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Updated: 19 min 31 sec ago

Lunchtime Photo

1 hour 52 min ago

We didn’t get a total eclipse here in Southern California, but that only lasts a couple of hours anyway. So why not visit this summer and enjoy our lovely beaches? You can spend days or weeks enjoying our golden sunshine. Doesn’t that really sound better?

Categories: Politics

Donald Trump Is An…Oh Forget It

2 hours 15 min ago

Somehow, Donald Trump can always find a new way to be stupid. How does he do it?

Categories: Politics

Being the First Name on the Ballot Has a Huge Effect

2 hours 26 min ago

Here’s a fascinating bit of political science research. It’s a few months old, but I just recently found out about it. In Texas, names are placed on the ballot in different orders depending on the county. The order is selected randomly, which allows an examination of whether being first on the ballot matters very much. Darren Grant of Sam Houston State University did exactly that, and he found that it really, really makes a difference:

Across all twenty-four contests, the effect is invariably positive and, with two exceptions in runoff elections, statistically significant. The smallest effects are found in high-profile, high information races: the Republican primary for U.S. Senator, which featured the incumbent, John Cornyn; the governor’s race, which featured long-time Attorney General Greg Abbott; and Land Commissioner, which featured well-known political newcomer George P. Bush. In these races the ballot order effect is only one or two percentage points.

Larger estimates obtain for most “medium-profile, medium-information” races such as Comptroller, Railroad Commissioner, or the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator. Most of these fall in a fairly tight band that ranges from three to five percentage points. Estimates are even larger in the low-profile, low-information judicial elections, generally ranging from seven to ten percentage points. Overall, the ballot order effect tends to be larger in contests that receive less attention and in which voters are likely to know less about the candidates on the ballot.

Here this is in colorful chart form:

In medium and low-profile races, the ballot order effect is big enough that it might decide races all by itself. Even in high-profile races, “one or two percentage points” can be a pretty big effect. There are plenty of races for governor or senator that have been won by less.

In states that don’t randomize ballot order, this means that the first candidate on the ballot has a huge advantage. And this could be true even in states that do. If you got lucky and ended up at the top of the ballot in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, you’d get an advantage in areas with millions of votes, while your opponent would get an advantage in areas with only thousands of votes. And there are certain unusual circumstances where the ballot order effect can be truly massive:

In an ironic twist of fate, we were recently able to [test our hypothesis] with the March, 2016 Texas Republican primary, held just after the first draft of this paper was completed. Featuring a highly visible Presidential race, it drew twice as many voters as in 2014—and had contests for three Supreme Court positions, one of which was between Paul Green and Rick Green, two men with common first names and identical last names. It was The Perfect Storm, and our logic implies that this should lead to large ballot order effects. This is immediately evident in the histogram of county vote shares presented in Figure 2(a), without even looking at ballot order: in a race won with 52.1% of the statewide vote, virtually no county’s vote was nearly evenly split. Instead Paul Green’s vote shares are bifurcated into two clusters, one around 40%, and another around 60%, suggesting a ballot order effect approaching twenty percentage points. The regression results in Figure 2(c) confirm this: the coefficient estimate is 19.4 percentage points. We have never seen a ballot order effect this large, and may never again.

Since different counties had different ballot orders, this might not have made a difference in the final result. But with an effect that gigantic, getting even a little bit lucky with the ballot order in the biggest cities might have made the difference.

I’m not sure if there’s a policy answer to this. At the very least, ballot order should always be randomized. Beyond that, Grant suggests that if you’re not sure who to vote for, vote for the person at the bottom of the ballot. They could use the help.

Categories: Politics

Here Is Southern California’s 69% Eclipse

3 hours 45 min ago

Sure, sure, you can do better at the NASA site, with all their fancy telescopes and stuff. But what you really want to know is what the eclipse looked like in my backyard with a cheap camera. Right? Well, here you go:

UPDATE: Hey, this is a perfect opportunity to try out my camera’s HDR function, which cleverly takes multiple shots at different exposures and then combines them. In theory, this means the camera can properly expose both the sun and the surrounding trees. In theory:

Jeez, you really have to hold the camera steady for HDR to work, don’t you? I’m not so good at that. And I guess there’s a limit to just how much contrast HDR can handle. Either that or I need to learn more about it. I just switched the HDR setting to ON and fired away. Oh well. At least I got a moderately interesting effect out of it.

Categories: Politics

Eclipse Watching With Hilbert

4 hours 21 min ago

Hopper seems to be OK, thank Ra, but after her close call Hilbert insisted on watching the eclipse with proper eye protection:

Hilbert seems to have a mistaken notion of where the sun is right now, but other than that everything worked out fine.

Categories: Politics

Does the Civil War Really Represent “Southern Culture”?

4 hours 29 min ago

This weekend the Washington Post ran a story about a huge Confederate statue in Louisville that was dismantled and shipped off to the town of Brandenburg, which thought it might be a good tourist attraction. Apparently everyone was pretty happy about it except for Mildred Brown, an African-American seamstress who’s lived there for 50 years:

She recalled telling him [the judge executive in Meade County] that having the monument was a mistake. It was a symbol of dark times — dark enough that she no longer went to the riverfront. “It doesn’t unify us,” she said. “It separates us.”

He recalled telling her: “Don’t worry, we’re not going to let people come down there and throw a fit and have Confederate flags and call names.” He also said the monument was about preserving a part of history with a lot of nuance. “It had a whole lot more to it than slavery,” he said.

I don’t want to pretend to be naive, but when Southerners talk about these statues representing their heritage, or their history, or their culture, what heritage do they think it represents? Let’s assume they don’t buy the argument that these statues are mostly 20th century monuments to Jim Crow and white terror. Fine. They’re certainly monuments to the Civil War. I can understand why northern states would build monuments to the war, but why would Southern states do it? It was a war of treason. It was a war to protect slavery, even if there were other catalysts too. It was a war of white supremacy. It was a war of personal bravery in defense of the indefensible. It was a war they lost.

From the perspective of 2017, what exactly is there to honor about that? What’s the party line here?

Categories: Politics

Eclipse Claims First Victim

5 hours 29 sec ago

And so it begins:

No, wait, don’t look at it!


Categories: Politics

Why Is Household Debt So High in Canada?

5 hours 15 min ago

This is, once again, apropos of nothing in particular. I just happened to come across it:

Household debt wasn’t the driver of the financial collapse in the United States, but it certainly played a role. And since the Great Recession, households have delevered considerably, from 100 percent to about 80 percent.

But in Canada, leverage went up during the recession and has kept going up ever since. They’re now above the highest point of the US housing bubble. Is this a problem?

Categories: Politics

But Her Emails

5 hours 50 min ago

Did the press go overboard on its coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email server?

I wish reporters would honestly engage with this question. I don’t think anyone has ever suggested that the emails and the FBI investigation weren’t a story. Of course they were. The question is, were they this big a story?

Or this big?

This question isn’t important because it’s worthwhile to relitigate 2016 forever, but because it matters for the future. The press got badly played on the Clinton Foundation story, which was almost completely baseless, and they got played only slightly less on the email story, which was kept alive by a calculated campaign to drip information to the press every week—mostly from sources that should have set alarm bells ringing instead.

Pointing out the failures of Hillary Clinton’s campaign is fine but nonresponsive. The question isn’t whether there were lots of things that decided the 2016 race—there were—or whether Clinton’s emails should have been covered at all—of course they should have been. The question is about editorial judgment in an era of widespread media manipulation. If we don’t want 2020 to be like 2016, political reporters should be willing to ask some hard questions about how and why Hillary Clinton’s emails got such massively outsized attention.

Categories: Politics

It’s OK If You Don’t Have Eclipse-Mania

7 hours 48 min ago

Some of you don’t have eclipse-mania. I’m here to tell you that it’s OK:

Now get back to work.

Categories: Politics

Quote of the Day: “That’s Too Bad”

Sun, 08/20/2017 - 23:00

From Donald J. Trump, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, asked about the collision between an oil tanker and an American destroyer,¹ which resulted in a toll of ten sailors missing and five injured:

That’s too bad.

This is what I’d say if my wife told me the supermarket was sold out of her favorite breakfast cereal. You’d think the president of the United States could come up with something a little more heavy-hearted, even if he had to fake it.

¹Yes, another one.

UPDATE: Perhaps Trump didn’t know the details of what had happened:

I still might hope for something better, but perhaps it wasn’t as bad as all that.

Categories: Politics

Raw Data: Job Growth Since 2013

Sun, 08/20/2017 - 14:20

I know this won’t make any difference, but just for the record, here is job growth over each 6-month period¹ since the start of Obama’s second term:

It’s true that we created over a million jobs in the first six months of the Trump era. It’s also true that this was the worst performance of the past five years.

¹The periods I used are actually February-July and August-January in order to capture the first six months of Trump’s presidency.

Categories: Politics

Here’s a Preview of the Eclipse

Sun, 08/20/2017 - 13:36

Here in Southern California, we’ll be getting a 69 percent eclipse at 10:21 am tomorrow. So I figured I should take out my camera and practice today, just to see how hard it really is. And it turns out that all this solar filter stuff is nonsense! I just pointed my camera at the sky and pushed the shutter:

I could barely even see the sun behind all the clouds. What’s all the fuss about?

Categories: Politics

A Conservative’s Offer on Race: Nothing

Sun, 08/20/2017 - 12:49

Over at National Review, Roger Clegg is unhappy:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has just given an appalling speech. From beginning to end it embraces bean-counting on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex in order to reach the right percentages of this, that, and the other….Secretary Tillerson specifically promises a State Department “Rooney Rule”: “Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate.” Not only is such race-based hiring divisive, unfair, and an endorsement of just the sort of identity politics that we ought to have learned by now is poisonous, but it is illegal.

This must have been quite a speech! So I clicked. Here are the relevant bits:

We have a great diversity gap in the State Department….Only about 12 percent of our senior Foreign Service officers are non-white. That number is about the same for our senior executive service.

To better understand our talent pool, I have directed the relevant committees to adopt a new procedure. Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate. Now they may not be ready, but we will know where the talent pool is. A big part of developing our minority leadership is identifying qualified individuals five and 10 years before they are ready to become senior leaders and managing and developing their careers, as we do others, so that they’re undergoing preparations for those senior roles over time.

….We’re also going to re-examine and expand where we recruit from. As some of you know better than most, America’s best and brightest are not just from the Ivy League, but they’re from a lot of other places in the country – Laredo, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; Roanoke, Virginia. They’re kids sitting on the front row of their high school classes, they’re veterans from our military who are coming out of service looking for the next part of their career, and many of them with a strong desire to continue to serve their country. And they’re so gifted in many ways from many walks of life.

Tillerson doesn’t “embrace bean-counting” in order to “reach the right percentages of this, that, and the other.” He merely points out that 88 percent of Foreign Service officers are white. Nor does he really endorse the Rooney Rule. He does say that at least one minority candidate should be interviewed for all ambassador positions, but not because they’re likely to be hired. He wants to do this so “we will know where the talent pool is.” He explicitly says that he’s trying to identify non-white staffers five or ten years “before they are ready to become senior leaders.”

In addition, he wants the State Department to start recruiting from outside the Ivy League, something that any conservative ought to applaud. I certainly applaud it.

This is the problem with conservatives and race. National Review has been pretty good on Charlottesville, but when you turn to lower-profile things like Tillerson’s speech they suddenly become tone deaf. Tillerson is hardly offering anything radical here. He notes that the State Department is a pretty white outfit. He proposes a concrete program to start developing minority talent early. He says they want to start recruiting in places outside the Ivy League. He says they’re going to start recruiting more from the US military. He says diversity is good: “And so whether it’s African American, Latino, Hispanic, women, LGBT, come with experiences I do not know. This enriches the quality of our work. We know we are a stronger organization when we embrace, incorporate diverse points of view into our work product.”

This is a very modest program. It’s not as if Tillerson has invited Black Lives Matter over to advise the State Department. And yet Clegg is outraged. It’s “divisive,” “poisonous,” “illegal,” and “the crudest of stereotyping.” The answer to racial discrimination, he says, is to do absolutely nothing: “This week’s lesson for the Trump administration: It needs to embrace E pluribus unum, and make clear its categorical rejection of identity politics and race-based policy and action, whether politically correct or politically incorrect.”

Nothing. And then conservatives complain that nonwhites all mindlessly vote for the Democratic Party.

Categories: Politics

Nonviolence Is the Perfect Answer to Neo-Nazis

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 15:37

Over at New York magazine, Jesse Singal makes “The Careful, Pragmatic Case Against Punching Nazis.” Unfortunately, it’s more than 2,000 words long. What we need is Shorter Jesse Singal:

Violence just helps the white supremacists; it’s a great recruiting tool for them; and it can easily spiral out of control. Also, we’re liberals. We’re the ones who think violence is a last resort.

So how do we stop these assholes? For my money, we do it like this:

Categories: Politics

Is the Economics Profession Toxic for Women?

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 15:05

For her senior thesis, Berkeley economics major Alice Wu decided to evaluate the conversations in a web forum called Economics Job Market Rumors. All posts in this forum are anonymous, so everyone can let their hair down and say whatever they feel like. Wu’s paper lists the top words associated with conversations about women and the top words associated with conversations about men. Here they are:

Among the top words that predict a conversation about men, about a third are clearly related to economics. For women, it’s close to zero percent. Elsewhere in the paper, Wu shows that conversations about men contain more academic and professional words, while conversations about women contain more words related to physical and personal attributes. As Berkeley economist David Romer put it, the paper reveals “a cesspool of misogyny.”

As you might expect, the EJMR community is unhappy about all the attention they’re now getting. The conversations range from criticism of the mechanics of Wu’s paper (“I’m tempted to use it my class an example of what not to do when designing research when the dust settles down”) to juvenile racist and sexist comments.

The juvenile crap at EJMR is most likely not the work of economists, though. As an anonymous forum, anyone can sign up and post anything they want—and apparently EJMR has pretty lax moderation. This means that the forum has long been infiltrated by random flamers and other idiots: “EJMR is at least 50% trolls from Reddit and other parts of the internet that want a cool place to hang out,” says one commenter. “These people are not economists and are not representative of the profession. lol @ the thought Wu would get any harassment from any economists. If she gets a single email it will be from a Redditard troll.”

One criticism of the paper, then, is that it has no way to distinguish between the comments of serious users and the comments of flamers. That said, a lot of EJMR posters have noted that nobody should be surprised by the results of the paper. For example:

Just skimmed the paper. Compelling in that it shows this website is a cesspool… But we already knew that. What it says about the profession as a whole is less clear. It’s an undergrad thesis, folks. Let’s be nice- it’s a good exercise in data collection and simple textual/statistics analysis.

Or this:

How are people so dense. Of course this place is, on average, a cesspool of racism, misogyny, etc. However, does anyone really think this is a representative sample that can be used to make inferences about the broader population of economists. The paper even states such, but EVERYONE is glossing over that fact. And the fact that well-known economists are selling this as “path breaking” demonstrates how dishonest those at the “top” of our profession are. The correct conclusion is, “EJMR is on average a cesspool. However, the results with respect to the broader profession of economics given the non-random selection of users who frequent EJMR. Basically, results that mean nothing.” But let me be clear, that in no way is an attempt to excuse the dirtbags that do in fact post horrible trash in this forum.

This gets at one of the most consistent themes on EJMR: long, ranty posts about the tyranny of HRMs (“high-rank monkeys,” i.e., economists from top programs) in the economics profession. For example:

Fat Broette economist here….Yes, there’s a lot of misogyny here. When I post here I don’t identify as female because of the usual trolls and I think quite a few Broettes do this as well. This is the downside of EJMR.

The anonymity of EJMR does give me the freedom to voice my opinion, which I feel I can’t really do in the real world. In my opinion, the profession has a bigger problem of HRM vs. LRM. Look how the HRMs had a show of force for Reinhart and Rogoff when they had their Excel scandal. According to them, only HRMs are able to come up with innovative ideas. Heaven forbid an LRM much less a female LRM challenges the status quo. We are shut out of the top journals because of this. f**king wankers.

One particular HRM who comes in for a lot of abuse is Justin Wolfers, who brought this paper to wider attention at the New York Times. For example, there’s this: “When people try to glorify a poorly done research with an article on the NYT, it misleads a whole bunch of people who cannot see through the nuances in the study.” And this: “Does Wolfers take Internet polls as valid too?” And this: “Wolfers is a total douchebag.”

In the end, my guess is that what this paper shows is simple: economics is like any other profession dominated by men. The EJMR forum appears to be about 75 percent male, and it sometimes degenerates into locker room talk.¹ It’s not clear how often this happens, but often enough. The next couple of weeks are likely to be painful for EJMR, but they’ll come out of it all right if they eventually figure out that Wu’s paper isn’t an attack on men, just a useful reminder that we should all try to do better.

¹That is, actual locker room talk, not the stuff Donald Trump does.

Categories: Politics

Southwest Border Apprehensions Continue Their Big Decline

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 12:46

A few months ago I put up a chart showing the decline in Southwest border apprehensions during the first three months of the Trump administration. I was curious to see what it looked like after a few more months had passed. Here it is:¹

The downward trend in 2017 is unmistakable. But will it stick? The past decade is full of ups and downs. Border apprehensions dropped substantially from 2009-11, then dropped again in 2015, and now are down again in 2017. Roughly speaking, apprehensions dropped from about 70,000 per month to 30,000 per month under Obama, and have now dropped to 15,000 per month under Trump. That’s an 80 percent decline, and all without the benefit of a wall.

¹Data for FY 2000-16 here. Data for FY 2017 here. All lines in the chart are for calendar years.

Categories: Politics

Donald Trump Is a Very Serious Man

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 22:28

This photo from Camp David is making the rounds today:

I’m semi-face blind, so I’ll let others do the zooming in. I just want to say that I’m glad we have such a serious-looking National Security Council. I’ll sleep like a baby tonight.

Categories: Politics

Friday Cat Blogging – 18 August 2017

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 15:03

I was over at my mother’s house on a digital mercy mission a few days ago, so I took the opportunity to photograph her cats. This one is Tillamook. Tilly is a very photogenic cat, but unfortunately he’s also a camera-shy cat. In fact, he’s just generally people shy. He doesn’t run away and hide under a chair when I come over, but he does generally make himself scarce. So good pictures are rare.

The odd thing is that if he’s snoozing and I walk up to him, there’s no problem. He opens one eye, streatches a bit, and starts purring when I pet him. Just like a normal cat. But if he’s already awake, he skitters off. Very odd.

Categories: Politics

We Need a Backup Plan In Case Robots Don’t Work Out

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 14:38

With today’s Trump O’Clock news seemingly out of the way, I want to make one more comment about James Surowiecki’s robot story in Wired. There’s one issue he highlights that deserves more attention than it gets:

The peculiar thing about this historical moment is that we’re afraid of two contradictory futures at once. On the one hand, we’re told that robots are coming for our jobs and that their superior productivity will transform industry after industry. If that happens, economic growth will soar and society as a whole will be vastly richer than it is today. But at the same time, we’re told that we’re in an era of secular stagnation, stuck with an economy that’s doomed to slow growth and stagnant wages. In this world, we need to worry about how we’re going to support an aging population and pay for rising health costs, because we’re not going to be much richer in the future than we are today. Both of these futures are possible. But they can’t both come true. Fretting about both the rise of the robots and about secular stagnation doesn’t make any sense. Yet that’s precisely what many intelligent people are doing.

The irony of our anxiety about automation is that if the predictions about a robot-dominated future were to come true, a lot of our other economic concerns would vanish. A recent study by Accenture, for instance, suggests that the implementation of AI, broadly defined, could lift annual GDP growth in the US by two points (to 4.6 percent). A growth rate like that would make it easy to deal with the cost of things like Social Security and Medicare and the rising price of health care. It would lead to broader wage growth. And while it would complicate the issue of how to divide the economic pie, it’s always easier to divide a growing pie than a shrinking one.

This is totally true. But I don’t think it’s quite as paradoxical as Surowiecki says. I fret about both those futures, and it makes sense because I’m not 100 percent sure about the future of artificial intelligence. If you asked me to put a number to it, I’d say I’m 80 or 90 percent sure that it’s coming in the next two or three decades, and that it will, in fact, render concerns about Social Security and health care obsolete. My biggest concern—about which I’ll have more later—is the near-term transition period: what happens during the years from, say, 2025 to 2045, when workers are being disemployed in big numbers but we haven’t quite gotten to the point of figuring out how to give them all decent incomes?

However, I’m still 10 or 20 percent unsure about all this. Maybe AI won’t come for another century. In that case, we still have to worry about Social Security and health care. It always makes sense to have a backup plan, doesn’t it?

Categories: Politics