Saturday, May 31, 2008

Trash compactor on Death Star

was implausible and inefficient.

Diplomacy with Iran

Yesterday, David Brooks discussed diplomacy with Iran and noted that we don't understand Iran because Iran doesn't understand itself. He was painting a picture of their foreign relations as discombobulated with no clear org chart or process. Here's a post by Hooman Majd at HuffPo that offers interesting detail about Iranian diplomacy. I have no idea if it's accurate.

Friday, May 30, 2008

St. Paul victory party?

Halperin reports that Obama is considering a victory event in St. Paul on the cusp of the nomination. I think he's talking about next week. He notes that we're a swing state. I don't think we're very swingy, actually. I think we're soundly in the tank for Obama.

[Update: It's booked. Tuesday.]

Susan Sarandon's move...

to Canada or Italy. Haven't both those countries recently elected conservative gummints?

Life expectancy and health care expenditures

This graph is interesting too. This shows that in spite of increasing expenditures for health care (as a percentage of GDP), we are not seeing a significant rise in life expectancy. Of course, the data is only from 2000-2004. Also of note, though is how much higher the US expenditures are than everyone else's.

Luxembourg's PPP

Here. This graph shows PPP varying over time. I've "selected" Luxembourg and the US and clicked on "trails". You can see that Luxembourg's PPP matched with the US until about 1988, when Lux went on a tear.


Pretty cool graph. If that is the definitive one, I don't see any real surprises.

GDP (PPP) per capita and life expectancy: Gapminder

I've found the definitive graph of GDP (PPP) per capita vs life expectancy at It's better than mine because you can see the same data over time (since 1950) and dots are colored to correlate to parts of the world. And you can play around with it. By selecting particular countries, it will highlight their paths over time. Sort of hard to describe. For example, if you chart simply GDP over time, and you select Luxembourg and the US, you'll see that our GDPs matched and grew together until 1988 when Luxembourg's took off.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

VDH's Works and Days

If anyone has been clicking on Hanson's Works and Days to the right and noticed no activity for a while, it's because pajamas media has been updating. Worth a look.

Now I'm going to fund the FLDS

via my tax dollars after the civil suit. Texas Supremes rule the kids go back to their families.

$7.5M just to get the kids out and into foster homes. Now they're going back. The size of the civil award will be such that the proceeds can go into a money market account and fund the operations of these guys for eternity.

Michael and I should have signed a few of these families up.

Cost of clothing

The price of most clothing has gone down over the past decade, reports the NYT."In current dollars, the 1998 suit would cost $788, the jeans would be $66 and the underwear would be nearly $24." In 2008, these items (same brands and products) would be $598 for the suit, $46 for the jeans and $21.50 for underwear.

The article notes that prices have gone up for other goods: "As consumers adjust to soaring prices for gasoline, food, education and medical care, just about the only thing that seems a bargain today is clothes — mainstream clothes, anyway."

Here's an opening for Scooter to make the case that the market for these other goods is not "free" because of government regulation or the insurance industry and that's why their prices are up.

Super rollout

Josh Marshall at TPM describes why he doesn't believe Obama has had or does have superdelegates "banked" for orchestrated rollout.  His reasons make sense. But this graph is why I believe they've been in the bank and unrolled in an orchestrated way by the Obama campaign.  You can't convince me that the supers would just happen to endorse in such a uniform pattern (3-4 per day since May 7) left to their own devices.  And the reason he needs to control rollout is to avoid the headline and impression that the election was handed to him by the supers, though of course their votes were necessary to secure the nomination (in spite of having the majority of pledged delegates).

My prediction was wrong

I predicted that Hillary's assassination comment last week would bring a quick end to the primary by allowing Obama to release a flood of Super endorsements and bringing party pressure to bear on Hillary.  But nope.  I was wrong. Obama continues to dribble the Supers.  His eye remains steadfastly focused on reuniting the party when the primary is over and so he wants to avoid humiliating her and alienating her supporters.   And of course there was no way that Hillary could bow to party pressure after her gaffe because that would have required that she take responsibility for losing and that would cut against her victimhood approach.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More on GDP (PPP) and life expectancy

I've reworked my charts illustrating life expectancy as a function of Purchasing Power Parity per capita for about 220 countries. I've used a scatter chart this time. It looks like this:

When we add a linear regression trendline, it fits like this:

When we apply a 2nd order polynomial trend line, it fits like this:

Neither trendline fits great and I don't know enough about fitting lines to data to know what to make of them. The linear regression line seems particularly off the mark for the high end PPPs. The polynomial looks to my eyes like it fits better, though the highest PPP (Luxembourg) looks left out.

Anyone know anything about these trendlines and how you know if they mean something?

As I mentioned earlier, all the data is from the CIA World Factbook:

I'm moving back to Denver...

99 on Saturday. 97 today. I'm melting. It's only May.

Stimulus checks?

Anybody got theirs yet? I filed via snail mail since I owed Uncle Sam. I haven't seen a check yet.

Purchasing Power Parity and Life Expectancy

I've discovered something called Purchasing Power Parity. If I understand it correctly, this makes for more meaningful comparisons amongst countries than GDP per capita.

In 1980, someone plotted this PPP against life expectancy and yielded this which shows a proportional relationship between PPP and life expectancy, i.e. the higher the PPP, the higher the life expectancy. At higher PPPs the curve flattens out. If this is still accurate in 2008, then my little graphs and conclusions below and below are all wrong.

But I'll re-do the exercise for the CIA's most recent numbers and we'll see how it looks. Predictions?

[Update: see above]

Kosher Coke

In Buzz on Friday, Lileks mentioned Coke made with cane sugar. This reminded me that I've heard that there's such a thing as kosher Coke that's made with sugar, instead of corn syrup, and it's distributed during Passover and maybe other Jewish holidays to kosher delis and such.

Jason at OfftheBroiler explains (in a post that has enough detail that I'm going to believe him):
According to Jewish law, nothing made with chametz (any of a number of proscribed cereals and grains, including corn) during passover may be consumed — so in order not to lose sales from observant Jews during that eight day period, a small number of Coca-Cola bottlers make a limited batch of the original Coke formulation, using refined sugar. Needless to say, stocks run out quickly and fans of Passover Coke have been known to travel many miles seeking out supermarkets with remaining caches.
He quotes this blurb from
Coca Cola will again be available with an OU-P for Pesach. Aside from the New York metropolitan area, Coke will be available in Boston, Baltimore-Washington, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. This year, in New York, Coca Cola items will be made with an OU-P in 2 liter bottles and in cans. Other locations will have more limited Coke items made in different sizes. All these items, of course, require the OU-P symbol. Most of the bottling plants servicing these markets will designate the Passover Coke items with a distinctive yellow cap in addition to the OU-P symbol on the cap or shoulder of the bottle.

Maybe I'm out of luck here in Minneapolis, but I'm going to check it out, if I can remember next March/April.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Google maps

Finally got around to checking [Update: I meant the street view feature of] google maps. You can't really see my place because of all the foliage but you can see the back end of my truck in the driveway.

[Locke, Voltair, Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Kant, Adam Smith, Jefferson, Paine and James Madison.]

A question since that was in Brackets: was that your insertion or the authors? Or, perhaps Alterman used them in various references and you compiled?

I just reread and figure you just reduced his list to ease your typing duties.

Legislated paid vacation...

"The United States is the only wealthy industrialized nation not to legislate any paid time off and holidays for its workforce."

Is this a big problem in the US?

I type this on a paid holiday and haven't taken a vacation in four years...but am going to Targhee, Idaho next month for a week. I suppose there are employers who make their employees work 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year but I can't believe there are that many. Anecdotally, I find that those working those 60-70 hour weeks do so by choice.

Paul Cartledge's The Spartans

Finished listening to the Spartans yesterday. I didn't finish it as excitedly as I began it because I had to listen in hour-long bites instead of in four hour chunks. I think it would be a much better book to read rather than listen to in the car.

It covers Sparta from roughly 700 BCE to the time of Octavian/Augustus in Rome in the late 1rst century BCE. The parts of Spartan history with which I had more familiarity were much more enjoyable because I could follow them much more easily. Since the only parts I know anything about are (i) Thermopoylae in 480 BCE and the subsequent ousting of the Persians following the naval battle at Salamis and land battle at Beotia and (ii) the Peloponnesian War 431-404 BCE, that's about 625 years about which I know very little.

Had I been able to read the book on the pages, I probably would have done much better with the names of people and places. Everybody knows about Leonidas, Alcibiades and Pericles (wow, the spell checker actually knows those names) but others were tough. Also, a history covering so much time is difficult to listen to without timelines. Shorter subjects covered in much more detail are easier because there is so much repetition.

One interesting item that seems a bit incongruous for Sparta. It was the only Greek city-state that formally educated its women. To be sure, women were second-class citizens but they could own property in their own right and were easily the most free of all the Greek women. When asked by an non-Spartan woman why this was the case, a Spartan woman (a royal, I think, whose name escapes me) apocryphally said, "Because we bear Spartan men." Aristotle apparently disdained Sparta in part due to the fact that they were "ruled by their women."

The author suggests that at the time of publication (2004), George Clooney (nooooo) and Bruce Willis were being considered for Leonidas in another live action version of the Battle at Thermopoylae based on Pressfield's Gates of Fire. (See also, The 300 Spartans and 300.) This is the first I've heard of such a movie but would pay dearly to see it.

One other item that was thoroughly confusing to this little mind as I listened. The early (or at least first quartile of) 4th century BCE would be 400-376 BCE and the late 4th century would be 325-301. When the author wrote "the turn of the" or the "late" or "early" __th century," I would always think the wrong end of the century.

GDP and Life Expectancy: Trends hold for top 48

Here's the chart that results from plotting the GDP per capita and life expectancy for the 48 countries with the highest GDP per capita.

Same trend: life expectancy varies inversely with GDP per capita.

Same methods and data sources as I used below.

[Correction: that's the top 47, not 48, countries. Why cutoff at 47 countries? Country 48 is the Falklands and there is no life expectancy available for it. Otherwise, I would have done top 50.]

[Update: see above]

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Put this in your Trivial Pursuit pipe...

It was in the turbulent period of 1922-30, a time when the Soviets were still establishing themselves in Mongolia--when the Gobi was still accessible to Americans--that Roy Chapman Andrews of the Museum of Natural History in New York conducted several expeditions there, scouring the desert for dinosaur fossils. Chapman Andrews was a charismatic, larger-than-life big-game hunter and scholar-adventurer who uncovered the first skeleton of Velociraptor, the star dinosaur in Steven Speilberg's movie Jurrassic Park. Chapman Andrews would later become the prototype for the fictional archaeologist-explorer Indiana Jones in the movies of George Lucas.

P. 97, Robert D. Kaplan's Imperial Grunts.

Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America

I read Why We're Liberals by Eric Altermann in part because of that Mamet essay that I found to be completely incoherent. I couldn’t follow what it was Mamet thought liberalism was and what exactly he was rejecting. Nothing he said sounded like liberalism, as I view it. That made me wonder whether I was making up a liberal philosophy that didn't match what other people believe liberalism is. But Alterman crystallizes it thusly (and this does match my idea of it):
Liberalism’s bedrock belief in personal freedom, of thoughts, of expression, and of action is derived from and defined by the philosophers of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and its children, a group that includes [Locke, Voltair, Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Kant, Adam Smith, Jefferson, Paine and James Madison.] A liberal society strives to maximize these freedoms for the largest number of citizens while at the same time protecting the rights and interests of the minority, whose ideas of personal freedom may conflict with those of the majority. This focus on the freedom and the personal dignity of the individual fundamentally distinguishes liberalism from the tenets of both the religious right and the Marxist left, which stress instead unquestioned obedience to a higher authority for the benefit of the collective. Liberals find inherited and unquestioned belief systems – whether imposed by the Bible, the Koran, the Dialectic of History, or the Fatherland – to be anathema.
I wanted the whole of the book to be an unpacking of this: to walk through each of those philosopher/thinker's contributions to the liberal manifesto; to track its evolution; to compare and contrast it to conservative ideology; to describe how liberal ideals are reflected in policy.

But no. The lion’s share of the book is a listing of the nasty things right wing pundits accuse liberals of, followed by Alterman’s debunking or response. Altermann spends more space laying out the outrageous things the right wing pundits have said, than in his responses. My goodness. It truly is amazing to behold what comes out of the mouths of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

Nevertheless, I don’t regard this as particularly useful in answering the question of “why we’re liberals”. Essentially, Alterman answers the question “why don’t we agree with Coulter, Limbaugh et al?” I didn’t need to read his book for that.

And it is filled with logical fallacies. For example, he purports to point out that conservatives are hypocrites because red states are higher in a whole host of metrics of bad behavior (related to crime, substance abuse and sexual promiscuity), while at the same time supporting tough agendas against such behavior. Here is one example of the 16 presented: The per capita rate of violent crime in red states is 421 per 100,000. In blue states, it's 372 per 100,000. That doesn't prove that red state folks are hypocritical. Maybe these states have a larger crime-committing population and that affects their attitudes about crime and leads them to choose candidates with a tough-on-crime policy agenda which is typically the Republican candidates. Or maybe policies in blue states actually lead to lower crime. We can't tell. But we can tell that this stat is not proof that conservatives are hypocritical.

Still, there is interesting stuff in the book. For example, Alterman notes the fruits of liberal policies that other countries have reaped:
The workers of France, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway all ... enjoy higher productivity per hour worked than do U.S. workers. The reasons for this are myriad, but almost all of them contradict conservative conventional wisdom. According to conservative ideology, high tax rates are supposed to kill personal initiative and depress growth, but they are much higher and more progressive across Europe than in the U.S. Welfare payments – again, allegedly the means by which the personal initiative of poor people is destroyed – are based in Europe on universal entitlements, with little, if any, means-testing. Finally, union membership, also the bane of conservative propagandists in the United States, ranges from 70 percent of the workforce in Norway to over 95 percent of the workforce in Finland, more than six times its level in the United States.

While these societies are hardly utopias – much of Europe remains riven by apparently insoluble Islamic immigration crises and relatively high unemployment – the benefits provided by many if not most of these societies would, for most Americans, prove a wonder to behold. Despite the fact that Americans work nearly four hundred more hours a year than those famously industrious Germans, and more than workers in virtually every western European nation by a considerable margin, these same states somehow sponsor far more generous programs of training and job mobility, and pay generous unemployment benefits. Families receive periods of paid maternity and paternity leave. Europeans also enjoy high-quality public health and education provisions, and all manner of public services, from parks to efficient and inexpensive public transportation systems, that are not available anywhere in the United States. To give just one example, Denmark spends nearly one-third of its gross domestic product on government-run benefits and taxes its citizens at an equivalently high rate. Its top bracket is 63 percent, nearly double the highest rate in the United States. With these revenues, the state spends more than 5 percent of its GDP on the unemployed and more than 2 percent alone on its “flexicurity” label market programs to help retrain displaced workers. This compares with a feeble 0.16 percent in the United States
*, which is by far the lowest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Partly as a result, in mid-2006 Denmark’s unemployment rate was just 3.6 percent, well below the 4.7 percent in the United States. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Denmark’s “Quality of Life” index proved superior to that of America as well, with advantages like universal health care and day care, and a poverty rate of just 4.3 percent, compared with 17.1 percent in the United States. (America has the second-worst record among OECD nations.) Meanwhile, Denmark is, at this writing, enjoying a small budget surplus, equal to approximately 0.65 percent of its GDP. The United States, meanwhile, is saddled with ever-exploding deficits, currently reaching 4.5 percent of GDP, and rising.

[Skipping a similar case for Finland]

American’s...welfare system, even in its most generous incarnation, raised poor incomes only moderately, and reduced the proportion of adults in poverty from 26.7 to 19.1 percent. In Germany, France and Italy, meanwhile, the proportion of adults in poverty hovers at around just 7 percent. . . . [W]hile roughly a quarter of all American children are condemned to grow up in poverty, the analogous proportions for the countries cited above are just 8.6, 7.4 and 10.5 percent. The lack of progress in this area in the United States is one reason American conservatives insist on making these programs so stingy. The truth is that, when it comes to social mobility, these European nations prove far more successful in providing what might be called “The Nordic Dream”. . . than the romantic notion of “the American Dream” that schoolchildren are taught to cherish. . . . According to two separate studies based on a set of data collected over a period of five decades the Nordic countries enjoy considerably greater degrees of social mobility than do Americans. In the United States, a son’s earnings are more than twice as likely to be closely related to those of his father than in most Nordic nations, and even Britain does a much better job at offering second-generation earners a higher probability of economic improvement than does the United States.
* I can’t tell from the text or the endnotes whether this figure for the U.S. takes into account the spending at the state level.  If not, he's probably not making an apples to apples comparison with the other countries.

Now, I think I know at least one of the things Scooter and Michael are thinking: “yeah, but what about the GDPs of those countries? GDP provides a picture of a nation’s wealth-generating engine (and we care about this because presumably wealth is a good thing) and the more socialist-tending a country is, the more anemic its economic engine. The purer capitalism is, the cheaper goods and services are, making more of them available to more people.” So here you go. I’ve plotted GDP per capita of the countries mentioned in the above quoted passages:
This shows that it is true that the U.S.’s GDP per capita is higher than almost all of these countries.

But the thing that I always wonder, and I think this is at the heart of liberal philosophy, is whether a more dynamic economic engine is the be-all end-all. Are human beings better off as a result of this better engine? To what extent does having access to cheaper, more plentiful goods provide real benefit?

What would be a key measure of the health and well-being of humans? How about life-expectancy? It’s not perfect or complete, but it must be a measure of the well-being of a species, reflecting intrinsically the degree to which basic needs for food and shelter are met and the level of health enjoyed (and that intrinsically reflects the level of stress the species endure, i.e. how difficult it is for us to meet our needs).

Below I add the life expectancy, in purple in the foreground, from each of these countries.
Let's take a look at the linear regression trend lines for GDP per capita and life expectancy.

Life expectancy varies inversely to GDP per capita.  It appears that the more productive we are the sooner we die. (And perhaps the farther we tend toward pure capitalism, the more stressful life is and the sooner we die?)

Let me acknowledge there are plenty of problems with my exercise, and I'm only offering it as a starting point for consideration. I'm open to any suggestions as to how to improve it. A few of the problems I recognize are:

a) my method of selecting the countries to include (i.e. the ones mentioned in these few paragraphs of Alterman’s book) may not be yielding a true picture of anything; I should re-do this using all countries. I would hypothesize that at the lowest end of the GDP spectrum we’d see the opposite trend: life expectancy increases with increasing GDP.

b) to show a correlation between purity of capitalism and life expectancy, I would need some way to characterize and quantify the degree of socialism within each country. By simply using Alterman’s list of countries providing lots of benefits, I’ve taken a short-cut that yields results that may not bear out with a more complete data set. Obviously, there are other countries that are are closer to pure socialism than these.

c) GDP per capita isn’t the sole measure of economic well-being.

d) length of life isn’t a full measure of the quality of life.

e)  correlation is not cause-and-effect.

No doubt, something like this, but with much greater rigor, has been done by economists.  Still, it's fun to play...

The data for the charts above is here:
The data comes from the CIA's World Factbook:

GDP is here:
Life expectancy is here:

Back to Why We’re Liberals, here are a few more factoids:
  • The United States is the only wealthy industrialized nation not to legislate any paid time off and holidays for its workforce.
  • The United States and South Africa are the only two developed countries in the world that do not provide health care for all of their citizens.
  • Gay marriage is the law in Belgium, the Netherlands and even Catholic Spain, while gay civil unions are officially recognized by Norway, Sweden, Iceland, France and Germany.
Some might assert that we needn't look to other countries to suggest what our own policies should be.  But I think these types of things are relevant to how countries will compete for the best workers, in the coming decades as nation states (and therefore citizenship) grows less relevant.
The book raises many other topics worthy of discussion, but they'll have to wait for another day.

[Update: see above]

Gas prices

Sure, $3.85 seems high for a gallon of gas, but is it that high, historically speaking, taking inflation into account?
Yes, yes it is. (As Scooter noted earlier, you can enlarge the graph by clicking on it.)

The graph is published with permission of Financial Trend Forecaster and Read the full article on Gasoline Inflation here.