31 March 2008

Decline in Southern Democrats: 1952-1994

(Click to enlarge.)

Here's a graph I just made, that shows the proportion of Democratic and Republican U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, and state Governors in the former confederacy states, over time.

The first data point is 1929-30 (prior to F. Roosevelt-to show that the high level of Democrats early on is not a function of the Great Depression), the second is 1953-55, and each successive one is the next session of Congress. Point 4 represents the years immediately following the Brown v. Board of Education decision that invalidated segregation in the South. Point 9 represents the years following the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which was bitterly resented in the South), and the last point represents the 1995-96 Congress, when Republicans took control of the House for the first time in over 40 years, and many Southern Democrats switched to the Republican Party.

Now I just need to figure out how to put the appropriate dates on the X-axis. Excel is a bit of a pain on that kind of thing.

Teacher's Union May Sue Over Vouchers

I found this on Timothy Sandefur's blog. Apparently the Florida Education Association may sue to force the state to shut down it's scholarship tax credit program. The program allows businesses "to donate to non-profit scholarship funds that subsidize tuition for low-indomce kids at private schools of their families' choosing."

And that's why I hate the teachers' unions. They say their main concern is the children, but it could hardly be clearer that they are simply using the power of government to pursue their own self-interest, kids be damned.

And I clearly remember a political science prof telling me that all monopolies were bad, except the government's monopoly on K-12 education. That monopoly was necessary. Why? Because education is "different." How is it different? It "just is."

30 March 2008

Censored by Ilana Mercer!

Ilana Mercer, who writes for WorldNetDaily (as if any more need be said, eh?), has censored me!

I criticized her for calling Obama by his middle-name, Hussein, and accused her of fear-mongering. Then I accused the many commentors who agreed with her of being both anti-constitution (they want a religious test for public office, at least implicitly, while the Constitution explicitly states there shall be no religious test (that is, no formal one)), and chickenshits--children who run and hide under the bed when someone yells "Muslim!" My comment was up for less than a day before she took it down. Maybe chickenshit is just too naughty a word.

I posted again (Scroll down to 3.30.08 5:05 p.m). Let's see if she takes it down again.

Hey Ilana! You can say anything you want here! And I won't take it down--because I'm not as much of a chickenshit as you!

Creationists' Museum Tour--More Commentary

Scott has some commentary onthe creationist tour of the Denver Science Museum, and makes some good points about the inability to prevent these kids from questioning what they're told as they get older.

At Last, The New site I've Been Looking For--Foreign Policy Online

I am perpetually pissed off that there's no real news shows on morning TV. While I'm drinking my coffee and wrangling the kids into school-ready mode, CNN, Fox, etc., bombard me with a pittance of real news, and bucketloads of human-interest drivel.

And since I don't have access to a good daily newspaper (all Michigan papers suck, and the WSJ is expensive, and--frankly--too time consuming--I get most of my news online. But even there it's difficult. CNN.com is as crappy as the network, and even BBC.com is hard to navigate and doesn't know how to guide you to good stories.

But now I've found Foreign Policy's website. Foreign Policy is an excellent journal I used to receive, but never had time to read. But their website is fantastic, with real news--by which I mean economics and politics, with no fluff about Britney Spears and her ilk.

For example, where else have you read that rice prices rose 30% to reach an al-time high this week, creating a risk of "social unrest (such a bland phrase for riotin' and lootin') in Asia. And why did it happen? Partly because Egypt imposed a ban on exporting rice. See, economics and politics. OK, FoPo just linked to the Financial Times, but that's the point. They know which stories are important, and link to them, which helps me out because I don't have enough time to search out all the disparate important news myself. The "Morning Briefings" are especially great. Now I can start my day by quickly catching up on what's going on in the world.

Calling Sally Kern and Chuck Norris--Do You Defend Killing Homosexuals?

Oklahoma legislator Sally Kern said "the homosexual agenda is destroying this nation," and "the biggest threat our national has, even more so than terrorism."

B-movie actor Chuck Norris said, "I was appalled when I read the American Family Association report that on Friday, April 25, several thousand schools across the nation will be observing a "Day of Silence," or DOS, which is a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools...I do believe that we should equally and adamantly oppose such aberrant sexual behavior from being condoned or commemorated in our public schools through textbooks or a so-called "Day of Silence."

And this past week in Oxnard, California, 15 year old Lawrence King was shot twice in the head because he was gay.

Sally, Chuck, will you stand up and denounce the murder of this young man? Or are you secretly applauding the killing of a faggot?

Here's a photo of Lawrence King. May God give his parents peace.

Huckabee Defends Obama's Pastor

I've complimented Mike Huckabee on his sense of humor, but I never thought I'd compliment him on his wisdom. Until now. But he recently was on a MSNBC morning show, and said,
And one other thing I think we've got to remember: As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say, "That's a terrible statement," I grew up in a very segregated South, and I think that you have to cut some slack. And I'm going to be probably the only conservative in America who's going to say something like this, but I'm just telling you: We've got to cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told, "You have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can't sit out there with everyone else. There's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office. Here's where you sit on the bus." And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had a more, more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.
I don't know if that's the populist side of his conservatism showing through, his religious beliefs, or if he's just fundamentally a decent person. But it's about time conservatives--who supposedly believe in small government and Jeffersonian ideals of individual liberty--start saying these things.

Survey--Day 4: Getting There

Most of my students came in on Saturday to give up a few hours of their time to continue calling people for our survey. We got 57, which isn't our best day, but puts us up to 231 responses, which puts us only 35 short of our minimum of 266. I'd rather get 300, to make up for a couple of respondents who didn't finish the survey, and to make sure we have enough coverage on each question, since "No Response" crops up occasionally on a few questions. So just one more session of calling, or 1 and 1/2 sessions, should get us there. Importantly, we've done well enough that the students are still reasonably enthusiastic.

I also told them if we quit now, we've done all this work for nothing, but if we do just a bit more, we'll have been successful. I felt a bit guilty as I said it, because none of them have taken my political economy class, so none of them knew I was using sunk costs as reason to keep putting in more effort. Maybe next year one of them will take that class and call me on it! But sunk costs arguments seem so irresistible to humans that they're a very useful motivational tool.

28 March 2008

Subsidies and Regulation

The hot topic among economists right now (Tyler Cowen, Russ Roberts, Arnold Kling, Megan McArdle) is whether the Bear Stearns bailout was a good idea or not. Some people both believe it was a good idea and that we need more regulation of the financial markets.

Of course if we continue to bail out failing businesses, more regulation is necessary. Tyler Cowen says so, too.
As long as the Fed and Treasury are providing a safety net, insisting on capital requirements is entirely reasonable and it lowers moral hazard. If you're going to bail out your friend in a poker game, you can ask him not to bet too much beyond his chips.
I not only have great respect for Cowen's analytical ability, but it agrees with something I've been saying for years: Any time you want benefits from government, it is justified in regulating your actions, and it will regulate your actions. Or, in short, the more you ask for from government, the more freedom you have to surrender.

27 March 2008

Wal-Mart's Got the (Chicago style) Blues

Here's a good Wal-Mart story from the Chicago Tribune. Seems there's already a Wal-Mart in Chicago, and the bastards want to open up another one! As if 1 Wal-Mart per 3 million people isn't enough. Fortunately the city of Chicago isn't having any of it, and is refusing Wal-Mart permits to open up a new store. Because the empty lot filled with trash is better than the millions in sales taxes they would receive, and there's no good reason to give citizens more opportunity for low-cost shopping.

Oops, did I blow my cover with that last sentence? Seems the whole thing is just the Chicago city government kowtowing to the labor unions. You know, the ones who think economic growth comes from paying more for goods and services. Or, to paraphrase Bastiat, the ones who think that if we blindfolded everyone and tied their right arms behind their backs economic growth would skyrocket, because obviously scarcity and costliness are most desirable. Well, they are, if you're the producers--whether of Gucci handbags or of labor. Just not so much if you're the consumers. But who cares about them anyway? Certainly not Chicago.

Several years ago, a late night hailstorm punched a small hole in my skylight. With water pouring into my house, running down the kitchen wall and into the cheap pressboard cabinets, I needed a tarp to cover things up, until I could see where to fix it, ropes to hold down the tarp, and a ladder to get on the damn roof, none of which I had. Now where, in a town of 20,000, do you get that after midnight?

Ideally, no place, I guess, because my only option was Wal-Mart. The bastards.

Survey--Day 3: Still Getting Better

Tonight we had 70 responses, bringing our total up to 170. I recalculated the number we need, and decided that we could get a 95% confidence rate by dropping from plus/minus 5% to plus/minus 6%, with 266 responses. I want a few extra, but we're at least looking at a succesful survey now, with maybe two day's more work. I estimate we have about 45 man hours on the phones now, which works out to about 3 3/4 responses per man hour--a lot of work for little payoff.

Creationist Math: Jamestown Settled During the Flood

This video, of a "Biblically correct" tour of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, is both sad and funny. But the best part, the part that can be refuted by any elementary school child, is their math on the age of the Earth. While claiming the Earth is only about 6,000 years old, they believe that before the flood, humans lived for 800 years or more. Asked how many such generation, they estimated 6 or 7. 7 x 800 = 5,600 years--so apparently the flood happened less than 200 years before the U.S. Revolution.

Or, in other words, the biblical flood happened about the same time the English settled Jamestown, Virginia. I suppose sailing would be easy, with that much water, but where would they land? Oh, yeah, after the waters went down, they just happened to be in North America. Of course the Bible says something very different...

Most sickening is that the guy leading the tour has the children repeat the question they're supposed to ask evolutionary theorists, "How do you know?" Of course any scientist is happy to tell them how we know, but the tourleader forgot to tell the children, "Don't listen to their answer!"

The talking head who introduces the story is also an idiot--he leads in by saying, "a group of Christians invade the museum. Since they're tax-paying citizens, they have every right to go into the museum, and to call it an invasion is just the kind of inanity so typical on television.

26 March 2008

Day 2: Better

Well, we had better luck today. We got 60 responses, so our two-day total is 102. Still less than halfway there, but if tomorrow night goes well, and Saturday goes well, we might be close enough that the students are ready to make a final push for 271.

Obviously I haven't looked at the data systematically yet, but on first impressions, there seems to be a good split between strong critics of CAFOs, strong defenders of them, and a lot of people in the middle. Interestingly, very few people seem to recognize the term "CAFO," until we explain it, which might be an indicator that feelings generally don't run too deep on the subject.

My personal favorite tonight was a person who is very strongly opposed to CAFOs, worried about harm to the environment, thought they should be regulated more strictly, but self-identified as "very conservative." As that's the last question, I was primed for a very different response. And that's what makes social science difficult--people don't always behave in individually predictable ways.

Bad Start to Poll

We need at least 271 responses to our survey. First night....42. I have 10 very discouraged students, and can't say I'm not discouraged myself. We'll do tonight and tomorrow night, and I think most of the students are agreed to work on Saturday, as well. If we can get close to our goal, maybe they'll be encouraged to come back for another day or two to finish up.

I have to say, I've earned new respect for honest people. It's much better to have someone simply say, "No, I prefer not to," when asked if they will participate, than to have someone just hang up on you. My personal favorite was the person who said yes, but needed to put me on hold for about 30 seconds. I was already wondering if it was a trick when the line went dead after about 10 seconds.

Never having done survey research, I was intrigued to notice that (a) it was very hard to stick to the script, and (b) a substantial number of respondents don't like to stick to the closed set of responses. Question: "Some people say CAFOs harm the environment. Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree?" Answer: "Well, the real problem with CAFOS is...." I suppose that's human nature, but it makes the survey researcher's job miserable.

I think I'll stick to what I do best--digging up numbers, facts, and figures, and pretending average citizens don't exist and don't matter when it comes to political research.

24 March 2008

CAFO Survey This Week

Starting tomorrow my Research Methods class is starting its survey of county residents about CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). In our county they're mostly dairy farms run by Dutch immigrants, with one hog farm, and each operation having between 700 and 1500 animals.

They're very controversial, as they allegedly have difficulty managing the waste in a way that keeps it out of our rivers. The river that flows through our town (1 block from my house) has elevated levels of E. coli. This mostly comes from spraying semi-liquid waste on the fields, which has the dual benefit of allowing the CAFOs to get rid of it and providing crucial nitrogen for growing crops, but the drawback of sometimes draining into surface water. They're also controversial because Americans are still in love with the myth of the pastoral family farm, and hate "factory farming," or "corporate agriculture." The anti-CAFO forces are quite vocal around here, but it's not clear that it's more than a handful of activists, especially as this is a very conservative county.

But starting tomorrow, we'll find out what the average county residents think. Besides allowing me to have research assistants for something I'm interested in, it gives the students a chance to experience how frustrating real data collection can be, but also gives them a chance to write up the results and take them to a conference, or try to get them published--either of which would look very good on a grad school application.

But I've never done survey research before, and I really don't like talking on the telephone that much, especially to strangers. Other than ordering pizza, I usually let my wife make the business calls. So it could be a very stressful experience, although I hope not.

I'll post bits of results when we get the data entered.

23 March 2008

Spicy Foods and Adolescent Mammoths--Random Biological Thoughts of Little Value

1. Do any species of non-human animals like spicy food?

As a kid, the spiciest thing I ever ate was the mild taco sauce at Taco Bell. Then in college I discovered jalapenos. I have a vivid memory of eating a pizza with extra jalapenos with my friend, Dan Koerner, at the Pizza in Greenville, Illinois, as we competed to see who could go longest without taking a drink (out of desperation, we agreed to a tie, and simultaneously took a big gulp of soda pop).

When I moved to San Francisco, I discovered Thai food, and then married into a Dutch-Indonesian family, and became devoted to Indonesian food (so rare to find here in the States).

But what about other animal species? It seems unlikely, but then why would humans be different--what would be the cause?

2. Adolescent male mammoths were sexually frustrated.

I watched a documentary on mammoths yesterday. Apparently the males reached sexual maturity at about 15 years of age, but had no hope of successfully competing for mates until they were about 35, leaving them 20 years of raging hormones. The researcher interviewed claimed this caused a lot of bad behavior among young male mammoths, much like young male humans.

Now this makes more sense. We're social mammals, mammoths were social mammals, so I'd expect a conclusion like this.

But....how do they know?!

And would they have acted even worse if they'd been chewing jalapenos?

Black Men vs. White Women--Round 147,384

The Detroit Free Press (aka, the Freep), has a front page article this morning on the split between white females and blacks in the Democratic Party. I was thinking about the same issue two days ago as I began work on a policy brief about the presidential election. In a nutshell, if Clinton gets the nomination, black Democrats might be angry because the black candidate got shoved out by a white person, and if Obama gets the nomination, white women Democrats might be angry because once again a women got shoved aside in favor of a man.

It's a real issue...maybe. Right now some folks on both sides are threatening to sit out the election if their favored candidate doesn't get it, which is pretty childish, and good evidence to support the Founding Fathers' distrust of the masses. The question is whether the threat is any more serious than the religious right's threat to sit out if the Republicans don't nominate a religious zealot. I suspect most of those Democrats will go to the polls anyway, the primary exceptions being those who don't normally vote anyway, but who got involved this year just because their favored candidate was representationally ideal for them.

But the complaining overlooks the really important point. Already crucial barriers have been broken. There have been only a couple of semi-serious women presidential candidates, Pat Schroeder for the Democrats, and Elizabeth Dole for the Republicans. The campaigns of each went exactly nowhere. There never has been a serious African-American candidate. The fact that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama quickly rose to the top of a field of mostly white men (with the partial exception of Bill Richardson, who is 1/2 Latino, although it's not clear most voters knew that), is itself an important statement. Especially notable is that neither did it by relying wholly on women (for Clinton) or whites (for Obama). It's been a huge breakthrough, although there are few, if any, obvious women and black candidates for the near future. Then again, who'd ever heard of Obama 5 years ago?

Easter Snow

We had 9 inches of snow on Good Friday, unprecedented in my memories of Easter (although I'm not famous for my memory). Spring snowstorms aren't that uncommon in Michigan, but 9 inches is probably two standard deviations from the mean.

Here are a couple of pictures to memorialize the occasion.

21 March 2008

I Lied

Despite the claim at the top of my blog that I will never lie to you (borrowed from Jimmy Carter, in his 1976 presidential campaign), I lied. I revamped the proposal one more time, eliminating all the alternatives I didn't really like, which left only 1, at a cost of $10,350 (which actually is a high-end estimate, based on top-end costs for many items, meaning we can probably bring it in under budget, if they give us that much).

This was a strategic move. Because most of the other options were less expensive, they might have been too attractive to an administrator who didn't really get what I had in mind. And the $12,000 estimate assumed we didn't charge a registration fee, but I decided it's best to make people to feel invested in the conference by paying a fee for it. Two good meals, a commemorative item, 9 high-quality speakers, and a hotel room, all for $40? That's more than a good enough deal. (

Of course once people pay the $40 it's a sunk cost, and they should ignore it rather than feeling committed, but since people aren't really that economically rational, I'll operate on a basis of how they actually do behave, rather than how they ought to behave.)

I talked to our College's Development Director yesterday, and he sounded positive about raising the money for it. Then I hinted to the Dean that I was going to ask for a lot more than we had talked about, and his response was, "Yeah, after we talked I started thinking that this thing could be really big, but I wasn't sure in what way." Sweet music to my ears! He's primed to think big, and is waiting for me to show him the way!

And I had a nice talk on the phone with Dave Gardner, who commented on my first post about this conference that he'd like to film the event for a documentary he's making. That, noted as a possibility, not a certainty, is now part of my proposal, as one of the selling points. Our President loves publicity for Adrian College.

As much as anything, I'm eager to find out if my strategic choices pay off. As a political scientist, I find it easy to look back at past political events and see what the good and bad strategic choices were, but when you're actually having to make them, it's much harder to see what the best strategy is.

19 March 2008

Final Request:$6,500 - $11,700

I've almost finalized my proposal for the Tragedy of the Commons Symposium, and the options I'm presenting range in cost from $6,450 to $11,700. I think the $9,850 one is probably the best. I had to up my estimates, because I realized we'd have to pay for the gas for vans to take people to and from the airports, might have to pay some students to help out (although work-study might cover that), and that I should stick in a few hundred for incidentals like signs, postage, thank you cards, and the inevitable small items I'm not foreseeing, and because one of my colleagues pointed out that at business conferences they never ask people to share rooms. Since I'm trying to create something far better than the average academic cattle-car conference, I changed my target based on this new information.

I've never asked for anything close to this amount before, so it's nerve-wracking. On the other hand, my college pays up to $12,000 plus travel and meal costs for 1 person to come speak at our monthly convocations, so putting on a very high-quality symposium for 75 people, with up to 9 nationally and internationally known scholars, seems like a good price. At least that's what I keep telling myself, and what I'm taking a deep breath and telling them.

On the plus side, I now have three commitments to appear, assuming I get the money to cover them. In addition to Indiana University Political Scientist Lin Ostrom, Grand Valley State biologist Carl Bajema, and Arizona State University mathematician J. Marty Anderies have agreed to come.

If I've ever had a brilliant idea, I think its this--to have an interdisciplinary policy conference. Because that expands the range of possible speakers, and the range of possible attendees, to vast numbers, which maximizes the chances of putting on a very high-quality event. But it also is intellectually very desirable, because it allows people to get very different disciplinary perspectives on a common theme. This could be my one big idea for my lifetime--I'd better find a way to make it work out!

18 March 2008

Is Authorization to Use Force Good Enough?

A question I've been pondering lately. Article I, section 8 of the Useless, I mean U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power "To declare War." But does that mean Congress has to say, "We declare war," or can they simply say, "We authorize the President to use force"?

Politically, an actual declaration of war seems a bolder step, so might be desirable as a way of limiting how often we actually go to war. Empirically, this doesn't seem to have happened, although perhaps if we insisted that nothing less than an actual declaration of war was legitimate it might.

But from a constitutional interpretation perspective, does the text demand that kind of interpretation?

Article I, section 8 also authorizes Congress to create tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court. Does that mean legislation creating a new Circuit Court of Appeal, or District Court, must being with the words, "We hereby constitute a Tribunal inferior to the Supreme Court?"

I've been telling students for years that we haven't declared war since WWII, but have been involved in many military conflicts since then anyway, implying that they're all illegitimate. And some clearly are...for example Clinton's insertion of troops into Yugoslavia without even consulting Congress, which really was nothing less than an implicit presidential declaration of war upon the Serbs (not that the action wasn't ethically justified, but that's not my point today). But in the Persian Gulf War, and in the current Iraq war, Congress authorized the use of military force against another country--e.g., they authorized acts of war. And I'm not sure why that's not constitutionally satisfactory.

Granted, Bush declared he had the authority to go to war anyway (he certainly had lots of presidential precedent), but in the end, Congress did give him authorization. And Congress has always declared war only in response to a presidential request for it, I believe.

I don't know. I have to grade 45 student papers on the President's co-optation of the war power, and now I'm not quite so sure what I think about it.

16 March 2008

Grand Unveiling: ToC Symposium Logo

After several hours of furious designing, my wife, a soon-to-be Bachelor(ette?) of Fine Arts has produced the logo for the ToC Symposium. Sure, it's a little bit of cart-before-the-horse, but it will look great at the top of the proposal.

15 March 2008

Tragedy of the Commons 40 Year Retrospective--Coming this November!

I previously noted that this year is the 40th anniversary of Garret Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" article, which claimed that "freedom to breed is intolerable," and that "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon" is the only way to prevent overpopulation. I suggested that I was going to try to organize a 40 year retrospective.

And now I'm actually doing it--I received approval from my Dean to go ahead and start planning it. Of course I can plan anything I want--the real question is whether I receive any financial support to make it good. Here's the fun part, the Dean suggested he could kick in about $2,000, and asked for a formal proposal. After thinking about it, I'm going to ask for $10,000!

Actually I'm going to ask that they commit the $10k up front, then go find a sponsor for it, and give them the naming rights for our symposium. Actually, actually, I'm going to ask that they find a sponsor willing to kick in $10,000 a year to do this every year, with the theme being an annual 1 day interdisciplinary, policy-oriented symposium that brings in top-name scholars, and is limited to only 40 other attendees who get lunch, dinner, and a hotel room free--all they have to pay is their travel.

Here's how I've figured it: By selecting a policy theme, we make it possible to bring in people from multiple fields. For example, a water policy theme could attract policy experts, environmental scientists, sociologists, etc. By tapping multiple fields, we dramatically expand our target audience to potentially vast proportions. By making it free we make it even more desirable. And by dramatically limiting the number of attendees, we make it exclusive and special, and make it possible for us to provide a very personalized and high-quality event that will leave attendees thinking our small College is the best-kept secret in the U.S.

$10,000 will buy a tier 3 nationally known speaker to come in and talk for an hour. (Tier 1 is $50,00 and up; Tier 2 is $15-20,000). Or we can do something that absolutely nobody else is doing.

And consider this: Within a 6 hour drive of our campus are 12 major universities, 30 regional universities, and several dozen smaller colleges and universities. I don't doubt I can get 40 people to come, and have most of them clamoring to come back next year.

And I've already secured a commitment from the world's leading expert on commons problems, Lin Ostrom of Indiana University, possibly both the world's smartest, and the world's nicest, political scientist (with apologies to my graduate advisor, John Orbell, who probably comes in second on both counts). A big name to build my first conference around--it should be good.

13 March 2008

"What's a Chair?"

My family came to pick me up after my class Tuesday evening, and my kindergartener noticed my name on the directory: "J. Hanley, Chair." Staring hard, with her face wrinkled up, she demanded, "Mommy? What does that mean?!"

"Your daddy's a chair," her mom replied. My daughter wasn't amused--"No, he's not, mommy! What does that mean?!"

My favorite phrase in the English language, "What does that mean," and my kindergartener knows when something doesn't make sense, and needs explanation. Makes a parent proud, it does.

11 March 2008

Mary Ann--Still Smokin'!

Dawn Wells--Mary Ann to those of us who grew up watching Gilligan's Island--has been busted for having marijuana in her car.

Most me of my generation agree that Mary Ann was much more desirable than "that movie star," Ginger. Here's more evidence, if we needed it, that Mary Ann really was the coolest of the bunch.

Just think, stranded for three years on a desert isle with that gang--a bag of pot might have been her most valued possession. So let's start reforming our drug laws right here. Free Mary Ann!

News that isn't

I remember when headlines declared that Reagan had Alzheimer's, and I remember thinking of the old line, "dog bites man isn't news."

Now CNN declares that exit polls show a racial divide in Mississippi.

Do tell.

08 March 2008

An Open Letter to My Congressman

I am sending the following letter to my Congressman. It is a bit long, just under 600 words, the magic number for trying to get it into my local paper as an opinion piece.

Representative Walberg

I have read the text of House Resolution 888, a resolution to affirm the spiritual and religious history of the United States, and designate the first week in May as “American Religious History Week,” which you have co-sponsored. As a citizen of the United States, and a constituent of yours, I urge you to withdraw your support for this resolution.

This resolution attacks both the truth and the Constitution, with wanton disregard for both.

To begin, the resolution claims that “political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible.” As a political scientist, I assure you that this claim is wholly false, without the least element of truth. No political scientist has shown this, for the reason that the founding documents of this country contain almost no references to the Bible at all. In the whole of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, there is no mention of the Bible.

The resolution also purposely distorts history. It says “Congress…ordered 20,000 copies of the Bible,” and “Congress pursued a plan to print a Bible.” But notably, those acts were in 1777 and 1782, respectively. As I am sure you know, the Constitution, which created Congress, and which banned religious preferences, was not ratified until 1789. The “Congress” mentioned herein is not the United States Congress of the Constitution, but the Continental Congress. The Continental Congress, of course, could take whatever religious actions it wanted, because it existed before the Constitution was written, but upon ratification that institution wholly ceased to exist. A new government took its place, one that contained a United States Congress that is bound by the constraints of the Constitution.

Further, the resolution suggests that James Madison supported the intertwining of government and religion. This is, again, a falsehood. Madison said, “What influence have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people.” Referring to his own state of Virginia, he said, “the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state.” Most assuredly, Madison would not have co-sponsored this resolution.

Most astonishingly, the resolution wholly ignores the text of the Constitution itself.

The Constitution mentions religion in precisely two places. The first place is Article VI of the Constitution, which requires that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The second place the Constitution mentions religion is in the First Amendment, where it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These clauses mean that, despite the false claims of this resolution, the Constitution bars Christianity from having a special place in our legal/political system.

It is well known that you are a man of faith, and I would stand beside you and fight for your right to hold, practice, and profess that faith. But I ask you to withdraw your support for a resolution that mocks the U.S. Constitution. Rather, let us stand with Madison, who said that to “employ religion as an engine of Civil policy [is] an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.”

07 March 2008

U.S. Ships Move Close to Lebanon

U.S. Navy warships have moved close to Lebanon, apparently to send a message to Syria that the US is concerned about political stability in Lebanon, as a result of a political dispute over the presidency there.

My Syrian friend who invited me to Syria is worried that I'll be seen as suspicious if I go, so I'm both worried and pissed-off.

What kind of message are we sending Syria anyway? Keep your hands off Lebanon? Does Syria really think we're going to invade if they don't? Unfortunately nobody in the US administration seems to have read Thomas Schelling's Strategy of Conflict. One thing you don't want to do is make a threat you're not willing to fulfill.

But we've known for a long time that this administration doesn't have the slightest strategic sense. They think strategy is simply telling others what to do, when it's really changing their beliefs and actions in a way that benefits oneself, which is usually easier to do if you don't tell them what to do, but just change your own actions so they have no other rational options. But, then, Shelling was smart. And you have to have a few smarts to understand him.

Best City in America

Here's an online survey trying to find out which is the best city in America. The answer is so obvious: Portland, Oregon, the only non-arrogant city on the Pacific Coast, with the world's greatest bookstore, and a view of Mt. Hood.

(Photo: Admissions Office, Oregon State University)

06 March 2008

Obama--the Candidate of the Masses

Obama raised a record $55 million in February. What's really important is how. Nearly 3/4 of a million donors, over half of them first time contributors to the Obama campaign, with more than 90% of the donations being under $100.

When Obama won his Senate race in in '04 and gave the keynote speech at the Dem convention, I thought he seemed like the kind of person who could reconnect Democrats with average middle-of-the-road Americans. Gee, ain't I prescient. This is impressive, though, and one of the reasons I could consider voting for him. Our recent presidents have been too divisive, inadvertently or not. Granted, the right-wing will always hate him, but the vital American middle may finally have someone to rally around.

Tired Old Protectionists

The New York Times has an opinion article by a trade lawyer named Robert Lighthizer claiming free traders act on principles, regardless of facts.
They see nothing but dogma — no matter how many jobs are lost, how high the trade deficit rises or how low the dollar falls.
Frederic Bastiat knew this criticism well, back in the 1830s.
"We advocates of free trade are accused of being theorists, of not taking practice sufficiently into consideration." Economic Sophisms, First Series, Chapter 13.
Too bad Lighthizer hasn't read the relevant literature.

More amusing though is this tidbit.
Free trade has long been popular with liberals, and it remains so with liberal elites today.
I could introduce him to quite a few liberals, but none that heartily support free trade. And, noticeably, this anti-free trade screed appears in....the New York Times.

Lighthizer is correct when he says
Conservative statesmen from Alexander Hamilton to Ronald Reagan sometimes supported protectionism...
That's exactly the problem--we can't even rely on our conservatives to support free trade consistently, which is why I'm concerned for our future.

And somehow Lighthizer thinks the best way to build "a prosperous middle class" is to make me pay more for the things I buy. Somehow he missed Adam Smith's lesson that the amount of goods and services you can command determines your wealth, not how much money you make, or where it is produced. 

Really, it's too bad he hasn't read the relevant literature.

What to Do about Foreclosures?

CNN reports that foreclosures are at an all time high in the U.S., with 2% of all U.S. mortgages being in foreclosure.
The specter of 2% of homeowners losing their homes is ugly. While I'm not in that situation, my wife and I are currently struggling to pay two mortgages because in Michigan's current state, our first house won't sell for anything close to what we owe on it. The real problem, though, is the subprime adjustable rate mortgage market. The question is, what should be done?

The natural response is to say that government should bail people out. After all, one of its responsibilities is to provide a safety net for the unfortunate.

But that easy answer ignores the type of incentives created when government intervenes in the market. Two groups of people made mistakes in this case, those homebuyers who got subprime mortgages even though they weren't going to have the ability to pay the higher rates when they went up, and those mortgage companies who extended loans to people who wouldn't be able to repay them.

I don't think it's possible to help out the homeowners without helping out the lenders, and therein lies the problem. Government bailouts create a moral hazard--they encourage further risky behavior by the companies that are bailed out, because it leads them to expect government will protect them from their mistakes. The best long-term solution is to let the lenders suffer, so they'll be wary about making such foolish business decisions in the future.

But politicians can't afford to think that way. It's foolish to think that government does a better job of looking to the long run than businesses, because politicians have to get re-elected this fall, not years down the road, and what better way to show voters you're working for them than by keeping them from being thrown out of their house?

The really perverse thing is that by helping people now, the government makes it more likely they'll have to help them out again in the future. That is, many of government's efforts to "stabilize" the market actually make future instability more likely, necessitating future government intervention, etc., etc.

05 March 2008

No Decision on Libertarian Color

The survey on what color Libertarians should be ended in a tie. 3 for white, 3 for rainbow. The really important question is, without an identifying color, can they ever win an election? Have we set the cause of Libertarianism back another decade by our failure to resolve this problem? [/tongue-in-cheek]

Resisting the Wave--Hillary Wins Again

With Obama having won 11 states in a row, many bloggers were all but calling the race for him, and some Democrats were calling for Clinton to step down to help build party unity. But Obama never had more than a handful more delegates than Clinton. According to CNN's count, count, he still does, even after Clinton's victories last night, but it's still neck-and-neck. The magic number for the nomination is 2,025 delegates: Clinton has 1365 to Obama's 1451. Mathematically, she's still in the hunt.

More importantly, she may have stopped the aura of inevitability the media (dear god, the media!) creates anytime someone goes on a win streak. I've said elsewhere that it's too soon to call the victor. Obama's mixed-message on NAFTA could hurt him. He keeps (foolishly) bashing it to the public, but it has been reported that his campaign had advised Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson that Obama supported NAFTA. What Obama can't afford now is questions about his integrity--his appearance of integrity is his strength in this campaign. If that slips, Clinton is right behind (as odd as that sounds, since fewer people would rate her as highly on integrity).

Only a true gambler would wage money on the outcome right now. Speaking purely as a professional political scientist, I'd love to see it go to the convention. My colleagues who study campaigns and electios would have a field day. And while DNC Chair Howard Dean openly worries that a divided convention would make the Democrats look bad, it would also draw vast amounts of attention from the public, and the traditional post-convention bounce--provided the Dems end it on the right note, and keep the nasty bickering in the back rooms--could be huge for them, making the general election campaign an uphill battle for MCCain.

Mini Pet Pigs

Over on sciencebogs, zooillogix has a post about mini pet pigs. Sheer gold in my household--my daughter wants to move to England so she can have one (she already has her own CAFO of toy porkers).


Yep, the real thing. The one virus I could easily have prevented, but failed to do so. That's why it's been quieter than usual lately around here. At least it was a rather wimpy version--no way it could have killed 20 million people if it, rather than the Spanish variety, had been rolling around in the nineteen-teens.

And why didn't I get a flu shot? Didn't find the time. Yeah, it would have been so much more troublesome and time-consuming than 4 days flat on my back.