Sunday, February 28, 2010

Too Many Book Reviews?

Almost everything I read these days comes recommended from some respected source - the book review section of a newspaper or magazine, a fellow blogger, friends and colleagues. I used to occasionally pick up something I've never heard of, by an author I've never heard of, while browsing in a bookstore or library. Sometimes I was disappointed, but just as often I discovered a little treasure from which I learned a lot, received great enjoyment, or both. But with all the books I read based on the reviews and recommendations of others these days, I have little time, and seemingly little inclination, to go browsing for those undiscovered treasures. I wonder how much I've missed as a result.

The economist in me objects that using recommendations and reviews from respected sources helps to reduce search costs for useful and enjoyable books; proxies perform searches for me. To a great extent, I actually believe this. But no proxy is ever perfect because no two readers are likely to have precisely the same tastes across all literary genres. Goodness knows, I have sometimes been disappointed in books highly recommended by various reviewers, colleagues, or friends. It stands to reason that I might have been delighted by some books that they have panned, or simply have not noticed.

I think I need to spend some time just walking through the library stacks and leafing through a few books about which I have never heard.

Asking the Wrong Question

The Washington Post (here) asked its expert panel the following question: "Given gridlock in Congress over the climate bill, is the Obama Administration's fallback strategy to let the EPA regulated greenhouse gas emissions a good idea?"

Only one of the responding experts gave the correct answer to that question, which is that it's the wrong question! Having made an "endangerment finding," at the behest of a US Supreme Court ruling, the EPA is legally obligated under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs), unless Congress acts to remove that obligation, for instance by enacting its own climate legislation.

Is the CAA well structured for regulating GHGs? No. Are the EPA's proposed rules for regulating them under the Act well-designed? They seem to be well thought out, but in trying hard to avoid certain problems stemming form the structure of the CAA, EPA has made them susceptible to potentially successful legal challenges. But none of this changes EPA's legal obligation to promulgate GHG regulations, having found that emissions of GHGs from numerous and diverse sources endanger public health and the environment.

Preference Analysis of Senators, 111th Senate

Hat tip: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal

Happy Birthday Linus Pauling (1901-1994)

The only person to win two solo Nobel Prizes (Chemistry and Politics).

Friday, February 26, 2010

Noel Coward's "Private Lives"

Friends of ours from Chicago-Kent College of Law took us to see Noel Coward's 1930 comedy of manners, "Private Lives," at Chicago's Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. I haven't been to a play in ages, and this one was just excellent. Apparently, Coward took all of 4 days to write it, after spending out about 2 weeks sketching out the scenes while recovering from the flu in Shanghai. The play was, as expected, hilarious; the actors were superb; and the theater itself - patterned on Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London - was very comfortable.

I might add I find Chicago itself to be fattening. It's way too easy to eat way too much and too well here.

An Outline History of "Cap-and-Trade"

Foreign Policy has published (here) a brief outline history of the development and use of the regulatory instrument known as "cap-and-trade."

Happy Birthday George Harrison (1943-2001)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Like Wind Farms

Driving from Indy to Chicago today, I passed fields of giant wind turbines in Northern Indiana. I must say, I found them aesthetically pleasing, even beautiful. They greatly enhanced any otherwise dull, flat landscape.

I don't know if wind energy will ever achieve the economies of scale necessary to displace a significant part of carbon-based fuel, but I can appreciate fields of wind turbines as landscape art.

Latest Bike from Serotta

I hope the ride doesn't have a "wooden" quality.

UPDATE: It's not really a wood bike, but a painted carbon bike.

Hat tip: PezCyclingNews

"History of the English Speaking Peoples"

Say what you will about Winston Churchill as a politician or military strategist, the man could write! His facility with the English language, both spoken and written, remains nearly unequaled more than 50 years after his death. It is well displayed in his History of the English Speaking Peoples, of which I've just finished the first (of four) volumes. I'm no expert in the history of England, so I cannot really speak to the quality of Churchill's book as history. Churchill was not, and did not purport to be, a professional historian. But the book is a sheer delight to read. It is the kind of accomplishment that most writers would consider a crowning achievement. For Churchill, it was only one among many.

Happy 70th Birthday Ron Santo

The man belongs in the Hall of Fame!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Learning by Napping

As many loyal readers know, I am an avid napper. Now, this podcast at Scientific American's website gives me another reason to nap: turns out that napping assists the learning process by moving information from short-term memory storage to long-term storage in the cerebral cortex.

I should hasten to add that this research does not support napping in class. In order to move the information from short-term to long-term memory, one must first process the information; and for that I believe it helps to be awake.

Giro d'What?

According to this report at, the 2012 Giro d'Italia will begin with two stages (the first of which would be a prologue) in Washington, D.C. That's right, Washington, D.C., as in the capital of the USA, which last time I looked wasn't even on the same continent at Italy.

Makes perfect sense to me. What could be more reasonable than a 10-hour flight, across 6 time zones, between two stages of a 3-week grand tour? Somebody should start doing some drug tests on race organizers!

Happy Birthday "Witkacy" (1885-1939)

Stanislaw Witkiewicz (Witkacy) was one of Poland's finest artists of the early 20th century, as well as a playwright, author, philosopher and photographer. A true renaissance man.

On This Date...

In 1803, the US Supreme Court decided Marbury v. Madison, which firmly established the authority of the Supreme Court to exercise judicial review of legislative and executive branch actions, making the Court the final arbiter of the Constitution, capable of overturning decisions of the more democratic branches of government.  Those of you who have read previous postings of mine comparing government institutions in the UK and US know that I harbor serious doubts about the social value of constitutional judicial review. But, love it or hate it, Justice Marshall's decision in Marbury made it a keystone institution in our system of government.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

End of Winter Training

This is the last week of Winter Training at the Nebo Ridge Bike Shop in West Carmel. (Unfortunately, winter itself did not get the message about ending this week.) Because I have to go out of town on Thursday, tonight is my last night, which means the last lactate threshold (LT) test. So far this winter season (since October), my 20-minute threshold power level has improved from 260W to 289W. I was hoping to be able to average 300W this evening, but I'm not sure I'm feeling up to it. We'll see.

UPDATE: 303W. That's in the ballpark for Cat 4 racers (though I don't race).

IMF Opposes Immediate Spending Cuts

The other day, I posted (here) about the rival letters from two opposing camps of economists. One camp - the deficit hawks - recommend immediate spending cuts to curtail increasing budget deficits. The other camp - the stimulus hawks - recommend delaying budget cuts for at least another year to give more time for economic recovery.

Now, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is ordinarily among the most hawkish of deficit hawks, is siding with the stimulus hawks. In a "public information notice" published this morning at the IMF website (here) the IMF's Executive Board stressed the need for eventual fiscal austerity to reduce debt-to-GDP ratios, but cautioned that large-scale spending reductions should not be implemented prior to "clear evidence of a self-sustaining recovery."

Zakaria on Deterring Iran

In this morning's Washington Post (here), Fareed Zakaria explains that Iran's Revolutionary Guard have replaced the clerical elite at the center of power, and why that might not be such a bad thing from the point of view of the US and its allies. Indeed, it might be a good thing assuming Iran continues on its path toward the development of nuclear weapons because, as Zakaria notes, "Military regimes are calculating. They act in ways that keep themselves in power. That instinct for self-preservation is what will make a containment strategy work." In other words, military leaders are more likely than religious zealots to realize that the strategic value of nuclear weapons lies entirely in the threat they create, not their actual use, which would invite immediate and devastating retaliation. 

Happy 66th Birthday Johnny Winter

Monday, February 22, 2010

One for the Weight Weenies reports (here) on Cervelo's "Project California," which is a new bike frame, resembling the current R3 model, that would weigh only 700 grams (for the 54 cm size). If you have to ask the expected price, you can't afford it: $9,600. But hey, who wouldn't spend an extra $4000 to $5000 to drop 200-300 grams?

The Most Eye-Popping Sentence I Have Read in a Long Time

In the next 50 years, humans will have to produce as much food as we have over the entire history of civilization.
That sentence comes from this article in Scientific American on "How to make more food with transgenic crops."

Recommended Reading: Farber on "Uncertainty"

Boalt Hall (UC, Berkeley) law professor Daniel Farber has posted on SSRN (here) a very interesting new paper on "Uncertainty." Here is the abstract:
Many of the pressing policy issues facing us today require confronting the unknown and making difficult choices in the face of limited information. Economists distinguish between “uncertainty” (where the likelihood of the peril is non-quantifiable) and “risk” (where the likelihood is quantifiable). Uncertainty is particularly pernicious in situations where catastrophic outcomes are possible, but conventional decision tools are not equipped to cope with these potentially disastrous results. This Article describes new analytic tools for assessing potential catastrophic outcomes and applies them to some key policy issues: controlling greenhouse gases, adapting to unavoidable climate change, regulating nanotechnology, dealing with long-lived nuclear wastes, and controlling financial instability.

More specifically, economic modeling and policy analysis are often based on the assumption that extreme harms are highly unlikely, in the technical sense that the “tail” of the probability distributions is “thin” – in other words, that it approaches rapidly to zero. Thin tails allow extreme risks to be given relatively little weight. A growing body of research, however, focuses on the possibility of fat tails, which are common in systems with feedback between different components. As it turns out, fat tails and uncertainty often go together. Economic theories of “ambiguity” deal at a more general level with situations where multiple plausible models of reality confront a decision maker. Ambiguity theories are useful in considering systems with fat tails and in other situations where the probabilities are simply difficult to quantify. The Article considers both the policy implications of fat tails and the use of ambiguity theories such as α-maxmin.
Dan's paper draws assesses some legal policy implications of the very important work Marty Weitzman has been doing on the treatment of low-probability (or high-uncertainty), high-magnitude events, like catastrophic climate change, in cost-benefit analyses (or other economic analyses, such as integrated assessment models). Like all of Dan's scholarship, it is interesting and important.

New Bike Envy

Nearly all of my best cycling buds are getting new bikes this year, and I'm not. Don't get me wrong, I still love my Merlin Cyrene. But you can't beat that new bike smell!

Happy 63d Birthday Harvey Mason

Yes, I know it's George Washington's birthday, but you've gotta love Harvey Mason!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The "Ideal" Length for a Book Review

The Michigan Law Review has put out a call for contributions to its annual book review issue. That solicitation, which I saw at Concurring Opinions, includes an assertion that strikes me as enormously silly: Please note that we require that finished drafts be no more than 8,500 words, including footnotes. We believe that this is the ideal length for an interesting and useful book review." 

In my life, I've read some fabulous 200-word book reviews and some horrible 200-word reviews; and I've read some fabulous 20,000-word book reviews (really, review essays) and some horrible 20,000 word reviews. The idea that there is an "ideal" length for every review of every book is just so... so... so ... crazy!

That's not to say that the editors of the book review issue of the Michigan Law Review don't have good and sound reasons to restrict page lengths, including to save space for a greater number of reviews in each issue. I'd even be willing to stipulate that, on average, 8,500-word reviews are likely to be better than 12,000-word or 20,000-word reviews. But the idea that there is some "ideal" or "optimal" level that applies to all reviews is just enormously silly.

A Small Enough Price to Pay

Cornell economist Robert Frank has a sensible column in today's New York Times on climate policy. Highly recommended.

Parliament v. Congress

Increasingly, I find the political institutions and organizations of the UK more interesting, attractive and, most importantly, more functional than those of the US. Among other things, I believe the UK's institution of parliamentary supremacy takes democracy more seriously than the US institution of limited and judicially-supervised (sometimes, judicially-truncated) legislative authority, at seemingly low cost, and possibly even net gain, to social welfare. I have written about this institutional distinction, in the specific context of property rights, in  a 2007 article in the Supreme Court Economic Review (an ungated, pre-publication version of that article can be read here).

Today, I am considering another phenomenon of Parliament that seems to have few parallels in the US Congress, at least since Daniel Patrick Moynihan's retirement from the Senate: the existence or non-existence of scholarly legislators, who write books not just as about themselves and their political "philosophies" as campaign tools, but real, high quality political histories and biographies. Churchill's many works immediately spring to mind, not just because of his fame but because of his great mind and the sheer quality of his use of the English language. But Churchill is only the most famous example, and not nearly the most recent, of scholar-parliamentarians. Others include Roy Jenkins, who has written impressive biographies of other famous parliamentarians, including Churchill and Gladstone. As recently as 2005, former Conservative Party leader, and still an MP, William Hague wrote an award-winning biography of William Pitt the Younger (Knopf 2005).

It's difficult to imagine any current member of the US Congress who might be capable of such an intellectual feat. Indeed, any member of Congress, particularly a Republican, who had the temerity, let alone the talent, to write such a book would likely be labeled an "elitist egg-head," and subject to withering political attacks for their detachment from the "real problems" facing the American people.

The US Congress has had its share (perhaps more than its share) of esteemed scholars since the founding, ranging from James Madison, John Quincy Adams, and Daniel Webster, to Daniel Patrick Moynihan (not to mention Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, who were real scholars, but never members of Congress). But the label "scholar-legislator" seems to have become all but extinct in the modern era.

Is there something about the institutional structure of government in the UK, but not the US, that facilitates the active participation in government of real scholars?

By the way, I would not presume that scholar-legislators are necessarily better, or make better policy, than non-scholar-legislators. I just find interesting the phenomenon (if I'm right that it is a phenomenon) that the UK's governmental institutions, far more than US institutions, encourage scholars to participate in government (at least, they do not seem to discourage it).

Happy Birthday John Rawls (1921-2002)

One of the most significant political and legal philosophers of the 20th century.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review: "36 Arguments for the Existence of God"

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's latest work of combined philosophy and fiction is a triumph of both genres. It taught me much about (a) the psychology of religion, (b) Hasidic societies and customs, and (c) the strange ways of academics (this last, I admittedly knew something about already). But I never felt bludgeoned by her intellectual prowess - right up there with that of Richard Powers - which she dutifully subjected to the service of her story. Most importantly, the story and its characters were a delight. This was a very hard book to put down; indeed, after the halfway point of the story, putting it down became nearly impossible.

The book concludes with a very usefully appendix setting out each of the 36 distinct arguments for the existence of god, which also happen to comprise the chapter titles, along with her own concise dismantling of each argument. Her treatment is so succinct, clear and decisive that I can only conclude she never would have succeeded as an academic philosopher.

Bottom line: Rebecca Newberger Goldstein has become one of my favorite living American authors, and not just because I'm an atheist.

You Might Be Labeled an "Elitist" If...

You have a college degree.
You read books (other than, or in addition to, the Bible).
You think about arguments before making them.
You like your arguments to be well-informed.
You treat facts and ideas with respect.
You do not automatically dismiss facts or arguments that run counter to your beliefs.
You are capable of admitting error.
You are capable of changing your mind.
You speak and write in complete sentences.
You avoid over-simplifying complex issues.
You do not vilify those who disagree with you simply because they disagree with you.
You are more interested in exercising responsibility than in assigning blame.
You judge individuals on their individual merits, rather than status or affiliations.

A Chance for Arsenal to Make Up Ground

Arsenal are getting ready to kick off at home against lowly Sunderland. Man U already have lost 3-1 at Everton. So, with a win today, the Gunners can pull within 2 points of the second-place Red Devils. Go Gunners.

Unfortunately, I'll only be able to watch the first half of the game live; training in Coach Bob's basement starts at 11 am.

Putting the Smart in the Smart Grid?

Engadget reports (here) that Google has been given authority by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to buy and sell energy in bulk, just like any other utility. I have no idea what Google is planning, but Google's history suggests that it should be exciting, innovative, and socially useful. 

How I Deal with Stress

I try to ride my bike as much as possible.
I try to sleep a lot.
I definitely eat a lot.
I take my anti-anxiety meds.
But mostly, I just become a stressed-out mess.

Happy Birthday Ibrahim Ferrer (1927-2005)

Great Cuban singer of the Buena Vista Social Club.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The New Battle of Britain: Economists v. Economists

A group of 20 prominent economists, including Sir John Vickers, Thomas Sargent, and Ken Rogoff, published this letter in last Sunday's Times (London) supporting the Conservative party's plan to dramatically cut public spending to cut the UK's budget deficit, which they described as "the largest in our peacetime history and among the largest in the developed world."

Today, 60 other prominent economists, including Lord Skidelsky, Brad DeLong, Joseph Stiglitz, and Robert Solow, published two separate letters (
here and here) in the Financial Times opposing the deficit-reduction policies of the Tories, and claiming that cutting public spending now could disastrously delay recovery from economic recession.They support the current Chancellor, Alastair Darling's, policy of postponing budget cuts until 2011.

These same two letters could well have been written about US policy, where Republicans are clamoring about growing budget deficits, while the Obama Administration is inclined to push off spending cuts until 2011 in order to prevent a double-dip recession.

So which group of very, very smart economists is right? Of course, no one can say. Welcome to the world of macroeconomics. If pushed from my perch on the fence, I would tend to fall within the second camp: cutting budgets would be more dangerous than increasing deficit spending at this time, when a weakened economy is just beginning to come out of recession.

The larger message is that, while economists are in widespread - indeed, nearly unanimous - agreement on some fundamental issues such as price theory and international trade, they are in diametric opposition on other issues of central importance to policy makers and voters/consumers.   

What You and I Pay for Health Care, Compared to What Members of Congress Pay

Hat tip: Brad DeLong

Happy 30th Birthday Dwight Freeney

Happy Birthday Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543)

His birthplace in Torun, Poland.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Recommended Reading: Korobkin on "Libertarian Welfarism"

UCLA Law Professor Russell Korobkin has a very interesting new (and refreshingly brief) article in the California Law Review (Vol. 97, pp. 1651-1685, 2009) (available here), which presents a different normative grounding for government actions designed to overcome defects in individual decision making due to, for example, biases, costly information, and bounded rationality.

In recent years, legal scholars and economists, building on the research of cognitive psychologists such as Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky, have advocated what Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler refer to as "Libertarian Paternalism." Despite the oxymoronic title, the theory, as most thoughtfully presented in Sunstein and Thaler's book Nudge (Yale 2008) seems sound: government is capable of taking certain regulatory actions that can improve individual decision making and enhance individual well being without actually requiring or coercing individuals to make better decisions.

For example, by requiring food manufacturers to provide nutrition information in clearly-marked boxes, the government reduces the cost to consumers of discovering that information, and puts them in a position, without requiring them, to make better choices for themselves

In his new article, Russ Korobkin argues - convincingly in my estimation - that this kind of government action is better defined and supported under a different oxymoronic label: "libertarian welfarism." What distinguishes Korobkin's conception from the "libertarian paternalism" of Sunstein, Thaler and others, is that instead of focusing on getting people to make better decisions for their own welfare, the goal is to improve individual decision making for social welfare.

A simple example illustrates the superiority of Korobkin's informal model of "libertarian welfarism." The US suffers from a shortage of organ donations relative to the demand for donated organs. Some scholars have argued that the existing shortage could be significantly reduced by a change in default rules. The current default rule in the US is "opt-in," which means that to become a donor an individual must take an affirmative action, e.g., signing a donor card. In some European countries, similar "opt-in" rules have been replaced by "opt-out" rules, which creates a presumption that individuals intend to be organ donors, unless they affirmatively signify an intent not to donate. Consequently, those countries experienced a remarkable increase in organ donations.

Even though Thaler and Sunstein treat the case of default rules for organ donation as an example of "libertarian paternalism," Korobkin explains that it really is not because one cannot argue that the change in the default rule itself leads to behavior that enhances the subjective utility of organ donors. The organ donation example is really better explained under Korobkin's "libertarian welfarist" model, which focuses on the effects of individual decisions not just on that individual's subjective welfare but social welfare.

The article is worth reading in its entirety, as Korobkin discusses several other theoretical and practical advantages of his social welfarist approach to non-coercive government regulations designed to "nudge" individual decision makers.

A Decision Wallace Stegner Would Have Loved

It seems somehow appropriate that today, on Wallace Stegner's birthday, the DC Circuit has granted summary judgment in favor of the US Forest Service (USFS) in a case that challenged that agency's legal authority to declare portions of the Tongass National Forest "old growth reserves," not available for timber  sales. The plaintiffs, a consortium of local Alaska communities and timber companies, argued that the USFS's management plan for the Tongass constituted an illegal "withdrawal" of old-growth  stands from public use without congressional authorization. The Court rejected that argument, holding that the setting aside of "old-growth reserves" did not constitute a withdrawal of the land from public use. The text of the ruling is here.

In this context, the term "withdrawal" is a technical term of art, referring to land legally removed from the public domain and multiple-use management. Only Congress has authority to "withdraw" lands from the public domain, with certain congressionally enacted exceptions under which the President has that authority.

Under the current Forest Management Plan for the Tongass, which the court today upheld, approximately 3.4 million acres of the 17-million acre national forest are open for timber harvesting.

Hat tip: Jurist

Spokeless Wheels

Engadget reports (here) that Yale engineering students have come up with an ingenious looking model of a bike on which the rear wheel has no spokes and is actually part of the drive train. I do wonder about how hard it would be to change out that rear tire in the event of a flat. Also, the bike looks kinda heavy, but it's important to bear in mind that this was a one-semester project. Given another semester, they'd probably have managed to get the spokes out of the front wheel as well, and built a frame that weight-weenies would love.

The Media-Industrial Complex

Anyone who pays attention to the bloviators on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, et al., should read this article by Sebastian Jones in the February 11, 2010 issue of The Nation. In it, Jones reveals the extent to which paid corporate board members and consultants are appearing on cable news shows, labeled only as Republican or Democratic "strategists," and airing policy advice that would directly benefit their undisclosed corporate sponsors. Jones reports that:
Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials--people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests--have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens--and in some cases hundreds--of appearances.
So, when former Governor and  Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge appeared on Chris Matthews's Hardball program in December to give his advice on policies to assist with economic recovery, he strongly urged investments in nuclear power. He did not bother to mention that he is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to serve on the board of Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear power company. When Bernard Whitman, a corporate image consultant working for, among others, AIG, appeared on Fox News in March 2009 and said that the public needed to "'move beyond anger, frustration and hysteria'" to solve the economic crisis, he did not mention that he was being paid by AIG.

Apparently, the cable news networks are complicit in this - at least they are often aware of their guest commentators' conflicts of interest. The fact that they do not require full disclosure of those conflicts is both unethical and constitutes poor journalism. Reallly, no surprise there. It seems somehow redundant to accuse cable news of poor journalism.

Chocolate: The Wonder Food

Science Daily reports (here) on a study that appears to confirm that eating chocolate can reduce the risk of stroke, and if eaten after a stroke can reduce the risk of death from the stroke. Gotta love chocolate.

Happy Birthday Wallace Stegner (1909-1993)

"Dean of Western Writers" and avid conservationist.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When Demand of Healthy Consumers Falls, Insurance Prices Rise

Insurance markets are, in important respects, not like markets for other goods. The Indianapolis Star reports (here) on a legislative hearing about recent insurance rate hikes as high as 30% in Indiana. In testimony during that hearing, Robert Hillman, the President of Wellpoint in Indiana, explained that a big part of the increase was due "more healthy members leaving the insurance pools, leaving behind sicker members with higher costs." 

In most markets for most goods, when quantity demanded declines, prices fall. This can also be true for health insurance, but we must be careful not to conflate quantity demanded with the number of insurance consumers. A reduction in the numbered in insured does not necessarily mean a reduction in quantity of health care demanded. In fact, healthy consumers by definition do not impose substantial costs on insurance companies because they do not demand much in the way of health care. Sicker patients, by contrast, impose costs in excess of the premia they pay for insurance. So, when healthy consumers cancel insurance to avoid paying premia for services they do not use, that leaves only the sicker patients to pay, which causes average costs and consequently premia to skyrocket. In the economics literature, this is known as the problem of "adverse selection," and it is the main reason why so many proponents of health-care reform, including President Obama, favor mandatory participation by all Americans, so as to spread the risks and the costs of providing health insurance more broadly.

Mellencamp for Senate?

The USA Today is reporting (here) that a movement is afoot in Indiana to run Bloomington-resident John Mellencamp as a Democratic candidate for Evan Bayh's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. I am reminded of Homer Simpson's sage observation: "Rock stars, is there anything they don't know?"

Champion's League Round of 16

Arsenal play at Porto (Portugal) today in the first leg of the first knock-out round of the tournament. Aside from the usual problems at striker, the Gunners are suffering from injuries to key players including defender William Gallas and first-choice goalie Manuel Almunia. There's not much drop off to Arsenal's back-up goalie, Lukas Fabianski, but I'm not at all confident in 36-year-old Sol Campbell's ability to deputize for Gallas. My hope is  that Arsenal will, contrary to form, play it safe in this game, keeping mid-fielder Denilson back to help out in central defense, while looking for a few opportunities to counter-attack. A nil-nil result would not be a bad thing, as Arsenal would then have a chance to heal-up players prior to the second leg of the tie in London.

UPDATE: Final score Porto 2 - Arsenal 1. The two Porto goals came on horrific errors by Arsenal's goalie. Not surprisingly, the Gunner's neglected my advice and did not play defensively. Their midfield was all over the place. They're lucky to get out of Portugal with an away goal and down only one. Hopefully, they'll be healthier, especially Almunia,  for the return leg in London.

Abbey Road Studios To Close

Various news reports indicate that the famous Abbey Road Studio in London are to close. The studios have become a significant tourist attraction - a veritable Mecca for Beatles fans. According to some news reports (e.g., here), Paul McCartney is leading a bid to save the studio. If the studio closes, I blame Yoko.

Surfing Dolphins

Today's Daily Telegraph has some awesome photos (here) of dolphins surfing big waves, apparently just for fun. Very cool.

Happy 38th Birthday Billie Joe Armstrong

Leader of the second best live band I've ever seen. Who's the first? Indeed.

Happy 47th Birthday MJ

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Achievement My Cycling Teammates Are Sure to Appreciate

According to this report in the Daily Telegraph, the dedicated beer-ologists at BrewDog (Scotland) have produced the world's strongest beer, an ale called "Sink the Bismarck!" which is 41% alcohol by volume. The beer costs 40 pounds per 330 ml  bottle, and is only available on-line from BrewDog's website.

Bye Bayh

The Republicrat junior Senator from Indiana, who refused to take a stand on any issue aside from tax cuts,  announced yesterday (here) that he will not be seeking reelection for a third term. His departure raises several questions: (1) What is the real reason he decided not to run - did internal polling suggest a first electoral loss was in his near future? (2) Did he really believe that the biggest problem with the Bush tax cuts was that they were not broad and deep enough? (3) What can he possibly point to as an actual achievement of his 12 years in the Senate?

Today, the blogosphere is filled with appreciations (if that is the right word) of Senator Bayh's career. I have not seen one that is flattering. Matthew Yglesias (here) finds that Evan Bayh's Senate career compares very poorly with that of his father, Birch Bayh. Yglesias also suggests that Evan Bayh may be most remembered for his "die-hard commitment to the children of multi-millionaires." Ezra Klein writes in the Washington Post (here) that Bayh is retiring to "spend more time scolding his family for moving too far to the left." Over at The Reality-Based Community (here), Jonathan Zasslof refers to Even Bayh as "an empty suit," who combined an "extraordinary unctiousness and vapidity." I'm afraid Zasslof may be confusing Bayh with John Kerry, but the description is nonetheless apt.

The Biggest Killer on Britain's Roads: Not Auto Accidents but Air Pollution

The conservative Daily Telegraph (here) reports today that nearly ten times more people in England die prematurely from automobile-related pollution than from automobile accidents. In 1998, 2,600 were killed in road accidents, while an estimated 24,000 died as a result of exposure to air pollutants from automobiles. And the problem has gotten worse since then. Depending on which methodology is used, between 35,000 and 51,000 people died prematurely in 2005 from ingesting small particles of pollution emitted by motor vehicles. Between 3,500 and 8,000 of those premature deaths are estimated to occur in London alone. The health effects alone of air pollution are estimated to cost Britain as much as 20 billion pounds each year. This, despite an extensive system of environmental laws that have been in effect for decades. The UK is currently in front of the European Court of Justice, charged with violating EU limits on particulate emissions.

Happy 72d Birthday to John Corigliano

Pulitzer-prize winner composer. One of the more interesting American composers, I think, of the last 30 years.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In Memoriam: Doug Feiger (1952-2010)

Doug Feiger, founder, songwriter and lead singer of The Knack, died of cancer today at age 57. I had the extreme pleasure of seeing The Knack perform several times in small clubs while I was a college student in LA during the 1980s. Get the Knack, their first album, was for some time the fasting selling album of all time, featuring such hits as "My Sharona" (see below) and "Good Girls Don't." Feiger's passing is very sad news for anyone who loves New Wave and Power Pop.

Model City for Cyclists

According to this story at, members of England's parliament - the "All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group" - are visiting Cambridge to learn how the Cambridgeshire County Council has created a cycling-friendly and -safe community.

They couldn't have chosen a better place. Cambridge is the most cycling-friendly place I have ever been. My family and I lived there for half a year in 2000, while I was on my first sabbatical. It was there that I fell in love with cycling again. I did not drive a car for the entire duration of our visit. Among the first things we did when we arrived in Cambridge was to purchase used bicycles, which became our sole method of transportation around town. In fact, bikes are a faster, more efficient, and safer method of transportation than cars, even in the rain.

We did everything on bikes, from the (almost) daily grocery shopping to visiting friends in outlaying villages at night. I have a specific memory of riding back to college with my wife after a visit to friends in Grandchester, the road lit only by the moon. I also recall riding back to college after a banquet at Peterhouse College at 2 am, wearing full tux and gown, in the rain! And I can still remember by heart the route my daughter and I rode each day from Clare Hall (our college) to the Newnham Croft Elementary School. I wonder, how many parents are lucky enough  to ride with their kids to school on bikes in the US?

Cambridge is a wonderful place for a whole host of reasons, not least of which is the cycling culture. If I had a chance to live there (which I nearly did a few years ago), I would never own a car.

Happy Birthday Antonin Magne (1904-1983)

Yes, I know that it's also the birthday of Galileo and Jeremy Bentham, but Magne (nicknamed, "The Monk") won the Tour de France twice (1931 and 1934).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

No, I really don't

The Politics of IPCC Errors

Like all organizations, scientific and otherwise, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) occasionally makes errors in its reports. Unlike some organizations, when an error is exposed, the IPCC corrects it. However, in the current climate of "Climategate," which started with leaked e-mails messages from the climate research center at the University of East Anglia, occasional IPCC errors take on added significance.

For climate deniers and skeptics (I'm still not sure of the difference between the two groups) everywhere, IPCC errors constitute proof that climate change is a problem manufactured by the conspiratorial forces of "Big Science," or some such nonsense. Op-ed pages in the US and UK are full of demands that the IPCC has lost all credibility and should be disbanded, that climate scientists should start their researches anew in greater openness and transparency, and that in the meantime, nothing should be done either to mitigate climate change or to assist regions of the world that already are suffering adaptation-related costs.

Fortunately, the good folks over at have attempted to set the record straight (here) with a complete and detailed explanation of (a) how the IPCC is structured and functions, (b) which findings from the 4th Assessment Report (2007) were erroneous and how those errors arose (and really should not have arisen in the first place), and (c) how other so-called "errors" are based either on fallacious interpretations or cherry-picking quotations out-of-context.

Unfortunately, unlike the IPCC and the thousands of scientists who provide it with data, editorial-page writers rarely admit their errors, misreadings, and misinterpretations. Even more unfortunately, the IPCC and climate scientists may not fully appreciate the nature of the fight they are in. This is not a dispute over good versus bad science (which ultimately is settled by more science) but a large-scale political effort designed to (1) discredit climate science and (2) thereby destroy prospects for meaningful climate policy. Most unfortunate of all, the efforts to discredit climate science seem to be unnecessary, after Copenhagen, to prevent meaningful climate policy. Even if there were no political disputes over the science, short-term prospects for meaningful climate policy in the US or anywhere else in the world (other than perhaps Europe) seem somewhere between slim and none.

Paul Volcker on Financial Markets Regulation

Interesting interview in the Financial Times (here).

In Case Anyone Has Noticed...

I have not been blogging a lot lately on substantive issues of law, politics, or economics. In part, that is because I've been preoccupied with daily work matters, including trying to get some writing done and reading various manuscripts for colleagues. Two of those manuscripts by, respectively, Penn law prof Matt Adler (on social welfare analysis) and Butler econ prof Peter Grossman (on US energy policy) should be published in  2011/12, and will be very strongly recommended on this blog. I've also been spending time thinking about possible career and location changes, which consumes a surprising amount of energy.

The most important reason for the relative dearth of substantial postings of late is that I haven't been finding much in the news, politics or economic situation worth posting about. That's not to say that nothing is happening in the world. Google Reader feeds me literally thousands of bits of data each day. For the most part, however, I don't find much in that data (a) that interests me, (b) is within my relatively limited (compared to other bloggers) metier, and (b) is worth posting about. In particular, unlike some other bloggers, I have little interest in pretending to understand the macro economy, which frankly no one (and I mean NO ONE) really understands. Having become fed up with the pontifications of others on political and economic topics, I have become loathe to add my own, at least for the time being.

One piece of personal reading news: I have finally given up on Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time, half way through the second novel in the series. It is easy, perhaps, facile to compare Powell with  Proust. I find both unendurable for the same reason: nothing ever really happens. Powell's work has also been analogized to Robert Musil's wonderful Man Without Qualities, but I prefer Musil as a writer and story-teller.

Happy 33d Birthday to the Current World Champ, Cadel Evans

Photo from Cyclingnews.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Academic Life

The academic life is not all class preps, research, and conferences. As I was reminded just today, it is also a mean and nasty profession, in which some professors seem to derive their greatest satisfaction not from any achievements of their own but from impeding the achievements or even the careers of their supposed colleagues. In academia, it seems, schadenfreude is endemic.

A Double Happy Birthday!

Who knew that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were both born on February 12, 1809?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Performance-Enhancing Drugs

After all the bad publicity about how drugs have infested and infected professional cycling, it's refreshing to see the bright light of sportsmanship and ethics shined on another sport, in which the drug abuse is so rampant that it makes cyclists look like choirboys. No, I'm not talking about baseball, football or track & field.

This report in the Guardian exposes the abuse of ketamin, cocaine, and metamphetamine among 40- to 60-year-old participants in all-night mahjong marathons in Shanghai. Oh the shame! How can I ever look up to my favorite mahjong players again, without suspecting that they are coked up?

Sign of the Times

I saw the same sign in the halls of Congress.

Getting Excited About the Olympics?

I'm trying, but so far without much success. Love Vancouver though.

New Books

I feel like it's a holiday whenever new books arrive. Four new ones arrived yesterday. I only hope I can find time soon to read them.

Karl Boyd Brooks, Before Earth Day: The Origins of American Environmental Law, 1945-1970 (Kansas 2009).

Christopher Andrew, Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (Knopf 2009).

Mark A.R. Kleiman, When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton 2009).

Joel Mokyr, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850 (Yale 2009).

Happy Birthday UCL

On this date in 1826, University College London (UCL) became the first university to be established in London. Originally called "London University," its founders James Mill (father of John Stuart Mill) and Henry Brougham, under the influence of Jeremy Bentham, sought to provide secular higher education of the highest quality not just to the elites but to the middle classes. It remains today, under the leadership of Cyclingprof friend Malcolm Grant, one of the premier institutions of higher education in the world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Arsenal 1 - Liverpool 0

In a game that matters only for a place in the Champion's League next season, Arsenal stemmed the bleeding with a 1-0 victory over Liverpool. Abu Diaby scored the games lone goal in the 72d minute. It was not a particularly thrilling or edifying display of football. I wonder whether Wenger will declare this victory a vindication, and claim that Arsenal are now back in the title hunt. He would, of course, be wrong, despite the fact that Chelsea lost today and Man U drew.

UPDATE: As predicted, Arsene Wenger now insists (here) that Arsenal are back in the title hunt, despite the fact that they remain 6 points behind Chelsea, and have lost all 4 games with the two teams above them. I suppose Liverpool's manager, Rafa Benitez might claim that they can still catch Arsenal for third place in the Premier League despite the loss to them yesterday, and currently trailing them by 8 points. Absurd.

Americans Flunk Simple Government Literacy Test

Hat tip: John Hill

I Don't Play Rugby

This headline appears in today's Daily Telegraph ( "Six Nations 2010: Dan Cole handed first England start for Italy clash."

Please stop sending me congratulatory messages. A cursory glance at the photo below should convince you that it is a different Dan Cole.

Labor Theory of Property Rights in Parking Spots

Over at Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok has this interesting post about how car owners in Boston who free their cars from snow pack after storms gain by their labor limited (in duration) property rights in the parking spaces. A Boston city ordinance allows them to place a lawn chair or garbage can in the space for up to two days, to prevent others parking there, while they are away with their car. Alex also notes that in Washington, DC, where heavy snowfall is more rare, no such ordinance exists, nor has any social norm developed, leaving Washington residents in a quandary about how they might lawfully prevent others from free-riding on their labor. A savvy commentator on Alex's post notes that Chicago does not have any ordinance similar to Boston's, but a workable social norm has developed: if someone else takes the space you recently cleared, their car will wind be damaged.

The title of Alex's post suggests that these property rules are explicable under John Locke's labor theory of property acquisition the Boston ordinance, which seems obviously true at first blush. Locke's theory holds that property is acquired in resources by the act of mixing one's labor with the thing to be appropriated. However, Locke added a somewhat less famous proviso to that rule: there must be as much and as good left for others to appropriate. Given the general scarcity of parking spaces relative to the population of automobiles in just about any major city, it's not so clear that Locke's labor theory of property acquisition would apply. On the other hand, Locke might just say, "Clear your own damn space!"

Anniversary (But Not a Happy One)

On this date in 1979, popular music reached a nadir not seen since the end of the 1950s, when Rod Stewart's "Do You Think I'm Sexy" hit number 1 on the Billboard music charts.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wenger Really Has Lost the Plot

According to this article in tomorrow morning's The Independent, Arsene Wenger alleges that Arsenal are criticized more than other teams simply because they try to play positive football, while other teams that "refuse to play" are treated less harshly when they lose.

How difficult can it be for someone as smart as Wenger to understand that it's not just a matter of trying to play football (soccer) "the right way"; it's also a matter of having the right players in the right positions to play "the right way"?

Van Persie was injured months ago already. He had the money to spend in the January transfer window. Serviceable strikers were available. But, apparently, Wenger's ego got in the way. How impressive would it have been to win the title with an under-sized play-making winger substituting for a striker? One thing's for sure at this point, we'll never know.

If You Want To Test Your Faith in Democracy ...

... check out the comments section of any news or politics article published on-line by any newspaper, anywhere in the country.

Big Tom Wins a Sprint

Congrats to Tom Boonen  (pictured below) for winning the sprint to the finish of today's stage in the Tour of Qatar.

Arsenal to Sign Chamakh

The Times (of London) is reporting (here) that Arsenal will sign the highly-rated French striker Marouane Chamakh (pictured left), when his current contract with Bordeaux expires in the summer. Chamakh has been courted by several other teams, including Liverpool and Inter Milan, but Arsene Wenger has been courting him for a long time. It's just too bad that Arsenal were unable to secure Chamakh's services during the January transfer window. He was just what they needed to compete against Man U and Chelsea. But better late than never. Chamakh's arrival should, at least, calm the fears of Arsenal supporters that current Gunners such as Fabregas and Arshavin might demand transfers after yet another trophy-less season.

UPDATE: Arsense Wenger has denied that Arsenal have already signed Chamakh, but the Times story referenced above only claims that they have in place an agreement to sign him after his current contract with Bordeaux expires.

Challenge Mallorca

Congratulations to Oscar Freire (pictured right) for winning on day two of the Challenge Mallorca. He beat Andre Greipel (no mean feat) in a sprint.

Charter Cities

The excellent economist Paul Romer advocates "charter cities" in this article in Prospect Magazine. The idea is simple enough in theory. Wealthy developed countries (DCs) can assist development efforts in less developed countries (LDCs) by creating charter cities in LDCs, which for some finite period of time would be under the jurisdiction of DCs. The presumption is that political control by DCs would mean better governance, which would promote economic development. The historical model Romer has in mind is Hong Kong, which under British dominion became a wealthy hub of development in an otherwise poor and under-developed part of the world.

The idea is fascinating and surely worth experimenting with - especially given the failure of traditional development aid and lack of new ideas on that front - but I can already hear the catcalls of "neo-imperlialism"

Happy Birthday Alban Berg (1885-1935)

One of my very favorite composers, who managed to combine his teacher Schoenberg's serial technique with lovely lyricism. Among my favorite of his works are his 5 early songs, violin concerto, the "Lyric Suite," and his operas Lulu and Wozzeck. He is one of the truly great composers, but does not get the attention he deserves.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Experimental Evidence Finds that Religious Beliefs Do Not Shape Moral Intuitions

A new article in Nature (here) describes experimental research by Ilkka Pyysiainen of the University of Helsinki and Marc Hauser of Harvard, in which thousands of people from various religious and social backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities were presented with moral dilemmas, which could not be resolved by simple reference to holy books. They found that, for the most part, "'moral intuitions operate independently of religious background," which supports arguments by atheists that moral conduct is not a specifically religious virtue.

New Climate Bill

Maria Cantwell, a Democratic Senator from Washington, has sponsored a new climate bill which create a cap-and-dividend system, with auctioned credits, more of the revenues from which would be rebated to consumers in monthly checks to defray increasing energy costs. Cantwell's bill is far less byzantine and lengthy than Waxman-Markey and other proposals, in large part because it excludes huge subsidies to farmers and energy companies. In other respects it is a much better climate bill because it would auction all allowances (with both a price floor and a price ceiling), which would raise the price of carbon. But it would make those price increases politically tolerable for consumers by offsetting them with monthly dividend checks.

The bill can be read in its entirety here. It already has received extensive media coverage in (among other outlets) the Wall Street Journal (here), (here), Mother Jones (here), and The Hill (here).

Personally, I like the legislative proposal, which should be popular with the public, if the public believes the government will not, at the first opportunity, renege on its commitment to rebate auction revenues to consumers. On the other hand, the bill is sure to be pilloried by energy companies, including those that support cap-and-trade legislation because they are against auctioning of emissions allowances. The Cantwell bill does remove one oft-articulated reason for their opposition: that auctioning would hurt consumers. But they can be expected to oppose auctioning in any case. Other opponents will include farmers, who stand to benefit from the generous offset provisions in other cap-and-trade proposals, including Waxman-Markey.

In recent months, it has appeared increasingly likely that Congress would drop the climate provisions from Waxman-Markey and simply pass it as an energy bill, creating massive new subsidies for renewable energy resources. That would do nothing to help climate change, and precious little to spur the development of low-carbon energy alternatives, which ultimately require higher energy prices, regardless of government subsidies. Nevertheless, given the trends towards doing nothing on climate and subsidizing energy production, the Cantwell bill seems to be swimming against a strong tide. But maybe it can turn that tide. Already, Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, has become a co-sponsor. The bill has been passed by the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and is now before the Senate Finance Committee.

Despite that momentum, the bill still has a very long way to go, and a long row to hoe. Politically, the easiest way to get any climate bill, however flawed, would be for the House simply to pass the climate bill already approved by the Senate. So, here is the question: is it better to do what is easier, even if it is not nearly as good as doing what is harder? My view is that we need to get the ball rolling on actually reducing carbon emissions, even if we don't reduce them a lot at first. I favor whatever legislation can't actually be enacted that will start moving us in the right direction. Having said that, I would be most happy if the Cantwell bill proved to be that piece of legislation.

Spring Window for Law Review Submissions

Twice each year, brief windows of opportunity and (mostly forlorn) hope open for law professors with newly minted works of genius (or not so genius) to place in the hundreds of mostly student-edited law journals in the US. Two two windows are, roughly, from mid-February to the end of March - corresponding to the changing of law journal editorial boards - and mid-August to the end of September - corresponding to the return to school from summer clerkships, internships, etc. Most law journals accept submissions at other times as well, but these two windows are deemed optimal to ensure that submissions will actually be read (by someone) and not lost under piles of hundreds of other submissions. 

Generally speaking, the law review placement process is an moderately elaborate game of strategic interaction between article authors, whose reputation depends on placing articles in the top-tier journals (about which there is not too much disagreement), and student editors at those same journals, whose reputation depends on obtaining articles from the best-known scholars at the top-ranked law schools. Pathologies of this game include: (a) "letterhead bias," where the reputation of the author's institutional affiliation is used as a proxy for judging the quality of the article because student-editors are by definition non-experts in all legal fields; (b) subject-matter bias among non-specialty law journals, with bad articles on constitutional law preferred to the best articles in tax law or administrative law, because student editors think (and law schools train them to think) that constitutional law is the most important area of law; and (c) half-baked law review articles by the top echelon of legal scholars (we all know who they are, and wish we were among them), who only need to submit a bare outline of a stale idea, which the student editors are more than happy to flesh out into an article.

Despite those biases (and others), almost every submitted article eventually finds a home somewhere because of the sheer number of student edited law journals. Every law school now has anywhere between 3  and 7 journals - one general law review, and several specialty journals, organized by topic, methodology, jurisprudential stance, etc. According to this recent empirical study, just three schools, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia now publish a total of 29 law journals. Most of the journals publish between 2 and 6 issues each year. All told, the hundreds of law journals (only counting those in the US) publish thousands of articles every year, most of which are authored by law professors. I don't have better data on precise numbers of articles published each year. However, I do receive each week a print-out of the tables of contents of just about every law journal that is published. Each weekly print-out may reference 100 or more new articles. I am happy to assume that every article published in every law journal is a significant piece of scholarship that many scholars (or even normal people) might benefit from reading. The total volume is, of course, too much for any bounded rational human to even skim through.

The Spring 2010 submission window will be opening shortly, and scholars have been busy compiling schedules for which law review boards turn over when in order to optimally time their submissions (see, e.g., this post at Concurring Opinions blog). I have some nostalgia for the days of preparing copies, envelopes and mailing labels. Today, there is an electronic submission service (for a price, of course), called ExpressO, which substantially reduces the information and other transaction costs of submitting articles to law journals. 

As my colleagues are gearing up the ship their new articles through the submission window, I confess to feeling a bit left out. It's been a long time (more than a decade) since I regularly published in student-edited law journals. These days, I tend to do so only under commission relating to a presentation of symposium. When I'm not busy with a book project (or projects), as I am these days, the articles I write are geared more for peer-review journals not just in law but in economics, political science, even game theory. I don't publish in peer-reviews just because I oppose the pathologies of student-edited law journals; after all, peer review journals have pathologies of their own, including editorial biases and long time lags between submission and publication, which can be just as off-putting. I tend to find that professional editors have a greater understanding of and appreciation for the kind of interdisciplinary work I do. 

Sadly, or perhaps not, there are no special submission windows for peer-review journals, which operate pretty much year round. So, as my colleagues frantically gather information in an effort to optimally time the law-review submission window, all I can do is sit and watch them from the sidelines, trying to give whatever advice and comfort I can.

Happy Birthday Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950)

If you want to understand why cars replaced horses and why newspapers today need a new business model, Schumpeter's your man.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tour of Qatar

The week-long Tour of Qatar began today with a team time trial. The new kids on the block, Team Sky, won it, taking an 8 second advantage over Garmin-Transitions. Team Cervelo was given a 1-minute penalty for pushing team riders.

Great to see Team Sky off to a good start. I look for great things this year from Brad Wiggins and crew, especially young Norwegian Edvald Boassen-Hagan (pictured below), who looks like a great all-rounder for the future.


More or less as predicted (here), it's Drogba 2 - Arsenal 0 at half-time. The second goal was very similar to Man U's second goal against the Gunners last weekend. In that case, Denilson failed to track Rooney's late run into the box. Today, it was Clichy's turn to watch the ball, as Drogba strode down the unprotected right flank.

One surprise: with striker Nicklas Bendtner healthy again, Wenger left him on the bench. So, Arshavin is still playing upfront in the middle, which is not the optimal position for him or anyone who barely breaks 5 feet in height. Still, Arsenal had some chances in the first half, but failed to convert. Coming back to tie in the second half is probably too much to hope for.

FULL-TIME UPDATE: Chelsea 2 - Arsenal 0. Arsenal are now out of the title race. Chelsea lead them by 9 points, and Man U are 7 up on the Gunners. Bottom line: Arsenal are 0-4 against the top two teams this season in head-to-head matches. They do not deserve to be in contention, and they are not.

Wenger loves the term "naive" to describe his team when they lose. But this time, it is perhaps Wenger who is naive to believe that you can win games against top-flight competition without a strong striker or two in the line-up. The season was lost when Van Persie went down with a injury (playing in an international friendly for Holland), and Wenger stubbornly refused to sign a replacement.

Biggest disappointment of the season? Wenger throwing away a real chance to win the FA Cup by fielding a team of scrubs in order to rest starters for the spate of games against Aston Villa, Man U, Chelsea and, next, Liverpool. From the first three of those four games, Arsenal have won 0 points.

The economically trained Arsenal manager may take pleasure in the fact that Chelsea and Man U are both mired in debt, while the Arsenal corporation makes a tidy profit, but that's not much consolation for Arsenal fans who would like to win a bit of silverware once in a while.

POST-MATCH UPDATE: In his post-game interview (viewable here), Arsenal skipper Arsene Wenger lauded his team's performance, asserted that they were "sharper" than Chelsea, blamed Chelsea for time wasting, and claimed that his side are not yet out of the title race. I believe he is now, officially, delusional.

Super Bowl Prediction

Colts 34 - Saints 17

I don't want the Saints to be destroyed utterly because my sister and her family live in New Orleans. But I do want them to be destroyed a little.

UPDATE: Well, I almost got the right score, but the wrong teams. Oh well. Congratulations Saints, and congratulations to the Thorpes, who survived Katrina to enjoy this evening.

Jacob Weisberg Blames "Childish, Ignorant" Voters for Our Political Mess

Over at, Jacob Weisberg strongly condemns the American electorate for its fecklessness:
We want Washington and the states to fix all of our problems now. At the same time, we want government to shrink, spend less, and reduce our taxes. We dislike government in the abstract: According to CNN, 67 percent of people favor balancing the budget even when the country is in a recession or a war, which is madness. But we love government in the particular: Even larger majorities oppose the kind of spending cuts that would reduce projected deficits, let alone eliminate them. Nearly half the public wants to cancel the Obama stimulus, and a strong majority doesn't want another round of it. But 80-plus percent of people and to spend more money on roads and bridges. There's another term for that stuff: more stimulus spending.

The usual way to describe such inconsistent demands from voters is to say that the public is an angry, populist, tea-partying mood. But a lot more people are watching American Idol than are watching Glenn Beck, and our collective illogic is mostly negligent rather than militant. The more compelling explanation is that the American public lives in Candyland, where government can tackle the big problems and get out of the way at the same time.
In late January, I posted (here) on Joe Klein's similar rip on the American electorate. I'm not sure what blaming the voters accomplishes. But it is useful to observe that, at the outset of this Republic, Thomas Jefferson sagely observed, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

If the ignorance of the electorate is, indeed, a significant problem, the question becomes what to do about it. Perhaps we need a new initiative to educate as many citizens as possible in the rudiments of economics, statistics, and government, so that they may both understand and participate in more effective and less contradictory ways in resolving large-scale social-cost problems. Even if such an effort could be mounted, there is good reason to doubt how successful it might be. If a voter does not want to be educated about government in general or any particular social issue in particular, he will not be forced to learn. But he may still vote!