Monday, July 31, 2006

Whip them out ladies, lets see who's got the biggest

...ad buys that is.
I noticed no one had posted all week since Eapen's ongoing blogfeud with toolbag.
I have not been really following much of what's gone on in the world since i've been back: my time has been taken up by family concerns and my clients.
Not surprisingly, Ive become a lot more aware of what's going on around Missouri.

Last week, two republicans went on the air statewide, and in KC the action is heating up as well.
First - Col. Jack Jackson, the front runner for State Auditor, launched a slick spot touting his management capabilities and leadership. Although I wouldn't mind seeing Sen. John Loudon (who, when Im back in St. Louis, is my State Senator) win the nod (I think Montee would wipe the floor with Loudon), Jackson's tactical advantage will put him over the top 8 days from now. This is a textbook case of using campaign media well; In a crowded primary, Jackson doesn't acknowledge his other candidates, and seizes the metaphorical high ground. It wasn't carpetbombing, but it established a presence, and now, everyone has to answer him, which, John Loudon just did - the first TV spot I've seen of his, also positive, just aired in the prime time slot on KSDK in St. Louis.

In KC, finally some of the races are turning ugly. Regular readers of the KC Buzz Blog know how boring this year has been - with the clock ticking, things appear to be boiling over. Now, camps have been made, lines in the sand drawn, and candidates are finally starting to speak their minds about where they stand in an effort to differentiate themselves from each other.
Who says a lil negativity is all that's ailing the body politic?

In contrast to Jackson's ads, Sen. Jim Talent is flooding the market with a massive TV and radio buy. Well, the pros:
-He can afford it. With over 7 million raised according to his last quarterly finance report, released last week, dwarfed State Auditor Claire McCaskill's impressive 2.75 million.
-He needs it. High fundraising and early media reinforce the things that make incumbents so hard to beat, which is legitimacy in the voter's eye, and the race has been neck and neck. You can expect a 2-4 point bounce on the next tracking poll from WSJ. They currently have Talent up, but inside the margin of error.
The cons:
-He needs it. If he weren't vulnerable, this would be his ad: It's free, and it would get repeated ad nauseum until Claire could answer him effectively, first of all - a press conference - he'd get up behind a big podium in his Senate office, with the US Senate seal and big American flags behind him and say "Claire McCaskill is the wrong person to serve Missouri in the US Senate. She's done nothing but critique the highly popular and highly necessary work I've done on behalf of missourians, and have done since my days in the Missouri house. Let her present a coherent platform, let her get up and defend it. Missouri is the Show Me State, Claire, if you want my seat, Show the voters of Missouri a plan. "
Claire just doesn't need to go up just yet. She is wildly popular among democrats and well known among likely voters because she just ran a statewide campaign.
-He's pandering. This morning I watched in disbelief as he released a new spot that Talent released - it runs something like this. An articulate and attractive black woman starts "I had been a democrat all my life..." and then goes on to explain that she's voting Talent because he wrote the Sickle Cell Treatment bill. Not to belittle the effect that Sickle Cell Anemia has on black america, where it is infinitely more prevalent than other populations in this country, but cmon. A pasty, nerdy white law professor from Chesterfield, who happens to be a Republican footsoldier, a champion of black interests?
It's part of the overall ad strategy, which is "Uniter, not Divider" or, if you prefer, "A good guy, he just happens to be Republican, but don't worry, not like those crazies ruining the country."
It's a bit weak - he's voted with the administration 91% of the time he's been in the Senate.

My point with using campaign media, as with all things in a PR campaign, is to do so carefully.

Monday, July 24, 2006

On Fascism

A response to the freshman from Purdue who argues that I randomly make illogical comments on his blog:

1. Censoring unpopular speech is mutually exclusive with free speech and freedom of assembly.
2. Defending liberty from fascists like you is a never ending task.
3. Sorry for not providing an explicit warrant, I was referencing the obvious warrants that you were clearly providing, albeit unintentionally.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

More later

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060719.whezbarms0719/BNStory/Front

Really a good article, will update later with my thoughts.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Yah

First, condolences to Mr. Goldstein on the untimely death of his cousin two days ago.

Second, I think that all the evidence points to Jack being wrong about the motivation behind the Mumbai bombings. While he's right about certain aspects of the timeframe, etc, I think these are purely concidental, and anyone familiar with the history of Kashmiri-rebel terrrorism in India recognizes that this attack is very very similar to previous attacks, right down to the type of explosive used.

Additionally, I don't think that any indication links this to the geopolitical repositioning that occured vis-a-vis this nuclear pact. I think that at least in the immediate past such a deal provides far too nebulous a strategic shift to warrant retaliation, especially since this deal functionally meant nothing in terms of Quaeda survival.

Similarity to London and Madrid means nothing; as I noted earlier, there exists great similarity to previous attacks in India. What is most likely true is that these groups are at least partially funded and trained by the Pakistani government, or factions within; and at the point that this relationship means that Kashmiri rebels come in contact with Quaeda operatives, the debate over motivation becomes indeterminate.

Two comments as I prepare for work.
First, did anyone hear about the war games we had with the Indians a while back? They kicked our ass! USAF was totally embarrassed.

Second, without having delved into a comprehensive study of this particular history, do you think that the social conservative model of marriage is anything but traditional? Do you think that Vedran Vuk, from the Mises Institute, is right about the existence of the welfare state and traditional modes of marriage being antithetical?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

weekend rundown

Lots to talk about from a perusal of today's WaPo.
First, an informal opinon poll: Would you say the nation has become more or less partisan since 9/11? (My humble opinon, shared by 50% of respondents, is that the level of partisanship is just about the same as before 9/11. My thoughts are though that that is especially regrettable, given the latent ability for consensus and compromise that 9/11 demonstrated). More broadly speaking, in terms of the American political landscape, has 9/11 changed things or not? Is it more a function of the war in Iraq? And there, is it the war itself or just its persecution?

Next up: After now 5 days of fighting, what if anything are Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah going to accomplish? Will this discredit Hezbollah enough to allow the implementation of UN resolution 1559, which calls for the Lebanese gov't to exercise broader control and to disarm its unruly militias? Does anyone reading see how this ends?

Third: The G-8 Summit and WTO talks stalling - Putin and Bush aren't exactly driving buddies anymore. As one executive's power is waning (Bush) the other's is waxing (Putin, who is actually enjoying a quite popular and well recieved stretch of presidency, flush with energy wealth and renewed dimplomatic sway.), which is bad news for US interests, aside from what I am sure is to be a lucrative engineering contract for bechtel or halliburton under the new civilian nuclear regime announced last week. At stake are Russia's admittance into the WTO, which despite round the clock negotiations by USTR Schwab, have faltered. To be fair, the summit itself was a potemkin deadline, needed more for political gladhanding than anything else. But with President Bush unpopular at home, many mainstream US foreign policy backbones are disintegrating, like US support of moving institutions toward democratic policies, which with respect to Russia, is seen as impious soapbox lecturing.

And Last, some food for thought in more serious matters of philosophy:
What do you make of "right to conscience" laws that allow medical practioners to deny treatment if said treatment or service violates their personal sense of morality?
I feel that although there is a lot to be said about developing a sense of moral principles by which to live your life, if you find your profession to be in the position of violating those principles it is incumbent upon you to leave the profession. Additionally, asking the courts to decide (as I'm certain they will have to at some point) what constitutes a legitimate conscience principal and is a frivolous one, i feel, is getting into some frightening teritory. It's not unprecedented, as in conscientous objector cases, but I don't think those are entirely analogous. Asking someone to kill people they do not know in a place they have never been to for a cause that is at best morally ambigous is one thing; denying a lesbian who has been a client of yours a physical so that she and her partner can't adopt a child is another.

I know that's a lot to digest, but I think it's varied enough to stimulate some good comments. I actually had more to write, but I'll save that for a different time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

More on Drug Addiction

In response to my latest post on drug addiction and my conjecture that drug users really do want to quit, Eapen sent me a link to a fascinating article by Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy, A Theory of Rational Addiction. Because my internet cafe time is short, I've been unable to delve into the technical analysis, but the gist is pretty simple:

In our theory of rational addiction, "rational" means that individuals
maximize utility consistently over time, and a good is potentially addictive if
increases in past consumption raise current consumption. We show that
steady-state consumption of addictive goods is unstable when the degree of
addiction is strong, that is, when the complementarity between past and current
consumption is strong. Unstable steady states are a major tool in our analysis
of addictive behavior. Consumption rises over time when above unstable
steady-state levels, and it falls over time, perhaps until abstention, when
below unstable steady states.

Empirics of a Mushroom Trip

I couldn't find an actual link to the article, but this overview of the effects of mushrooms is pretty interesting:
More than 60 per cent had a mystical experience when given psilocybin. More
than two-thirds rated it in the top five most meaningful and spiritual
experiences in their lives, likening it to the birth of a child or the death of
a parent. One in three said it was their single most spiritually significant
experience.

However, one-third reported significant adverse reactions, such as fear
and paranoia.

The article went on to say that most of the sample was educated middle-income adults without extraordinary pscyhological histories.

Likening the experience to the birth of a child or the death of a parent? My experience was very insightful and emotionally charged, but also depressing and very uncomfortable. I'd be interested to read the article once I can get a hold of it. I'm particularly curious in what factors are associated with good and bad trips.

Point by Point to Eapen on Mumbai

1. The deal itself was signed, or brokered last year.
While negotiations started about one year ago, the deal was announced in March 2006. You also seem to gloss over the fact that it takes time to recruit for and operationalize the near-simultaneous bombing of commuter trains with military grade explosives.

2. The deal hasn't even passed Congress.
Does not matter. No one is really saying it won't pass; the debate is over how we want to word exactly what it is we want in return, with the likely outcome being broad and open-textured wording on a preferential geostrategic relationship.

3. The only germane development is the expected tacit endorsement of the deal by the G8 this week. It's still up in the air whether or not the US will be able to persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group to lift their nuclear embargo on India without an Indian committment to the NPT.
I think my response to point (1) makes the first part of point (3) irrelevant. I think the second part of point (3) is also irrelevant: regardless of what happens with the embargo (which I don't really think is that "up in the air"), India has still displayed a desire to engage in a long term strategic parternship with the United States. If you're an AQ or AQ sympathizer and want to disincentivize favorable dispositoins to the US, India makes a great target regardless of how external elements may impede their success.

4. Al Quaeda isn't known to uniquely target India. In fact, it's more likely what's left of Al-Quaeda is probably focusing more on attacking the mainland US, US embassies, high profile govermental or economic targets situated on terrority belonging to key US allies (like the Saudis), and I'll throw Israel in there for good measure.
The same could have been said of Spain and England.

5. Terrorist attacks in India can be broadly and generally categorized into terrorism with religious motives (hindus vs. Muslims, etc) and separatist terrorism such from Kashmiri Islamic rebels or the Tamil Tigers. My knowledge of other terrorist history in this arena is shallow, so you'll excuse any omission.
The history of terrorism in India is important, but I think you're not giving due appreciation to the (recent) historical significance of the nuclear deal.

6. Specifically, Kashmiri rebels have recently been blamed for attacks of this style in the recent past. THere's no indication that there's any Quaeda involvment, though I'm sure they'd approve.

Two Kashmiri militant groups issued statements Wednesday denying responsibility for the bombings on Mumbai's commuter system that killed 183 people on Tuesday.

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen both condemned the bombings in India in separate statements released Wednesday, insisting they were not involved.
EDIT:

I want to clarify the epistemics of my position: if I had to put money on it, the scope of the operation, the use of military grade explosives and electronic timers, the simultaneity of the blasts, and the targeting of a state sympathetic to US foreign politics all point to an AQ or AQ-sympathetic/inspired attack in the vein of London or Madrid. In short: a range of possibilities makes my absolute confidence in a specific AQ link fairly temperate, but I think if you're going to put all your eggs in one basket, the choice is clear.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Terrorism in India, and why Jack's wrong

Have to start getting ready for work within ten minutes, so I don't have time to insert the germane links to articles that I'm basing my conclusions from, but a simple Google news search will provide more than enough information.

Jack's claim during an AIM conversation* today is that the terrorist bombings in Mumbai today are likely an Al-Quaeda* response to the India-US nuclear exchange deal. I think this is unlikely for several reasons.

1. The deal itself was signed, or brokered last year.
2. The deal hasn't even passed Congress.
3. The only germane development is the expected tacit endorsement of the deal by the G8 this week. It's still up in the air whether or not the US will be able to persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group to lift their nuclear embargo on India without an Indian committment to the NPT.
4. Al Quaeda isn't known to uniquely target India. In fact, it's more likely what's left of Al-Quaeda is probably focusing more on attacking the mainland US, US embassies, high profile govermental or economic targets situated on terrority belonging to key US allies (like the Saudis), and I'll throw Israel in there for good measure.
5. Terrorist attacks in India can be broadly and generally categorized into terrorism with religious motives (hindus vs. Muslims, etc) and separatist terrorism such from Kashmiri Islamic rebels or the Tamil Tigers. My knowledge of other terrorist history in this arena is shallow, so you'll excuse any omission.
6. Specifically, Kashmiri rebels have recently been blamed for attacks of this style in the recent past. THere's no indication that there's any Quaeda involvment, though I'm sure they'd approve.


*Read an interesting article on the nomenclature we've adopted in describing Al-quaeda; I'll try to post something on that soon.

**I was more than passably surprised that Jack had the free time to get on the internet given both the number of 15 year olds in Poland and the amount of tasty bison herbed vodka.

Monday, July 10, 2006

On the Topics of: Gambling, Drugs and Why Bo Is Wrong Again

Studying at the Artisan in May, Bo and I got into a lobsided debate where he advanced the specious position that drug addicts are utility maximizers and that heavy-handed pateranalism seeking to curb their fix is bad policy.

After all, Bo wobbily argued, the utility payoff of doing a line of coke, if addicted, is absolutely enormous. My reality-grounded response was that rational decision making is far less likely to occur when the body is under durress. This is why we allow a relatively pain free but dying person to refuse treatment, but not this morning's burn victim who is far more likely to act impulsively under pain and later regret his decision. I framed this in the economic context of being unable to appropriately discount the fufure by having current preferences somewhat exogenously coerced into an artificial intertemporal utility function that places a bad premium on instant gratification.

The reason I'm thinking about this now is two recent blog posts from renowned macroeconomists Greg Mankiw and Brad DeLong, here and here respectively. The whole discussion is short and more than worth reading, but I want to focus on DeLong's point here:
I'm tempted to jump in and head-butt the libertarian: If you were to ask a compulsive gambler if he really wanted to waste his life, he would probably say no: that the life he wound up with is not the life he really wanted. It is really hard for almost all of us to make good decisions, and 90% of doing well is finding institutions and situations in which the pressures are such as to make good decisions more likely.
The reason for paternalistic institutions that reduce compulsive gambling is identical to the paternalistic prescription for drug abusers. But "oh," the Bo might lament, "how can government possibly understand the intertemporal dynamics of one's utility curve more than the individual himself?" And here there is some semblance of an argument, because we have no empirical evidence (at least that I know of) that suggests if drug users could quit, they would. In economics we generally adhere to the maxim that talk is cheap, and that real preferences are revealed by consumer behavior. (This fosters a sort of intellecutal humility that places a premium on evidence.)

The intuition I shared with Bo was this: I suspect a drug abuser who is (from most social perspectives) ruining his life probably has moments where he wishes he could quit, and that if he could he would. Bo responded that this was conjecture, and if public policy was erected from such speculations we would probably see a lot of unhealthy market distortions.

Sooooo... fusing my intuition and my empirically rooted intellectual humility, I propose what could either be a thought or real life public policy experiment that could gather the real life data to help answer the question. I guess for us, the thought experiment is more relevant. It goes like this:

Take a sample of people that voluntarily admit themselves into rehab for hard drug use. Upon the completion of rehab, either through the liquidation of some assetts or a government subsidy, put them in the position of being in control of a substantial amount of money. Now that their bodies are no longer under durress, track spending patterns and see if there is a difference between pre and post rehab revelaed preferences. Alternatively, (enforceability issues aside) see if they would, upon completion of rehab, sign some sort of contract that inflicted heavy penalties for subsequent drug use.

As an experiment, it would to some extent answer the question: what extent is my conjectured scenario really the case - do hard drug users really want to better themselves but act in short-sighted, bodily-driven fits of irrational behavior.

My internet cafe time is up so I have to cut this short. But this gets at most of what I wanted to say.

This debate, posted on Slate, features Jason Furman (currently a grad student at NYU's School of Public Service) questioning some of the major assumptions that Barbara Ehrenreich makes in her (in)famous diatribes against the corporatization/Walmartization of the American economy.

I'll echo better people than I am when I express disdain at both Ehrenreich's paternal rhetoric towards the poor and her shoddy understanding of economic principles. But it's late at night and I'm too tired from thinking about statistics to go into more detail on the argument; any thoughts from anyone else?

Oh, and Furman's paper here. Not a terribly fantastic paper, but a first glance seems to indicate it's worth at least a cursory read.

And has anyone heard from Bo?

-Eapen

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Black People Love Jeff Smith

I have been a fan of black people love us since the late '90s. However, I always thought it was too over the top to be believable--surely no white person was really like that. I was proven wrong by St. Louis' own 4th senate district candidate Jeff Smith, whose website photo section seems ot be a non-ironic recreation of it. Thoughts?