Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Political Fans and Sport Fans

I believe when David Kuo replied to criticisms of his post in which he called the New England Patriots “cheaters,” he also made a parallel in terms of the paradigm that many citizens have with their own political party and politics in general.

My surmise at the connection is to relate the studies which show that when speaking in terms of politics, most people will simply forego rational responses, and as brain scans have shown, political thoughts deal more with emotional responses. Considering that all one would have to do to see the parallel with sports it to simply attend a sports bar, or go to a friend’s house to see a football game, then I think the point with associating sports and pure emotional thought is a very simple and obvious one to make.

So, when David Quo remarked that the Patriots are “cheaters,” he ticked off a few people. However, consider that their coach did illegally record the other team’s play signals. Is that not cheating?

I think what might be an important exercise is to understand the definitions of what certain parties are accused of. What is a “cheater?” What is a “war criminal?” Unless the definitions have changed, then aren’t the participants guilty?

Part of the reason as to why the rational section of the brain gets taken over is because of the perceived cost of and benefit of being a fan and taking a position. Consider that an individual’s ideological preference has more of a benefit than the cost for holding that belief. Bryan Caplan calls this rational irrationality. That is to say, there is a benefit to the person for holding an irrational belief.

One example I thought of was this: Since the probability of dying in a terrorist attack is so small, then holding a strong pro-torture position - which most likely creates anti-American sentiment that breeds more terrorists and terrorism – holds relatively little cost to the internal benefit of holding that ideological perspective. Therefore, since the ideological position holds so much weight for the individual, any effort to disagree with, or demerit the position will anger that person.

The hope is that with time, more and more people become aware of how emotional and irrational some of their paradigms can be. This is why even though I may not always agree with another economist, holding a conversation with them does not usually end in fistfights.

Of course, I may be wrong about mending these trends with sports. For some reason, people hold on harder to what they believe when it comes down to their local sport team. As Americans, we should simply be thankful for not having full-blown soccer riots.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Vocal Religious Fundamentalism

The following is an email I sent to my close friend and psychological expert, William. His thoughtful and eloquent response to this email is here.

Hi Will,

This afternoon, I would like to follow up on my statement as to the sorrow that one should feel after watching Tuesday's Nova: Judgment Day. You said that you felt "revved up" in watching the law bring back a very controversial topic in terms of teaching Intelligent Design within the Dover, PA school district, however I ordered caution because of the locality and numeration of what I anticipated would be a very harsh reaction.

As I have rightly anticipated, there was a very strong reaction to the negative towards PBS, as seen by the
latest Ombudsman column.

Yet by about a three-to-one margin, the long compilation of letters from viewers that appears below were critical of the program, charging a one-sided treatment, a bias toward evolution colored by the producers, and that it was insulting to believers.

Here is just one of the many emails sent in to Michael Getler, the Ombudsman for PBS.

It doesn't take a "Rocket Scientist" to figure out that if we, as humans, evolved from monkeys . . . THEN WHY? . . . Are there STILL Monkeys??? We were "Created" by God!!! Pull up AOL now and you'll notice the Gov. of Georgia praying for rain, (No Doubt to GOD). When 9/11 happened what did every good neighbor do? PRAY. Not to monkeys . . . To our "Creator"!!! It shouldn't take tragic and desperate circumstances for people to realize this fact!!! GOD BLESS AMERICA!!! In GOD We Trust!!!

Sonya L. Johnson, North Port, FL

Once again, I, like Sam Harris, must ask you why you feel revved up about the Dover, PA decision while such a strong constituency has goals of turning our country into a theocracy. What is more, is that while fundamentalist Christianity can be argued as being a minority, many have admitted that the religious moderates are as much to blame for their lack of confrontation fundamentalism, and thereby allowing it to control the discourse of the U.S. public image.

Also, of an ironic nature, those who would so quickly take the United States to war against the theocracy of Iran would also just as quickly make our country a theocracy, just Christian, not Muslim.

I put the question to you, how do you think we will avoid war? Who are those of "cool" disposition, and how much of our discourse do they control, as opposed to war hawks and religious fundamentalists? I would like to hear how the U.S.' current theory of presidential powers prevents one of those of vocal minority to do as he pleases? Does our current theory of presidential power prevent anything?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Achievement Gap, The NCAA, and Us

A few weeks ago, over at Science Blogs, Chad Orzel wrote:

Is it a good thing that only 52% of Maryland's black male athletes graduate? No. But the real tragedy is that only 54% of Maryland's black male students graduate. We should fix that problem first-- by improving public education so that students from poor and minority backgrounds come to college with the tools they need to succeed-- and see if the athletic graduation rates don't take care of themselves.

But it's easy to write self-righteous editorials blasting high-profile sports programs for their academic failings, while fixing the class and race problems of American education will cost real money, and require actual work. And nobody wants that.

I spent some time thinking over the reports that Orzel used to make his point. I make no claim to disagree with them whatsoever. Moreover, I do not disagree with Orzel on his point either. I myself have written in regards to the black-white achievement gap multiple times. The achievement gap is real, and is a cause for wage disparities and other socio-economic issues that impact our country.

However, I still stand by the piece of George Will wrote on the NCAA a few months ago. If the goal of the NCAA would be to further encourage the mission of the student athlete, then I would find it dishonest for anyone to think the 55% graduation rate that Will cites as anything worth of a passing mark. That is to say, I still believe the NCAA to be coming up short of its mission.

Nevertheless, the black-white achievement gap is and still should be the priority to eliminate.

Perhaps Chad Orzel felt that the attention has started to shift away from the achievement gap. With that most likely being his motivator, then Orzel’s post is commendable. Yet, I believe that it is still important to note that a graduation rate of “55 percent of football players and 38 percent of basketball players” is deplorable (taken from George Will’s op-ed).

Since the percentage of NCAA black athletes that participate in the “revenue sports” (football and men’s and women’s basketball) has usually hovered around the 50% mark (the literature and statistics for that can be found at, then there is a possibility that the numbers cited by George Will can be affected by the black-white achievement gap. With that in mind, perhaps the NCAA could soon garner some motivation and support to help tackle the black-white achievement gap for itself.

In any case, the achievement gap is real, and I think for the NCAA to continue to laud the student athlete is dishonest when the statistics behind it show that there’s room for improvement.

Orzel hinted at something else when he closed his blog post. He noted that there may be unwillingness for the public to address the achievement gap, and I believe Orzel to be right. There are cultural implications at stake here. Even over at the Freakonomics blog, Steve Levitt will mention his colleague, Roland Fryer, who continues to work on socio-economic issues, such as the black-white achievement gap. Again, Fryer has surveyed students who denote that being smart is “acting white.” Even recently, Levitt reported that Fryer found the latest euphuism to be “acting Asian.”

When anyone talks about having gender roles or seeing stereotypes forced upon others, then perhaps racial roles and stereotypes are themes peddled on by corporate marketers who choose to make products and profit based on those roles, which our culture accepts.

As someone with libertarian leanings, I hope that people will continue to step out of their own stereotypes, and the stereotypes imposed upon them by others. My hope is that with time, people can choose to be smart for themselves, rather than seeing the roles as fixed.

Monday, November 12, 2007


A friend from my college years is teaching in France, and had this to comment on a current student strike:
I think the best thing that I saw today though was the group of students who have started an anti-protest protest! I was handed a flyer when I walked onto campus and thought it was an announcement about the newly blocked buildings, but it actually read something more like this:

The Committee of the fight against the strike

Any student, French of foreign, has the right to go to class.

Whether for or against the university reforms, attending class is a non-negotiable liberty.

This LIBERTY must be respected.

The anti-strike group is protesting against the hostage of students by a small group of agitators.

This is why I have a deep seeded respect and love for France. They will have a revolution over anything. If I were to provide a pop culture metaphor to describe the French’s political activity, I would say that there democracy amplifiers have been turned to “11.”

Whether their paid for schooling yields better results than American college counterparts, I think that matter is up to debate.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A University's Secret Curriculum

A friend emailed me this link that shocked my libertarian leaning conscience, where we find that my alma mater, and former employer, had been trying to “educate” students through the University’s Residence Life Staff. Since the current president of the University made a statement declaring that the program would be shutdown, I believe it safe to assume that the program was in effect to some degree.

Now, what do we mean by, “Educate?” Essentially, Residence Life staff members, and most likely Resident Assistants – which is the position I held, and furthest down on the totem poll – were given a curriculum base for their
residents. That’s right, while they are students at the University and already take classes all day, now the RAs had to administer new curriculum for the residents to learn.

curriculum was based on the following (further explains and opinion can be found here):

  • A re-education of students on various social issues.
  • A mandatory participation basis. (While I would not see that expulsion from dorms as a possibility for a resident not attending, the RAs were in a sense being forced to make residents by means of performance reviews and such. Although, new testimonials are heading more towards the threatening possibility.)
  • Essentially, the outcome would lead to a view of society that sees whites as privileged, and all minorities (based on race, sexual orientation, or gender identification) as marginalized.
  • By changing the student’s paradigm, the University’s goal would be students who were more egalitarian.
  • Also, those goals included having students who would end up making pledges for whatever causes the complex in which they lived set out.

If you are not sure where to begin with what is wrong in the program, don’t worry because I am not sure where to begin either. To put it differently, the University of Delaware essentially played the old, “My house, my rules,” card. There are a few things wrong with that, firstly which is that the University is not the parent of any of these students, and most of the students are over 18.

Why would a university hide its own curriculum? Even in some of the supporting documents, this is described as a curriculum. So, why is it coming out of Residence Life? You would think that being that there are so many other students in the University, maybe there could be some sort of requirement for a class on the brief sociological history of the U.S. and the world, which could cover topics ranging from sexuality to socio-economic, and racial concerns. Of course with that, the problem would be that the classes were mandatory. We have to remember that people are paying for this. As well, with that said, they are
not paying for re-education on social issues from the University’s Residence Life apparatus.

Even then the point of this curriculum was not for education sake, but for making students conform to a paradigm that was already set by the University’s Residence Life arm.

Another problem with the curriculum is that Residence Life decided what the answers to the problems were, and based the education around that. Normally, especially in a higher education background, when ideological problems are given, it is up to the individual to make up their own mind on what they think is right or wrong, and what they want to do about it.

At the core of this, and apparently at the cause of, is the topic of personal liberty. It is a right of every citizen in our nation to espouse whatever stupid, false, and distasteful sentiment they wish. Forcing the students to go through a re-education is the sort of Orwellian doomsday that we all think laughable, but was apparently under way.

Such a program may as well be the affirmation of theocracy and in this case, a secular theocracy. The lack of individual liberty with regards to people’s opinions (however misinformed) is the antithesis of a liberal democracy. At least Jerry Falwell’s college is honest about the misinformation it portrays. And by the way, I still resent the fact that he chose the name, Liberty University.

This is probably the most secretive, and yet seemingly unsubtle form of manufacturing consent I have ever seen. In my experience, college students for the most part live and operate in a bubble that envies President Bush’s. Again, why was this made curriculum? Why was this kept secret in the sense that it was unannounced to residents for what it really was? Why was there such a strong effort to mandate that residents participate? This is at best, disturbing, and at its worst the plot of some sort of
Bond villain.

And while I write this article, something of actual substance, that could of deserved the support of such an “open-minded” Residence Life Staff at the University of Delaware, actually hit the floor in the House a few nights ago, and passed. Up until the bill was passed, homosexuals were not protected from discrimination in the workplace while other minorities were. Please
listen to someone who really cares about the topic, as opposed to having someone “re-educate” you.

(If you click on the link and follow towards Barney Frank’s speech, take note that he is trying to expose a tactic that the Republicans were using. At the time, Republicans were trying to tie in marriage issues into the bill - whereas the bill was really about work discrimination - in an effort so that bill would not be passed.)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Subsidizing Calories

Rob Hotakainen reports for McClatchy Newspapers that most of the money that goes towards farm subsidies goes for the foods that are not good for us.

What perplexes my logic is trying to figure out why on earth we would subsidize a product, or commodity, that we purchase the most of. You want to complain about subsidizing, or giving tax breaks to oil companies, then what about subsidizing our calorie consumption?

One of the possibilities that come to mind of why we would subsidize something that so many people purchase is for the need to smooth out price shocks that may come within the industry. The only real problem with that is when the industry that is being subsidized makes continuous profits.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts is right though – I never thought I would say that – the real fault of obesity lies within the person making the choice. To argue about farm subsidies in terms of how it could make people obese is really sort of a stretch. Especially when there are much better arguments for reducing or eliminating subsidies.

Tim Harford mentioned something just last week regarding our choices and how the government or firms intervene in our lives.

For example, in many places of work, you have to opt out of the 401k savings plan. That is to say, you are automatically enrolled. What have we seen since? People like it. They are doing something good for themselves – saving money for future retirement - that would otherwise not have been done because the choice was pre-made for them.

Harford used other examples, including smoking in England, and the possibilities of the English government providing more incentives for people to quit. Of course, couldn’t we think about that similarly in the US with what we eat?

I guess the argument could go both ways. Maybe we could subsidize more nutritional foods, and then have people pay higher (less subsidized) prices for other fatty foods. I believe Tim Harford called this paternal libertarianism – he was not advocating it, but simply educating his readers on the term for what we are seeing. Essentially, there is still a strong prevalence for choice, but just that the choice is priced for the ideal of common good.

In the end though, I still have to ask why we subsidize all those foods? Where is the evidence of price shocks? Oh well, why buy the cow when the milk is subsidized?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spotting the Trend of Online Social Networking

This past week I have been quite busy in my day job, and the trend looks to continue this coming week most certainly.

Although, speaking of trends, I would like to use one of my more favorite segments from
The Daily Show to further what I feel are the intricate issues of online social networking. What better way to make a point, other than satire?

Demetri Martin explains:

I'll get back with another column later next week.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


For those who read Economic Principals by David Warsh, every so often Warsh will show in his pieces an ability to construct the semantic connections that show how relevant something can be. I will be honest and say that it is a fancy way of playing the “Degrees of Separation” game.

In order to retain and gain some sort of relevancy with my friends, and acquaintances whom I think should want me to be great friends with them (that’s a joke), I will try and do the same sort of semantic construct that David Warsh does, but instead of economics professors or old newspaper firms, I will be using bands and individual music artists (hey, it’s the weekend). I imagine that this exercise will feel a lot like the lyrics to LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge.” In fact, as the lyrics of the song go, I will also be stating this knowledge as a show of my relevancy. Whether this attempt at musical elitism will pass or fail however, I think is a matter for Picthfork, or my good friend, Will, to decide (again, joking here).

To start, we’ll leap from the line with The Breeders, whom are probably best known for their album Last Splash, which contained the single “Cannonball.” The Breeders have had lineup changes galore, however, Kim Deal has been the main catalyst of the group and its leader. Now, while Kim herself is famous – even The Dandy Warhols wrote a song about her called “Cool as Kim Deal” – I will go with Tanya Donelly, who apart from having a solo career (I always dug the track “Night You Saved My Life”), was in the group Belly.

Belly was another alternative rock band in the early 90s, which by the way, my favorite track of theirs is “Feed the Tree” from their 1993 album, Star. Donelly left Belly in 1996, after which the band disassembled, as well. Fast forward to 2005, and Tonya Donnelly was working with Mark Eitzel. Eitzel has released many albums with the band American Music Club, as well as some solo albums, his latest being Candy Ass in 2005, which contained one of my favorite tracks, “Make Sure They Hear.” Prior to Eitzel’s 2005 release, in 1998 he worked on an album with the assistance of James McNew from Yo La Tengo.

Yo La Tengo once did a music video for “Sugarcube” that featured comedian, David Cross (you may remember him from the show, Arrested Development). David Cross also worked in a music video with another of my favorite bands, The Black Keys. In 2003, The Black Keys toured with one of my favorite Washington based indie rock bands, Sleater Kinney. Sleater Kinney once toured with the Blues Explosion and were mistaken as groupies, when obviously, in fact, they were one of the acts to perform on stage.

By the way, The Blues Explosion and Sleater Kinney had somewhat similar formats: two guitars, drums, and no bass player.

The Blues Explosion through all their years of releasing albums worked with many people. In their 1998 album, Acme, the track “Blue Green Olga” featured backing vocals from Jon Spencer’s wife, Cristina Martinez, as well as Jill Cunniff, from Luscious Jackson. For those who weren’t living under a rock in the 1990s, we can remember that Luscious Jackson had many hits and transcended a genre or two during their tenure.

And what will finally bring us back to the beginning is that Vivian Trimble, of Luscious Jackson, left the group in 2001 to do an album with Josephine Wiggs, of…you guessed it, The Breeders.

Back to economics and politics next week, enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More than a Minute

Last time, I wrote about what influences there are in what we purchase on how we work, but have we ever thought about how we write, or express our thoughts?

In today’s society of 24-hour television news, 10-second online social quizzes, as well as social networking sites themselves, it’s a wonder how any observer learns of a situation, or a person for that matter, in a manner that is not merely shallow. Even in our emails, in business we have been taught that the proper etiquette is to keep things short and simple.

In the end though, the person who really has the interest has to keep prodding for more information. Why, even recently, I sent an email to a co-worker, and then had a reply telling me about policy of which I already knew. The email tried to explain to me that needed to see and sign the attached documents first. Well, those managers were on the distribution list, so there is the rub. And I find it quite disingenuous when you send something that is within policy guidelines only to have to read a reply to that very same message telling you that what you just sent has to be within policy guidelines.

Uhhh? Well, if what I sent was not within the guidelines, you could just tell me explicitly. Then again, they were within guidelines, so what would we even discuss? But people like their high horses, so let them ride.

But what if there was a different way? What if there was a better way socially, politically, and businesslike? What if thorough writing was first priority leading to encouraging – you do not have to require it – full responses that contain context?

The 24-hour news networks suffer the most. Since their goal is to keep everyone up to date almost every hour, they have to reiterate the same news pieces all day, with barely any addition to the story. And in case you thought that wasn’t bad enough, those stories get old. This situation is essentially what is meant by the phrase, “24-hour news cycle.” So, when these stories get old, they are discarded.

With that in mind, you can imagine how easy it can be for warrant-less wiretapping to lose its flavor for the average news viewer. And when you have an executive branch that can delay comment, action, and investigation, and can on top of that tell you that their executive privileges allow them do circumvent what we know as the law, or tell you that you are letting the terrorists win, I would be surprised for the story to go anywhere.

In fact, usually when news stories on warrant-less wiretapping do go somewhere, it takes a long time to come up with a report. When the report comes along weeks, or even months later, will anyone who is used to 30 second news clips bother to pay attention? Moreover, do they even know the report will be broadcast? What are the Neilson ratings for PBS’ Frontline? How do PBS’ ratings fair against NBC when it airs “To Catch a Predator?”

Some stories, no matter how important, lack the tangibility for people to provide the time out of their busy lives in order to make a difference. It may be because of this that some college students take up the cause. Unfortunately, some students are less educated then others, and you have the possibility of someone yelling obscenities for what seems to be absolutely no reason whatsoever.

So, instead of answering 10 second interviews for online social networking sites, write an essay about a topic important to you. Or, write an essay-autobiography describing what is important to you. If the paradigm were changed on what is required for giving people complete answers, we might actually get to know each other just a little better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


As I discussed in my last piece, race does not look like it will subside anytime soon as a hot button issue With so many people accusing each other of racism for taking certain positions (e.g. many citizens don’t like affirmative action), it’s a wonder how anyone even dares to explore any topics regarding race.

However, the fear of being accused a racist has yet to take hold of Kerwin Kofi Charles, Erik Hurst, and Nikolai Roussanov, who wrote a paper entitled “Conspicuous Consumption and Race.” From their abstract:

Using nationally representative data on consumption, we show that Blacks and Hispanics devote larger shares of their expenditure bundles to visible goods (clothing, jewelry, and cars) than do comparable Whites….[W]e emphasize instead a model of status seeking in which conspicuous consumption is used to reflect a household's economic position relative to a reference group.
Should we get out the pitchforks and start storming university research centers? No, of course not. Remember that even though we are all American, a cornucopia of cultures exists. For one culture to be into cars or jewelry more than another should not come to a surprise.

So, Kofi et al. describe what they are observing as status-seeking. Or, as I have interpreted it, the disparity in consumption is a form of signaling.

But what leads to the disparity? Coming up with a hypothesis, I think this is part of a peer effect manufactured by the general media and black media to black culture. Using the music industry as an example, a lot of material from the rap genre glorifies and tantalizes about an excess life style. Within that life style are the visible goods that Kofi et al. describe.

An important note is to remind ourselves that to call these expenditures good or bad is judgment call that I think hardly anyone qualifies for. For example, a financial advisor may not look too highly upon such goods that hold very little equity and depreciate rather quickly. On the other hand, people’s own utility functions operate in such a manner that almost all of the time the purchases they make are for goods and services that they really want.

So, while my hypothesis above shows that a peer/media effect may explain the reasoning for what some could describe as fleeting purchases, the peer effect for work and co-workers may be an entirely different story.

In fact, according to
a paper by Jonathan Guryan, Kory Kroft, and Matt Notowidigdo, the people with whom we work may not affect our productivity. Now, we are not talking about a team project, or anything of the sort, but rather simply who works around you. The study the authors organized revolved around the pairings made at a golf tournament. Their results show that player’s scores did not falter even if paired with a player who had a considerably larger scoring handicap.

So, while trying to showcase lifestyle may be a product of observing and imitating culture (life imitating art), it seems that when it comes to making money, our influences are constrained only to what works, and in that sense, getting the job done.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Forces of Habit

Recently ESPN’s Jeff Perlman wrote a piece on the University of Delaware’s reluctance, refusal, awkward excuses, and non-responses to play Delaware State University

Perlman’s piece regards the incident as purely regarding race. However, the situation may be even more nuanced than Perlman lets on.

The school came to be in 1891 only because the men running the First State wished not to allow blacks into their grand university. Under the Morrill Act, a state either could open its public educational facilities to all peoples, or start a separate-but-equal school for blacks. Hence, Delaware State.

In the ensuing 116 years, Delaware has treated Delaware State not as academic/athletic brethren, but as a piece of gum affixed to the bottom of its loafer. Del. State is where the scary black people congregate, where "those" types of folk go to college.

The problem is UD v. Del State is more socio-economic than it probably is racial anymore. Yet, so many tragedies like this start out as misguided racial solutions (starting Del State in order for UD to remain an all white institution) only to become these habitual stances on how one regards another race and its institutions.

Moreover, a large part of UD’s 6% black student body is separated by the income gap from whites and blacks. To the point, Del State’s tuition rates are far less than the University of Delaware’s. So, unless we decide to subsidize more blacks to go to college, the numbers will stay the same. Situations like these are most evidently the reason why economists continue to study the black-white achievement gap with fervor.

Perlman’s article is wasted on football. Luckily for him, that is why he writes for ESPN. The bigger issue is the admissions department of the University of Delaware. Why is higher education only for some blacks, yet most whites? What are the separating factors? Surely couldn’t the University of Delaware release some of its decision making critiques?

Other questions that I have pondered before, but Perlman did not raise himself are: If the University of Delaware’s student body is only 6% black, how many students is that actually (keeping in mind Delaware State’s student body is smaller)? How many of those students are in-state students? And consequently, the same questions can be asked for Delaware State University. Since in-state students pay less, it is quite possible that the income disadvantage minorities face makes them less apt to attend the University of Delaware, especially when other schools may be financially equal, and with a better educational reputation.

If we want to argue about racism, fine, but maybe we should really be honest about what college football is about. Along the way, some of us have to stick to our principles, and I hope that at some point in the future, it won’t only be George Will. The white – black achievement gap is bigger than football because this involves the futures of many young students. If Perlman really wanted to focus on something in football that should be changed, what about the goals of the NCAA as George Will has discussed before?

How does the NCAA fulfill its proclaimed purpose of maintaining "the athlete as an integral part of the student body"? Only 55 percent of football players and 38 percent of basketball players at Division I-A schools graduate. The New York Times has reported that at Auburn, a perennial football power, many athletes have received "high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work." Eighteen members of the undefeated 2004 team took a combined 97 hours of those courses while at Auburn. Who believes such behavior is confined to Auburn?

My point is that the fate of Pearlman’s article was sealed before it was written. So much of what separates schools is in the price tag, and until we effectively reduce the black-white achievement gap, we will continue to bear witness to the University of Delaware’s racial composition and surreal attitude of playing Delaware State University as a…how did they say it back in the day…a peculiar institution.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thinking Through Green

Despite this political appeal, we argue that the standards have a cost in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. In particular, we show that an LCFS [Low Carbon Fuel Standard] limiting carbon emissions per unit of energy (the energy-based LCFS) can achieve the first best outcome only under unrealistic assumptions. Moreover, we find that, contrary to the stated purpose, an LCFS can actually raise carbon emissions. Additionally, we show that the second best LCFS—from a regulator’s perspective—“under-taxes” all fuels and may require a nonbinding standard, i.e., the optimal standard may be no standard at all.

That is an excerpt from
a working paper by Stephen P. Holland, Jonathan E. Hughes and Christopher R. Knittel. Reading through the simulated economic effects of environmental policy ideas becomes a difficult exercise. On one side, most everyone admits the externalities from carbon emissions exist and most likely harms long-term global climate. However, dealing with such global issues hardly warrants a “magic wand” approach to the problem.

No one policy can solve all problems. Moreover, having one policy simulated in best-case scenarios with maximum restrictions in place is not only improbable, but also unrealistic. Not even environmental regulations are always efficient. This is where policy fails us.

Once again, what we are seeing in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard is an attempt to affect the free-market. We try to adjust the market so that people favor low carbon fuels, but this essentially makes the price of low carbon fuels so low, that the public uses the fuel to the extent that we end of polluting just as much as we were before.

There is a caveat however. Fore example, giving a corporation a tax break that realizes record profits is not necessarily a logical maneuver economically, albeit logical politically. Luckily, if you did not know, congress has rescinded on those tax breaks. Such tax breaks are of the same ilk as subsidizing already profitable farms.

And if you think policy is the only place where we can get it wrong on the environment, you might need to think again. As Warren Brown recently wrote in the Washington Post, what do we do when the time comes to dispose of the large batteries that come in hybrid vehicles? What are the real costs of the entire hybrid vehicle from its length of life, to its ability for salvage and/or disposal? Rather, would it not be more efficient to simply purchase a small economical gas engine vehicle?

Instead of having these questions of policy and “green” life style externalities answered, and instead of having facts and numbers discussed, the public sees a grandiose delusion about how to “help” the environment. What happened to the good old days where reducing, reusing, and recycling were key elements in not only helping the environment, but also being efficient?

If you read Warren Brown’s article, you’ll understand what he, many others, and I have been saying for quite some time now. The public is simply not ready to discuss the real costs of reducing our use of oil, which would best come by the way of a gas tax.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Education for Whom?

Have you ever stopped to consider why so many of our nation’s teachers go back to school to receive elaborate graduate degrees and even in some cases doctorates?

Well, whether they like it or not, Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd, and Jacob L. Vigdor have answered that question by asking another question, what effect does having a graduate degree have on student achievement?

From the August NBER Digest, Linda Gorman summed the paper on graduate-degree teacher credentials and their effect on students educations. In the end the effect was put simply as, none.

According to Linda, the authors, like many before them, have gone through the statistics and found what their predecessors have found. What matters is not whether you have a graduate degree or not, but rather on your experience. (My apologies to all my friends who have become new teachers; I can only hope that you are the outliers in the data field.)

However, dare not think for even a moment that a teacher’s credentials are not correlated with how students perform in their classes. The authors have found that teachers whose credentials are weak have received disadvantaged students. This condition then leads to a further widening of the achievement gap that had been created by the students’ socioeconomic circumstances.

By asking the question as to what the effects of the teacher’s graduate education, the authors find that the motivations for attaining a graduate are plentiful. I believe increases in pay and better students/classroom environment would head the list for motive.

Is this truly the efficient manner to be taught? Should our most disadvantaged teachers consistently receive the most disadvantaged students? I emphasize consistently because there may be a need to provide incentives for teachers to take on these particular students. Quite possibly, the incentives may be misaligned. Perhaps more incentive should be provided to a teacher who takes on students who fall on the bad side of the achievement gap.

Conversely, the data suggests that teachers most likely receive incentive to attain a master’s degree so as to be pampered in how their future classes will be composed. That is to say, they go back to school not become better teachers, but rather, to get better students.

Economists have always spoken out on misaligned incentives, and this may yet be another case of such askew system. I am reminded of Arnold Kling’s feelings on the purchase of carbon offsets. The offset system in hardly efficient, and is an example of trying to eat a salad just because you are feeling guilty for eating cheesecake. That is to say, you are eating more and wasting resources all for the sake of one’s conscience.

Maybe it is time that the incentives for teaching were realigned so that taking on the students who need the help ends up being the fiscally rewarding. According to the data, whether a teacher has a graduate degree or not does not affect the student’s performance, so the other students would hardly be mal-affected since each teacher has to be qualified anyway. John Stossel may in fact be right; a more competitive, incentive driven education system could put the right teachers in the right places.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Games and Perception

Dating has many variables in which each person plays in different ways whether we think about those decisions consciously, or sub-consciously. One specific type, I have linked to before thanks to Ben Casnocha.

What Casnocha did not know at the time was that his observation and reading of The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, by Neil Strauss would gain more notoriety even to the point where Stephen Dubner at the Freakonomics blog would make mention of it as well.

Dubner wrote entirely on the concept of “negging,” which Casnocha mentioned, but did not go too far in depth because he was writing an entire book review. Negging essentially is Neil Strauss’ term for providing what is not exactly an insult or a compliment per se, but rather an accidental insult, or a back-handed compliment. I dare anyone who is not a practiced pick up artist to try that.

According to Strauss and others, negging works. In fact, in the post Dubner wrote, he also cited research that showed many males will flat-out insult their partners in what is described as some sort of “mate-retention.” That is to say, the men make derogatory comments or insults so that their female counterparts will not (or never) have the confidence to leave them.

We can assume that any sane woman (please, don’t start writing me that there is no such thing; that joke has been done ad nauseum) would proclaim that “negging” is not something she would enjoy having done to her. On the other hand, the problem with that assumption possibility is that women like playing the game as much as men do, and would therefore want to be disarmed and “negged” to a certain extent.

As much as you can try, the game is never ending.

Also, how we look, and how we see ourselves concerns almost everyone. This post from Megan McArdle describes that we are not as hot as we think we are.

A cognitive scientist at the University of Chicago explained why to me last winter. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, in any given session we tend to anchor on the time slice image that makes us look our best. That, we decide, is the "real" us.

You're also biased by the fact that no one ever tells you you're ugly. It's not merely that people inflate what they tell you (they almost certainly do); it's also that people who think you're ugly tend to drop out of the sample. They may not cultivate an acquaintance with you, and those that do will probably not spontaneously let you know that they find you kind of repulsive.

You're stuck in a web of cognitive biases and a positive feedback loop. It's a wonder anyone does get married.

This phenomenon, believe it or not was discussed by musician, Mike Doughty, while looking at some self-portraits. He wrote that while he eyed over the photographs he wondered what had happened to the man whom he saw in the mirror.

Within our relationships, the differing perceptions and games played that come from you or other people continue to play pivotal roles no matter what their intended lasting value.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Defining Pro Market

By now, most everyone knows of China’s recent toy making deficiencies. One of the stories from McClatchy newspapers cites President Bush as saying that he chose not to enforce stiffer production standards in China for the reason that such enforcements would not be pro-market.

“The overall philosophy is regulations are bad and they are too large a cost for industry, and the market will take care of it,” said Rick Melberth, director of regulatory policy at OMBWatch, a government watchdog group formed in 1983. “That’s been the philosophy of the Bush administration.”
However, considering that the regulations to be applied on China would be for the sake of safety, it is important to realize the parallels that could be shown to our president in order to illustrate how he may have missed the point of what “pro-market” really is.

Taking a close look at the automotive industry, many regulations have been enforced for the sake of safety. Yet, no one makes any claims that making seatbelts and air bags mandatory stifles competition. In fact, now auto manufacturers boast about the amount of safety their vehicles carry.

Pro-market competition really was not what President Bush’s comments were about. In reality, Chinese manufactures have to deal with the fact that they will have an increase in production costs in order to make sure their goods are in fact, good enough to be sold. Even if there were no regulation about lead content, then the free market is working anyway due to the fact that no one would buy the product. If it just so happens that people are afraid of China’s products; then China will have to deal with it.

In the same manner, home building, mortgage, and financial firm shares have suffered in the past month. Is the market being held hostage by some unnecessarily gloomy outlook on short to near term future? Well, you will not hear me say that it is not. However, it is in these conditions where those with a sane frame of mind calm themselves and look for opportunities where firms are now being undervalued.

With Chinese toys, with financials, and with homebuilders we are seeing a correction in market pricing, and a complete re-thinking of how the market prices risk. When China threatens retaliatory tariffs on the U.S. we have to remind them that their products are to blame, and that it is the consumer who will ultimately forgive them.

Making sure products are safe is in no way defeating competition so long as the rules and regulations are the same for everyone. Ideally, if consumers had information about all the products and their contents, then the free market would provide roughly the same outcome as a watchdog group taking products off the shelf.

However, sometimes people are not shown the contents of items, and as I have stated before, market failures are sometimes best fixed by an entity whose purpose is not profit. In this case, consumers may not have as much a voice in other countries as a U.S. trade representative.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

At the Crux of College Diversity

Vocal critique against bureaucratically sponsored diversity initiatives that come from most college campuses finds its motivation from events such as this linked by Andrew Sullivan, and further questioned by Ben Casnocha. In this instance, the college bureaucracy has lead to an organization taking three years to change its name to be more “inclusive.” Bureaucracy of this sort, and the amount of time wasted on a matter that most people consider trivial is what motivates George Will to continue his op-ed writing. The more government bureaucracy, the more reason George Will - and any person who believes in less government - has to write.

At the crux of college diversity, and whether diversity should be forced upon us with mandatory acceptance quotas, is the gap between achievements of blacks and whites (which I have discussed previously). Essentially, the idea is that the gap comes from a cyclical problem within children’s beginnings and the resources that they may or may not have at a young age. Of course, those circumstances are provided by the parents who most likely had the same, if not less, resources. Therefore, in order to fix the gap, the admission departments of institutions subsidize how many blacks go to college, thereby hoping they will be better off, as well as their children.

But the long road of college diversity does not end at admissions. Once we are in the door, trying to find a social/peer group is another story. For those thinking of fraternities and sororities for answers, Stephen Dubner, from Freakonomics, asked Sudhir Venkatesh, “How do you define a gang?” His response:

Great question. There are a few important legal cases where prosecutors tried to prosecute college fraternities as “gangs.” They suggested that the fraternity was an organization that existed to promote criminal behavior, such as the abuse of women and underage drinking. Most judges threw these cases out because they thought that fraternities were not, by definition, “gangs.” But judges rarely gave a logical reason for excluding (typically white) fraternities from the “gang category.”

Indeed, by any valid social scientific definition of a gang — “an established organization whose members come together for solidarity reasons and who engage in delinquent and/or criminal activities” — a fraternity most certainly qualifies. But race, as we know, can be a factor in shaping judicial outcomes.

What Vankatesh implies in the last sentence is that even in college (and assumingly all throughout life); race places a huge role, which certainly no one would dare argue. The recent studies that have gone on in the black-white achievement gap have important implications. By researching the gap, the goal is to start eliminating the gap early on in children’s educations, thereby eliminating the need in the future for blacks to “need” subsidies in order to receive admission into institutions of higher learning.

Even if the achievement gap is narrowed in the future, it’s unfortunately unknown if racial barriers will be completely eliminated. Nevertheless, showing that, all variables equal, blacks are just as capable as whites - without the kinds of subsidies that are provided by affirmative actions admissions - is crucial. As well, it seems that the mass public’s recognition of this may come in the same time that predominantly white fraternities will also finally be seen as gangs.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

On What Grounds?

Prior to the Rogers Masters’ men’s tennis final this past Sunday, I spoke to my friend Kevin on what the final could be like. The following exchange took place.

Kevin: I'm sure Federer is going to own that guy that beat Nadal. I mean really, a weekend in which you beat Nadal and Federer - you wish.

Novak Djokovic has been a man possessed as of late. Really, just because he's been playing loosey goosey. As this year has been his break out year, for the Serb.

Kevin: He ain't winning today's match.

Me: I won't go that far.

For those that are not aware of the outcome of the match, Djokovic won.

Kevin is by no means a tennis expert, nor does his knowledge of the sport come close to mine due in no small part to my love of the game and keeping track of the professionals. But yet, Kevin disregarded what I was saying, and went with his position. This is much the same protocol that actually got us in Iraq and keeps us there.

Sure, the personal and global situations are a stretch to compare, but what is so different concerning the mindset? The answer: not much. In both cases, we have someone of a higher knowledge of the subject having his warnings totally dismissed. And what has made our steps in Iraq all the more worrisome is that the decisions made to go to war seem as nonchalant as picking Federer to always win a match.

Of course the U.S. military is the best, but no one made the public aware of the important caveats and intricacies of Middle East cultural rifts, sectarian strife, and cultural divides. Much of our own Generals’ advice was not heeded. General Shinseki noted:

Beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division Army. Our soldiers and families bear the risk and the hardship of carrying a mission load that exceeds what force capabilities we can sustain, so we must alleviate risk and hardship by our willingness to resource the mission requirements.

I must catch myself however; someone did mention all the caveats of action in the Middle East. That man was Dick Cheney in 1994:

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. . . .

It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families -- it wasn't a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?

Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.

For those people who most likely do not watch The Daily Show, Jon Stewart confronted Stephen Hayes about Cheney’s past comments and how 9/11 didn’t change the consequences of invading Iraq.

What we end up seeing at the end of this is that the media is rewarding us to take strong stances. Whether the opinions are wrong or right is irrelevant, what matters is the unwavering expression of the opinion.

In fact, look no further than to Hillary Clinton, who still sees no point in thoughtfully addressing her votes for many authorizations of which Bush has asked pertaining to unwarranted surveillance, or authorization for the war in Iraq. Many other presidential candidates refuse to answer the question of going to war in Iraq “knowing what they know now” because, “the question is based on a hypothetical.” On the other hand, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were just as hypothetical.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

On a Personal Note

In today’s op-ed, I would like to touch on a subject that I have in the past many times over: relationships and dating.

For you today, I do not have much in the way of new research, but I do have a personal note. Truthfully, this would be an effort at sympathizing with everyone in the world who dates. As I’ve stated before on this blog, dating is not a frequent activity for me, so once again, when I again went through the many signals, the feeling of hope for a relationship, and yet the eventual end, I had to realize that everyone else goes through this as well.

When I was speaking to a friend of mine last week that informed me of the amount of people he had to see before he met and started seeing the woman who would eventually be his wife, I breathed deeply in dread. The sheer effort that goes through continuously finding people whom you don’t like, or whom don’t like you is astonishing. I find it difficult for anyone out there who would not want to fool themselves into thinking they have dated more people than they really have so that they could inflate the number and psyche themselves into thinking “Statistically, the next one has a high chance of being the one.”

My married friends tell me that the rollercoaster of emotions does not get any easier because every relationship has its own share of emotional highs and lows. Nevertheless, what keeps a relationship together is good times far outweigh the bad.

Still, some relationships end (for good or bad reasons) because enduring it simply costs too much, either emotionally or otherwise, and the cost of disappointing someone ends up being trivial.

However, we all go through this together, including those that have to do the “dumping.” In fact, since most people believe in free will, this person who has to dump someone probably thinks to themselves that they have control over how that person is going to feel through the choice of ending the relationship, or not. I can imagine this is a burden no one would want to carry.

But who is letting go of whom? I recently spoke to my “masters degree in communication” friend Kevin on an unidentified communication theory that describes six perceptions of self:
  • The me that I am

  • The me that I think am

  • The me that others think I am

  • The me that I think others think I am

  • The me that others think I think others think I am

  • The me that I think others think of what others think I think I am.

So, not only are we dealing with another person, but we are dealing with our own perceptions of self and others. That is to say, even who I think I am, is not who I actually am. If this confuses you, don’t worry because hardly anyone thinks of this while they date, not even communications majors. A long story short, if you are perceived to carry a personality trait that you may or may not actually have, it does not matter; you may as well have it.

For example, if you have not had a date in years, and your timidity and nervousness are there for the sole reason of inexperience, your date may perceive your nervousness as an overall deficiency of your personality. Those are unfortunately, the breaks. Don’t believe me? Then why have men come up with silly rules such as, “Don’t call until two days are the first date”? These rules exist for the perception of power. What can be seen from this is that the power of perception truly lives, and if Scott Ginsberg has anything to say about it, you better know how to sell yourself, and do it quickly. In dating, it does not matter who you are, but who others think you are.

But for those of you who do what you can with whom you are as honestly as possible, it’s tough, I know, but you will get through it, and I certainly still believe that the free market of dating will take care of everyone in the end.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Tax The Carbon, Don't Trade It

Once again, Sebastian Mallaby echoes Greg Mankiw’s sentiment that a cap and trade system for carbon emissions has some externalities that prove inefficient, at least compared to a tax. Mallaby describes the Kyoto effort that many countries have volunteered to take part in.

The takeaway:

The mechanism's clunky procedures are supposed to prevent fraud, but in practice they filter out village-based projects while not preventing fraud in big ones. As Stanford's Michael Wara has demonstrated in a devastating paper, the mechanism appears to encourage industrial producers to emit extra greenhouse gases so they can capture them and pocket extra subsidies. Chinese emitters make such extraordinary profits from this system that the government has imposed a 65 percent tax on the windfall. In effect, the green budgets of the rich world subsidize the Chinese government.

There are two snags, however. Inevitably, some voluntary carbon permits have proved fraudulent. They represent carbon reductions that have not actually happened or reductions that have been marketed as offsets to multiple purchasers. As a result, the voluntary market is periodically attacked, and would-be purchasers shy away. Voluntary purchasers buy carbon offsets to be pure. Impure scams defeat their objective.

There is a basic logic that has unfolded before us. As I have written before, one instance of our own market failure with the environment is the externality of degrading our natural habitats, as well as a host of other environmental concerns. If a natural market process can lead to such bad externalities, then why would creating another market for permits do any better? Moreover, the efficiency of cap and trade would pale in comparison to a carbon tax.

One of the possible externalities that comes from cap and trade is that if enough “good” firms trade or sell their permits to less environmentally friendly firms, there would always be a healthy, cheap supply for the less environmentally friendly firm to buy, which would lend that firm to pollute even more. Therefore, I would not be surprised if for certain regions, or locales, their pollution would actually increase. A tax on the other hand is constant, and when the proper rate is found, firms will not find it cost effective to pollute in excess. The only problem would be figuring out the tax rate.

One way to help the cap and trade system would be to consistently readjust and regulate the permit market. Decreasing the permit supply when firms are not polluting, yet making sure that there are still enough permits in the market to keep prices down, or production steady. On the other hand, regulating the cap and trade system beyond just tracking whom pollutes, but also needing oversight and regulatory forces for the market itself would be a waste considering that a tax would not need oversight for a market.

The reason why people like Mallaby, or Greg Mankiw recommend a tax structure is because if the system is made simply enough, we not only reduce overhead, but we also reduce externalities that would otherwise occur from a newly created permit market.

While many experts have stated their opinion on the matter, there is no easy solution, although the easier, more intuitive solutions seem apropos. However, maybe we could trial this within a region. In addition, each system could be reversed, adjusted, or replaced with cap and trade, or vice-versa.

In the end, the question is when will circumstances reach the point where we feel we have no other choice but to enact a tax or a cap and trade system?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Social Networking Sites Still Make Me Anxious

Why am I still weary of MySpace and other social networking sites? Well, this article certainly doesn’t help matters. The takeaway:

The new figures Cooper announced Tuesday include only those offenders who created MySpace profiles using their real names, according to a document given to state lawmakers. But officials believe there could be more offenders using the site, possibly under fake names.

This article doesn’t help my confidence in having a face book profile either.

Ben Casnocha stated the ease of use in keeping tabs via face book thusly:

I'm fascinated to see what happens as my age demographic moves into college and then the workforce. Facebook reached the masses when we were in high school. We went to college with at least 200 existing weak ties from high school classmates, and in college we'll accumulate probably twice as many. By the time I graduate in 2011, I expect my average college friend will have at least 500 connections on a service like Facebook that are legitimate (i.e., genuine weak ties that resulted from some shared experience or interaction).

500 connections to people you went to school with. 500 people for whom you remember their name and interests with a little help from a social network. 500 people for whom you have updated contact information, location, and career status. At age 22. Society, in other words, is going to be flooded with the most networked generation ever.

Obviously, there are tremendous benefits to social networking. I mean, really, it is just so easy. Then again, the more people there are in the network, the more targets there are for identity theft. That is, unless you take out your birthday, you make your profile private, and you are selective of whom your online friends are. And if they really are your friends, then they should know most of the important stuff anyway.

I will admit that I am not the most thick-skinned individual, and with that in mind, to receive an invitation from someone you have cut ties with is one item I dread to come upon. But it has happened to my own friends (the real ones whom I speak to, not the online ones). My friends have relayed stories with me in which someone from their past puts in a “friend request” as they ponder to themselves, “They don’t remember what they did to me?”

But clicking a button is another easy thing about online social networking and online dating. The sheer ease and minute marginal cost to click a button in order to make a request for friendship or a date is most likely impossible to resist. Unless, you’re like me, and you abhor rejection no matter what the medium. One of my favorite lines in this regard is from the movie, You’ve Got Mail, in which case Scott Zahn’s character states, “As far as I'm concerned, the Internet is just another way to be rejected by a woman.”

While my good “masters degree in communications” friend Kevin would most likely explain that people might differ in how they participate online as opposed to the terrestrial reality I like to interact in, I still think that if you’re timid in the real world, a lot of that timidity would transfer to your “online persona”, unless you are lying, of course, to yourself and to others.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Forget Using Commas - No Need to Pause

In The Washington Post, Robert Samuelson bids the comma a farewell, for which, even I will miss it along with other activities where we get to take a pause in life.

The takeaway:

It is true that Americans have always been in a hurry. In "Democracy in America" (1840), Alexis de Tocqueville has a famous passage noting the "feverish ardor" with which Americans pursue material gains and private pleasures. What's distinctive about our era, I think, is that new technologies and astonishing prosperity give us the chance to slacken the pace. Perish the thought. In some ways, it seems, we Americans have actually become more frantic.

This reminds me of how I touched on the same subject earlier

In my experience, not being married or having children, it still takes time to write a twice per week blog/op-ed while having my day job, and other personal hobbies. Our technology has given us the ability to be engaged in so many other activities and interests that it is easy to spread yourself thin. And if you book yourself with a well thought out schedule, you still might get burned out.

While I took a break from writing a month ago, I was still working my day job. And further to the point, please think about your friends and family who go on vacation. When there is a family involved, it becomes almost impossible to make it a “real vacation.” Let Scott Adams (creator, writer, and producer of everything Dilbert)
So Plan B went into effect, and that meant continuously trying to figure out how to entertain eight very different people, ages 6 to 79, without everyone going their own way and defeating the purpose of the trip. It was like solving a Rubik’s Cube seven times a day.

Several of us have difficult preferences to satisfy. For example, I can’t be in the sun for more than ten seconds without bursting into flames. I fall sound asleep in any darkened theater. I’m a vegetarian, I require shaded temperatures between 68 and 75 degrees and continuous access to the Internet. Now throw the other seven freaks of nature into the equation and try to optimize everyone’s happiness without generating a slap fight. It can’t be done.
I still chuckle whenever I read that. I assume that at some point when I get too busy, I’ll have to discontinue this blog, but until then I have still have time to comment on the news, academic working papers from economists, and some of my other hobbies. I can only hope that the populace continues to have the time to do the things it needs to in order for their lives to be fulfilling. And in the end, that really does require a pause.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blog Format

Because I never stated my format before, I thought I would let readers know that they should expect my posts to come about once or twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) for my near 500 word op-eds. Other smaller posts and simple links will be thrown in sporadically. As usual, I will try to let you know when I take breaks.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The State of Iraq

The great thing about the right to free speech is that you can make almost any comment you want, and refute any comment you want as well.

Although, I must say that when people use “pen names” in order to make snide comments, refute a piece of journalism or statistics that really sticks in my craw.

Take this piece of news from McClatchy Newspapers on July 10th written by Mike Drummond and Mohammed al Dulaimy on the number of car bombs during our nation’s “surge.” “Air Force Guy” commented that the article was misleading and stated at the end, “You may not be interested in killing a radical Islamic terrorist, but there are several that are interested in killing you.” What kind of ridiculous platitude is that? What does that have to do with the article?

In the words of John Stossel, give me a break. I might as well just tell “Air Force Guy” that he may not be interested in tax reform, but that the IRS may be unfairly pulling him in with the Alternative Minimum Tax.

While anyone can argue against McClatchy’s calculation and use of their statistics – they use the first week of each month when insurgents and sectarian fighters in Iraq like to carry out their attacks - car bombs have still gone off in Iraq. Drummond and al Dulaimy state that the death tolls are still large and unacceptable.

They write:

The tactic took on a horrifying new dimension this past weekend when about 170 Iraqis were killed in five car bombs — as many as 155 of them when a produce truck laden with explosives leveled houses and shredded bodies in Armili, about 100 miles north of the capital.

The commenter did none of that on statistics. He simply said that the article was misleading and he asked for more time. He didn’t even bother to argue the statistic that I found shaky, which was to only survey the first week of the month. Apparently Air Force Guy thinks we need another four years, or indefinite occupation, something our president said he would not do when he was running for election in 2000.

Drummond and al Dulaimy also provide some caveats:

Overall civilian deaths dropped significantly in June, when a four-day curfew was in effect. "When insurgents are captured or killed in one area, they will try to move their operations and activities to another just to show they are still in business by killing more innocent people, as you saw in," Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, said at a news conference Monday.

So, a question: Is it a win for the US/Iraq if insurgents still set off bombs, but just in a different location, such as Armili? I certainly don’t think so, and I pray that someone who calls themselves, “Air Force Guy,” would care a little more about the brave soldiers who are in the lines of fire, instead of trying to convince their selves to the idea that we’re succeeding without having any evidence to back it up. I care too much about our military personnel to allow their deaths and sacrifices in another country’s civil war to be tallied as some sort of success. You want more time, fine, then ask, but also realize that you’re asking for more deaths as well.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon’s 6th LP, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, came out recently, and once again we have an album with and eclectic sound that Spoon has become known for.

For any music critic who tries to argue that they’re becoming stagnant, I think it’s time that we all realized Spoon’s albums have always been an eclectic sound. So, just because the band still tries to offer the same amount of differences, we shouldn’t overlook the differences. This, to me, is Spoon’s finest album.

My favorite track: Finer Feelings


No, this isn’t my farewell to my very faithful friends who read this blog, but rather another music review; this time for Ulrich Schnauss’ latest album, Goodbye. Don’t look for any change in musical direction as opposed to Schnauss’ last two albums as he continues further on into the electronic genre of shoegaze and ambience.

While most people tend to completely disavow of the electronic genre as some mindless bit of formulaic noise, Schnauss has continuously been able to put together tracks and compositions that are both deep and emotionally moving. There is nothing baseless in this album, or any of those he did prior.

My favorite track: Stars