Democratic Love for Reagan

There's been a lot of Ronald Reagan worshipping going on in Washington this week--among Democrats. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed a bill that will create a commission to plan events to celebrate what would have been Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday in 2011. Launching the commission, Obama said,

President Reagan helped as much as any president to restore a sense of optimism in our country -- a spirit that transcended politics, that transcended even the most heated arguments of the day. It was this optimism that the American people sorely needed during a difficult period -- a period of economic and global challenges that tested us in unprecedented ways.

New Cartoon Low: Sotomayor as Pinata

We've all seen the monkey cartoon, and now, a new low in satirical racism. Sure, cartoons are meant to be provocative and controversy is bound to arise, but this is absurd:

Some Oklahomans are outraged, if you are too give The Oklahoman a call: (405) 475-3311.

Spotted on Feministing.

Twitter v. Real Life

According to some new research out of the Harvard Business School, 10% of Twitter users account for 90% of all tweets, and the median number of tweets per day is 0.01.  That makes me above average!  Barely.  I think my last tweet was sometime in April.

What's more, in news that should surprise no one, men who tweet generally pay more attention to other men.  Even though women outnumber men on Twitter, and even though men and women tweet at about the same rate, men still have more followers.  Why?  Gender solidarity, apparently:

Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other....Even more interesting is who follows whom. We found that an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman.

However, it turns out that the researchers are suprised by this because apparently it's unusual: "On a typical online social network, most of the activity is focused around women — men follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know."  Maybe so, though I suspect this might have to do with a massive bias toward teenagers in most social networks.  Certainly these results seem to match similar patterns in Usenet, chat groups, the blogosphere, and real life.  Frankly, I would have been surprised if men hadn't turned out to be pigs.

(Via Tyler Cowen.)

Rule of Thumb of the Day

Via Alex Tabarrok, a pair of researchers asked people how big the economy would be if it grew 5% a year for 25 years:

Only around 10–15% of the participants gave estimations between 50% less and 100% more than the true value...furthermore, the majority of the false estimations were systematically below the true value ...which was underestimated by 88.9–92.1% of the participants.

Of course, this is actually a fairly tough calculation even if you're mathematically inclined and understand the whole compound interest thing.  I guessed vaguely that 5% growth would produce a doubling in about 12 years, so the economy would quadruple in 25 years.  Wrong!  Turns out that doubling takes 14 years, so the answer isn't 300%, it's 238%.  But Alex made this worth my time by teaching me a new rule of thumb I hadn't heard of before:

A good way of approximating is to use the rule of 70.  If x is the growth rate then the doubling time is approximately 70/x.  Thus, with a growth rate of 5% we expect a doubling (100% increase) in 14 years and a quadrupling in 28 years so a bit more than a tripling in 25 years (200% increase) is a good guess.

I love good rules of thumb, and this one makes me slightly more knowledgable than I was five minutes ago.  Thanks, blogosphere!

The Missing Abu Ghraib Photos

Back in 2006, Salon published 279 photos and 19 videos depicting detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But the website was quick to warn readers of the images' "limitations"—the Army's Criminal Investigation Command [CID] had produced two reports, one in Tikrit, Iraq on June 6, 2004, and one a month later in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The Tikrit CID report analyzed some 1,300 images and over 90 videos of possible detainee abuse. But only around 280 videos and 19 videos were analyzed in the second report—numbers that correspond to the images Salon published. "It remains unclear," Salon warned in 2006, "why and how the CID narrowed its set of forensic evidence to the 279 images and 19 videos that we reproduce here." But if the Pentagon ever had more images of Abu Ghraib abuse, it doesn't have them now. "The Department of Defense is unaware of any images or video of potential abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib that have not already been made public," a Pentagon spokesman tells Mother Jones, echoing earlier statements.

I speculated yesterday that the discrepancy might stem from the Pentagon's claim that many (separate) images that the ACLU is seeking in a lawsuit depict what at first glance appears to be abuse but was determined not to be—pre-existing bruises or injuries to detainees, for example. That could still be the case. I've asked Salon's Mark Benjamin, who first asked the Pentagon about whether there were more Abu Ghraib photos and got a similar response, if he can help me figure out what happened to the images from the first CID report. I haven't heard back yet, but I'll post his response if and when I get one. I'm also following up with the Pentagon.

Obama and the Muslim World

From Barack Obama, explaining the value of diplomacy and talk:

“What I do believe is that if we are engaged in speaking directly to the Arab street, and they are persuaded that we are operating in a straightforward manner, then, at the margins, both they and their leadership are more inclined and able to work with us....And if there are a bunch of 22- and 25-year-old men and women in Cairo or in Lahore who listen to a speech by me or other Americans and say: ‘I don’t agree with everything they are saying, but they seem to know who I am or they seem to want to promote economic development or tolerance or inclusiveness,’ then they are maybe a little less likely to be tempted by a terrorist recruiter.”

This is exactly the right formulation, and gives the lie to the endless cavalcade of right-wingers who like to pretend that Obama is some kind of foreign policy naif who's convinced he can persuade the world's terrorists and despots into laying down their arms by the power of sweet talk alone.  As he's made clear many times before, though, he's not.  He knows perfectly well that what he's doing will take a lot of time and will work, at best, "at the margins."  It will reduce the recruiting power of terrorists a bit, it will reduce the intransigence of Middle Eastern governments a bit, and it will reduce the general hatred of American foreign policy a bit.  But add up the bits over several years, and they can make a real difference.

Still, there's no question it's a long-term project.  A recent PIPA poll, for example, shows that the Egyptian public is way more enthusiastic about Obama than about Bush.  But click the link for more and you'll see that their view of U.S. goals in the Middle East is every bit as negative as it's ever been.  This is going to be the work of many, many years.

Reid and Sotomayor

Harry Reid says he's never read one of Sonia Sotomayor's opinions and hopes he never does.  But she's a great choice anyway!  Conor Friedersdorf laments:

Unsurprising but depressing! As Gene Healy’s cult of the presidency continues apace, it is equally remarkable that the legislative branch so often seems unable or unwilling to carry out basic functions [prescribed] by the Constitution. This is a lifetime appointment! And Harry Reid feels comfortable consenting to it having read less of Judge Sotomayor’s work than I have?

Is this fair?  It seems to me that judicial opinions are generally pretty technical pieces of work that are hard to analyze without a fair amount of relevant expertise — and that's true even for someone like Reid, who has a law degree.  Most of us, then, as we do with other technical subjects, primarily rely on the judgment of legal experts rather than fruitlessly trying to read the primary literature in order to develop our own amateur conclusions.  Senators, who deal with hundreds of different topics and are accustomed to relying on their staffs to provide expert analysis, probably do this even more than most of us.

When senators decline to read reports on big issues that are specifically written to be understood by laymen, they deserve some flack.  But not here.  I don't think Reid is doing anything unreasonable.

Pawlenty, Franken, and 2012

al franken

On Tuesday, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty said he will not run for reelection in 2010, fueling speculation that he is clearing his schedule in order to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Pawlenty also promised that if the Minnesota Supreme Court orders a certificate of election when it rules on Al Franken and Norm Coleman's battle for a Senate seat, he will "not hold it up" or "delay in any fashion." (Franken is almost certain to win the court fight.) There's still some speculation that Pawlenty might break his promise and delay Franken's certification so as to appeal to the GOP primary electorate, but it's pretty far-fetched—Pawlenty made a clear promise that would be hard to break, and holding up Franken probably wouldn't help him anyway. The Economist's anonymous Democracy in America blog explained last month:

The conservative argument is that Mr Pawlenty, if he wants to run for president in 2012, would boost his chances if he blocks Mr Franken. That's just not true. Becoming identified with a partisan election count is the political equivilent of biting down on a cyanide capsule. What was Katherine Harris's reward for verifying the Florida election count in 2000? Two terms in Congress, sure, but a total party abandonment in 2006 when she ran for Senate. What was Ken Blackwell's reward for protecting George Bush's Ohio campaign in 2004? More disrespect from his own party, which tried to deny him the 2006 nomination for governor and then abandoned him. If Mr Pawlenty wants a political second wind, it's good news for Mr Franken.

If The Economist is right, you can expect to see Senator Franken strolling around Capitol Hill by early July.

Photo courtesy of flickr user ohad*.

Healthcare Costs

Yesterday the blogosphere was crammed with charts showing that if the rise in healthcare costs is reduced by 1.5 percentage points a year, then long-term healthcare costs would be a lot lower than current projections.  That's hard to argue with, but what I kept wondering is, how are healthcare costs going to be reduced 1.5 percentage points a year?  The Council of Economic Advisers produced the charts, so Ezra Klein asked CEA chair Christina Romer about this:

It's not really something we looked at in the report. The report asks "if we manage to attain cost savings, what will it do to the economy?" We didn't look so much at the mechanisms that would bring those savings about. It was more about what health reform can do. I didn't get too much into the literature of how coverage could control costs. That's another project for the CEA to take on!

Well, OK.  I'm still a little confused about what the point is here, since I thought everyone was already largely in agreement that controlling the growth of healthcare costs would be a fine thing indeed.  It's how to do it that generates the controversy.  So I guess I'm still not entirely sure what the point of this exercise was.

New Zealand The World's Safest Country

Citizens of Reykjavik, lock your doors! Iceland is no longer safe! Well, not as safe as it was last year, according to the third-annual Global Peace Index, released Tuesday. The brainchild of Australian tech entrepreneur, Steve Killelea, the study takes after similar annual ventures, such as Freedom in the World, and purports to be the world's only quantitative measure of global peace. Iceland topped the list in the first two years, but the global recession--a particularly dramatic event for the island nation, which led to the complete implosion of its government and banking system--has shuffled the deck. Still, the results are pretty much what you'd expect. The three safest countries on Earth are New Zealand, Denmark, and Norway--all relatively small, affluent, and democratic nations. Island countries also fair well. At the bottom end of the scale there are no surprises. Iraq remains the worst place in the world to go in search of peace, followed by Afghanistan and Somalia. But unless those places are on your vacation agenda, you should probably be alright. Full results of the report are available here.