reasonable.

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

Posted by erasmuse at 11:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Vietnam Service of Bush, Kerry, Edwards, and Cheney: Not All That Different

Kerry has made a big deal of his service in Vietnam, and Democrats sneer a lot at Bush and Cheney. It turns out, though, that Kerry and Bush actually made very similar choices regarding combat service in Vietnam. Cheney and Edwards also made similar choices, though a different one than Kerry and Bush. Kerry and Bush chose to volunteer for military service that had little likelihood of seeing combat in Vietnam. Cheney and Edwards chose not to volunteer, and were not subject to the draft under the standard rules.

The brief story is this. Bush served in the Air National Guard, safe from combat duty because the National Guard was not called up. Kerry served in the Navy, which he thought was safe from combat duty for non-pilots, but after he volunteered for small-boat duty, the Navy unexpectedly started sending small boats into combat. Cheney was exempt from the draft for a year because he was married and then because he had a child, and he didn't volunteer, though he could have. Edwards was exempt from the draft too-- maybe because they'd ended it by the time he was old enough, maybe because he was a college student-- and he didn't volunteer, though he could have. None of them engaged in the same kind of dishonorable evasion as Clinton, unless Kerry is unable to refute recent evidence of fraud in manufacturing two of his Purple Hearts in order to escape the combat zone.

What I hadn't realized until recently was Kerry's position. Here is the Washington Post's (R) report on how he got into combat.

When Kerry signed up to command a Swift boat in the summer of 1968, he was inspired by the example of his hero, John F. Kennedy, who had commanded the PT-109 patrol boat in the Pacific in World War II. But Kerry had little expectation of seeing serious action. At the time the Swift boats -- or PCFs (patrol craft fast), in Navy jargon -- were largely restricted to coastal patrols. "I didn't really want to get involved in the war," Kerry wrote in a book of war reminiscences published in 1986.

The role of the Swift boats changed dramatically toward the end of 1968, when Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., commander of U.S. naval forces in South Vietnam, decided to use them to block Vietcong supply routes through the Mekong Delta. Hundreds of young men such as Kerry, with little combat experience, suddenly found themselves face to face with the enemy.

I'd just assumed that Kerry volunteered to join Swift boats rather than stay safely on the big ships offshore, because he wanted to see action. But it seems he admits that is not the case. Rather, he thought the Swift boats wouldn't see action. Kerry had a lot of yachting experience, and he no doubt thought it would be more fun to skipper his own small boat instead of serving as a flunkey on a ship. Navy policy changed, and Kerry found he had inadvertently volunteered for combat. He accepted that, as he had to, and served enthusiastically in combat for four months before getting out as quickly as he could.

How about Edwards? Did he have the chance to volunteer? Yes. He finished NC State in 1974, so he could have volunteered in 1970, fresh out of high school. But he did not. That's fine-- but don't criticize Cheney for not doing what Edwards failed to do.

How about Cheney? As even a web post critical of Cheney makes clear, he did not have to do anything special to be exempt from the draft, unless getting married at age 23 and having a child after you get married is special. He is no more to be criticized than some 35-year-old who was exempt from the draft but failed to volunteer. He is less to be criticized than the many, many 19-year olds who were not drafted and did not volunteer, since Cheney had already entered the adult world and would have found a stint in the military much more disruptive than an unmarried teenager would have.

The liberal response is, I think, something like this from the article posted above.

Quite frankly, I would have done the same thing as Cheney (if I wasn't 9 at the time). The difference between the Veep and me is that I wouldn't have the temerity to criticize someone who not only served in Viet Nam, but was wounded three times and won several honors for courage and bravery.
A second liberal response is that Cheney favors the war in Iraq, even though he did not volunteer to serve in the War in Vietnam.

Both of these are bad objections, even aside from the fact that their objection is not to Cheney's behavior but to his policy views. First-- why is it wrong for someone who doesn't deserve medals and doesn't claim to deserve them to criticize Kerry if he didn't deserve medals but did claim them? Actually, I don't think Cheney did even that. Cheney just criticized Kerry's foreign policy positions-- fair game regardless of who did what back in 1968. Second, Cheney may well have opposed the Vietnam War even while supporting the Iraq War. I, myself, think service in the Vietnam War 1965-68 was largely a waste of time due to the incompetence of President Johnson and his military leaders, even though I strongly believe we ought to have defended South Vietnam with the more effective policies of Richard Nixon. In particular, the Johnson policy of drafting large numbers of young men and sending them to Vietnam was a mistake-- a mistake Cheney and Bush have avoided in the Iraq War. Also, a conservative who supports a war is like a liberal who supports bigger government. We shouldn't criticize the conservative if he fails to volunteer his services for the war, and we shouldn't criticize the liberal if he just pays the taxes he owes and doesn't kick in extra because he supports big government.

Most of this Cheney stuff is digression, though. The bottom line is that Bush and Kerry volunteered for relatively safe and pleasant-- though still time- consuming-- forms of military service, and Cheney and Edwards chose not to volunteer. All four choices seem reasonable to me. The only dishonor would be in Kerry manufacturing evidence of wounds in order to get out of Vietnam with 7 months of his 12-month tour of duty still to go.

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

Posted by erasmuse at 11:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Hypocrisy of Kerry's "My medals are all officially awarded" Argument-- His Reserve Service

Kerry has not done much of anything to defend his Vietnam record except to repeat the argument that the U.S. government awarded him those medals, and everybody ought to trust that the government looked into things carefully, even if evidence turns up that it did not. Of course, that's a bad argument. What makes it worse is that Kerry has never been willing to apply it to George Bush's military service. Various people have been citing this Kerry Press Release:

"If George Bush wants to ask me questions about that through his surrogates, he owes America an explanation about whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard. Prove it. That's what we ought to have. I'm not going to stand around and let them play games." -- John Kerry, NBC News, 4/26/04

The Air Force was quite happy with George Bush's service, and gave him an honorable discharge. Is that enough to prove that Bush did everything he was supposed to do in the Air Force Reserve? Yes, I should think so, in the absence of any other evidence. If a person doesn't get fired or disciplined, we don't disbelieve his story that he did show up for work and complain that he doesn't have notarized records of showing up. If, of course we actually have evidence he didn't show up, then we might believe he didn't show up. We would have to conclude, though, that either his employer didn't mind-- as in the case, say, of a salesman who makes his quota anyway, despite going fishing sometimes-- or that he had cleverly fooled his employer.

In Kerry's own case, though, he says that the fact that the government gave him a Purple Heart is conclusive evidence that he deserved it. I would say it is *presumptive evidence*-- in the absence of other evidence we should believe he deserved it-- but not *irrefutable evidence*-- if we do find other evidence that indicates the government made a mistake, we should believe that other evidence instead.

By the way, not only is Kerry hypocritical in questioning Bush's Reserve service rather than accepting the Air Force's contentment with it at the time; Kerry is also vulnerable to exactly the charge he makes against Bush. As Mudville points out, Kerry served in the Navy Reserve from 1970 to 1978. If I remember rightly, from 1970 to 1972 he was in a semi-active category and from 1972 to 1978 in the most inactive category. Do we have any evidence-- other than his honorable discharge in 1978-- that Kerry was doing whatever a reservist is supposed to be doing? Does anybody remember him showing up?

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

Posted by erasmuse at 11:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Recent Entries at the Not-Politics Weblog

Posted by erasmuse at 11:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Recent Entries at the Politics Weblog

Posted by erasmuse at 11:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kerry's First Purple Heart--Kerry Camp in Retreat

On the First Purple Heart, now admitted false by the Kerry cmapagn: Captain's Quarters reports that Kerry is backing off from the claim that his first Purple Heart was for an injury received in combat (no backing off yet from the claim that it was too trivial to require a medical officer's treatment). This is a doubly significant Purple Heart if it is true that he only started pushing for it (after his commander's initial refusal) when he thought it would be a way to get out of Vietnam.

A number of people have written to me overnight stating that a Kerry campaign spokesman has acknowledged on Brit Hume's Fox news show that John Kerry's wound on 2 December 1968 came from an unintentionally self-inflicted wound -- an accident, in other words. So far, I find nothing on this on the Fox web site, but they are notoriously poor at posting transcripts, or even summaries of their own programs. Can someone post the link in the comments section of this post if any confirmation can be made?

UPDATE: Here's the link to the Fox News report from Major Garrett. It mostly covers the Chris Wallace interview with John Hurley and CNN's interview of Bob Dole. Towards the end, Garrett talks about the first Purple Heart:

GARRETT: And questions keep coming. For example, Kerry received a Purple Heart for wounds suffered on December 2nd, 1968. But an entry in Kerry's own journal written nine days later, he writes that, quote, he and his crew hadn't been shot at yet, unquote. Kerry's campaign has said it is possible his first Purple Heart was awarded for an unintentionally self-inflicted wound.

Score another one for the Swiftvets, and another retreat for Kerry, this time on a key contention for both a medal (which some, including me, felt were too difficult to argue effectively) and for his truncated tour of duty. Without that first Purple Heart, Kerry would have had to stay on the Swiftboat assignment past March 17th and remain in combat. Now that the Kerry campaign seems to have retreated from Kerry's citation, the fact that Kerry pushed this award weeks later up a different chain of command takes on a great deal more significance. Instead of bravely taking on combat, he now looks desperate to get out ahead of everyone else and willing to falsify records to do it -- which is exactly the impression that his later assertions have given us.

CQ mentioned the 2 December/11 December conflict back on August 18th in this post, based on a tip from CQ reader Amelia and an article in World Net Daily by Art Moore. Today's links to the Fox News report come from CQ readers Jay Howard and Jim Leonard. Thanks to the entire CQ community for keeping the media on its toes.

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

Posted by erasmuse at 03:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kerry's Silver Star: The Rood Evidence

A certain Mr. Rood of the Chicago Tribune has recently come out in support of Kerry's Silver Star story, and the newspapers are making a big deal of this, as if it is evidence from an unbiased source. Here is Eriposte quoting Atrios quoting the Chicago Tribune (Registration--with spam, which is why I don't go straight to the source):

In his eyewitness account, Rood describes coming under rocket and automatic weapons fire from Viet Cong on the riverbank during two separate ambushes of his boat and Kerry's boat.

Praise for the mission led by Kerry came from Navy commanders who far outranked Hoffmann. Rood won a Bronze Star for his actions on that day. The Bronze Star citation from the late Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, then commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam, singled out the tactic used by the boats and said the Viet Cong were "caught completely off guard."

Why is it impressive that someone whose Bronze Star depended on the Kerry story of what happended that day supports Kerry's story of what happened that day? The Swiftvets' claim is that Kerry rigged the action reports to make the action seem more impressive. That implicates Rood as much as Kerry, doesn't it?

And of course higher officers such as Zumwalt would be happy about the story. Recall that Zumwalt was the one responsible for using the Swift boats up the rivers. It was in his interest for every sign of success to appear, including lots of medals, so naturally he wouldn't inquire too closely into which stories were genuine.

We have here, I think, the reason why the Swiftvets group didn't form 20 years ago. They must know that there are a lot more dubious medals out there than just Kerry's medals. There was little point in the Swiftboaters criticizing Kerry and raising doubts about Swift boat skippers when Kerry was sure to win the Senate races in Massachusetts anyway (one old phrase put it that in a certain city the Democrat would win "unless he was caught in bed with a live man or a dead woman," and Massachusetts is only half as selective as that). Now that Kerry might actually become President, the Swiftvets are sacrificing narrow self-interest for the sake of their country. To stop Kerry, they must cast doubt on their own medals. They are, naturally, not eager to elucidate this.

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

Posted by erasmuse at 03:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Large Independent Bookstores vs. Smaller Chain Bookstores

The August 24 WSJ ($), p. A1, has this good industrial organization story.

When Neil Van Uum opened an independent bookstore in Cleveland last year, he was bucking the odds. Thousands of bookstores have closed in recent years, ravaged by huge rivals with larger selection and lower prices. One of the biggest -- Borders -- has a store right across the street from Mr. Van Uum's Cleveland site.

But the 46-year-old bookseller has managed to prevail thanks to an unusual retailing strategy: combat the giants by being even more giant. His Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cleveland is bigger than the Borders, sells merchandise ranging from toys to quilted handbags and boasts a restaurant where flank-steak salad goes for $9.95.

How could this happen? A big chain ordinarily has standard procedures, including only a limited number of sizes of stores (if each store is different, there is no cost saving from having a chain, and in fact there would be a cost disadvantage). Suppose the optimal size of a bookstore in Cleveland is in between sizes 3 and 4 on Borders's list. That provides an opening for an independent store to come in at size 3.5.

Or, the story might be as follows. In markets like this, consumers go whichever bookstore is biggest, because they like variety in browsing and amenities such as wide aisles and lots of couches, so long as the store doesn't charge more than the cover price of books. If Borders makes a forecasting mistake and comes in at size 3, then someone else can come in at size 3.1 and wipe them out. Of course, if Borders can increase its store size to 3.2, this won't work, but often it is hard to expand buildings (you have to buy up the neighboring properties, for example, unless you bought wastefully much property in the first place). Or, the independent will jump right to the size-- say, 3.8-- which is so large that though it wipes out the old Borders, it is barely profitable because costs are so high. This would be a sort of "all-pay auction", to use the technical economic term.

Posted by erasmuse at 02:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cheney's Self-Deprecating-Apprecating Humor

A Washington Times story says this about Vice President Cheney:
"People keep telling me -- they say Senator Edwards got picked because he's charming, good looking, sexy. I said, 'How do you think I got the job?' " Mr. Cheney quipped in a stump speech in Salt Lake City, his sixth in three days.
That is a wonderful line. It is self-deprecating humor good enough to get a laugh, because the listener's first thought is, "They made a mistake giving the job to someone as ugly as you!"

But it is actually self-apprecating, if I may coin a word, because the reader's second thought is, "Well, actually you must have gotten the job because you're wise and talented."

Then it bends back, because the listener's third thought is,"And, of course, Senator Edwards was indeed picked because he is good-looking, and his other qualifications are negligible."

And, finally, the fourth thought is a general lesson: "Aren't the media pundits who make a big deal of beauty in presidential candidates silly-- much too silly to be worth listening to about anything as imoprtant as government?"

Posted by erasmuse at 11:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 23, 2004

Cleland's Good Attitude towards his Undeserved Medals

National Review has this good comment on how another Vietnam vet talks about medals that he didn't really deserve.

However in his 1986 autobiography, Cleland downplayed his experience. He wrote that he was awarded the Soldier's Medal "for allegedly shielding my men from the grenade blast and the Silver Star for allegedly coming to the aid of wounded troops...." But, he acknowledges, "there were no heroics on which to base the Soldier's Medal. And it had been my men who took care of the wounded during the rocket attack, not me. Some compassionate military men had obviously recommended me for the Silver Star, but I didn't deserve it." He also writes that, "I was not entitled to the Purple Heart either, since I was not wounded by enemy action."

Cleland seems to be handling it just right. It reminds me of the proverb that if your record is a bit shaky it's better for people to ask why you aren't praised more than for them to ask why you are praised so much. An example in economics is James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock. Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in economics, largely for work the two of them did together. Afterwards, some people questioned whether Buchanan deserved the Prize for work of that quality, and others questioned whether Tullock oughtn't to have gotten one too, since his work was as good as Buchanan's.

CORRECTION, AUGUST 27: I now learn from the article of the article which quoted Cleland's book that he did *not* in fact, get a Purple Heart. Rather, he is explaining *why it was a correct decision not to award him one.* The point I was making still holds. (See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

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Public Posting of Grades; Buckley Act, Cambridge, Accountants

I've long thought that it's foolish to keep university grades secret with the hypersecurity of the Buckley Act. Why not post student names and grades, so the students can find them out easily? (especially before email made this less important) Why should a slacker be entitled to keep his D a secret? Why shouldn't the top student get public recognition? Isn't it good for students and professors to be able to find out that a particular professor gives all A's?

England is more sensible, as this BBC report explains:

For 300 years students at Cambridge University have learned their exam results from public notice boards.


Until recently, the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICA) published all interim and final results in a Saturday edition of the Times newspaper.

This led to many anxious students cutting short their Friday evening fun to seek out an early edition of the paper at a late-opening corner shop. Saturday's hangover was either tinged with relief or despair.

The institute still publishes its results in the Times, but now also offers text message and e-mail.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Christian Duty of Skepticism: Galatians 1

One thing about Christianity is that it requires that its believers think independently. Paul said in Galatians 1:7-9,

I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another [gospel] only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.

Who is to decide whether the leader is preaching the original gospel, or a new, perverted one? The believer must decide for himself. It is not that he gets to choose which gospel is correct; that is not up to him. Rather, he must figure out which gospel is correct, with woeful consequences if he gets it wrong.

This goes against a strong tendency in human nature, which is to pick someone as an authority and just trust him. That tendency is quite sensible-- it saves a lot of effort-- but it is dangerous, whether applied in religion or in personal finance.

Posted by erasmuse at 12:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 22, 2004

50% Marginal Tax Rates on Married Women-- Gokhale and Kotlikoff

Gokhale and Kotlikoff's "The Effect of Social Security on Working Couples" came up at our Law and Econ Lunch last Thursday. The heart of it is Table 1, from which I have adapted the table below. The most dramatic part is that if a husband earns $20,000 per year (in 2002 dollars, Massachusetts state resident), his wife is taxed at a marginal rate of 122% if she earns $10,000. A more typical case is if the husband earns $50,000 and his wife earns $30,000. She then has a 49% tax rate, very high.

Much of this effect comes because the wife is going to get social security benefits even if she doesn't work-- via her husband's benefits-- but she pays the full tax nonetheless.

Lifetime Marginal Net Tax Rates for Spouses (%)
Husband's Earnings Wife's Earnings
$10K $20K $30K $40K $50K
$10K 96
$20K 122 81
$30K 48 44 44
$50K 50 50 49 48
$80K 58 56 55 54 55
$100K 61 60 61 58 56

Is this a bad thing? It is pro-family, I'd say-- because it discourages married women from working. And there are positive externalities from married women not working, so it might even be efficient. But many people see the discouragement of female labor supply as a disadvantage.

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Kerry's Third Purple Heart--Fraudulent

[UPDATED, 11:49 p.m. Aug. 22 at the end) It is clear that Kerry lied about being in Cambodia and about what he did with his medals after he came back to the States, but I'm still trying to sort out whether he deserved the medals. It is best to go one medal at a time. This is interesting both with regard to Kerry, and, more generally with regard to how well the Navy prevents fraudulent medal awards. So I went over the records released by the Kerry Campaign carefully (according to the Washington Post (R) , 6 pages out of about 100) looking at just one medal-- the third Purple Heart, of March 1969. Below I lay out the evidence (with images of the relevant parts of the documents at the end of the post). I originally wrote this Saturday night using just 1969 documents-- not any 2004 witness reports. Then I read the August 21 Washington Post (R) article. I've put information from there in italics below.

The March 1969 injury was received when a mine blew up near Kerry's boat. There may have been small arms fire around, too (this is disputed), and the American boats were certainly firing. Kerry received his Bronze Star in this action, for turning back his boat to rejoin the other American boats and rescue an army observer who had fallen out of his boat (exactly what happened is confused, too, but let's stick to one medal at a time).

(1) The Bronze Star citation says, "another mine detonated... wounding Lieutenant (jg) Kerry in the right arm. ... Lieutenant (jg) Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain..."

(2) The Bronze Star recommendation says "another mine detonated... wounding LTJG KERRY in the right arm. ... LTJG KERRY, from his exposed position on the bow of the boat, managed to pull LT RASSMAN aboard despite the painful wound in his right arm."

(3) The Kerry Campaign's description says, "... a second mine detonated near PCF94, wounding Kerry ... Kerry, who had received shrapnel wounds and hurt his right arm,..."

(4) The August 21 Washington Post (R) says, "Although Kerry's injury report speaks of a mine that "detonated close aboard PCF-94," helmsman Del Sandusky believes it was more likely a rocket or rocket- propelled grenade, as a mine would have inflicted more damage. Whatever it was, the explosion rammed Kerry into the wall of his pilothouse, injuring his right forearm."

Okay-- so far it seems that Kerry was wounded in his arm by shrapnel from the mine. Note, by the way, that (1), (2), and (3) are all ultimately based on (2), the recommendation for the Bronze Star, which in turn may have been based on an action report written by Kerry himself (this is disputed). But compare (1), (2), (3), and (4) with the medical documents:


(6) The Personnel Casualty Report says " LTJG Kerry received shrapnel wounds in left buttocks and contusions on right forearm when a mine detonated...".

Merriam Webster Online says a contusion is an "injury to tissue usually without laceration : BRUISE"

(7) The Spot Report also says (not in the excerpt in the image below), "TREATED BY MEDICAL OFFICER ABOARD USCGC SPENCER (WHEC-36) AND MEDEVACED." (The August 21 Washington Post (R) seems not to have tried to contact that person.)

This raises two questions. (A) Was Kerry's arm really bleeding, or just bruised? and (B) Why isn't the shrapnel wound in the left buttock mentioned in the Bronze Star reports, when it seems to have been the more serious injury? Is it just too embarassing to be wounded there? Or did it come later, as a result of friendly fire?

This last possibility is important because, as Swiftboats.net says, to get a Purple Heart for a wound, it must be:

As the result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed force.


A "wound" is defined as an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or agent, sustained while in action as described in the eligibility requirements. A physical lesion is not required, provided the concussion or other form of injury received was a result of the action engaged in. Except in the case of a prisoner of war, the wound must have required treatment by a medical officer .

The August 21 Washington Post (R) clears up the buttocks mystery. First, a red herring:

On the core issue of whether Kerry was wounded under enemy fire, thereby qualifying for a third Purple Heart, the Navy records clearly favor Kerry. Several documents, including the after-action report and the Bronze Star citation for a Swift boat skipper who has accused Kerry of lying, refer to "all units" coming under "automatic and small-weapons fire."

The "automatic and small-weapons fire" dispute is not relevant to the Third Purple Heart (though it is to the Second Bronze Star). Kerry's arm contusion occurred at the time of the mine explosion, which was enemy action, and nobody claims the bruise was caused by "automatic and small-weapons fire".

Note, however, that the arm bruise, though received in combat, was minor-- presumably not needing medical treatment of any kind except Ben-Gay ointment or its equivalent. The Purple Heart would have been received for the mysterious buttocks shrapnel. Was it received during the same mined-boat action? The August 21 Washington Post (R) clears up the mystery:

As they were heading back to the boat, Kerry and Rassmann decided to blow up a five-ton rice bin to deny food to the Vietcong. In an interview last week, Rassmann recalled that they climbed on top of the huge pile and dug a hole in the rice. On the count of three, they tossed their grenades into the hole and ran.

Evidently, Kerry did not run fast enough. "He got some frags and pieces of rice in his rear end," Rassmann said with a laugh. "It was more embarrassing than painful." At the time, the incident did not seem significant, and Kerry did not mention it to anyone when he got back on the boat. An unsigned "personnel casualty report," however, erroneously implies that Kerry suffered "shrapnel wounds in his left buttocks" later in the day, following the mine explosion incident, when he also received "contusions to his right forearm."

Anti-Kerry veterans have accused Kerry of conflating the two injuries to strengthen his case for a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Kerry's Bronze Star citation, however, refers only to his arm injury.

Recall that Rassman is a strong Kerry supporter, one of his key witnesses. So from the Kerry side, we learn that the buttocks wound was not the result of enemy action, and so did not qualify for a Purple Heart. Unless the minor arm contusion that he *did* receive in action was severe enough to "require treatment by a medical officer," the Third Purple Heart was wrongly given. And the medical officer's report said that the contusion was minor even in comparison with buttocks shrapnel that failed to prevent him from walking back to his boat and carrying on with his duties.

I've heard it said that only the Marines really are careful about giving out medals, and medals from the Army, Navy, and Air Force are overused, as a means of cheap compensation. Any army has the following problem: the supposed hero, his superior who authorizes the medal, and the entire army all look good if they report an act of heroism instead of being skeptical. (And this isn't just an army problem-- I teach in a business school, and it is in our self-interest to give every single professor a teaching award, to impress students and outsiders.)

Recall, too, the suicide of Admiral Boorda back in 1996. Boorda, the top officer in the Navy, committed suicide after Newsweek discovered he was wearing Vietnam War decorations to which he was clearly not entitled. People in the Navy have gotten away with a lot, it seems.

This larger problem doubles back in being relevant to the Kerry Medals Kerfuffle, because it might explain the behavior of the Swiftboat vets. Why did so many of them wait so long to come forward? Maybe because a lot more people than Kerry got dubious medals, or authorized dubious medals for their subordinates. I'd like to know how many Bronze Stars, in particular, were given out. Kerry got one-- but maybe every other Swiftboat officer got three. And I wonder if there was pressure to award medals to justify the operations of the Swiftboats and to attract good officers and men to that duty.

The Boston Globe of April 24, 2004 (an article mainly about the first Purple Heart-- the one with missing records that Dr. Letson, "Medical Officer at Naval Support Facility, Cam Ranh Bay", says he saw and thought was trivial):

During the Vietnam War, Purple Hearts were often granted for minor wounds. "There were an awful lot of Purple Hearts--from shrapnel, some of those might have been M-40 grenades," said George Elliott, who served as a commanding officer to Kerry during another point in his five-month combat tour in Vietnam. (Kerry earlier served a noncombat tour.) "The Purple Hearts were coming down in boxes." Under Navy regulations, an enlistee or officer wounded three times was permitted to leave Vietnam early, as Kerry did. He received all three purple hearts for relatively minor injuries -- two did not cost him a day of service and one took him out for a day or two.

So, was Kerry's third Purple Heart justified? No, I would say from this account. The only issue is whether a minor contusion on the arm qualifies someone for a Purple Heart.

Does it matter? Kerry's Third Purple Heart is, after all, only one of his six medals, and not the most important (except for getting him out of the combat zone early).

Yes. Kerry has always put his war record at the centerpiece of why we should elect him President. If he lied about a significant part of it then, and upholds the lie now, that wipes out what he offers as his strongest suit. If the Third Purple Heart was fraudulent-- or even if it was standard procedure, but medals are given out for trivial reasons like bruised arms-- then we should be dubious about his other medals too. If we can reject the validity of the medals we can check on, we should not blindly accept the validity of medals whose legitimacy depends on disputed "soft" evidence. And, of course, even if his other medals turn out to be valid, we have learned something about Kerry's character.

UPDATE, 11:49 p.m., Sunday August 22. I've found more details, in a careful defense of Kerry's Third Purple Heart from Eriposte.Com. First, it refers us to a more detailed listing of the requirements for the Purple Heart at Excerpts from "AR 600-8-22, 25 February 1995 and Public Law 104-106 - Feb. 10, 1996":

(5) Examples of injuries or wounds which clearly do not qualify for award of the Purple Heart are as follows:...

(h) Self-inflicted wounds, except when in the heat of battle, and not involving gross negligence.


(b) Individuals wounded or killed as a result of "friendly fire" in the "heat of battle" will be awarded the Purple Heart as long as the "friendly" projectile or agent was released with the full intent of inflicting damage or destroying enemy troops or equipment.

Thus, friendly fire injuries *do* count for getting the Purple Heart, so long as they were not self-inflicted outside of heat of battle, self-inflicted in battle with gross negligence, and the friendly fire was intended to damage enemy troops or equipment.

How about Kerry's buttocks shrapnel from the grenade he threw at the rice? It still doesn't seem to qualify. It was self-inflicted, but not in the heat of battle. I'm not sure that blowing up rice counts as trying to damage enemy equipment. Even if it did, there still is no "heat of battle".

Here is what Eriposte has to say, with my thoughts on italics inside:

The grenade incident is actually supported by Kerry's own account, but the shrapnel wound was only part of the basis for Kerry's third purple heart according to official documents. The evidence here is contradictory.

I haven't found an official document which says exactly what the basis for the Purple Heart is-- just the record of the injuries. But in any case, the shrapnel must be the entire basis, not just part of the basis, for the Purple Heart if the bruised arm does not count because it did not require "treatment by a medical officer".

Kerry's account is in the book Tour of Duty by Douglas Brinkley, who based it largely on Kerry's own Vietnam diaries and 12 hours of interviews with Kerry. "I got a piece of small grenade in my ass from one of the rice-bin explosions and then we started to move back to the boats," Kerry is quoted as saying on page 313. In that account, Kerry says his arm was hurt later, after the mine blast that disabled PCF-3, when a second explosion rocked his own boat. "The concussion threw me violently against the bulkhead on the door and I smashed my arm," Kerry says on page 314.

So the causes of the two injuries are confirmed by Kerry himself.

And according to a Navy casualty report released by the Kerry campaign, the third purple heart was received for "shrapnel wounds in left buttocks  and contusions on his right forearm when a mine detonated close aboard PCF-94," Kerry's boat. As a matter of strict grammar, the report doesn't state that both injuries were received as a result of the mine explosion, only the arm injury.

If I recall rightly, the casualty report was just a casualty report, and didn't say anything about Purple Hearts, either way. It would have been nice if it said, "This particular wound is severe enough to justify a Purple Heart," but all it says is that the arm wound was "minor".

The official citation for Kerry's Bronze Star refers only to his arm injury, not to the shrapnel wound to his rear. It says he performed the rescue "from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain."

The description of Kerry's arm "bleeding" isn't consistent with the description of a "contusion," or bruise.

I've wondered about this. It could be that "contusion" means "bruise or laceration" in military medicine. But the military and medical professions are known for their pedantic precision, so more likely "contusion" means bruise and "laceration" means laceration. One of the medical reports did say "abrasion" in connection with someone else's injury.

In any case, even a " friendly fire" injury can qualify for a purple heart "as long as the 'friendly' projectile or agent was released with the full intent of inflicting damage or destroying enemy troops or equipment," according to the  website of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. All agree that rice was being destroyed that day on the assumption that it otherwise might feed Viet Cong fighters.

This is a good point I hadn't known about-- that friendly fire injuries can count for a Purple Heart. But this paragraph omits a key requirement-- that the wound be received "in the heat of battle". The buttocks wound was not received while Kerry was under enemy fire.

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

Posted by erasmuse at 02:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2004

No-Trade Theorems; L. Samuelson(2004)

I was reading Larry Samuelson's survey, "Modeling Knowledge in Economic Analysis," in the June 2004 Journal of Economic Literature. Much of it is about No-Trade Theorems. I'll modify one of his first examples to illustrate.

Basic Model. Alice owns 1 share of a company. That share is worth $200 if the company's new product will be a success, and $300 if it is a failure. Each of these has equal probability, so the market price is $250.

Alice can make one take-it-or-leave-it offer to sell the stock to Bob. Clearly, so far Alice would offer P=250 and he would accept, but both players would be indifferent. We don't really have a model of trade yet, since a small transaction cost would block all trade.

We will think about adding two additional assumptions.

Assumption 1: Alice is better informed. Alice finds out whether the product will be a success, Bob knows she has found out, she knows Bob knows, and so forth (her finding out is "common knowledge", though whether she has found success or found failure is unknown to Bob).

Under Assumption 1, if Alice find out FAILURE, what happens? She will believe (correctly) that the value is $200, and Bob will believe it is $250. But now if she offers to sell to him at P=250, he will change his belief to value V=200 and refuse to buy. Indeed, the only equilibrium with trade is if Alice offers P=200, and, again, both players are then indifferent about trade.

This is a No-Trade result. Our intuition that difference of opinion will result in the low-valuer Alice selling to the high-valuer Bob fails, because the very act of Alice trying to sell converts Bob to being a low-valuer.

Most of Samuelson's survey looks at papers that generalize the result to more complicated situations than this little example and to fancy ways to try to generate trade, many of them fiddling with the standard Bayesian assumption of common priors (that both players know the probability of failure is .5, that both of them know Alice has found the information, etc.) But I wonder whether the paradox can be resolved even within this little example.

Suppose if instead of Assumption 1, we used Assumption 2.

Assumption 2. With probability .1, Alice gets into a fight with the president of the company, and holds a grudge which means her share of stock is worth $95 less to her than to anyone else in the world. Bob does not know whether she really had the fight, but he knows the probability is .1 and the consequence is a $95 difference.

Under Assumption 2, if Alice has the fight, then she will offer P=250 to Bob and Bob will accept. Unlike in the basic game, Alice now has a strong incentive to sell-- she is not indifferent. Bob is still indifferent, but that is an example of the purely technical "open-set" problem-- Alice would be willing to offer P=249 if she had to, and Bob would then be strongly desirous of accepting.

Assumption 2 is an example of a non-informational reason for trade, a reason that requires trade to attain efficient allocation of resources. This is, of course, the second reason we intuit for why trade occurs. It is by far the main reason for trade in goods, and it is also important for trade in securities, though Samuelson and others argue that efficiency reasons can't explain the volume of trade in securities.

Now let's use both Assumption 1 and Assumption 2. Note that this means that with 100% probability Alice has an informational reason for trade, but with 10% probability she also has an efficiency reason. What will happen?

First, suppose Alice hears that the product will be a failure. She will offer to sell to Bob at some price P*. She will tell Bob that she is selling because she had a fight with the president, but Bob won't believe that. He knows that with high probability she is selling because the company's value is only 200. What is the highest value of P* that Bob will accept?

If Alice had no fight and heard that V=300, she would offer P=300 (or make no offer) and Bob would deduce what happened. This has probability .9 (.5).

With probability .9(.5), Alice had no fight but heard that V=200 and is selling for that reason.

With probability .1(.5) Alice had a fight and heard V=200, and so has two reason to sell.

With probability .1(.5), Alice had a fight and heard V=300, and so will sell if P*>205.

That means that if P*>240, a sale will occur with probability .45+.05+.05= .55.

Bob's expected payoff from accepting P* is zero if

[(.1)/ (.55)] [.5 (300) + .5 (200) - P*] + [.45/ (.55)] [200-P*] =0.

This reduces to

(2/11) (250-P*) + (9/11) (200-P*)=0,

500 -2P* +1800 - 9P* =0

2300 = 11P*

P* = 2300/11= 209 (approximately)

If P* =209, then Alice is willing to sell even if she heard good news, if she really had a fight with the president, and Bob is willing to accept her offer, because he can at least break even (and if Alice offered 208, Bob would be strongly willing to accept).

Thus, a small probability of an efficiency reason for trade has generated a high probability of trade. Trade will occur 55% of the time, but 45/55 of the time trade occurs, its direct motivation will be Alice's superior information, not her possible efficiency motivation. So if you think that most securities trading is not motivated by efficiency, this model explains what is going on. The market (Bob) knows that most people are selling because they have private information, but the market is only willing to trade with them because it knows that some people are selling for efficiency reasons.

And I've shown what is going on with a much simpler and more conventional model than what's in the literature. To be sure, it's just a numerical example, but it's got 90% of what we need for an explanation of the real-world factoid.

Still, it might be worth expanding a bit, if this is not already in the literature. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Alice's probability of being informed is not 100%, but X%, and compare the effect of X with the effect of the probability of having an efficiency reason (here, 10%).

Posted by erasmuse at 11:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Intransitivity Experiments and Irrationality: Bradbury and Ross

Hinton Bradbury and Karen Ross showed square patches of red, blue, and blue to 500 people of various ages in various combinations and sequences and asked them to choose their favorites. This was to test for "intransitive preferences"-- fo whether, for example, someone would say they preferred red to blue, blue to red, and then blue to blue, so blue is better than blue which is better than red which is better than blue.

The result was that 83% of four-year-olds made intransitive choices, 78% of 7- year-olds, 52% of 10-year-olds, 37% of 11-year-olds, and 13% of adults.

I read this in someone else's summary rather than the original. But it seems a silly test for intransitivity. Do the experimental subjects care about their answers? If I personally were asked some dumb questions about which color I preferred, I might well be intransitive. Or, if I were a mildly intelligent adult, I might arbitrarily pick some preference ordering and stick with it for the session. We adults are stodgy, and do feel some qualms about being caught in contradictions. Still, I doubt any of the answers are very reliable indicators of true preferences. The preschoolers might even be more accurate, in the sense that if I give a different answer each time, I will probably give the correct answer at some point, like the stopped clock which is more accurate than the 1-minute slow clock because it is perfectly correct twice a day.

I am subject to this kind of question frequently as a father--"Daddy, do you like horses better, or cows?" "Would you rather be a dragon or a monster?"-- and while they are not bad questions, I am afraid I don't agonize over getting my answers correct.

Posted by erasmuse at 12:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Election Year Economic Indicators

Glassman on economics indicators in the summer of 2004.

Yes, the number of people employed in July rose only slightly, by 32,000. But the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent--down from 6.3 percent a year ago and the lowest since October 2001, right after the 9/11 attacks.

The rate today is lower than when Bill Clinton was running for re-election in 1996. It's lower than the average unemployment rate in the 1990s--not to mention the 1980s and 1970s.


Over the past 12 months, David Malpass of Bear Stearns points out, the U.S. economy--measured by our GDP--has grown at a rate of 4.8 percent. That's faster than in any 12-month period during the Clinton administration and three times as fast as Germany and France are growing.

Yet Kerry is doing well in the polls. I am puzzled. The economy is strong, and the challenger is from the extreme left of his party, uncharismatic, undistinguished, and hurt by a noticeable third-party candidate, yet opinion polls show him neck and neck with the incumbent. The challenger does have strong support from the media, but is that really enough?

I wonder if polling generally favors the Democrat until late in a presidential race. I'll be on the lookout for historical data on that. It's what I'd predict, since the Democrats have enormous free advertising via the networks and the newspapers, which must comprise, in effect, 90% of spending until late in the campaign season.

Posted by erasmuse at 12:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 20, 2004

War Lies of Kerry, Gore, Harkin, and Lyndon Johnson; Kerry's Law School

Ann Coulter has a good column on politicians who lie about their war records and the unwillingness of the press to investigate. Here is most of it (with my redfonting).

The Boston Globe biography of Kerry published earlier this year compliantly repeats Kerry's yarn about how he spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia "despite President Nixon's assurances that there was no combat action in this neutral territory."

Only recently did someone point out: (1) Kerry was 55 miles away from the Cambodian border on Christmas 1968 and (2) Nixon wasn't president in 1968. (How did "historian" Doug Brinkley miss that in his biography of Kerry?)

The media will spend weeks going through pay stubs for Bush's National Guard service in Alabama in the waning days of war, but if Kerry tells them exotic tales of covert missions into Cambodia directed by Richard Nixon, they don't even bother to fact-check who was president in December 1968.

Tom Harkin , Crazed Moron, was shouting this week that Dick Cheney is a "coward," evidently for not fighting in Vietnam like Harkin. Except Harkin didn't fight in Vietnam either! The last time Harkin was bragging about his Vietnam service was in 1984 when he told David Broder of The Washington Post: "I spent five years as a Navy pilot, starting in November of 1962. One year was in Vietnam. I was flying F-4s and F-8s on combat air patrols and photo-reconnaissance support missions."

Sen. Barry Goldwater -- not the Post -- checked with the Defense Department and soon Harkin was forced to admit he had never been in combat in Vietnam, but was based in Japan during the war, ferrying damaged planes from the Saigon airport to Japan for repairs. Oops!

Then there was Al Gore who, like Kerry, was in Vietnam just long enough to get photos for his future political campaigns. (Apparently all future Democratic politicians take cameras to war zones.)

Gore enlisted in the Army in 1970 in a calculated gambit to help his senator dad in an election year. Young Al was given a cushy job writing for the Stars and Stripes newspaper, a bodyguard, and an exit strategy when Pops lost the election. After five months of this hygienic tour of duty, Little Lord Fauntleroy asked to come home, and before long he was safe and sound and preparing to flunk out of divinity school and then drop out of law school.

But over the next 30 years, Gore provided the media with increasingly macho reminiscences of his combat experiences in Vietnam -- almost as vivid and stirring as the impassioned account he gave of being a tobacco farmer.

-- "I pulled my turn on the perimeter at night and walked through the elephant grass and I was fired upon." (The Baltimore Sun)

-- "I took my turn regularly on the perimeter in these little firebases out in the boonies. Something would move, we'd fire first and ask questions later." (Vanity Fair)

-- "I was shot at. I spent most of my time in the field." (The Washington Post)

I think someone needs to explain to the Democrats that having your picture taken is not what most veterans mean by "being shot at."

During World War II, then-congressman Lyndon Johnson went on a single flight -- as an observer -- for which he was awarded the Silver Star by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Only recently has it been exposed that the medal was a complete fraud, probably awarded by MacArthur to curry favor with a congressman.

At the time, no one in the press bothered to investigate why Johnson was the only member of the crew to receive any sort of decoration for the 13-minute flight that never came under enemy fire -- and on which Johnson was merely an "observer." For the rest of his life Johnson got away with wearing what historian David Halberstam called "the least deserved and most proudly displayed Silver Star in military history."

Johnson told harrowing tales of his uneventful 13-minute flight, boasting that the men had called him "Raider Johnson."

This last is relevant to the question of whether a Silver Star such as Kerry received is a sure indicator of heroism.

Ann Coulter also points out that John Kerry went to Boston College Law School, not Harvard, or Yale, or Michigan, or Chicago, or Columbia, or even Boston University. Do we know his LSAT scores? As a Boston Globe story makes clear, Kerry should have been very attractive as a student because of (a) a Yale degree, (b) war medals, (c) fame from antiwar activism, (d) being antiwar in his politics, (e) elite family connections, both his own and his wife's, and (f) having been a serious contender in a congressional race.

(See my Kerry in Vietnam archives for more posts)

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Kakutani's Death; Fixed Point Theorems

Shizuo Kakutani, author of the Kakutani Fixed Point Theorem, has died at age 92. I started auditing his Real Analysis class one fall while I was an undergrad. I didn't realize that he was the author of a theorem important for economics, or that real analysis was one of the most useful math courses I could take. Rather, I knew the course was a base one for math majors, and very hard, and I was feeling very self-confident. I didn't last too long. Staying up till the wee hours doing problem sets for a course I was just auditing was too much for me. Still, I remember vividly how Professor Kakutani would clearly exposit series's and sums, filling up blackboard after blackboard in neat handwriting. And I remember his joke about the lady who was surprised at how after so many years in America he still spelled "if" as "iff" (for nonmathematical readers: "iff" means "if and only if" in math).

Alex Tabarrok has a good discussion of fixed point theorems at Marginal Revolution.

One morning, exactly at sunrise, a Buddhist monk began to climb a tall mountain. The narrow path, no more than a foot or two wide, spiraled around the mountain to a glittering temple at the summit. The monk ascended the path at varying rates of speed, stopping many times along the way to rest and to eat the dried fruit he carried with him. He reached the temple shortly before sunset. After several days of fasting and meditation he began his journey back along the same path, starting at sunrise and again walking at variable speeds with many pauses along the way. His average speed descending was, of course, greater than his average climbing speed.

Prove that there is a spot along the path that the monk will occupy on both trips at precisely the same time of day.


Take two pieces of 8*11 paper and lay them on top of one another so that every point on the top paper corresponds with a point on the bottom paper. Now crumple the top piece of paper in anyway that you wish and place it back on top. B's theorem tells us that there must be a point which has not moved, i.e. which lies exactly above the same point that it did initially.


Consider a cupful of coffee. Each point is somewhere in 3-dimensional space. Stir. At least one point ends up in the same place as it began.

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August 19, 2004

American Economic Growth vs. Europe; Anti-Bush Bias in The Economist Magazine

From The Economist's issue of about August 14 comes a depressing view of the U.S. economy that is contradicted by the bare statistics reported at the end of the issue:
Losing its way

Washington D.C. The vigour of America's expansion is once again in doubt

Is America's economy in trouble? With oil prices hitting new highs of over $45 a barrel this week, and with the latest figures showing a measly 32,000 new jobs created in July, the question is fraying nerves on Wall Street and in the White House. ... The article goes on to do lots of back-and-forthing. It notes that GDP growth has been high, but also that it was even higher earlier in the year; that central bankers all seem happy about America's economy; that the payroll employment statistics show a very different picture from the household survey employment statistics that they initially cite. But it also cites what bad news it can find, and the general tone is that America's economy is trouble, in line with the title and introductory paragraph.

The key to the article is perhaps in this sentence:

"Mr. Bush is keenly aware that, in 1992, perceptions of stagnant growth helped doom his father in the election, though the economy had in fact begun to rebound."

Once again, if the press can't defeat a Republican president by true new of slow economic growth, it can try to defeat him with false news.

Consider the following statistics from same issue of The Economist, from the tables that regularly appear at the end:

Economic Indicators
COUNTRY .... GDP (year) GDP (quarter) Economist Forecast (2004) Economist Forecast (2005) Unemployment Unemployment (year ago)
USA .... +4.8 +3.0 (Q2) +4.5 +3.5 5.5 6.2
Euro Area .... +1.3 +2.3 (Q1) +1.3 +2.0 9.0 8.9
Japan .... +5.6 +6.1 (Q1) +4.5 +2.3 4.6 5.3

As these figures show, the U.S. economy is doing far better than Western Europe, with GDP growth in the past year of 4.5% compared to 1.3% and unemployment of 5.5% compared to 9.0%, and The Economist's own forecasts show that The Economist expects U.S. growth to continue to be not just faster, but more than twice as fast. Japan is doing well too, so I've included it in the table, but The Economist's forecast of 8.0% for US growth in 2004 and 2005 is higher than not just its forecast for Japan, but for 10 European countries, Canada, and Australia (countries also in the table from which I extracted the numbers above). Thus, again we find anti-Bush spin contradicted by pro-Bush facts in The Economist. I'm afraid The Economist will have to start a moratorium on printing numbers if they want people not to laugh when they read the words in the news stories.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lileks on Department Stores, Fargo, Prairie Skies

The American Enterprise of last month has more good writing by James Lileks, "A Rich Boyhood in the Plain Void".

...And then you'd go to mom's favorite store, DeLendrecie's.

Cosmetics on the main floor, a mezzanine above, the hiss and thump of a message arriving via pneumatic tube. Downstairs was a small restaurant with a black-and- chrome counter (made by the same company that made the barbershop lather dispenser, you suspected). Going downtown with mom, having a soda at the counter, spinning around on the stool until you were green--you felt as if you were part of the adult world in a way you simply cannot get in a shopping mall today. The adults didn't look like plus-size children. The women wore dresses, hats, hose, and heels; what few men were about in the store were either natty snappy clerks or fellas in suits from the bank or the insurance office. A trip downtown was a trip into the world of money and work, a world completely separate from your world of school and play.

His observation is correct. Nowadays, adults do not want to be adults. They want to dress and behave like children, and have the government be the parents, but very lenient and wealthy parents.

A separate part of the article says,

You can't describe the vastness of the Panavision prairie to East Coasters. Either the idea bores them--sorry, if there's not an all-night Thai take-out every ten blocks I am so not there. Or it's incomprehensible--what, a dirt ocean that just sits there?

Yes. That's it. The earth is flat and the sky is big, and you're a small lone thing rolling between the two. True Midwesterners have no time for oceans--all that pointless motion. It comes in, it goes out. What's the point? True Midwesterners have no time for mountains. They're so obvious. They don't do anything. We have mountains, in a way; they're called clouds. And they move. Can yours do that?

This is not a novel point--I have heard it often from the Chemist from Montana--- but Lileks says it so well!

Posted by erasmuse at 11:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2004

U.S. Popularity in Latin America; Economist Magazine Bias

A poll from Latinobarometro asked "What is your opinion of the United States?" As reported in the August 14, 2004 issue of The Economist, there was considerable variance among countries. What was reported for 1996 and 2004 was

Favorability =[("very good" + "good") - (very bad" + bad")]

In 2004, the most favorable was Central America (about +70%, reading from the diagram) and the least favorable was Argentina, at -30%. The positive countries were Central America, Ecuador, Peru, Columbia, Paraguay, Chile, Venezuala, and Brazil. Uruguay and Bolivia were both at about zero. Mexico and Argentina were the only countries unfavorable to the Unite States.

How about the change from 1996 to 2004? Has Bush dissipated America's goodwill abroad? The biggest gain in favorability towards America was Columbia, at about a 60 point gain, and the biggest decline was Argentina, with a 50 point loss. Here are my estimates for all the changes:

> >
Change in Favorability towards the United States, 1996 to 2004
COUNTRY CHANGE (+ means more favorable)
Columbia +60
Central America +40
Peru +20
Ecuador 0
Chile 0
Venezuala 0
Bolivia 0
Mexico -10
Uruguay -20
Brazil -30
Paraguay -30
Argentina -50

I don't see much of a pattern in this. Three countries are more favorable, four are about the same, and five are less favorable.

Thus, I would conclude that Latin Americans are surprisingly favorable to the United States in view of the longstanding anti-Americanism of its Left (and maybe its Right too), and that the War Against Terror has not had a clear effect either way. Yet The Economist titles the table "Cool to Uncle Sam" and summarizes it as

"But Central America and some Andean countries apart, the region remains alienated from the United States (chart 8). The Anti-Americanism that surged over the war in Iraq has not yet subsided."

This is so contrary to what Chart 8 actually says, which I just described above, that I checked it over several times just to see if they'd gotten the chart description backwards by accident. But no, the chart numbers really do contradict their summary of it.

The Economist hates President Bush, and this shows up in a slide in the quality of its reporting.

Media bias is nothing new, of course. Kevin Hassett and John Lott have a 2004 working paper, "Is Newspaper Coverage of Economic Events Politically Biased?", quantifying the anti-Republican bias in the election year economic coverage of major newspapers. I mention this story mainly because I used to read and respect The Economist. I hadn't read it for a year or so, and haven't read it regularly for ten years or so, and I was shocked when I picked up the August 14 issue to read on the airplane recently.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:35 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Asset Returns, 1928 to 2002

Asset Returns I came across a table of real annual yields from 1926 to 2002. The source and meaning were unclear enough that I won't even give them, but here are the numbers:

T-Bills 0.8
Long Government bonds: 2.9
Long corporate bonds: 3.2
Large company stocks 9.0
Small Company stocks 13.5

I'm not sure whether this will continue or not. Economists refer to the strangely high return on stocks relative to bonds as the Equity Premium Puzzle. Quite possibly, the stock price run-up of the late 1990's eliminated that puzzle, since stock prices rose high enough that they will likely not have such high returns in the future. Still, I'm investing in stocks now, after my retreat and shorting during the bubble.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

Recent Topics at the Politics Weblog

        Firing Failed Probation Officers; Criminal Privacy; "Life in Prison" Sentences
        Are Homosexual Politicians Criminals?
        M.P. Svend Robinson's Diamond Theft; Crime in Canada
        Does Knowing Economics Make Better Citizens?
        U.N. Bribes from Iraq
        Comnputer problems
        Should I Have Voted for Clinton in 1992?
        Should I Vote for Someone Who Has No Chance to Win?
        Voting for Bush and Uzbekistan Christians

Posted by erasmuse at 11:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Recent Entries at the Not-Politics Weblog

        Nostalgia, Four-Square, and Uni High
        The Sultan of Brunei's Presents to George Bush
        Improving Operas; Music Criticism; Strauss's "One Night in Venice"
        Thanking God, How to Dress in Church; The Role of a Pastor
        Allied Occupation of Germany 1045-48--Incompetence
        Bait Cars in Vancouver; Auditing Games
        The Kokanee in Flathead Lake--Ecology
        New Haven Taxing Yale-- Takings Clause
        Computer Difficulties
        Man: Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?

Posted by erasmuse at 11:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Firing Failed Probation Officers; Criminal Privacy; "Life in Prison" Sentences

The August 11 National Post reports in "Four Probation Workers Fired After Six Murdered" that after Troy Victorino failed to be arrested for probation violations twice just before he murdered six people, Governor Jeb Bush actually punished those responsible. Those fired were probation officer Richard Burrow, his supervisor, Paul Hayes; the circuit administrator, Robert Gordon; and of the three Florida state regional directors, Joe Hatem. Burrow and Hayes are protected by the "career service" process and can appeal their firings; I guess the other two are political appointees.

This is truly amazing, because the usual pattern in government is for gross incompetence to be punished by, at most, slower promotion. It says good things about Florida.

In contrast is a recent story from Canada that I have mislaid, about a murderer who walked away from the halfway house where he was living and then robbed and killed someone. The authorities did not even announce that he had left, and even after the murder they explained that to release news of he criminal's escape to the community would have violated his privacy.

Yet another story is from the August 5 Vancouver Sun. A man who committed a brutal murder in 198 in British Columbia, stabbing a woman 99 times and almost cutting her head off, is up for release on parole. His sentence was to "life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years". Those 25 years expire in 2008, at which time a parole board can release him.

What is interesting, though, is that even now he can get out of prison-- and without a parole board hearing. After December 11, 2005, "escorted passes will up to the discretion of the prison warden. No parole board hearing will be necessary." He will also be eligible for "unescorted temporary absences" if the National Parole Board agrees. And even now, in 2004, he is eligible for "escorted passes" if the National Parole Board agrees. This is in the news because that board just had a hearing on him, in which 28 of his supporters, including "prison psychiatric experts" have testified. He apparently now is openly homosexual and has HIV and hepatitis. It wasn't clear whether these things were being disclosed by his supporters or his opponents.

The lesson: "life in prison without parole" means "stay in prison until the parole board feels like letting you out". The death penalty is the only sure way to guarantee that someone is punished for longer than the public eye is on the case.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Nostalgia, Four-Square, and Uni High

I was happy with how this photo from the Uni High Foursquare reunion turned out. I captured father and son both in action (the father is the bearded patent lawyer with the baseball cap). It was quite a good reunion, aided mightily by having so many children running around, though the kids make it hard to stay in one place long enough for heavy-duty nostalgiazizing. Unipeople start late, but do seem fertile enough once they get started.

That new word in the last paragraph didn't quite work. Nostal-zizing? No. I can't figure out a word that works properly for "talking fondly about past people and events in the company of others who experienced them".

At any rate, the theme of the reunion was the game of Foursquare. From 1971 to 1976, when I was at Uni, Foursquare and Bridge were the two dominant games. Chess, of course, featured largely, with people like Jim Worley on the team, whose success (2nd in the state my senior year, I think?) contrasted interestingly with the performance of our basketball team (something like 97 straight losses, a national record).

Here is a synopsis of the rules from Brian Brinkerhoff, '81:

The playing field is composed of four squares that are arranged so that theyform one larger square. The Squares are lettered from A-D. Each square is occupied by a single player. The player in the A-square serves the ball into any square they choose. The serve consists of a single bounce in A-square followed by the ball being directed into an adjacent square of the server's choosing. Play continues until someone fails to return the ball into someone else's square. When a player is out, he or she leaves the Four-Square court and a new player enters into D-square. Other players move up to fill the vacated space.

Players waiting to play form a line. The player in front of the line serves as Line Judge. It is the Line Judge's responsibility to serve as a referee. The Line Judge is the final authority on calls that are contested or disputed.

Four-Square is an old elementary school game, usually played rather gently. Uni High's version of Four-Square is not. Slamming a ball into a square so that the receiving player must run it down is legal. Putting unusual spins on the ball is widely practiced, and all manner of shots that are delivered from unusual angles such as between the legs and behind the back are heavily utilized by some players. As a result, our version of Four-Square looks much more like the Globetrotter's magic circle than it does the elementary school game from which it was derived. In the pursuit of this "flashier" style of play, it has been traditionally accepted to let some palming of the ball to go overlooked, not unlike travelling in the NBA!

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The Sultan of Brunei's Presents to George Bush

From "Saudis, Italians Most Generous to Bushes," National Post, August 7, 2004, p. A3:

The Sultan of Brunei, among the world's wealthiest men, gave Mr. Bush a $30 CD of country kusic, a lemon cream cheese cake and a box of McDuffies shortbread cookies.

I like that. The Sultan perhaps knew that the President could not in any case keep expensive presents.

I wonder if such people as the Prime Minister of Canada, the Chancellor of Germany, and the President of France can keep expensive presents? I don't know, but from general impressions my bet would be that legal presents of this sort amount to tens of thousands of dollars of extra income for them. .

Posted by erasmuse at 11:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Improving Operas; Music Criticism; Strauss's "One Night in Venice"

From an old record blurb by George Jellinek:

As a libretto, "Eine Nacht in Venedig" is decidedly not a work of art. ... "One Night in Venice" is clearly a modern impresario's dream. No amount of tampering or experimentation is likely to cause aesthetic indignation or critical furore. Quite the contrary, in all probability it will be an improvement over the original. For here, surely, the play's not the thing.

It is refreshing to see this kind of writing about classical music, and this attitude that art is to be improved, not merely preserved.

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August 16, 2004

Are Homosexual Politicians Criminals?

I've posted on how prominent Canadian homosexual politician Svend Robinson was caught stealing a $64,000 ring. Just a couple of days later, we find that the Democratic governor of New Jersey, James McGreevey, has confessed to homosexuality and is resigning, apparently to avoid blackmail from a man to whom he'd given a $110,000 salary in exchange for sexual favors.

The Vancouver Sun of August 14 tells us that McGreevey gave the $110,000 per year job of "homeland security chief" to an Israeli "poet" who used to work for the Israeli consulate aroused comment even before the sexual link was known. Within three months, McGreevey had changed the man's title to "policy advisor". The man resigned within a year, after complaints that he rarely showed up for work.

Is this kind of criminality inevitable in homosexual politicians? I can only think of three others offhand. U.S. Representative Barney Frank had a lover who used his apartment for prostitution, but, I think, without Frank's knowledge. Rep. Kolbe hasn't commited any crimes that I know of. And there was another Massachusetts U.S. Rep. from Cape Cod, I think, who molested boy pages (or was it interns?) but was never prosecuted. Not a very honorable list, is it?

Posted by erasmuse at 08:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

M.P. Svend Robinson's Diamond Theft; Crime in Canada

From the National Post, August 7, 2004.

Former MP Svend Robinson yesterday admitted in court that he stole an expensive diamond ring during a time of "devastating stress," but the judge ruled that losing his long-time job and suffering "public vilification" were punishment enough. The judge handed him a conditional discharge, meaning Mr. Robinson will not have a criminal record or serve any jail time.

The judge said,

"The end result is that Mr. Robinson needs help. He's fallen a long way. He has embarrassed himself. Further, he is always going to be remembered for this. This is not going to go away. As I say, the public, at least in Canada, I think, has always lived by the guiding principle: You don't kick somebody when they're down. Mr. Robinson is down."


Before he was sentenced, Mr. Robinson made a short statement to the court in which he said the ordeal has been a "shattering experience," that he recognizes the seriousness of his offence, and that it was "devastating" for him not to seek a seventh-straight seat in June's federal election.

"I feel a deep sense of remorse and shame for my totally unthinkable actions. I want to tell your honour that this isn't who I am and I am taking every possible step to ensure that this terrible mistake is never repeated."

A joint statement of facts admitted by the Crown and defence said Mr. Robinson was suffering from an unspecified strain when he stole a ring, valued by the Federal Auction Service at $64,500, from a jewelry auction in Richmond, B.C., on Good Friday, April 9.


Special prosecutor Len Doust suggested the value of the ring, Mr. Robinson's unusual behaviour at the auction after the theft, and his four-day delay in reporting the crime to police should culminate in a conviction. Mr. Robinson's detractors, Mr. Doust said, would say he was nothing more than a "common thief" who had earlier been shopping for a diamond ring for his partner, Max Riveron.

... probation for one year, and ordered him to attend psychological counselling and perform 100 hours of community service.

Mr. Ruby submitted 21 letters of support to the court, some of them written by Mr. Robinson's political opponents. The authors included Conservative deputy leader Peter MacKay, Liberal MP and Cabinet minister Stephen Owen.

A later op-ed tells us more about Robinson. In my words:

1. He was a leading MP in the leftwing NDP party.

2. He demanded an end to "Iraqi genocide" in 1999-- attacking not Saddam, but the UN sanctions against him.

3. In April 2002, he went to the Middle East to express his solidarity with Yassir Arafat, which resulted in his being dumped as NDP foreign affairs critic.

4. He said, "If we are to keep our country sovereign, we must vigorously resist any further American economic, military, or social domination in Canada."

5. He is homosexual.

6. He told the police about stealing the $64,000 ring four days after stealing it. I couldn't find out whether the police were already on his trail or not-- something which seems to me crucial in deciding whether his release without a conviction was just. My guess is that they were on his trail, though. I find it hard to believe that if a customer came back to a jeweller and gave back a ring, saying he had slipped it into his pocket by mistake, that the jeweller would initiate a prosecution.

Barbara Yaffe, [email protected], had more to say in an August 14 op-ed in the Vancouver Sun. She said

But how would society have benefited from putting Mr. Robinson behind bars? He's unlikely to re-offend. The public isn't at risk.

The deterrence factor isn't terribly relevant because potential criminals are hardly likely to identify with Mr. Robinson who is in a unique situation, eing a veteran politician and international crusader for causes.

I hope Yaffe would change her mind if she thought about the implications of the policy she is proposing. Here it is, in my words:

Prominent leftwing politicians may each steal one item of up to $64,000 in value without being punished. They may, in fact, steal an unlimited number and keep the items if they are clever enough not to get caught, but if they are caught, they must return the item, and are in peril of some punishment such as probation or a fine if they are caught again.

The rational response of politicians would be for each of them to steal as many $64,000 items as they can up to the first time they get caught, and then, perhaps, to stop. Yaffee seems to think that it is working-class stiffs who need the law to deter them from grand larceny. It is odd that after the events of the previous year any Canadian would not realize that it is the prominent liberal politicians, not the average voter, whose moral principles are weak enough that they need the threat of jail to stop them from stealing.

And, I think now, my description of Yaffe's "One Free Grand Larceny" policy actually overstates its severity. Recall that Robinson "will not have a criminal record". If that means anything, it means that if he steals a second time, he cannot legally be sentenced as a two-time offender. The court, I would think, will be obliged to close its eyes to the first offense, as having been deleted from his record, and treat him as a first-time offender. He then will be able to make the same arguments as he did this time, and if he faces the same judge, he will again escape punishment or a criminal record. So what this really amounts to is an exemption from the criminal law. The only penalty for theft for a politician is that the voters may choose not to re-elect him (and the victim will be able to get back the takings, via civil suits).

In my brief stay in Canada, I've noticed a fear of crime that I haven't seen living in Bloomington, Indiana, or even during my one year in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are lots of police cars around; gated communities; even more crime in the newspapers and on TV than in America; lunch discussions of the everyone's car-theft experiences; the "bait car" posters that I posted on earlier; talk of the influence of the Hell's Angels and the huge magnitude of the drug trade; checkout clerks checking credit card signatures more suspiciously. I don't know if crime is higher in Canada than in the U.S., but I do sense that fear of crime is higher. Is this due to lack of punishment?

Posted by erasmuse at 08:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thanking God, How to Dress in Church; The Role of a Pastor

The Evangelical Free Church denomination seems to be pretty sound. I attended the White Rock Community Church this morning. The sermon was on thankfulness, with attention to the marvels of daily life. The opening example was the best. The pastor had decided on a Friday at 3 to go camping by himself. He got his stuff together, went to Canadian Tire for supplies, and so forth, and set off in the early evening towards Squamish. He got to the campground at 7 or so-- and it was full. He went on to a bigger campground-- and they laughed and said it had long been full. They said he could keep going north-- and he might find a campsite, or might not. The evening temperature was great, with a warm breeze and a beautiful sunset in the making. What did he do? He drove back home, slowly, enjoying the sunset and thanking God.

I liked that. I didn't like the opening though, where he asked, "All in favor of the pastor *not* wearing a coat a tie occasionally?" and got an enthusiastic anti-tie response.

Why should a pastor wear a tie? The main reason is that he should be a figure of authority. It is harder for someone wearing a T-shirt to tell a congregation of people older than himself that they are behaving badly and need to reform their lives. It is even more difficult if he has occasion to tell that to an individual person caught in sin. Detestation for the marks of authority is usually a sign of detestation of authority. This is natural in all of us, because we want to be free to do what we want without comment from Man or God, and we want authorities to be scared to challenge our behavior, *especially* when we know we are in the wrong.

A second reason is that lack of formal dress indicates lack of respect for the position of pastor. Important men wear neckties and leather shoes. If a pastor wears ordinary clothes, that shows he doesn't think his position is any better than that of a plumber or a factory worker, and is rather less important than that of a doctor or a lawyer.

To be sure, a church can thrive without a pastor who wears a tie. But either this is because the pastor has such charisma that he can exert authority anyway or because having leadership is not essential to a church. The second of these is the more interesting. We think of a pastor's job as being to organize worship services, but that is where he is least essential. In fact, in many churches Sunday worship is either programmed by the denomination--- Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and other liturgical churches to one extent or another-- or organized by a music leader. The pastor just writes and delivers a sermon-- and it is not really very important for him to do that, as shown by the example of the Elizabethean Homilies, excellent officially approved pre-written sermons for use in the Anglican Church. For worship, a church does not need pastors or elders-- the members could take turns picking hymns, leading prayers, and delivering sermons, as happens in some Bible studies. Or, as in the case of a tie-less pastor, someone could lead worship inobtrusively and without any "pastoral" responsibilities.

Rather different is a third reason why a pastor might wear a tie: that maybe we should all dress up for church, not just the pastor. This is what comes to mind for most people, I think, since points (1) and (2) really imply that the congregation should *not* dress up, since to do so tends to elevate them to the status of the pastor. But we expect better conduct of our pastor than of ourselves, an attitude that sounds wrong but may have some justification. (A big enough topic for some future post.)

Should the congregation dress up? I don't dress up much myself. Usually I wear a coat and tie, but that doesn't really count as real dressing up. My biggest worry is from Matthew 22: 10-14:

So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.

If you are going to an event to honor someone, you dress accordingly. Or, if you are going to meet an important person and talk to him personally, you dress up. If I was going to talk to President Bush, I would dress up for the occasion. Even if I was going to meet President Clinton, whom I despised for good reason, I would have dressed up. Most people would do the same. So if church is a time to honor God, or to meet with God, oughtn't we to dress up? And shouldn't this be more even than just wearing a jacket and tie, a too-easy first step? Shouldn't I wear a real suit, and make sure it is pressed, and make sure my tie doesn't have stains? (Professors often wear jackets and ties, but we never have to really look sharp, and in fact would face disapproval from our peers if we did.)

On the other hand, does God really care about the appearance of a worm such as myself? Or, if He does care about me, isn't it my thoughts and other behaviors that matter more? (I can't say, "isn't it the thought that counts," because dressing casually reflects the thought that it is ok to take no effort in my dress, so we return to whether that thought is okay or not.) I have concluded that God wants me to allocate my effort carefully, and to spend my limited energy on careful dress would be wrong. In addition, I need to consider the effect of my dress on other people. Formal dressing is easily interpreted as trying to show off, and I don't want people thinking that serious Christians show off-- though I should not be averse to their thinking badly of me personally because I am trying to show off if I am not. Worse yet, dressing up can distract other people in church, because they admire it, they are inimidated by it, or they start wondering why I'm dressed that way. So I don;t depart much from the norm. But I'm open to argument.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Allied Occupation of Germany 1045-48--Incompetence

I was just reading about the Allied Occupation of Germany after World War II. By 1948, industrial production was still less than half of the 1938 amount, despite the higher population. Much (all?) of this was due to the incompetence of the Occupation authorities, who continued the wartime price freeze, which led to the breakdown of the monetary economy and heavy resort to the black market and to barter. Even the Occupation authorities relied on barter: the fringe benefit of a noontime meal was often more important than the frozen salary. In 1948 most price controls were removed, and the economy started to recover.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 13, 2004

Does Knowing Economics Make Better Citizens?

Someone recently asked an email group the question of whether knowledge of economics made people less inclined to support government programs, or more inclined. They might be less inclined because they would realize how inefficient most government programs are, but they might be more inclined because they would better appreciate how certain of those inefficient programs would benefit them personally.

Here are my thoughts.

People have more incentive to understand redistributive policies that help themselves a lot, so they tend to udnerstand the economics of those policies pretty well even if they don't know any formal economic theory. Thus, I think economic education does have a beneficial effect, overall.

Educating a person in economic theory helps in two ways.

1. The person will learn about policies that hurt them (and most citizens) a little and help a few people a lot. An example is the ugar import quota that hurt US consumers nad help a few US sugar growers. People don't have the incentive to learn about the hurt to themselves that the sugar growers have to learn about the benefit.

2. The person will learn just how inefficient many policies are-- that they hurt almost everybody. The minimum wage and the corporate income tax fit roughly into this category. I hear from Joe Smith that there is a non-partisan outfit in Denver, the Colorado Council on Economic Education, that hosts events for junior and high school teachers to teach them about economics.

I have wondered if the deregulation of airlines and trucking in the 1970's was due to better economic education in colleges over the previous 30 years. Before 1970, economists such as Stigler and Friedman had noted the inefficiency of such programs but scoffed at those who thought they would ever be repealed. The programs had perhaps gotten more inefficient, due to growth of the economy, but the benefits to special interests had grown correspondingly. So why would a rotten program be repealed in 1975 when it hadn't been repealed earlier?

I should mention one common explanation which makes some sense for airline regulation, at least. In the early 1970's, Ted Kennedy wanted to run for president, and needed some publicity and credit for doing good things. He found airline deregulation to be an issue he could take up, an issue of good government, quite removed from his usual big-government policies, so he could reach out to centrists. Thus, he was a "political entrepreneur", innovating on an issue

Posted by erasmuse at 04:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bait Cars in Vancouver; Auditing Games

A mall in Vancouver has many signs like the one I show here. Isn't it a good idea? Best of all would be to actually plant some bait cars too, but that isn't even necessary, if budgets are tight. Criminals will rightly be skeptical that the bait cars exist, but there is not much to be done about that unless some kind of certification or reputation becomes possible. Newspaper reports of successful baiting *might* work.

This is the same situation as in the following two of my articles:

``Lobbying When the Decisionmaker Can Acquire Independent Information,'' Public Choice (1993) 77: 899-913. Politicians trade off the cost of acquiring and processing information against the benefit of being re- elected. Lobbyists may possess private information upon which politicians would like to rely without the effort of verification. If the politician does not try to verify, however, the lobbyist has no incentive to be truthful. This is modelled as a game in which the lobbyist lobbies to show his conviction that the electorate is on his side. In equilibrium, sometimes the politician investigates, and sometimes the information is false. The lobbyists and the electorate benefit from the possibility of lobbying when the politician would otherwise vote in ignorance, but not when he would otherwise acquire his own information. The politician benefits in either case. Lobbying is most socially useful when the politician's investigation costs are high, when he is more certain of the electorate 's views, and when the issue is less important. In Ascii-Latex (43K) or pdf (204K, http://Pacioli.bus.indiana.edu/erasmuse/published/Rasmusen_93PUBCHO.lobbying.pdf ).

"Explaining Incomplete Contracts as the Result of Contract- Reading Costs," in the BE Press journal, Advances in Economic Analysis and Policy. Vol. 1: No. 1, Article 2 (2001). http://www.bepress.com/bejeap/advances/vol1/iss1/art2. Much real-world contracting involves adding finding new clauses to add to a basic agreement, clauses which may or may not increase the welfare of both parties. The parties must decide which complications to propose, how closely to examine the other side's proposals, and whether to accept them. This suggests a reason why contracts are incomplete in the sense of lacking Pareto-improving clauses: contract-reading costs matter as much as contract- writing costs. Fine print that is cheap to write can be expensive to read carefully enough to understand the value to the reader, and especially to verify the absence of clauses artfully written to benefit the writer at the reader's expense. As a result, complicated clauses may be rejected outright even if they really do benefit both parties, and this will deter proposing such clauses in the first place. In ascii-latex and pdf (http: //Pacioli.bus.indiana.edu/erasmuse/published/Rasmusen_01.negot.pdf).

It reminds me of the old joke about the farmer who, having noticed that watermelons were disappearing from his garden, posted a sign saying,

"One of the watermelons in this garden is poisoned."

The next day at dawn he looked out and saw that no more watermelons had been taken but the "One" on the sign had been crossed out. Now the sign said,
TWO of the watermelons in this garden is poisoned."
Note, however, that the last part of the joke does not carry over to parking lots in Vancouver.

Posted by erasmuse at 02:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Kokanee in Flathead Lake--Ecology

Ben Gadd's excellent Handbook of the Canadian Rockies has a story about kokanee fish in Flathead Lake that I think I'll use in my book on "Economic Regulation and Social Regulation". Here's what he says on page 482.

The kokanee is a salmon native to Canada. It was accidentally introduced to Flathead Lake in Montana in 1916, where it thrived. There were runs of as many as 100,000 fish into McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park. Since the fish die after spawning, this attracted lots of other wildlife, including as many as 600 bald eagles. This became a leading tourist attraction--perhaps the leading attraction-- of the area.

Then in 1987 the kokanee population crashed. The problem was that in the 1970's, Montana fishery officials introduced a small crustacean called Mysis relicta that had provided good food for kokanee and trout all over the Pacific Northwest. In the deep Flathead Lake, though, it had a different effect. The Mysis stayed in deep water during the day, the time when the kokanee feed. Then it would come up to the surface at night and eat the zooplankton that was the kokanee's main food. In addition, bottom-dwelling lake trout, another introduced species, ate the Mysis and increased in number. The lake trout also liked to eat baby kokanees. Having less food and less surviving young, the kokanees were absolutely exterminated by 1995. Flathead Lake had lost its main claim to fame.

The social regulation point is that when we mess with an interlocking system we don't understand very well, very bad things can happen. We don't understand social systems very well, so messing with such things as homosexuality or the role of women can have a very bad effect.

Posted by erasmuse at 02:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 12, 2004

New Haven Taxing Yale-- Takings Clause

The Takings Clause of the US Constitution has the idea that the government is not supposed to seize the property of individual people or organizations without compensation. Taxes are OK, but a tax is a siezing of the property of a group of people, without singling out any one of them, and, of course, the tax must go through the legislature.

It is common for tax bills to be written to give tax breaks to individual companies, but always in at last mild disguise--"Companies more than 23 years old producing raspberry but not blueberry jam shall be given accelerated depreciation deductions," and such.

What is less common is a tax law written to target a particular person or company and seize their property. This is more threatening to civil liberties, since sticks against critics are more dangerous than carrots to friends. (Of course, bribes to critics are somewhere in between!)

A recent example of an attempt, though, is mentioned in the May-June 2004 Yale Alumni Magazine. For the 5th time since 1990, legislation has been introduced introduced in the Connecticut General Assembly to put a special tax on Yale that wouldn't apply to other universities. This time round it would have imposed property taxes on revenue-producing properties-- that is, the football stadium and the university hospital.

Apparently this attempt was not really concealed. I wonder if it would have been constitutional if it had passed?

Posted by erasmuse at 06:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

U.N. Bribes from Iraq

A good World Magazine article has some numbers on the U.N. and Saddam Hussein.

1. The US General Accounting Office says Saddam skimmed off at least 10 billion dollars from the Oil for Food Program administered by the UN. This is what was used for arms and bribes to individuals.

2. The Oil for Food program collected 65 billion dollars in revenues from Iraqi oil. This is what the UN took a cut of, and what passed through the secret French banks. Apparently 45 billion actually ended up helping Iraq as food and suchlike.

3. The Marshall Plan back in the 1940's provided 90 billion dollars (2004 equivalent) to 17 industrialized European countries, many of them larger than Iraq.

4. The US provided 22% of the UN budget-- 350 million dollars.

From this, we can see that the US contribution to the UN budget is trivial by comparison with what the UN got from Saddam, even putting aside the fact that the US contribution goes to administrative expenses instead of the bribes to individual UN officials that would be more important for determining its policies. So why should the UN care about offending the US, if it came down to the US vs. Iraq?

By the way, I wonder if the UN sanctions had any bite at all by the last 5 years of the Saddam regime. I bet not. If not, then oil exports were not being curtailed, so we would expect less oil to be exported now than was during the supposed sanctions, when the equipment was in better shape and a savage dictator was effectively suppressing guerilla attacks.

Posted by erasmuse at 06:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 11, 2004

Comnputer problems

I've been on vacation with diverse computer difficulties-- no internet cafes, a laptop failing because, it seems of both hardware and Windows XP problems (Microsoft is *such* a despicable company!-- how can such a rich person as Bill Gates stand to have himself associated with such a shoddy, unprofessional product?), and so forth. Sorry, anybody who miht be checking here. I hope to have things sorted out soon.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Computer Difficulties

I've been on vacation with diverse computer difficulties-- no internet cafes, a laptop failing because, it seems of both hardware and Windows XP problems (Microsoft is *such* a despicable company!-- how can such a rich person as Bill Gates stand to have himself associated with such a shoddy, unprofessional product?), and so forth. Sorry, anybody who miht be checking here. I hope to have things sorted out soon.

Posted by erasmuse at 04:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 08, 2004

Man: Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?

Pope says in his Essay on Man, 1.2:35-38,

Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou find,

Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?

First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,

Why formed no weaker, blinder, and no less;

This casts a good sidelight on the Problem of Evil. Usually, we ask why God did not put less sin and pain into the world. Pope asks why God did not put *more* sin and pain into the world.

The answer may be that the Problem of Evil can be reformulated as, "Why didn't God make men perfect and put them in a painless world?" The alternative to the present world would not be one that is moderately less painful, because Pope's criticism is then valid-- if there's going to be a little pain, why not a lot of pain? But if we try to understand why God made a world with sin and pain rather than a world absolutely free of sin and pain, we immediately grasp Pope's deeper criticism-- that we have too little information to understand why God made the world as it is. A person may think at the micro level that it is obvious that God should have prevented the 9-11 bombing, but if you ask him to explain why God should have prevented all deaths in human history, he will become less confident.

Another way to approach what Pope said is to think about what kind of creature God ought to have created instead of Man. Men have an IQ of 100 on average, and live to about 80 years. Ought they instead to have an average IQ of 130 and live to 100? Why not, instead, an average IQ of 70 and live to 50? This is not an easy design problem, and without knowing God's objectives it is an impossible one for us to solve.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Chess, Go, and a Chess Solitaire Freeware Program

I recently downloaded a solitaire chess program that I like, Winboard-GNU Chess (download the Winboard program, which includes GNU chess). I did not like chess as a boy. It made my head spin, and I was annoyed by the arbitrary nature of the rules. Why, in particular, should knights exist, with their peculiar leaps? Why should pawns attack diagonally even though they move forward? Why is Castling an allowed move? And I seem to recall a crazy exception for pawn capture called "en passant". The game completely lacks elegance.

What I liked better was Go, or Barduk (in Korean). Go is simple and elegant in its rules. All of the pieces move the same way, and capture is achieved simply by surrounding the opposing pieces (with the edge of the board counting as part of the surrounding). The game continues for finite time-- until all the territory on the board is divided between the players-- with no chance of a draw and with degrees of victory based on the extent of territory controlled rather than just Win/Lose/Draw. Because of this simplicity, the game is much more intuitive, and more related to the real world; the Chinese have seriously compared Go to war, but nobody pretends that chess is really like war. Go has a much bigger board than chess, and uses handicapping that throws off the advanced player from standard openings (rather than the stronger player surrendering a piece as in chess, the weaker player is given one or more pieces on the board as a head start). This means that the mere memorization of openings and attempts to look a few moves ahead are less important than in chess.

But I now like chess better than I used to. I see that the intricate rules do at least make for a balanced and challenging game that is interesting from start to finish. The knight's move, for example, is useful at the start of the game, when the pawns (and other pieces) impede normal movement. The rook's ability to go across the entire board in two directions is nullified at the start by its position in the corner and by blockage from all the other pieces, but once lots of other pieces have been taken and once the rook has moved to the middle, it becomes very valuable. I'm still dubious about castling, which is not used in every game, but perhaps there is some good purpose for it too.

So, although I see that chess might still be a pernicious activity, entertainment without edification, I at least find it entertaining. If it can provide relaxation, that is enough. And I find it more relaxing in solitaire, playing against the computer, perhaps because I don't feel guilty about playing a thoughtless game against an unthinking opponent, perhaps because I don't feel guilty about imposing on a better player who always beats me, perhaps because I can choose the moment when I want to take ten minutes to play.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Technical Retrogression: Bathtub Plugs and Medicine Cabinets

Bathtub plugs. The best technology I have ever seen is a rubber plug connected by a chain to the faucet. The rubber plugs the hole very nicely, it is easy to set the plug, it is easy to unplug, and you can unplug without getting your hand wet (useful if it is a child taking the bath, for example, so your hand is not already wet, or if you are cleaning something in the bathtub). New houses seems to have inferior technologies-- metal-rubber combinations that need to be screwed in and out, get clogged with gook, don't always work properly, and break down eventually.

Medicine cabinets. My new 21st century house didn't have any, and when I remarked on this to the real estate agent, she said it was now standard to have lots of mirrors and drawers instead. The medicine cabinet combines those two things, saving space, and is superior to both. It makes for a better mirror, because it can either be left flat, or swung out to allow for side views (and back views if you have multiple mirrors). It makes for a better storage space for not one but two hugely important reasons (well, hugely important on the scale of home storage, admittedly a bit lower than world peace or your eternal salvation). The first is that children can't reach a medicine cabinet, unlike a drawer. The second is that a cabinet is better than a drawer for displaying the labels of many objects simultaneously. And now that I think of it, there is a third reason-- you can look straight into a cabinet instead of peering down into a drawer. And a fourth reason---one inspires the next-- which is that medicine cabinets can be very large, since to open them requires only the swinging of the door, whereas the bigger the drawer, the harder it is to open, since the weight of all the contents must be swung out. And fifth reason-- opening a medicine cabinet does not require you to shift your position, whereas opening a drawer often requires you to move because you are standing in front of it.

Why has bathroom design regressed in these two dimensions? I don't know.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Should I Have Voted for Clinton in 1992?

I mentioned in a previous post that I now think, ex post, that in 1992, I should have abandoned sentiment and caution, and voted for Perot or Clinton instead of Bush the First.

This, of course, requires explanation. Bush the First was an excellent president, whereas Clinton was a joke, and Perot might have been even more out of place as president. We'll put aside the Perot hypothetical and focus on Clinton. If the Russians had still been threatening, it would have been too dangerous to have Clinton as president but the Cold War was over, and foreign policy was not so important. We did have the purchase of the U.N. by Saddam Hussein's Oil for Food program, the neglect that gave rise to 9-11, Clinton's blockage of U.N. action to stop the Rwanda genocide, and the absurd Kosovo War, where we helped Albanian drugrunners by bombing Yugoslav civilian targets, but none of these things turned out to be as disastrous as, say, a Soviet conquest of Germany.

On the plus side, the domestic results of Clinton's ineptitude were good, at least in his first term. Bush Senior and Junior each have at least one very bad social program to their debit-- the Americans with Disabilities Act, which unconstitutionally forces huge wasteful expenditures on very large bathrooms and empty-by-law parking spaces, and the presription drug medicare program, which will result in huge spending on behalf of the wealthiest age group in America and probably will result, indirectly, in price controls on drugs and the crippling of the most impressive sector of the health care industry. Clinton found himself unable to do any such damage. He did repeal some of the Reagan tax cuts, but that is a smaller matter.

Administratively, it took a long time for Clinton to fill his appointive positions, even with a Democratic Congress. It is now pretty much forgotten, and perhaps wasn't noticed much even in 1993, but the Clinton Administration was very slow off the starting block. It just couldn't get organized for a year or two, just as one might expect of a bunch of Arkansas politicians who cared more about elections than actually running things.

Finally, and most important, Clinton ended the dominance that the Democrats had had over Congress since the 1950's. This was all the more important because from perhaps 1950 to 1974, there existed many conservative Southern Democrats and Northern Cold War Democrats, but by 1988, almost all of them were gone, so Congress was truly controlled by people who were staunch liberals on all issues. Clinton, by a mixture of incompetence and selfishness, ended this. (Note, too, as a footnote, NAFTA and welfare reform, both bad politically for the Democrats but good for Clinton).

To be sure, Clinton's contribution towards good government were largely completed by 1996, so Dole would probably have been better for the 1996-2000 term. But even there, recall that Dole was a major supporter of the American for Disabilities Act.

Foreign policy is more important these days. That means that we had better keep Bush in office despite his poor domestic record. But the wise Democrat, if he cares more about policies than about who carries them out, probably should vote for Bush on account of his domestic policies too. Kerry would probably end up like Clinton in his second term, less beset by scandal, but unable to get much done with a Republican Congress.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Should I Vote for Someone Who Has No Chance to Win?

That is a good and practical question. Currently Bush, Kerry, Badnarik, and Nader are running for President. Currently it seems that only Bush and Kerry have a chance to win, and all the Libertarian Badnarik and Leftwinger Nader will do is drain away some votes from those two. So suppose you are a libertarian. Should you vote for Badnarik to express your libertarianism, or for Bush because though you like his policy views less, you much prefer him to Kerry>?

This is a hard question, but I'd like to suggest one idea: Vote for the person you'd like to see win. Pretend that you are the only person voting, so you get to decide which candidate wins.

That, after all, is the ostensible reason we vote: to choose the best candidate. Scholars in political economy call it "sincere voting", as opposed to "strategic voting", in which the voter makes some choice other than his true choice in the hope of manipulating the rules. It is much easier to design an efficient voting system if a social norm exists which causes everyone to vote sincerely. This is complicated enough that I'll use an example to illustrate.

Here's the example. If two people are voting on where to set the thermostat, then if they can be trusted to vote sincerely, the voting system can be that each votes for a temperature and then the two votes are averaged, which will work out to a good compromise. Albert would choose his preferred 70 degrees and Bob would choose his 76, and they would compromise on 73. If, however, Bob votes strategically, it would turn out that Albert would choose 70, Bob would choose 82, and the compromise would be 76-- Bob's true first choice. If Albert knows that Bob would vote strategically, then Albert would not accept this voting system in the first place. In fact, without sincere voting, there is no voting system that will achieve a good outcome.

So sincere voting is a desirable thing. Presidential elections are a bit different, because it is very unlikely that any one person's vote will affect the outcome. But for that very reason it should be easier to establish a norm of sincere voting. Are you worried that your vote for Nader instead of Kerry will cost Kerry the election? Don't worry. That is most unlikely to happen. Even Florida in 2000 was not decided by one vote. Bush's margin, by any of the many methods the Gore people veered among, was in the 100's of votes, if I remember correctly (it certainly was for the final judicial count and for the first official recount, before the Florida courts started messing with it, and I think it was for all the newspaper-sponsored hypothetical recounts based on Democratic lawsuits asking for differing counting methods-- but that's where I could be wrong).

The same goes for "protest votes". To vote for Nader because you want to teach Kerry a lesson and scare him is a bit silly, because Kerry will not notice your one vote.

So the question for the rightwinger is whether he really would like Badnarik to be President of the United States, instead of Bush. And the question for the leftwinger is whether he really would like Nader to be President of the United States instead of Kerry. Here is what I find most useful about this approach: it is different from asking the question, "Would I prefer Bush, or someone just like Bush except that he had Badnarik's political views?" You may like Badnarik's political views, but you should ask whether you really want an eccentric person in trouble with the law, with no experience in office, and with an undistinguished career in the private sector (see ) to be in charge of our nuclear weapons and in charge of the administration of the federal government. The same question must be asked of Nader versus Kerry, though there, Nader does have a longer and more impressive record of achievement than Kerry(or Bush, if we exclude Bush's first term in office), and perhaps more administrative experience.

On the other hand, a different argument for voting for Badnarik or Nader is precisely that the disruption they would cause in the federal government. If the social security checks don't get delivered, no legislation is passed, and there are lots of wild executive orders that end up in the courts because they clearly violate the law, maybe that is a good thing. Indeed, I can think of an example where, ex post, I voted wrong myself. In 1992, I should have abandoned sentiment and caution, and voted for Perot or Clinton instead of Bush the First. But I'll write about that in a separate post.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Another thought on the 55 mph speed limit

I had another thought on the speed limit, the subject of a previous post, inspired by the very slow traffic produced by a heavy rainstorm. Not only do lower speeds result in more time spent on the road, increasing the probability of an accident; this has the secondary effect of congestion. If everybody drives 30 mph instead of 60 mph, there will be twice as many people on the roads at any given instant, because everybody is taking twice as long to travel. The direct effect of this is that if some drunk driver charges out into traffic, he is twice as likely to hit someone. The indirect effect is that with twice as much traffic, accidents are more likely even if nobody is drunk. Low speed limits product congestion, and this makes the roads less safe.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 05, 2004

Speed Limits and Safety

I've long been dubious of the 55 mph speed limit. It might save lives, but at a huge cost which someone ought to calculate. BUt I just had a thought that makes me doubt whether it even saves lives.

Consider this. Suppose you are trying to avoid a thunderstorm and you are driving 100 miles. If you drive at 50 mph, you have double the chance of being in the storm that you would if you drove 100 mph. Driving faster is less safe.

Suppose, now, that the main danger on a road is from a drunk driver. The more time you spend on the road, the more time you might run across him and be hit. In this case, too, driving faster is driving safer.

The question, then, is whether the extra danger of more hours on the road from a slower speed is offset enough by the extra safety of being better able to avoid hazards. I don't know the answer.

One background fact that would be useful is how many and how major are accidents in town, at slower speeds, compared to on highways, at higher speeds. I should look that up if I can.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 02, 2004

Voting for Bush and Uzbekistan Christians

I was cc'd on the following letter from someone who objected to the reporting of the claim of an Uzbekistan pastor that Christians in his country were praying for George Bush to win the 2004 U.S. Presidential election. I had noted that for Christians abroad, our vote for Bush or for Kerry was a very serious matter, and that a Christian should pay more attention to this than, for example, to the candidates' positions on health care or taxes. It is one piece of evidence for a position I think is clear: that Bush, a religious man, would do infinitely more about the persecution of Christians abroad than would Kerry, whose religion has no noticeable effect on his life. I might be wrong on which candidate would be better for persecuted Christians, but even if I am, I hoped to convey a more general point: in any U.S. Presidential primary or general election, some candidate will be the best for persecuted Christians, and Christians ought to try to identify which one it is and think about that when they vote.

The letter I was copied on says,

Dear Sirs,

I am writing about your re-publication of a letter of James Lair about a "pastor" in Uzbekistan and the need therefore for all Christians to support George Bush.

As someone who has attended Catholic church in Uzbekistan, in Tashkent and Samarkand, who has seen the Russian Orthodox Church parades, and who has talked with Jehovah's witnesses in several cities of Uzbekistan , witnessed the work of many Korean churches - all in Uzbekistan - I find your letter to be unfortunately mis-guided.

Under the Clinton years, there was considerable pressure to allow the bulk of the population to practice their Muslim faith as they saw fit - under the Bush years, the country has drastically increased its torture and killing of Muslims it judges to be extremists.

I pray that you come to Uzbekistan yourself before invoking our Savior's name to further your own interests. One interview is not the situation in Uzbekistan.

In Christ's name I ask you to look deep in your heart and reflect on this.


Dr. David Mikosz

PS: Your message is being used by the Republican Party already: http://www.ks-ra.org/impactof.htm

Let's go over this carefully. Like the original story, it is just one small piece of evidence, but I think it does tell us something about a not uncommon mindset.
I am writing about your re-publication of a letter of James Lair about a "pastor" in Uzbekistan and the need therefore for all Christians to support George Bush.

The writer did not argue further that the pastor was an impostor, so I suppose he used quote marks to indicate his disdain for a pastor who dared voice a political opinion in favor of George Bush. Or perhaps the writer is a Roman Catholic traditional enough to be unwilling to call a Protestant pastor by the name "pastor". (That is not an entirely unreasonable position-- I myself object to calling pastors of *any* denomination "reverend", since that word means "to be revered" and I do not think humans should be revered like gods. But "pastor" is a word that makes a very limited claim-- a shepherd is not a grand person.)
As someone who has attended Catholic church in Uzbekistan, in Tashkent and Samarkand, who has seen the Russian Orthodox Church parades, and who has talked with Jehovah's witnesses in several cities of Uzbekistan, witnessed the work of many Korean churches - all in Uzbekistan - I find your letter to be unfortunately mis-guided.

That isn't a bad intro. It makes us expect that next he will give us some observations about how tolerant the authorities are, or how Bush's policies have or have not helped Christians, though our expectation will be disappointed.

A point the writer could have here is to attack the assertion made in the article that

"... it is illegal in his country to be a Christian. You see, his church is an 'underground' church. Amazingly, his city also has three 'underground' Christian schools," Lair said.

Lair says the Uzbek pastor talked about how the Christians have been arrested and even killed in his country.

Dr. Mikosz's experience tells us that Christianity in general is not illegal in Uzbekistan. My guess is that Uzbekistan is like most Moslem countries, in which it is not illegal to be a Christian, or to switch from one Christian denomination to another, but it is illegal to try to convert Moslems to Christianity, or to be a Moslem convert. But I don't think it is wrong to say that Christianity is illegal if it is only illegal for 95% of the population plus any Christian who follow his religion's command to share the good news (though I wouldn't object to someone saying Christianity is legal in Uzbekistan either-- "legality", here as elsewhere, often can't be stated precisely in one sentence Is it legal to lie in America? Ask Martha Stewart, and then ask Bill Clinton).
Under the Clinton years, there was considerable pressure to allow the bulk of the population to practice their Muslim faith as they saw fit - under the Bush years, the country has drastically increased its torture and killing of Muslims it judges to be extremists.

Here's the real substance of the letter: the claim (which I have no reason to disbelieve) that Democratic Presidents are good news for Muslim extremists. This, of course, is hardly incompatible with Democratic Presidents being *bad* news for Christian churchgoers, the point of the story he is criticizing.
I pray that you come to Uzbekistan yourself before invoking our Savior's name to further your own interests. One interview is not the situation in Uzbekistan.

"To further your own interests"? What are those, and how does he know what the reporter's interests are?

The writer is, of course, correct that one story might well misrepresent the situation in Uzbekistan. One story is a lot better than zero stories, though. Moreover, we see here someone who has been to Uzbekistan and doesn't like that one story yet doesn't say it is false.

In Christ's name I ask you to look deep in your heart and reflect on this.

"In Christ's name"? This comes immediately after the writer attacks someone else for "invoking our Savior's name to further your own interests". By the way, did the original article actually ask us to vote for George Bush "for God's sake"? No. Take a look back at it:
"He said something to this effect: 'I would like all of you to know that my church and the Christians in my country are praying that President Bush will be re-elected.'

"I was stunned," said Lair. "I knew that this gathering had to include many pastors from all over the political spectrum and I was certain this would not go over well. Immediately, there were murmurings and rumblings throughout the audience and the MC seemed a little uncertain about what to do next."

However, this pastor would not be denied, Lair said. "Grasping the microphone firmly in, his hand, he continued, 'The officials in my country are afraid of President Bush, so they don't persecute Christians as much. Under Clinton it was very bad for us. Many of us were arrested, put in jail, and some were killed. With Clinton, it was very bad. But under President Bush, it has been so much better, so we are praying for him.'"

So the Uzbekistan pastor did not say that God wanted George Bush re-elected. He didn't even urge the audience to vote for George Bush. He didn't even say that Uzbekistani Christians wanted Bush to win! He just made the factual claims that he and his congregation were praying for George Bush to win, and that this was because they were persecuted more in the Clinton years than in the Bush years.
PS: Your message is being used by the Republican Party already: http://www.ks-ra.org/impactof.htm

Here we see another common idea: what matters about a story is not whether it is true or false-- the truth of the story here is never controverted-- but that it might help Republicans. The implicit moral directive is that Christians should suppress the truth if the truth might change people's votes.

It is not clear why non-Christians should be bothered when Christians are persecuted-- indeed, they might think it a good thing if Christianity is suppressed, and they might like it if that could be done in the U.S. too. But anti-Christianity around the world is a proper concern of American Christians -- as, indeed, it should be for anyone who believes in the general principle of religious toleration. The main difference between Christians and Non-Christians on this point, I hope, would just be that Christians would put greater weight on it relative to more self-interested, materialistic concerns.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Knowing about God

From Pope's Essay on Man, Project Gutenberg edition:

Say first, of God above, or man below
What can we reason, but from what we know?
Of man, what see we but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer?
Through worlds unnumbered though the God be known,
'Tis ours to trace Him only in our own.

Even so. We have very little data on God, though a considerable amount on Man.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Reaching out to people across the street around the world

The Evangelical Free Church I attended today had a nice slogan on a banner:
Reaching out to people across the street around the world.
What is nice is that this so succinctly combines two entirely different levels-- the local and global. In this, it is much like the classic slogan,
Think globally, act locally,
which is, however, not euphonious and actually doesn't make as much sense, since thinking globally hinders acting locally more than it helps. The Free Church slogan, on the other hand, nicely captures the idea of people acting locally-- and quite independently-- in many different places precisely *because* they don't have to think globally to do it.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 01, 2004

The 2004 Libertarian Convention and Nominee Badnarik

Via The Volokh Conspiracy I found an excellent article on the The 2004 Libertarian Convention Since the Libertarians are a small party, their convention does not get TV coverage and hence is more than just an extended campaign ad cum try-out session for future vice-presidential candidates. They actually fight over nominations. And this year an underdog (not really a "dark horse") won the nomination.

The winner, Mr. Badnarik,

... has written a book on the Constitution for students in his one-day, $50 seminar on the Constitution, but it is available elsewhere, including on Amazon.com. It features an introduction by Congressman Ron Paul and Badnarik's theory about taxes. His campaign website included a potpourri of right-wing constitutional positions, as well as some very unorthodox views on various issues. He proposed that convicted felons serve the first month of their sentence in bed so that their muscles would atrophy and they'd be less trouble for prison guards and to blow up the U.N. building on the eighth day of his administration, after giving the building's occupants a chance to evacuate. In one especially picturesque proposal, he wrote:

I would announce a special one-week session of Congress where all 535 members would be required to sit through a special version of my Constitution class. Once I was convinced that every member of Congress understood my interpretation of their very limited powers, I would insist that they restate their oath of office while being videotaped.

This is not an intelligent nomination, even for the Libertarians. How did it happen?

The Libertarian party did not want a failed campaign--

... another campaign like the past two, in which LP nominee Harry Browne had spent millions of dollars but had gotten .50% and .36% of the vote. Russo thinks Browne is a "disgrace to the Libertarian Party" because Browne promised to spend the money he raised during the campaign on advertising, but spent it instead on personal travel, generous salaries for his staff, and building a fundraising base for future use. (Browne had spent only $8,840 of $1.4 million on advertising in his first campaign, and about $117,000 of $2.7 million on advertising in his second.


In 1996, Browne hired Perry Willis, the party's national director, and Bill Winter, editor of the party's newspaper, to work for his nomination. This violated party rules and the terms of both employees' contracts. When exposed, Browne, Willis, and Winter all agreed to end their business relationship. Five years later, copies of invoices for services rendered were found among files archived on Willis' computer at LP headquarters, revealing that he and Browne had conspired to continue their illicit relationship and, with other members of Browne's staff, had conspired to pay Willis by a process of laundering the funds through another legal entity. Willis admitted that he had done this, arguing that his work for Browne's candidacy, though in violation of his employment contract and LP rules, was of such vital importance to the party that it justified his and Browne's lying and defrauding the party. Browne at first told supporters that he could explain everything in a way they'd find acceptable, but as the evidence mounted, he simply refused to say anything on the subject, not even responding to the National Committee's investigation.

The party's National Committee passed a resolution banning the party from doing further business with Willis or any entity with which he was involved, and condemning Browne and the other members of his management team who were implicated in the scheme.

But one of Browne's conspirators remained in charge of the party's publications and, not surprisingly, chose not to report very much about the episode, and other party officials presumably were reluctant to publicize Browne's misdeeds out of fear of hurting their ability to raise funds. Despite the lack of publicity within the party about Browne's malfeasance, a substantial number of party activists learned about it and were disgusted with Browne.

What happened in 2004 was that the two front-runners knocked each other out with much bad feeling, and the backers of one went to Badnarik. Nobody had expected this, so nobody knew much about Badnarik. The whole process was confused:
The situation on the floor was confusing: the chair had called for the second ballot, and the nominating session was recessed for delegates to get lunch. Many left without realizing that they were supposed to vote before going to lunch. Outside the convention hall, people were running about asking delegates whether they'd voted, and sending them back into the hall to do so.


The nomination process was over. LP delegates had chosen as their standard-bearer a man who had willfully refused to file his federal tax return for years, refused to get a driver's license but continued to drive his car despite having been ticketed so many times that he couldn't recall the exact number, proposed to blow up the United Nations building, wanted to force criminals in prisons to stay in bed until their muscles atrophied, and planned to force Congress to take a "special version" of his class on the Constitution. And the overwhelming majority of delegates didn't know any of this about their nominee.

Shortly after Badnarik made his acceptance speech, Larry Fullmer, an Idaho delegate and Russo supporter, learned from an Oregon delegate that Badnarik hadn't been filing his income tax returns. Fullmer, he later recalled, "freaked" at the news. "From early afternoon until 5:00 a.m. Monday, I spent every second telling folks about Badnarik and the IRS." Fullmer spoke to more than a hundred delegates, and didn't find a single delegate who knew that Badnarik hadn't been filing returns. Most were "shocked" at the news.

Among others, Fullmer spoke with Mary Ruwart, who responded, "Larry, ya gotta get the election reconsidered," and proceeded to tell him that Robert's Rules required that a motion to reconsider the nomination was in order only if it was made by someone who had voted for the nominee. Fullmer also approached Judge Jim Gray, the LP senate candidate in California, and told him about Badnarik's not filing his tax returns. "You are running on a ticket headed up by a constitutional nutcase who has refused to pay his taxes for years. What do you think about that?" Gray responded, according to Fullmer, in these words: "Larry, if what you say is true . . . you already know what I think."

No doubt getting Libertarians organized is like herding sheep, but this perhaps show the limitations of guided rationality. Politics, unlike economics, lacks the Invisible Hand, and needs some bosses to run things. In this case, the bosses could have helped by putting together their information about Badnarik, or by generating some by using the economies of scale of staff and delegation. Their followers would, if rational, have willingly lent their votes to the bosses in blocs, knowing that the bosses would have better information and could direct their votes better than could they themselves.

Posted by erasmuse at 04:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Words: Baditude and Downer

My wife came up with a good new word tonight: BADITUDE, which is short for "bad attitude". If you go to something with baditude, you are not going to enjoy it. Children often have baditude, as do students, and how to eliminate baditude is an interesting problem. "Gooditude" does not work so well as a word, perhaps because it is too similar to "gratitude". I now see, however, that even BADATTITUDE would be rather useful as a word, and it has a nice look and sound.

My daughter Elizabeth came out with another new word of possible utility: DOWNER, meaning "further down". I forget the sentence in which she used it, but an example would be "The name 'Rasmusen' is downer on the list than 'Anderson', since it starts with an R instead of an A." The word has a number of good features:

1. It is Anglo-Saxon in its entirety-- both root and modifier.

2. It is short and easy to say and spell.

3. Its meaning is immediately apparent, even to someone who has never heard the word before.

"Baditude" has some Latin in it, which is unfortunate, but its meaning would be clear from context and despite its three syllables, it is short and flowing enough to be useful, and the Latin is in the modifier, which is less obtrusive than it would be in the root.

How, though, would we get these two new words into the language? A problem with a new word is that it stands out and really ought to be footnoted or otherwise explained to the reader. That is okay if it can be done at the start of a long discourse on the subject of the word, but it is self-defeating if the word is introduce merely to save a few syllables. I don't know how to solve that problem, which is akin to the problem of simplifying spelling.

Posted by erasmuse at 03:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Seed Packet Postcards

The Wildflower Trading Company, at http://www.wildflowersof.com/, has a good idea: postcards which are seed envelopes with wildflower seeds from a particular locale.

Posted by erasmuse at 03:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack