Battlepanda: April 2007


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Counting 2012's chickens in 2007?

Neil the Ethical Werewolf:

Right now Democrats have a 51-49 majority. Just because so many Republicans are at risk in 2008, we're likely to make big gains. After 2010 I'd expect our Senate majority to be something like 57-43. A filibuster-proof 60-seat majority is unlikely, but not impossible. But we're almost guaranteed to lose a lot of seats in 2012 when several red-state Democrats face the voters.

This means that we have four years -- the next presidential term -- to get our biggest ideas like health care reform through Congress. Our power will wane in 2012, and we may not get another chance like this for a very long time.

It's one of the reasons why we ought to demand solid progressive commitments from our presidential candidates. At this early stage, full policy specifics aren't obligatory, but there's no reason that anybody should be declaring their support for candidates who are unwilling to commit themselves, at least in broad terms, to ambitious left-wing goals.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The $900/month shed

Wow. That's more than what Gene and I pay in rent for a three-bedroom apartment in the heart of Taipei.
You know the rental market here in Los Angeles is becoming unreasonable when someone's 260 sq. ft. tool shed sized guesthouse (albeit a very lovely tool shed with ocean views) is being offered for $900/month in Echo Park. What next, a subletted dog house in Highland Park for $385/month?

Monday, April 23, 2007

The stupid! It hurts! Make it stop!

Pamela Geller Oshry on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged:

My parents are G-d and Ayn Rand. I forget who said that but it could have been me. 50 Years ago, Atlas Shrugged was published.

If Rand was alive today she would be apoplectic over the appeasement to savages. Her treatise seemed outrageous when she published it. Today, it seems tame in comparison to what is happening in the war on Islamic jihad. But she called it. She called it all.

How brilliant, prescient Rand was. She defined my epistemology and helped to teach my how to think, question and deduce. This blog pays tribute everyday - in its very existence.

In case you don't recognize the "quote" that Ms. Oshry is misusing, it's an example illustrating how the serial comma can eliminate ambiguity.

(Via Unfogged.)

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When I knew Iraq was hopeless

Mark Kleiman, in a post noting that Phil Carter has become persona non grata to the remaining pro-war true believers, writes
The first time I knew that all was, almost certainly, lost in Iraq was when Phil told me, during his mid-tour leave, that he and his comrades had received no Arabic-language training stateside on their way to Iraq. But he told me not to mention that fact in this space because he didn't want to put out a discouraging message about a mission to whose success he was still committed. His talk to a packed audience at UCLA Law School, which proudly claims him as an alumnus, was much more up-beat than his private conversation back then.
I can provide a date for the point I knew that the situation in Iraq was completely hopeless: January 28, 2004. On that day, I posted at my previous blog-home, Signifying Nothing, about the White House hiring a 24-year-old with no financial experience to rebuild the Baghdad stock exchange.

I'm not claiming to be particularly prescient, but nothing about this whole fiasco, except Abu Ghraib, has particularly surprised me since then.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Science I wish I understood

My mind boggles.
In a recent study, mathematician George Sparling of the University of Pittsburgh examines a fundamental question pondered since the time of Pythagoras, and still vexing scientists today: what is the nature of space and time? After analyzing different perspectives, Sparling offers an alternative idea: space-time may have six dimensions, with the extra two being time-like.


Grammar Pedantry

One of my biggest grammatical pet peeves is incorrect formation of the present perfect tense. For example, here's a quote from an AP story on a speech given by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:

"Failure in Iraq would unleash sectarian strife and extremism and would be felt first in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday."

Since this is not a direct quote, it's not clear whether the grammatical error is due to the AP writer, or to Secretary Gates. But the error is a serious one; the present perfect tense is formed in English by using the auxiliary verb "have" or "has", not "would". The sentence should been written thus:

Failure in Iraq has unleashed sectarian strife and extremism and has been felt first in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday."

The AP and Secretary Gates's speechwriter should take note of this for future speeches regarding conditions in Iraq.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The online popularity contest

From the Onion. It's funny because it's true.
NEW YORK—A feature on the New York Times' website that lists the stories most e-mailed by readers is destroying morale and escalating tensions among the once-dignified and professional Times staff, sources within the newspaper of record said Tuesday.

This week's most frequently e-mailed story, titled "In Manhattan, Even Felines Have Therapists," which detailed the growing phenomenon of clinical depression among indoor urban cats, provoked a fresh round of envy and dismay among reporters still stinging from last week's top article, "Do You Really Have Time For Your Time-Share?". [snip]

Executive editor Bill Keller said he believes that the Most E-Mailed list is causing "troubling" changes in the Times' editorial focus, as reporters increasingly neglect less attractive assignments.

"I've always encouraged our journalists to follow their instincts," Keller said. "But now I'm considering a more hands-on approach, especially since I've received no fewer than four 800-word pieces on 'man dates' in the past week alone."

I have to admit, most of my more popular stories fall into the 'bizarre medical story' catagory. 'Women believe yoga popped her breast implant,' 'Patient pour liquor down nose tube' and of course, 'Man falls ill after eating raw frogs' have all been on the Most Read Story list while the latest about the state of the National Health Insurance fall by the wayside.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A minor mystery solved

I've been wondering why this story became so thanks to technorati I know. Dave Barry linked to it! Hee.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Should I be a supply-sider?

Tyler Cowen must feel the need to win back the libertarian fundamentalist crowd he lost with his podcast on positive liberty. I'm not sure how else to explain this disingenuous bit of economic sleight-of-hand, arguing that the left should embrace supply-side economics.

OK, to oversimplifiy the numbers just a bit, rich people earn -- at least -- six to seven times more on their money than do poor people. Many of the poor earn negative rates of return.

The contemporary left often seeks to remedy this unfairness, but in the meantime it is true true true. Right?

So for each extra dollar we leave with rich people, the economy earns six or seven times more in net terms -- at least -- than if that dollar had been given to the poor.

"The rich people's economy" doubles in size about every ten years or so. "The poor people's economy" doubles in size about every sixty years or so, at best. After sixty years have passed, "the rich people's economy" has done at least six times better, relative to its original starting point.

Now trickle-down effects from rich people are possibly quite slight. If a rich person creates a dollar's worth of investment, the consumer surplus and wage-boosting effects from those investments won't be more than 25 cents on the dollar, right? That means poor people get...

Well, it depends upon your assumptions. But how do you feel about this claim?

"I favor redistribution from the rich to the poor. It will make the poor better off for a few decades, but no more. After that point, the poor are worse off, forever, and by more each year."


The more you emphasize the unfair differences between the capabilities of the rich and the poor, the more easily you fall into this trap. Redistribution is good for the poor only in the short run, and we haven't even considered the traditional negative incentive effects on the rich.

Supply-side economics doesn't have to be about assuming unrealistically large elasticities of substitution on the part of the wealthy. The real supply side story is about how different social classes use resources in different ways and to achieve different rates of return.


I'm pretty sure that Prof. Cowen is being disingenuous here, because the logic of the argument leads to the conclusion that ideal tax policy is regressive, and Prof. Cowen is on the record as saying that tax policy should be "mildly progressive".

Where does the argument, sincere or not, go wrong? The problem is the leap it makes from "The rich get six times the return the poor get on their average investment dollar" to "The rich get six times the return the poor get on their marginal investment dollar".

If the government takes $1000 from a rich person and gives it to a poor person, what will the rich person cut back on, and what will the poor person spend it on? If, as the rhetoric of the right would have it, the rich person will cut back on his job-creating investments, and the poor person will blow it on a crack binge, then obviously the transfer was not a utility-increasing one. If, on the other hand, the rich person forgoes the purchase of a diamond-studded monocle, and the poor person takes a couple of classes at a community college, increasing his lifetime earning power by more than $1000, then the transfer was a good one from a utilitarian standpoint.

The argument overlooks the fact that for people toward the bottom of the income distribution, the return on investment in human capital, whether their own or that of their children, greatly outstrips the return on any other investment, even by the rich.

Would the poor beneficiaries of income redistribution invest their gains better than the rich would? It's an empirical problem, beyond the scope of armchair economics. If Prof. Cowen has any evidence other than ass-numbers, he certainly didn't present it in this post.

Surrealism in Journalism

As is customary after an interview, especially a lengthy one, I asked the public health researchers I met with yesterday whether they were working on anything else that might be good for a story later on.

"Well, do you want to tell her about the shoes?" said one professor to another.

"Maybe another time. I could not explain it in less than twenty-five minutes."

"What about the shoes?" I asked.

"Oh, it's very interesting. Once you have heard it you will never wear shoes the same size you're wearing now ever again."

"Professor W. never wears anything less than five sizes bigger."

"No, no. Three sizes bigger is plenty."

I looked down at W's feet. I noticed for the first time that under his grey suit he was wearing a giant, puffy pair of white sneakers, the kind with a row of velcro fastenings instead of laces.

"Big shoes are no more expensive than smaller shoes, you know," he said, smiling, "so this is a change everybody could make without breaking the bank."

I tried in vain to get him to tell quickly me why he thinks its better to wear giant shoes, but he merely smiled and said that our time is up and he could not possibly explain in less than twenty five minutes.

And no, this happened yesterday, not Sunday, so this is presumably not an April fools.

Desperate Housewives: Japanese edition

ICHIHARA, Chiba Pref. (AP) Kazumi Shimomura's kitchen table is cluttered with tools not usually associated with cooking: A pair of tweezers, a box-cutter and a digital camera.

Her culinary style is just as unique.

She sculpts rice colored with egg yolks into the shape of a dinosaur, fashions its eye with sliced cheese and strips of seaweed. Star-shaped pieces of okra adorn the belly.

"I just wanted my son to have fun when he goes to day-care on Saturdays," explained Shimomura as she uses tweezers to place tiny teeth-shaped bits of cheese in the dinosaur's mouth.

Please...don't eat me...noooo!