Month: August 2008

Levee calculations

I can’t track down the original source here, but it sounds broadly consistent with other things I’ve read:

Under the 100-year standard…experts say that every house being rebuilt in New Orleans has a
26 percent chance of being flooded again over a 30-year mortgage; and
every child born in New Orleans would have nearly a 60 percent chance
of seeing a major flood in his or her life…

At the same time, the corps
has run into funding problems, lawsuits, a tangle of local interests
and engineering difficulties — all of which has led to delays in
getting the promised work done.

An initial
September 2010 target to complete the $14.8 billion in post-Katrina
work has slipped to mid-2011. Then last September, an Army audit found
84 percent of work behind schedule because of engineering complexities,
environmental provisos and real estate transactions. The report added
that costs would likely soar.  A more recent
analysis shows the start of 84 of 156 projects was delayed — 15 of
them by six months or more. Meanwhile, a critical analysis of what it
would take to build even stronger protection — 500-year-type levees —
was supposed to be done last December but remains unfinished.

On the road to recovery, the
agency has installed faulty drainage pumps, used outdated measurements,
issued incorrect data, unearthed critical flaws, made conflicting
statements about flood risk and flunked reviews by the National
Research Council.

When it comes to storm protection and urban reconstruction, "halfway" is not a good solution.  There could have been a real rebuilding and protection, or the price signals from insurance companies could have been allowed to shrink the city more fundamentally than what happened.  Here is a relevant study.

What is sold on Indian roads

I loved this post.  And here is my favorite part:

Ear Cleaners: Though not a part of the South Indian road market, these people are quite a force in North India.

Temple Priests: In many roads of India, temples
awkwardly jut out into the roads (they can’t be demolished as they will
cause an uproar in religious India). Priests either belonging to
neighbouring temple or dedicated to that temple start early morning’s
ablutions for the Gods. It is also common to see small temples for
Virgin Mary.

The ten most underrated science fiction movies

Here is one such list.  It offers up:

1. Primer
2. Aeon Flux
3. Body Snatchers (1993!)
4. Tron
5. Sleeper
6. eXistenZ
7. A Boy and His Dog
8. Enemy Mine
9. Gattaca
10. Silent Running

My picks would have been Mission to Mars and Titan A.ESunshine is also quite good and not so well known.  At times I regard What Dreams May Come as science fiction.  Can I call John Carpenter’s The Thing underrated?  (Is Gattaca underrated?  I don’t think so, not any more.  Is the wonderful eXistenZ underrated?)  Then there are the three Stars Wars prequels, each deeply underrated (unlike The Clone Wars, which defies every rational choice theory known to mankind).  But we’ve had other comment threads on the prequels, so don’t flame me on that one.  Offer up your picks, with an explanation why.

Is Sarah Palin the female Ross Perot?

Palin has an outside, straight talker, pro-reform, true blooded
American, take no prisoners image much as Perot did.  (A second point of comparison is Arnold Schwarznegger, with some obvious differences.)  And she has only begun to cultivate that image.  Do
you recall how much impact Perot had on the American people? 

course if Perot actually had had the chance to be President, the
results probably would not have been pretty.  He would have been forced
to act like "just another politician," as has been the case with Arnold because in fact the job revolves around knowing how to govern. 

There is one biographical fact about Palin’s life that the critics
(Drum, DeLong, Yglesias, Klein, Sullivan and Kleiman are among the ones I read)
are hardly touching upon.  I mean her decision to have a Downs child
instead of an abortion.  This is the fact about her life and it will be viewed as such from now through November and perhaps beyond. 

If only for this reason, she will be seen as a candidate who stands on principle.  I don’t think the critics are sufficiently appreciating how tired the American people are of candidates who say one thing and do another and who abandon their principles at the first provocation.  This is a deep and very strong current and it runs through virtually every group of American political voters.  Because of her decision to have a Downs child, many voters will not view Sarah Palin in a cynical light, no matter what the critics say.  No story about firing a state trooper will break that seal.

In my jaded view, "politicians who break their word, violate their ideals, and do not follow through on their promises" is not one of the major problems in American politics.  In fact it’s often good that political promises are forgotten in the light of the realities.  So the American obsession with political promise-keeping does not resonate with me.  But the American people have been hungry for a "promise keeper, ideals believer" for decades and when was the last time they actually got one?

By the way, my mom’s first reaction to the nomination (hi mom!) was
that other mothers of "different" children (what exactly is the right word here?) would very much identify
with Palin and view her life as validating theirs and thus support her.

Go away and watch a Frank Capra movie and think about Palin again.  Larry Ribstein gets it.

I do recognize and indeed emphasize that this analysis requires that she is good on TV.  I give that p = 0.63.  I’ll also give p = 0.13 that she ends up off the ticket, but most of that chance comes from her deciding she needs to spend the time with her kids.

Addendum: The best argument against the pick is this, although it does not much revise my priors.

Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias?

We exploit random assignment of gender quotas across Indian village councils to investigate whether having a female chief councillor affects public opinion towards female leaders. Villagers who have never been required to have a female leader prefer male leaders and perceive hypothetical female leaders as less effective than their male counterparts, when stated performance is identical. Exposure to a female leader does not alter villagers’ taste preference for male leaders. However, it weakens stereotypes about gender roles in the public and domestic spheres and eliminates the negative bias in how female leaders’ effectiveness is perceived among male villagers. Female villagers exhibit less prior bias, but are also less likely to know about or participate in local politics; as a result, their attitudes are largely unaffected. Consistent with our experimental findings, villagers rate their women leaders as less effective when exposed to them for the first, but not second, time. These changes in attitude are electorally meaningful: after 10 years of the quota policy, women are more likely to stand for and win free seats in villages that have been continuously required to have a female chief councillor.

Full paper here and here.

Are climate models like economics models?

Here’s another reader request:

You’ve spent a lot of time studying economic models.  You probably have an opinion about their overall reliability.

How should that opinion influence your view of the issue of
environmental change, given that many of the inferences about such
change come from general climate models that are, in some ways, very
similar to economic models?

I would prefer betting markets, but I don’t think they would suggest something much different from the current scientific consensus.  Economic models aside, economic empirics give us every reason to believe that (apart perhaps from environmental issues) today’s mixed economies with democratic capitalism have produced, and will continue to produce, entirely satisfactory outcomes.  Make of climate models what you may, there is lots of evidence that a) biodiversity is being hammered, and b) climate change will bring desertification, drought, and possibly coastal flooding to many parts of the world, among other dilemmas.  I don’t have a lot of faith in the exact predictive powers of climate models, or for that matter economic models, but uncertainty about outcomes should make us worry more not less.  Uncertainty usually has two tails, not just one.

The intergenerational transmission of IQ

Here are some recent results, from Sandra Black, Paul Devereux, and Kjell Salvanes.

More able parents tend to have more able children. While few would
question the validity of this statement, there is little large-scale
evidence on the intergenerational transmission of IQ scores. Using a
larger and more comprehensive dataset than previous work, we are able
to estimate the intergenerational correlation in IQ scores, examining
not just average correlations but also how this relationship varies for
different subpopulations. We find that there is substantial
intergenerational transmission of IQ scores; an increase in father’s IQ
at age 18 of 10% is associated with a 3.2% increase in son’s IQ at the
same age. This relationship holds true no matter how we break the data.
This effect is much larger than our estimated elasticity of
intergenerational transmission of income of approximately .2.

Here are ungated versions, or here.  Note that a) this is based on Norwegian data, b) income elasticity declines with birth order, c) intergenerational IQ elasticities are broadly the same across different levels of education for the father, d) the sample size is much larger than usual, and e) the author caution against assuming this is entirely a genetic effect; in another study large family size lowers IQ for instance, adjusting for parental IQ.

The experience trap

Around the blogosphere you will see many left-wing writers criticizing Palin for lack of experience.  Maybe this criticism is correct, but these commentators are falling into The Trap.  Most American voters do not themselves know much detail about foreign affairs and their vision of an experienced leader does not require such knowledge.  Was it demanded from Reagan?  Doesn’t everyone agree that Cheney and Rumsfeld knew plenty?  Rightly or wrongly, many American voters will view Palin’s stint as mayor of small town, her background in sports, her role in a beauty contest (yes), her trials raising teenage children, and her decision to stick with her priinciples and have a Downs Syndrome baby as all very valuable and relevant forms of experience.  The more the word "experience" is repeated, no matter what the context, the more it will hurt Obama.  Palin needs to appear confident and capable on TV and in the debates, but her ticket is not going to lose votes if she cannot properly spell Kyrgyzstan or for that matter place it on a map.

Addendum: Here is early response over at The Clinton Forum.

Voters trust good-looking extremists

Trying to appear moderate is not always the best strategy for capturing votes during an election, reveals a new study. Extreme positions can build trust among an electorate, who value ideological commitment in times of uncertainty.

Here is the full story, with a hat tip to Eduardo Pegurier.  And here’s Robin Hanson:

In a TV game show, pretty contestants were not better or more cooperative players, but other contestants seemed to act as if they were.

I don’t know much about the substance or qualifications of Sarah Palin, but I believe that Democrats should be a little worried right now.  The otherwise-expected Romney and Pawlenty gifts have been taken off the table.

Addendum: Here’s Palin talking economics with Larry Kudlow.

Sarah Palin

Now over 80 percent in the betting markets.  And here is the gossip behind that.  Electorally this is a very effective pick I think (if indeed it is true), though it is hard for me to imagine a President with five (young) kids.

Addendum: No, that wording isn’t quite right.  How should I put this…?

Second addendum: Her stock in the market is now plummeting, now down to about 35, as there is a report she is still in Alaska.  I am told that last night Pawlenty was up to about 85 but then fell dramatically as well.  It has been a wild ride in this market.  And now Palin is back up again, etc.  Whatever.  Now it’s at 96.  Now confirmed.

More: Credible signals, in one link or less.

What is your dream book?

I want you to tell me.  It’s a book that doesn’t currently exist.  It is a work of non-fiction.  The author must be living.  It must be a work the author could plausibly write.  It doesn’t have to be a close cousin of a book the author has already written.

So you could request "Jared Diamond on sexual selection" but not "Joseph Stiglitz on the early history of Ghenghis Khan."

Do please tell us your pick.  Comments are open…

Mean and Lowly Things

The two Pygmies persuaded to work for me have reputations as the worst guides in the village.  Their cooking often includes rotting fish, which they serve cold for breakfast if I don’t finish it at dinner.  They are supposed to do my laundry, but they find women’s underwear too embarrassing to contemplate.  They won’t go out after dark, and they consider wading in the swamp to be absolute folly.  So I’m almost late one night when I fall over a log and scrape my left leg, on my way back from the swamp with a bag of treefrogs.

I think nothing of the scrape until 5 days later, when my temperature shoots to 104F and my leg swells and turns red.  Some microbe from the swamp has entered through the scrape and spread to infect my whole body.  Perhaps the Pygmies had some sense in refusing to wade in the swamp.

That is from Kate Jackson’s Mean and Lowly Things: Snakes, Science and Survival in the Congo.  It is an excellent and very fun book on fieldwork and on the topics mentioned in its subtitle.  I think of this as "a Chris Blattman book" and yes you should be reading Chris’s blog.

The roots of Beatlemania — egomania?

The Beatles even cultivated this sort of personal connection to their audience.  In their early songs, Paul McCartney says, he and John intentionally — somewhat calculatingly — tried to inject personal pronouns into as many of the early lyrics as they could.  They took seriously the task of forging a relationship with their fans in a very personal way.  "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "P.S. I Love You," "Love Me Do," "Please Please Me," "From Me to You."

Don’t forget "And I Love Her," among a bunch of others.  And by egomania I am referring to the audience not (only) the performers.  This passage is from Daniel J. Levitin’s new and quite interesting The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.