Economic stupidity

You know, if you are doing a show called "Marketplace", and one of your lead stories contains mention of foreign trade stats, perhaps you should have a basic understanding of the way currencies affect foreign trade?

This morning in the top of the broadcast on NPR's "Marketplace" the announcer said something along the lines of: GDP grew at over 1% in the first quarter, after the revision put out today increased the estimate over the previously released number. The better economic outlook included an unexpected increase in sales of US goods abroad.

Now, wouldn't you think that people on a show about the economy would have actually taken at least one economics class, Econ 101?

When currencies become cheap, it accelerates exports--leading to more sales abroad. Europe right now is decrying the increase in the euro, because it is making their goods too expensive as exports--while we are gaining.

No one with the slightest knowledge of economics could find that "unexpected".

Addendum: I just Googled "strong euro" + trade +exports and came up with articles like these (in order of google):

1. Strong Euro May Be Hampering European Exports

2. UPDATE: Strong Export Growth Boosts Euro-Zone April Trade. Now that seems to go the wrong way, but the first sentence of the actual article is:
The euro zone recorded a foreign trade surplus in April, reversing March's deficit and suggesting that the euro's strength and weakening global demand aren't yet weighing on exports.
3. How is the Strong Euro Affecting Euro-Area Export Margins?
With the euro trading at record highs against the US dollar, investors are becoming increasingly worried about the outlook for euro-area growth. But how are exporters responding to upward pressure on the exchange rate, and what impact is this having on their profit margins?

Ultimately, external demand for euro-area products depends on how much they cost in foreign-currency terms. This, in turn, will be affected by exchangerate developments and by relative changes in unit labour costs. But exporters also need to make a decision about margins. When the euro is rising, exporters may accept lower margins to protect market share. By contrast, when the euro is falling, they may be able to boost both their profit margins and volumes.
Translation: High euro=bad for exports.

4. Strong euro gives a boost to N.H. exporters
One of the major global developments in the last three years is the so-called realignment of currencies, which relates to an enduring change in a key currency against the dollar. Of main interest for international trade is the strengthening of the euro.

Since February 2002, the euro has increased in value by 50 percent against the dollar, implying that businesses and consumers from the euro area could now pay 50 percent less than in 2002 to buy American goods if their prices have stayed the same.

[...] A strong euro makes New Hampshire's goods cheaper in the euro area's single market and gives state exporters an extra advantage.
5. UPDATE 1-Euro zone trade surplus down as strong euro bites ...

I could go on, of course. And I could do the opposite search: "weak dollar"+trade+exports, and come up with the same sort of results.

Math Education Education

From a report on problems teaching teachers to teach math:

... It found the programs, within colleges and universities, spend too little time on elementary math topics.
Author Julie Greenberg said education students should be taking courses that give them a deeper understanding of arithmetic and multiplication.

I wonder just how many courses on multiplication are appropriate. Perhaps multiplication should be offered as a major. I can see a potential senior thesis already: "The Impact of Multiplying by Three on the Integers Between Five and Nine: A Multicultural Approach."

Fennell, who instructs teacher candidates in math at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., said a common area of weakness among his students is fractions — the same subject the national math panel described as a weak area for kids. "Part of the reason the kids don't know it is because the teachers aren't transmitting that," he said.
To boost teachers' understanding of math, the math departments at universities ought to place more emphasis on training educators, Fennell added.

Yes, because having math PhDs teach fractions is an excellent utilization of their time. Why are math departments busy teaching complex analysis and differential equations to engineers when there are "educators" out there who don't know what a common denominator is? First things first!

Ann adds:

How bad is math education? How about this: When our 2nd grader started to do entry-level fractions, the school sent home an explanation for parents in the class newsletter. You see, apparently, parents don't know that the numerator is the one on the top, and the denominator is the one on the bottom, and the school had to give them a heads-up so they could help their 7 year olds do their homework.

And, if you watch this video, you can see that maybe a PhD in arithmetic wouldn't be such a bad idea. These days they are making the algorithms they are using to teach kids how to multiply and divide so complicated and difficult, that you do need a higher level of education just to follow along:

Steve says: Seven months ago, I posted this comment under this youtube video:

"Ambivalent. Fundamentals are good, but I never use the standard algorithm in my head. For 26x31 I do 26x30 (780), then add in 26 to get 806. I use a calculator for 3 digits, or use two digits and multiply by 100 when an approx. is ok. Clearly, the altases are used with stats such as population, income, area, etc. With calculators around, it is often more important to know *when* to multiply. I agree group work is over-emphasized. Try that on the SAT or on the job. "

Ann says: I don't know. I've always been pathetic at keeping more than a couple numbers in my head at a time (from phone numbers to math), and usually need to reach for a pencil. In that case, getting the algorithim right makes a big difference. The methods taught on the video and in the textbooks are hunt-and-peck methods with so many extra steps that errors are bound to occur. That's part of the problem. Instead of a condensed system, there are so many steps, that the mistakes almost must happen.

Obama Not a Muslim

He's actually Hindu. Who knew?

The idol is being presented to Obama as he is reported to be a Lord Hanuman devotee and carries with him a locket of the monkey god along with other good luck charms.

How do these stories get started?
A recent photo posted on Time`s White House Photo of the Day collection shows the first ever Black-American nominee in the race to the White House carries with him a bracelet belonging to an American soldier deployed in Iraq, a gambler's lucky chit, a tiny monkey god, tiny Madonna and child.

Nuclear Power from the DOD?

An interesting idea over at Planet Gore:

...why not go one step further and put nuclear reactors on military bases? With enough reactors, we could make the entire military and Federal government energy independent, as well as add much needed energy into the economy. As for who would run the reactors, that's the easy part. We have the most successful nuclear reactor operators in the world at our disposal: the U.S. Navy.

I'm not sure about having the DOD/DOE run electrical utilities, but I think this is an idea that's worth keeping in mind. By the time that wishful thinking about breakthroughs in "alternative energy" meet up with cold reality, it's possible the USA will need some real power, real fast. If this plan is NIMBY-proof, so much the better.

Kids Today

As Adam M. Guren, a new Harvard graduate who will be pursuing his doctorate in economics, put it, “A lot of students have been asking the question: ‘We came to Harvard as freshmen to change the world, and we’re leaving to become investment bankers — why is this?’ ”

It's called "growing up."

Who do these professors think they are, encouraging young people to go into "public service" rather than business? I suggest they put their money where their mouths are. If they see a need for public service employees, why don't they give up their salaries and absolute job security (aka tenure) for a $30k job as a "community organizer?" Fat chance of that happening.

Government Employee Demands Criminalization of Dissent

Global Warming's High Priest demands punishment for the infidels.
James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming ...
Full article here. The man has gone from crackpot to dangerous crackpot.

Note to Victor Davis Hansen

"So I doubt this time Obama will weigh in on Imus's latest"

You're dreaming.

I Agree with Krugman

Good grief. Paul Krugman agrees with me.
The only way speculation can have a persistent effect on oil prices, then, is if it leads to physical hoarding — an increase in private inventories of black gunk. This actually happened in the late 1970s, when the effects of disrupted Iranian supply were amplified by widespread panic stockpiling. But it hasn’t happened this time: all through the period of the alleged bubble, inventories have remained at more or less normal levels. This tells us that the rise in oil prices isn’t the result of runaway speculation; ..."

Perhaps it's time to change my opinion? Via N. Gregory Mankiw. He also links to a bit on Obama blaming speculators.

I Hope They'll Take a Check

Tab, dinner for one, couple of beers and an entree:

I remember when you could get a beer for under 50 million. Sigh. A billion ain't what it used to be. Stolen from here.

Bill Clinton on Global Warming Plans

About a month ago I had a post regarding John McCain's global warming plan. I calculated that McCain's plan to cut emissions to 40% of 1990 levels by 2050 meant that we would need to produce each unit of GDP with 1/15-th the amount of carbon dioxide. It turns out that Barack Obama's plan calls for cuts down to 20% of 1990 levels. So each unit of GDP would need to be produced with 1/30-th the C02, an even more preposterous proposal. Bill Clinton weighs in:
"Because I believe so strongly in this, I favor Senator Obama's position, which is to go to 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses over Senator McCain's position, which is to go to 70 percent," he said. "But that's light years ahead of where Republican's have been."

Now Bill Clinton has always seemed like a pretty bright guy, and I suspect he has a better mind for this sort of analysis than either McCain or Obama. So the question in my mind is if he really believes in these numbers. His statement certainly seems to indicate that he does, indeed he implies that 10% is significant. If McCain promised to fund development of a car that could go coast-to-coast on a thimbleful of gas, would Clinton come out suggest that an Obama plan for a 1/2-thimble car is so much better?

I think he would, though he would think it nonsense. My guess is that Clinton is playing pure politics here.

Tax Incidence II - Ec10 model

The previous post on tax incidence made the usual assumption of a competitive market. In some sense this is an extreme assumption, since markets are rarely completely competitive. What about if we make an assumption at the opposite extreme? Suppose that we have a monopolistic supplier of oil. Suppose also that the cost of producing oil is relatively low, so we can approximately describe the supplier's behavior as trying to maximize his revenue. (I've heard it said that it costs Saudi Arabia $2/barrel to pump oil.) Let D be the demand as a function of price p. Since our idealized supplier can determine the quantity supplied and can set the price, he seeks to maximize his revenue R as a function of p and the tax rate t:

R=(p-t) D

Taking the derivative with respect to p and setting the result to zero gives the equations



which the supplier can use to determine p given t. Here the subscripts denote differentiation. How does p change with a change in t? Treating t as a function of p in the last equation, and taking another derivative with respect to p gives

tp=1+(D/Dp) p

pt =1/(1+(D/Dp) p)=1/(2-DDpp/(Dp )2)

where pt is the rate of change of p with respect to t. If we assume that the slope of D is increasing (D is convex down), then Dpp>0 so the last equation tells us that pt >1/2. We conclude that at least half of an increase in tax will show up as an increase in price. How big can pt be? There is no limit. It is possible for pt to be greater than one, so for example an increase in the tax by $0.10 may result in an increase of price by $0.20. Here is an example of such a situation. The demand curve here:

looks pretty ordinary, and indeed has pretty tame elasticity:

The price increases with the tax thusly:

With pt everywhere greater than one:

If the current price is $4.40, we can expect an increase in price of about $0.17 if the tax is increased by $0.10. So what's the overall conclusion? Beats me. I have no idea which model is appropriate. Does anyone? Can it be tested? See the reference to Jim Manzi's recent article below.

Education and income

Carpe Diem is one of my favorite econ blogs. In part, because he always seems to be able to find the kind of data that I search for without success.

Today, he posted a graph from the Brookings Institute (generally considered an organization of the left). The x-axis is the year, the y-axis is income. On the chart are 4 different segments of the population: 1) no high school diploma, 2) high school diploma, 3) college diploma, 4) advanced degree.

Here's the graph:

What is really astonishing is that people who only have a high school diploma or less, have seen their incomes remain stable or drop (I'm assuming that the data is inflation-adjusted, but I don't see anywhere in the original Brookings' document any statement of this--a major omission, if you ask me.) (Steve says: It says "2004 dollars" on the graph, so it looks like inflation is accounted for.)

Another undeclared element is whether government benefits and subsidies are counted towards the "income" statistics. Does the data reflect the receipt of food stamps or Section 8 housing assistance? If you look at 1997 on the graph, the year welfare reform was enacted, the income of both the high school drop outs and those with a high school diploma continued to rise until around 2000. One of the key components of the reform was to limit life-time welfare benefits to just 5 years. So, reform enacted in 1997 would start hitting hard in 2002, as people were kicked off the welfare rolls for overstaying their welcome.

To me, this should mean that after that point we should see incomes rising, as more people leave welfare for work. Unfortunately, that is not what the data show.

However, there were rather a lot of other factors which would have affected the income of most people: 1) the end of the tech boom eliminated a large source of capital in the economy, 2) the end of the tech boom cause a slight downturn in the economy, 3) the downturn was exacerbated by the events of September 11, 2001.

I would suggest that these factors account for the decline in incomes from 2000 onwards, since those declines were across all educational levels. PhDs' income fell as well, as college graduates, as well as high school graduates. Those are people who were unlikely to have been thrown off of welfare.

However, the declines in income at the lower education levels began in the early 70's in the case of the poorly-educated, and in the early 80's for the high school graduates.

The decline of manufacturing employment and the rise of economic output first in Japan, and more lately in China and India may account for much of the decline. More international competition hits the lowest incomes the most.

It would be interesting to see the income graph combined with two other graphs: that of union membership (as a proxy for low-skilled employment) and legal/illegal immigration (since competition for low-skilled jobs has increased with the increasing levels of immigration--thus driving down wages.)

In the end, it is probably all of these factors and more that have caused these incomes to fall. (Including the overall decline of standards in education. A diploma just isn't worth much any more, since people seem to be able to get them who barely know how to read.)

Tax Incidence I - Ec10 model

Let's do some tax-incidence analysis a la EC10. I'm rusty, maybe this will do me some good. Let pd be the per unit price consumers pay for oil, let D(pd) be the quantity of oil demanded as a function of price, let ps be the per unit price suppliers get for their quantity supplied S(ps), and let t be the tax per unit that the government collects. It doesn't matter if it collects it from suppliers or consumers. In order to reach equilibrium in a competitive market, we need demand to equal supply:


and payments by consumers to equal receipts by the suppliers plus receipts by the government


What is the effect on pd of a change in the tax? Substituting pd-t for ps in the first equation, taking the derivative with respect to t, and solving for dpd/dt, we get:


Here D'=dD/dpd (the slope of the demand curve, as seen from the p axis) and S'=dS/dps (the slope of the supply curve as seen from the p axis). So when D'=0, meaning D doesn't change much when pd changes, dpd/dt =1, so the increase in tax just increases the price to consumers by that same amount. Consumers foot the bill. The situation is similar to this:

Ignore that stuff about shifting S. Not sure what that's supposed to mean. On the other hand, as S' goes to zero, dpd/dt heads to zero. In this case, a tax increase will be paid by the supplier. The situation is similar to this:

So which graph represents our oil market? Probably neither. But politicians who want to raise taxes on oil companies or at the pump better hope it’s not the first. I got these images from here.

Science Without Experiments - Jim Manzi

Jim Manzi has written a very nice article in National Review, "Science Without Experiments."
The trend since the 1950s has been that policy-relevant science has become increasingly resistant to falsification testing, because it tends to address scientific questions of integrated complexity.
The science that informs public debate increasingly can not use experiments to adjudicate disagreements, and instead must rely on dueling models. We wouldn’t purposely expose randomly selected groups of people to lead paint, and couldn’t build parallel full-size replicas of earth and pump differing levels of CO2 into them.
Serious scientists in fields dominated by integrated complexity are constantly trying to develop methods for testing hypotheses, but the absence of decisive experiments makes it much easier for groupthink to take hold. A much larger proportion of scientists self-identify as liberal than conservative, so when scientific questions of integrated complexity impinge on important political questions, the opportunities for unconscious bias are pretty obvious. Hasty conservative political pushback (e.g., “global warming is a hoax”) naturally creates further alienation between these politicians and scientists. The scientists then find political allies who have political reasons for accepting their conclusions; consequently, many conservatives come to see these scientists as pseudo-objective partisans. This sets up a vicious cycle. Unfortunately, that’s where we find ourselves now in far too many areas.

I think he's right. Further, the fact is that not all science is created equal. For example, the social sciences generally don't have, and likely never will have, the same grounding in repeatable experiment that physics and chemistry have. There are exceptions of course. Is Sociology really any more scientific than Economics is? Unfortunately, much of political policy is based on these softer-sciences. Unfortunately, much of climate science seems pretty soft. I suspect that the general public understands this, and that much of its skepticism stems from this understanding.

Ann says: As for social science studies, they are often statistics generated. Do a poll, research demographics, etc. But few studies actually include a professional statistician as one of the people setting up the study. This was the problem with the famous Mann Hockey Stick graph that really set off the global warming scare. It was a badly designed statistical analysis, that a highly-trained statistician would have caught.

Of course, then you have flagrant invention of data, such as the famous study of gun ownership in Revolutionary War times by Michael Bellisles. He claimed there were few guns back then, but conveniently, claimed that much of his original sources were destroyed in a flood. When people tried to replicate his data, the couldn't. It took several years before his study was roundly accepted to be a fake.

Post-modern foriegn policy

One of the greatest and disastrous fads in academics has been the move to post-modernism. Basically the idea that nothing has any inherent meaning, that facts aren't really facts at all, just artificial constructs one can choose to accept or reject. This, of course, leads to the converse: the acceptance of non-facts as a higher and greater truth.

There is a famous case--famous probably because of the resulting, frivolous lawsuit--of a liberal, but old-school, professor at Wellesley coming down hard on Afro-centric "history".
[ TIME ] Lefkowitz's book is an amplification of a controversial article she wrote for the New Republic in 1992, after learning that Afrocentric "myths" were being taught as fact on her own campus. Students called the author a racist for publicly challenging the assertions of an Afrocentrist guest lecturer. More shocking to her was the silence of colleagues who, though they shared her opinions of Afrocentrist teaching, refused to speak up lest they be judged politically incorrect.

The real problem with Afrocentrism, Lefkowitz concludes, is not that its "truths" about Greece and Egypt are false. More dangerous is the underlying attitude that all history is fiction, which can be manipulated at will for political ends. The enthronement of this view on campus, Lefkowitz warns, means the death of academic discourse as we know it. Sadly, that seems to be happening. Better for all if Not Out of Africa stirs an equally fierce--and fair--polemic from the other side.

Now think about two items posted on Powerline today:

"Not Ready for Late Night Infomercial Time"
Repeatedly through the campaign so far, Barack Obama has demonstrated a troubling lack of familiarity with American history, especially diplomatic history. Obama's cluelessness about diplomacy has raised troubling questions about whether he is qualified to be President.

and "He can't be serious"
Jennifer Rubin catches Barack Obama in what looks like a serious misstatement about his telephone conversation with Iraqi foreign minister Hoshay Zebari. According to Obama, Zebari didn’t raise the issue of Obama’s troop withdrawal plans. But Zebari's account, as presented by the Washington Post, paints a different picture: “My message. . .was very clear. . . . Really, we are making progress. I hope any actions you will take will not endanger this progress.”

The first of these shows a general lack of knowledge of even recent history. The second that Obama's words and honesty are not exactly closely correlated.

In other words, both show a disdain for facts, for the artificial construct of the truth. We may be about to elect a president who has lived in the world that the post-modernists have created all of his life--there is no truth, so why try to adhere to it? There are no facts, so why try to learn any?

An ignorant man, more inexperienced than any other candidate in decades is about to be our next president. Joy.

One leg tied behind his back

Right now, the guys playing in the upper levels of professional golf are doing a number of things:

1) Worrying about their friend Tiger, as he pulls out of the rest of the season.

2) Celebrating the fact that now they will have a chance at winning something--Tiger has won 6 of the last 7 tournaments he's been in.

3) Shaking their heads that this guy beat them despite having a broken leg--and I don't just mean the knee. He played the Open with a stress fracture in his tibia.

Like many, I was watching the Open. It is always timed to coincide with Father's day--and this was Tiger's first as a father himself.

One moment stood out for me. On Saturday, after playing 53 holes of golf, it was clear he was really hurting. Walking off the 17th green and on to the tee shot at 18, Tiger was walking very stiffly, hands in his pockets; walking like every step was painful and like he was dreading the drive he was about to make.

But a stroke or two later, all that changed. Walking to the green on 18, he was striding. Walking like he hadn't a care or a pain in the world. I thought: Here's a man who, despite being in pain, would never, ever walk onto the 18th green at a major tournament showing any kind of pain or hesitation. He wouldn't do that to the fans, and he wouldn't do that to himself. Then I thought, "There's Earl Woods' son."

That stride onto the 18th green was a great testament to a great dad.

Spanking Pat Buchanan

Victor Davis Hanson wields the paddle quite effectively.

Buchanan's thesis, that WWII was unnecessary and could have been avoided if we had been nicer to Hitler's Germany is laughable. Pat Buchanan continues to be an embarrassment, and often presented as a spokesman for Conservative America. "Paleocon" is generally the term that is used for him. Maybe Pliocene-con would be more fitting.

McCain on the Attack!

Continuing from the previous post, we see McCain countering Obama's lack of boldness with a strong attack. Not wasting any time, he plumbs the depths of his own misunderstanding:

There is the further problem of speculation on the oil futures market, which in many cases has nothing to do with the actual sale, purchase, or delivery of oil. [...] [W]e all know that some people on Wall Street are not above gaming the system. When you have enough speculators betting on the rising price of oil, that itself can cause oil prices to keep on rising. And while a few reckless speculators are counting their paper profits, most Americans are coming up on the short end -- using more and more of their hard-earned paychecks to buy gas for the truck, tractor, or family car. Investigation is underway to root out this kind of reckless wagering, unrelated to any kind of productive commerce, because it can distort the market, drive prices beyond rational limits, and put the investments and pensions of millions of Americans at risk. Where we find such abuses, they need to be swiftly punished.

Breathtaking! The man has come to play ball, giving 110% percent and taking it one game at a time. Extra credit for that bit about "productive commerce." The good old "labor theory of value" is always a winner.

How exactly does speculation in the oil futures market drive up the price of oil? Suppose I bet you that oil will be over $300/barrel next June. I am not buying any oil. Neither are you. I agree to pay you the difference in dollars if oil is under $300, you will pay me the difference if it's over $300. One of us will likely come out on top next June, but will our demand for oil change? No. Will a third party's demand for oil change? No. Will the quantity of oil supplied change? No. Will prices be affected by our bet? No. Please enlighten me John McCain, Dennis Kucinich, and Bill O'Reilly. Explain to me the mechanism, then maybe I will be willing to continue listening to your blathering.

Speculation in real estate and stocks (not in futures) is not the same thing, because in these cases speculators actually go out and buy houses, land or stock. If enough people do this, demand increases. The market becomes a seller's market, and the price goes up. But speculation in oil futures does not involve going out and buying oil, sequestering it in a tank somewhere with the plan of selling it later. If that were how it worked, then yes, it would affect the price. But that's not the way it works.

I wonder if McCain et al. believe that betting on a horse increases its speed. I wonder if they think buying homeowner's insurance boosts burglary rates. I'm afraid that they might.

Obama the Luddite


"Globalization and technology and automation all weaken the position of workers," [Obama] said, and a strong government hand is needed to assure that wealth is distributed more equitably.

What fun! The presidential candidates are in a contest to see who is more economically ignorant. Obama opens with a classic Luddite platform, with a bit of socialism thrown in for flavor. Not a particularly bold opening strategy, but certainly a safe one. Once McCain counters, there will be plenty of opportunities to pull out the really inane ideas. National Industrial Policy perhaps? Let's wait and see!

Found via Instapundit.

* Ann comments: It dumbfounds me how, with a population of 300 million people, we ended up with these two as our only choices. They are both awful. We should be able to do better than this.

Now the clouds roll by

In "Singing in the Rain", neither the female nor the male lead are the ones to watch for the really fantastic dancing. Gene Kelly might have been the star and lauded for his dancing abilities, but just put in the disk, forward to "Moses Supposes" and see whose dancing draws your attention most. Donald O'Connor has greater grace and fluidity--and even style--in that routine. You can also tell that the filmmakers knew it. You see, through most of the really difficult bits, O'Connor is the one on the left of the screen. All else being equal, that's the side most people's eyes are drawn to (probably because we read left to right and we are hard-wired to look first to the left.) So, traditionally in dancing, you put your best dancers on the audience's left. You've gotta think that even Gene Kelly knew that, and knew which of the two of them should get the prime placement. This speaks a lot for Kelly, that he knew a better dancer when he saw one and wasn't such an ego as to place himself always in the prime spot.

After you've watched "Moses" a half dozen times, find the "Make 'Em Laugh" routine to see a dancer putting his life on the line for a fantastic routine. Pick any of the great wow-dances from Astaire (eg. dancing with a hat rack, or on the ceiling) and put it up against "Make 'Em Laugh" and my guess is most people would pick O'Connor's choreography and death-defying antics. Astaire couldn't have done that routine, and I doubt Kelly could have either. According to the IMDB:
For the "Make Em Laugh" number, Gene Kelly asked 'Donald O'Connor' to revive a trick he had done as a young dancer, running up a wall and completing a somersault. The number was so physically taxing that O'Connor, who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day at the time, went to bed (or may have been hospitalized, depending on the source) for a week after its completion, suffering from exhaustion and painful carpet burns. Unfortunately, an accident ruined all of the initial footage, so after a brief rest, O'Connor, ever the professional, agreed to do the difficult number all over again.

As for Debbie Reynolds; the 19 year old actress had never danced before being cast in "Singing in the Rain". For a complete novice, she did a pretty good job holding her own between O'Connor and Kelly.

But to watch a great dancer once again stealing the spotlight from Gene Kelly, go to "Broadway Melody" and watch Cyd Charisse. Lithe, lanky, and beautiful, she steals the show. I can't think of any other dance from the golden age of the MGM musical as dramatic and sensual as Cyd's work in her only scene in the movie.

Sadly, Cyd Charisse died on Tuesday here in Los Angeles.

Here's Astaire commenting on Charisse:
"When you dance with Cyd Charisse, you've been danced with."

Now I'm going to pop in one of her movies and enjoy a great dancer in her prime.

Grinnell again

I was surprised to come across a mention of Grinnell College on National Review's an article by Thomas Sowell, no less:

[ Measuring college outputs ] One of my own favorite measures of output— the percentage of a college’s graduates who go on to get Ph.D.s — was not used by either set of evaluations.

Small colleges dominate the top ten in sending their alumni on to get doctorates. Grinnell College, which was not among the top ten on either the U.S. News list or on Professor Vedder’s list, sends a higher percentage of its graduates on to get Ph.D.s than does either Harvard or Yale.


The college I went to is right smack between flooded Des Moines and flooded Iowa City. So, naturally, I was worried about the condition of the campus. Turns out, there was no need to be worried. (Background info: about a third of the campus of Grinnell College is on the opposite side of a set of railroad tracks from the rest of campus--at times, you'd have to wait for the train to go by to go to class.)

[ Grinnell College ] As much of Iowa and the Midwest battle rising waters, we are fortunate in Grinnell to confront only storms, waterlogged gardens, and wet basements. When the Rock Island Railroad identified "the summit of the divide between the Skunk and Iowa Rivers" to intersect their tracks, then J.B. Grinnell established his "colony," and then trustees relocated the campus in 1858, it assured the College — figuratively and now literally — would stand on solid ground.

Shows you they were a smart bunch of folks back then.

Unintended consequences

I love this.

[ London Mayor Boris Johnson on deciding to wear a helmet:] As I cycled around, I felt a surge of bonneted righteousness. I was socialised; I was showing a proper sense of community, and that is why I turned around on my doorstep, and within another three seconds I would have gone back to get my helmet, and I would have fastened the chinstrap of social obedience … except that for some reason I didn't. After weeks of helmeted conformity, I had a spasm of rebellion - and it is hard to say exactly why.

[On the other hand...] I have also brooded on the results of some study in Australia, which showed that making bike helmets compulsory deterred so many people from cycling that there was a rise in obesity - and more people ended up dying of heart attacks than were saved by the head-gear.

Fight the Smears

The Obama people have opened up a "Fight the Smears" website. Sounds like a nice idea, but it's been done before. The trouble with these things is that they quickly devolve into political positioning rather than clarifications. It won't be long before you see this sort of thing:

  • Lie: Obama's healthcare plan will result in healthcare shortages and increased costs.
  • Fact: Obama's plan calls for health care for every American at a savings of hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

  • Lie: Obama's plan to raise taxes will hinder economic growth and cost Americans jobs.
  • Fact: Obama's economic plan calls for tax fairness and economic opportunities for all Americans.

  • Lie: Obama's foreign policy will encourage our enemies and legitimize dictators.
  • Fact: Obama's plan calls for a strong and peaceful America.

You get the picture. Also, it seems that the site has already done its own job of smearing.

The first smear mentioned: "LIE: Rush Limbaugh says a tape exists of Michelle Obama using the word 'whitey' from the pulpit of Trinity United." Well. No. This is what Limbaugh said: "The rumor is -- and we don't like dealing with rumors here -- but the rumor is that Michelle Obama from the pulpit of this church used the term 'whitey.' Some are saying be very careful with this because she might have said 'why'd he,' why did he, the contraction 'why'd he' instead of 'whitey.' " He added: "I can't find anybody who's seen it."

Fight the Smears is not off to a good start.

Krauthammer On Oil Taxes

I think Charles Krauthammer is one of the brightest pundits out there. His articles are always worth reading. Here, he points out the benefits of a tax on energy.

Unfortunately, instead of hiking the price ourselves by means of a gasoline tax that could be instantly refunded to the American people in the form of lower payroll taxes, we let the Saudis, Venezuelans, Russians, and Iranians do the taxing for us — and pocket the money that the tax would have recycled back to the American worker.
Greg Mankiw links to Krauthammer's article too, as part of his ongoing series of links to relevant to the "Pigou Club." While I generally agree with the benefits of such a tax, I am less certain about what the outcome would be.

It's clear that if people know they are going to get rebated for a gas tax (as Charles indicates), then the tax will have no effect at all. In particular, whatever money is going to the Saudis etc. will continue to go there. Yes, this is true within the idealized model of the economy, but that's the playing field for economic analysts, isn't it?

It is not clear to me why the oil supply is more inelastic than the demand. Charles' and others' implicit assumption that an oil tax (or "windfall profits tax") will not just be passed on to consumers is based on a tax incidence analysis that you can read about here.

Unless the supply curve is steeper than the demand curve, at least half of the tax will show up as higher prices.

I have another point to make about this, to follow in another post.

I think it's important to remember that economics isn't really a science. For every economist that says oil prices will not rise much with a tax, you can probably find another who will say the opposite. Even if the economists agree on the equations governing the economy, they might not agree as to the outcome of a particular policy. Such equations, like theorems in math, are only correctly applied when the conditions fundamental to the theorem are met. With economics, there is most often a large degree of uncertainty as to the state of the economy or market under examination. Economists can't even agree if we are in a recession now or not.


This is kind of fun:

I didn't know until now that the original such Obama posters were made by ObeyGiant, an urban collective art project that's been around for twenty years or so. You have probably seen those creepy black, white and red "Obey" stickers pasted around cities.
The face in those stickers is wrestler/actor Andre the Giant, by the way. I can't say that I ever appreciated the whole "vandalism as art" thing. Now it seems to have gone a bit commercial and main$tream. And endorsing a presidential candidate? Doesn't seem very counter-culture to me. I wonder what ObeyGiant's positions on Social Security and free trade are.

The Lives of Others

This is the twentieth anniversary of Ronald Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech at the Brandenburg gate. A great moment.

Coincidentally, I happened to see "The Lives of Others" last night. It's a very good film that I highly recommend. It won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. This guy gives it a very appreciative and well-written review.

In-state Tuition for Illegal Aliens

This post points to a case that may be considered by the Supreme Court regarding in-state tuition for illegal aliens at colleges and universities. It seems to me that the Kansas law (and similar laws in other states) is intended to allow for lower tuition for all residents of Kansas, without regard to their immigrant status. Thus they grant in-state tuition to illegal aliens who graduated from Kansas high schools, but not to US citizens who graduate from, say, Missouri high schools. This doesn't seem unreasonable to me, Kansas may want to encourage the education of its residents, illegal or not. I don't see why I should care if Kansas wants to spend its tax dollars that way. The Kansas statute, according to what I could find on the web, requires illegal aliens to apply for legal status before this benefit is granted.

However, this also seems to be in violation of a federal law enacted during the Clinton administration:

Section 1623. Limitation on eligibility for preferential treatment
of aliens not lawfully present on basis of residence for higher education benefits

(a) In general
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any post secondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.
(b) Effective date
This section shall apply to benefits provided on or after July 1, 1998.

It looks to me that this law was specifically written to prevent tuition benefits such as the one in Kansas, especially that bit about "without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident." So, whether or not one agrees with the law in Kansas, there is another issue, which is the enforcement of federal law. For some reason, immigration laws don't seem to carry the same weight as other federal laws. It has gotten to the point where towns, cities, and states feel free to flaunt (standard usage now!?
) them.

This, I think, is a serious problem. Government is not going to work if people feel free to ignore laws they don't agree with, with the understanding that the executive branch is not interested in enforcement. If congress passes a law, and the executive branch ignores it while the court chooses not to hear the case, it amounts to an extra-constitutional veto.

Addendum- Thinking about this a bit more, it may be that Kansas is ok with this federal law, if it actually makes sure that illegal aliens apply for resident status before they get the benefit. Just applying may give the alien legal status while his or her application is being processed.


Congratulations to Ireland for rejecting the Lisbon Treaty.

Due to France and Belgium Holland--two countries who couldn't be more central to the EU--rejecting the Eurocrats' last attempt at forming a European super-state in 2005, only Ireland was permitted to hold a referendum this time around. And they were allowed it only because their constitution demanded it. If there was any way around it, the EU would have found a way.

As of now the results are:

No: 53.66%
Yes: 46.34%
with 45.56% of the votes counted.

There are already rumblings among the European elite about implementing the treaty anyway through the back door. After all, pesky little things like public opinion and democracy should not be allowed to stand in the way of the Great European Project.

There goes the sun

With the recent reports that the sun has gone dormant with respect to sunspots, and with reports that other planets seem to be showing signs of cooling, it would be nice if we could come up with a space-based temperature measurement.

My guess is, that this would be easy.

I would think the Hubble, telecommunications satellites, or any number of artificial satellites probably have thermocouples on board to determine whether the thermal-shielding is working properly. I would think the Hubble's solar panels would have some sort of a heat tracking system--heck, what is a space-based solar panel but one big solar-output measuring device.

So, shouldn't we be able to assemble at least 18 years worth of solar output statistics based on such data? It would be interesting to see the variations and get a measurement that isn't tainted by light scattering in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, feedback loops, or environmental gasbags.

Addendum by Steve: This is already done, I believe, by NASA.
"Our friend the sun. The sun is by far the hottiest planet in the solar system and would burn if...burn you...if you tried to eat it."
-Chris Peterson

Tanzanian Albinos

It's wrong to judge others' cultures...
At least 19 albinos have been killed in Tanzania in the past year, victims of a growing trade in albino body parts.

but come on! Read the whole story. I am keenly aware of how fortunate I am for having been born in the USA.

Canadian Human Rights Commission

From the Great White North:
Mr. Boissoin and [his organization] The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. shall cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.

What will those affable little snow creatures think of next? I can see why the American Left continues to see Canada as some sort of paradise. It doesn't have that pesky 1st amendment to stand in the way of progress.

As an American, I am often offended by insensitive comments coming out of Canada. Perhaps I should file a complaint with their Human Rights commission too. It's time to stop the hate.

Is it Them or Me?

I watched Juno last night. This is the critically acclaimed movie from last year that won an academy award for best screenplay. It's a story about Juno, a 16 year old high school student who gets pregnant and decides to give the baby up for adoption. You can see from RottenTomatoes that it got a 100% rating from top critics. Roger Ebert, in particular, gave it a gushing review and declared it the best picture of the year.

I beg to differ. I think the movie was ok, and I made it through to the end, but it is not anywhere near as good at the critics say. In fact, much of what audiences and critics liked about the movie I just found tiresome:

1) The characters aren't remotely real. Juno's character in particular behaves like no 16 year old I ever knew. This is especially so in the first 15 minutes of the movie, where her reaction to her pregnancy is insouciance and little else. Her hip-ness and coolness grates on you throughout the entire movie. Only her mother in law (surprisingly), her father, and her boyfriend seem remotely real, but they are not very central to the movie. Frankly, even the characters in the quirky Napoleon Dynamite seem more real.

2) The dialog is too edgy for its own good. Every line between Juno and her friend is filled with hip jargon and foul language. Practically every slang word ever uttered is worked in somehow. Boss? Her boyfriend is boss? Juno and the adoptive father-to-be discuss obscure punk bands from the 70s. Sure. Juno discusses admiringly the films of Dario Argento, citing Suspiria (1977) in particular. Give me a break. Suspiria, by today's standards (Saw and Hostel,) would seem like a joke to today's 16 year old.

3) The music. So very very bad. It's a collection of indie rock/folksongs from no-talent "bands." I guess having no musical ability is what passes for talent these days. If you can't sing or play guitar, why not celebrate that fact and become an indie folk-rock singer/guitar-player? Anyone can make an album these days. It doesn't mean everyone should.

I seem to be getting more and more removed from mainstream tastes in movies. I'm not sure why. I had a similar reaction to "Dan in Real Life," another critically acclaimed stinker filled with characters I would avoid in real life.

Hence the title of this post. Is it them or me?


On my former blog, I used to carefully track the employment statistics which came out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics each month. This means that the first Friday of every month is Data Day!!

What has surprised me most in the past year and a half, is that the job numbers have been really pathetic for 18 months now, but the press has said very little about them.

If you're unfamiliar with how this report works, here's a primer.

There are actually 2 employment reports that come out each month. The first is the "Household Survey". The BLS calls people up and asks them if they and other adults in their house have jobs. That's then tallied into one employment number. It is this survey which provides the data for the Unemployment Rate, which this month is up to 5.5%.

The second survey is the "Establishment Survey". The BLS calls major employers and asks them how many people are working in their factory/offices. This is usually the data that is talked about each month.

I track both, but it is the Household Survey that has been the most interesting.

The numbers have been a flat line since December, 2006.

The average number of jobs added a month from 3/04 - 12/06 was 231,000.
The average number of jobs added a month from 12/06 - 6/08 was    6,667.

Now, I've speculated that these numbers aren't quite what they seem, because there are a number of factors adding in to these.

For example, in May, 08, the number of people reporting that they have jobs dropped by 285,000, but the size of the labor force grew by 577,000. Creating a swing of 861,000 more unemployed. Where did the half a million people now looking for work come from? In April that number was only 173,000 (and 362,000 new jobs were added, for a positive swing of 189,000 fewer unemployed.)

Other factors which may be adding to the flat-line:

  • Reports keep coming in that illegal aliens are leaving the country for home. Since the BLS has no way of distinguishing a legal from an illegal person over the phone, they are included in the statistics. As they leave, the number of job-seekers and job-holders should drop.

  • At some point soon, the Baby Boomers' retirement will begin being a major force in these statistics. Early retirements are already hitting the statistics as the start of the wave is turning 63. Ten years from now the peak of the baby boom will be in their early 60's and starting to leave the work force. This has been talked about as a major problem for the future—lack of workers to pay for the massive numbers of retirees, but no one puts 2 and 2 together and mentions that the employment statistics must take a hit accordingly.

Which brings me to the odd question: if there have been essentially no jobs added in the last year and a half, why aren't the media using that fact in their arsenal to bash Bush with?

My guess, in line with what I said in a post below (about statistics being the most-important/worst-taught class in school), I doubt there's a reporter out there competent enough in either basic math or the workings of a spread sheet to bother putting the data in every month. It takes about 3 minutes to update a chart, but I guess hunting for the next Larry Craig is more interesting.

The Culture of Brookline

From a local blogger:
Thanks to a reader, it has come to my attention there are some mistakes in one of my stories from today’s paper. In “Review requested of Conquest inquisition” the phrase “an African-American” is italicized. This is a mistake. It was not in my original story and occurred while the page was being laid out and paginated. Furthermore, the term should read “a black man.” I sincerely apologize for these mistakes. They were not meant to hurt or offend anyone.
I salute this blogger for coming clean and apologizing. It's hard to believe such transgressions still occur in the blue-est of blue states. Let the healing begin.

Five Spot After Dark

We look better than we sound.

And I'm not saying we look good!

Ann: Wow! Jerry Garcia lives!

Vanity Faire Hitpiece

I am certainly no fan of Bill Clinton. I think a lot of Democrats were willfully blind to his problems for years, but now, finally, waking up to them.

That said, the much-talked-about Vanity Fair piece by Todd Purdum is a disgusting piece of bull.

There are almost no on-record, attributed quotes. A large portion of it is nothing but a guilt-by-association attack (Clinton associates with playboys, therefor...wink, wink!)

The worst part is the quasi-medical claim that Clinton is effectively suffering from arterial plaque-induced dementia. Basically, the claim is that since some of his coronary arteries were 90% blocked, it stands to reason that the ones in his brain are blocked too--they fixed the heart ones, but the ones in his brain are causing his strange behavior.

Clinton is right to say there is hardly a fact in the entire piece.

I'm not one to carry water for Bill Clinton, but this piece should never have been printed in a major magazine.

Vanity Fair should be ashamed of themselves for allowing a grudge and innuendo such a prominent place in their pages.


Another thing to add to my sisters posts, gas and gas II. This comes from Gateway Pundit via Classical Values. Here is a map showing where offshore drilling is prohibited:

I think it's pretty telling. Look who doesn't have any qualms about drilling 50 miles from Key West:

Juicy Gossip

There's a lot of buzz out there about a video tape in which Michelle Obama makes some offensive statements about "Whitey." Mostly it seems to be getting pushed by this guy.

I think it's bogus, and way past the "put up or shut up stage." But what I find interesting, and hilarious, is that even though nobody has seen such a tape, there is already a response to it. Obama supporters are claiming that she's not saying "whitey" at all, she's saying "why'd he." A completely fabricated response to what is at this point a non-existent tape!

My Alma Mater

My college made the LA Times today, with a story about a handful of inner city kids who went to a college in the corn fields.

Franco and Herrera entered tiny, idyllic Grinnell four years ago as members of a "posse" of 10 disadvantaged but promising high school graduates from Los Angeles.

By banding together, the students would help one another navigate unfamiliar academic and social terrain in this remote college town surrounded by fields of corn.

Grinnell would cover their tuition -- $1 million worth -- and in return get a little more diversity on its campus of 1,500 students, virtually all of them white.

The story was a follow-up to one they did in 2004.

Gas II

I spent some time on the DoE's stats pages, and made this graph. The blue line is gasoline "U.S. Total Gasoline All Sales/Deliveries by Prime Supplier" which I have normalized to January 1985's value. As you can see, it has gone up by 28.4%. The pink line is the "U. S. Operating Crude Oil Distillation Capacity", which I have again normalized to January 1985. It has gone up only 19.9%. So our gasoline sales have gone up 10% more than our refineries have been producing.

Gee, I just don't understand why gas prices have gone through the roof?!

Which just goes to show that the second most-poorly taught, and second most-important subject in American schools* is Economics. Gee, supply and demand? Never heard of it.

* the number 1 worst-taught/most-important subject is statistics.


I had a coworker last week decry the rise in gas prices. She seemed genuinely clueless about why it was happening.

To me it is so mindbogglingly obvious why it was happening, that I was a bit dumbfounded at her lack of knowledge. I explained that 10 years ago neither China nor India were using nearly the amount of energy resources that they are now, and that there have been world-wide supply problems--such as in Nigeria, and pretty much stopped there. I figured going into the complete lack of adequate refinery capacity would be a bit out of her depth.

But not beyond "Reason". Here's an article they wrote on the fact that there has not been a single refinery built in the US in 32 years.

But getting an oil refinery built is next to impossible, hence the 30-year construction drought. There will always be environmental activists who fight any new proposed refinery, regardless of where it might be located and how environmentally safe it is. And our environmental rules give them the upper hand.

The environmental impact-report process mobilizes the "not in my back yard" elements to oppose any proposed refinery, but it does not mobilize people or groups who are looking at national energy needs. You wind up with a very lopsided discussion where potential problems are thoroughly and perhaps overly represented, but the only group pointing out the benefits of the refinery is the "evil" oil company asking to build it - even though every automobile driver would benefit.

Carpe Diem--where I found the Reason link--posted a graph of the number of refineries since the 1950's.

He didn't give a source for his graph, but a quick search for "operable oil refineries" pulled up this data from the Department of Energy.

And on this page at the DOE stats site, supply and demand appears in two stunning numbers at the bottom of the page:

Total World Oil Production (2005): 82,532,000 barrels/day
Total World Petroleum Consumption (2005): 83,607,000 barrels/day

That's a production deficit of over 1 million barrels a day. Carry that out over years, and price must rise rather staggeringly.

Decline of math education

What to see how math education has deteriorated over the last half century? This is from Britain, but I'm sure it would apply equally here in the states. Here are sample questions of exit exams over the decades. The first two are reasonable, the ones from more recent decades are pathetic:

There is an accompanying article at the Daily Telegraph.