Monthly Archives: May 2010

You can’t make this up: Missouri police officer caught in drug sting, was “replacing evidence”

From the Lincoln County Journal (Lincoln County is 60 miles northwest of St. Louis):

The fallout following the arrest of a Winfield Police officer on a drug charge continues with the suspension of a police chief and investigation into cases involving the officer.

On May 21, 2010, investigators with the Lincoln County Narcotics Enforcement Team took a Winfield police officer into custody for attempting to purchase two grams of powder cocaine.

Net Team Investigators learned that officer, Bud Chrum and his brother, Tony Chrum, were attempting to purchase the cocaine in Troy city limits.  According to the information they received, the cocaine was being purchased to replace some cocaine Bud Chrum had apparently removed from police evidence.  According to the person providing the information, Tony Chrum would be the one to actually make the purchase.

the story continues:

Tony Chrum made arrangements with his brother over the telephone for them to meet at a Troy area apartment complex under the close supervision of the narcotics investigators.  When Bud Chrum arrived at the pre-determined location to accept the cocaine from his brother, the narcotics investigators quickly moved in.  Bud Chrum, who was in his police officer uniform at the time, immediately recognized one of the investigators and told him that he was only purchasing the cocaine to replace evidence he accidentally destroyed.  He was taken into custody without incident.

Don’t they have SWAT teams for this kind of thing?

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Forgotten history: early 20th century black intellectual challenges to hereditarians

From Dismantling Contemporary Deficit Thinking: Educational Thought and Practice, by Richard Valencia (2010):

Another example of heterodoxy from the genetic pathology epoch was the work of a small cadre of African American scholars in the 1920s who confronted the hereditarian assertion that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites (see Thomas, 1982; Valencia 1997d). The mainstream journals were frequently controlled by editors and editorial boards who were hereditarians (for example, Lewis Terman’s editorial control over the Journal of Education Psychology and the Journal of Applied Psychology). As a result, many of these 1920s Black scholars were forced to publish their research in other outlets, such as Crisis and Opportunity, periodicals of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League, respectively. These Black intellectuals’ scholarly assault on the 1920s mental testing falls into three categories (Thomas, 1982). First, some researchers focus on an environmental critique, for example, differences in educational opportunity between Whites and Blacks best account for racial differences in intellectual performance (e.g., Bond, 1924). Second, some of these scholars focus on methodological flaws or instrumentation problems. For example, Howard H. Long (1925)–who earned his doctorate in experimental psychology from Clark University–presents a technical criticism of IQ tests, contending that they contained numerous measurement problems, such as the inadequacy of using mental age scores for comparing IQ scores across races. Long notes that the procedure is flawed because it does not account for the correlation of mental age raw scores with chronological age. Third, some of the Black researchers conducted their own original research and generated their own data, thus providing alternative explanations to hereditarian-based conclusions drawn by White scholars. For example, Herman G. Canady (1928) in his master’s thesis was one of the first scholars to investigate examiner effects on intelligence testing with white and black children (also, see Canady, 1936).

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Senator Lindsey Graham on torture

From a Wednesday, May 13, 2009 hearing in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts:

I have been on the Armed Services Committee where we did a very thorough investigation of these interrogation techniques and how they came about. The Levin report is a good one. It is there to be read. I will take a back seat to no one about my love for the law and the desire for my Nation to be a noble Nation. The moral high ground in this war is the high ground. It is not a location. The enemy we are fighting, Mr. Chairman, does not have a capital to conquer or a Navy to sing or an Air Force to shoot down. It is an ideological struggle, and the decisions made in the past have had two sides. We did get some good information that made us safer, but we also hurt ourselves. We damaged our reputation, and we did some things that I think were not going to make us safer in the long run if we kept doing them.

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The Chicago Open Chess tournament 2010

I’m sponsoring a friend (who I’ll identify through his American name, Justin, since I’m not sure how to spell his name right) in the Chicago Open chess tournament that started today in Chicago. Here is the tournament webpage for those interested in updates, and he’ll be emailing me with commentary later on this weekend.

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China fact of the day, brain drain edition

…Between 1978 and 2007, more than one million Chinese students would go abroad to study, only 30 percent of whom ever returned.

That’s from Bruce Gilley’s chapter “Deng Xiaoping and His Successors (1976 to the Present)” in Politics in China: an Introduction, edited by William A. Joseph (2010).

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Why is no one saying this?

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico represents an extinction level threat to humanity. I think this is self-evident.

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From the comments: On Rand Paul’s naive libertarianism

A friend who wishes to be identified only as “PhantomOutlaw” from www.cross-x.com writes to me in response to my posts (here and here) on Rand Paul’s naive libertarianism:

Can you expound on this “I could say alternatively that racism by businesses has serious negative externalities in practice and I’m ok with government regulation on those grounds.”

An externality is (very useful) economic jargon that just means a spillover cost or benefit of a transaction affecting people who weren’t involved in the transaction. An example would be a coal-burning power plant, where customers purchase electricity but the plant gives off pollution that affects non-customers. That would be a negative externality (which is bad). An example of a positive externality is if my neighbor hires a security guard for his house; if the guard deters thieves from the whole area, not just the neighbor’s house, I benefit from something I haven’t paid for.

In the context of this discussion, I think that government has a role in regulating away the bad things that come with a business actually engaging in racist business practices. Imagine if the steakhouse next to my house began only serving white people. That would probably prompt demonstrations and riots outside my house (negative externality). Now I face increased safety risks and the quality of the time I spend at home decreases.  Additionally, other businesses around the area now face decreased business because the area has a reputation for being racist, something that they weren’t responsible for but suffer from. Clearly these are all legitimate reasons why a government would seek to enforce content-neutral regulations against racism.

PhantomOutlaw continues:

Also, I don’t really understand this argument: “It is not unreasonable that a government seeks to actively curate a city’s image (to enforce voter-expressed preferences) and regulates the business climate with that in mind, nor is it unreasonable that government should seek to prevent the public disorder that inevitably follows racist practices.”

I hear you saying that if a municipality doesn’t want to be seen as racist, then its OK for them to regulate against racism if that is the will of the electorate. I may be missing something here but it seems like Paul would concur with this line, since it would be a state/local law. Additionally, isn’t there an argument for why civil liberties are key and shouldn’t be trampled on by the will of the people.

Sure. The first paragraph just says that a government has the right to shape a city’s image to express what voters want. For instance, if the voters of Columbia want to attract big software companies, they might vote for policies like bike trails and more downtown police officers walking the beat. They might pass new zoning regulations that tell people what they can and can’t do with their property. Sometimes these policies are hotly contested, but generally the ability of city governments to enact those content-neutral regulations is well established.

I agree with a stronger version of your second paragraph. I would say something like this: representative governments represent all citizens, and we don’t allocate citizenship by race or sex. So it is intrinsically a function of government to protect the interests of everyone and a violation of this social contract to allow businesses to be racist. Everyone is represented by government, so the businesses that we allow to exist should not be allowed to discriminate. Otherwise we’d be taxing people for governmental goods and services that flow to businesses that aren’t willing to serve everyone for some arbitrary and wrong reason. No taxation without representation, basically. These are the implicit protections of representative democracy.

The notion of representative democracy justifies federal action. Citizens of all 50 states are affected by the racist policies of one state much in the same way businesses close to a racist business are affected. So I think there is room for the functions of different levels of government to curb bad decisions or policies of other levels of government, and this is not inconsistent with libertarian principles. Hopefully that is a sufficient answer?

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The winner’s curse: would more a more competitive bidding process ‘undermine Columbia’?

The Columbia City Council held a special council meeting last night over the proposed deal with IBM which would bring an IBM datacenter + jobs to Columbia. Christine Harbin at the Show-Me Daily has a good cost-benefit analysis on the state and local incentives IBM is receiving to bring their datacenter here; she notes that each job IBM brings to Columbia is subsidized to the tune of about $51,000.

Abby Rogers in the Columbia Missourian today covers last night’s City Council meeting. She notes:

If REDI or other city officials had shared news on the deal with IBM, competing cities might have been able to sweeten their offers and undermine Columbia. In addition, the confidentiality of the proceedings allowed Columbia and IBM to talk business, Brooks said.

It seems obvious to me that letting another city “undermine Columbia” is not necessarily a bad thing. Think of the bidding process as an auction: cities submit “bids” in the form of incentive packages, and the highest bid gets IBM and the datacenter. But consider this: the city with the highest “bid” is also the city that is most likely to have overvalued IBM’s datacenter.

Auction theorists call this the winner’s curse (“you bid, you win, you lose, you curse”). The concept was first introduced by Capen et al in the Journal of Petroleum Technology in 1971 in an analysis of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. I was unable to find a copy of the article I could link to but here is are a couple excerpts from their abstract:

If it is true, as common sense tells us, that a lease winner tends to be the bidder who most overestimates reserves potential, it follows that the “successful” bidders may not have been so successful after all. Studies of the industry’s rate of return support that conclusion. By simulating the bidding game we can increase our understanding and thus decrease our chance for investment error.

In recent years, several major companies have taken a rather careful look at their records and those of the industry in areas where sealed competitive bidding is the method of acquiring leases. The most notable of these areas, and perhaps the most interesting, is the Gulf of Mexico. Most analysts turn up with the rather shocking result that, while there seems to be a lot of oil and gas in the region, the industry probably is not making as much return on its investment there as it intended. In fact, if one ignores the era before 1950, when land was a good deal cheaper, he finds that the Gulf has paid off at something less than the local credit union. Why? Have we been poor estimators of hydrocarbon potential? Have our original cost estimates been too potential? Have our original cost estimates been too conservative? Have we not predicted allowables well? Was our timing off? Or have we just been unlucky?

Even though Columbia “won” the auction for IBM, we could still “lose” in one of two ways. First, if what Columbia “paid” for IBM to come here is far in excess of what IBM’s datacenter is worth to the local economy. The second way is just a weaker version of the first; we “lose” if the value of IBM’s datacenter is less than what we estimated, even if there is a net gain to be had. This scenario is viable in common value auctions with incomplete information, ie, when lots of cities are bidding for IBM but all of their negotiations are private, which means that the localized information available to policymakers in specific cities is confidential. IBM gets to negotiate from a position of strength and there is no incentive for them to not share confidential information amongst bidders, though individual bidders have incentives to maintain confidentiality. Each individual city thus never gets access to the common pool of information that IBM has, meaning IBM can easily leverage city against city to obtain optimal conditions for itself.

As you might imagine, this isn’t a pleasant thought for anyone who fought to bring IBM to Columbia. Everyone who supports the idea will tell you that their valuation of what IBM is worth to Columbia is excellent and robust. It is not a pleasant thought to think that even rational actors err and err often, and it is counterintuitive that we might benefit from an open and transparent bidding process because it is easy to point to other cities that won a bid and say “we lost”. But it is much harder to win well than we think, and ultimately people are shortsighted.

Suggested further reading on the winner’s curse: Here is Richard Thaler’s excellent 1988 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, and here is a good short essay Sfrom Levin and Kagel from Ohio State.

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Sexual differences: mating behavior in high status and low status males

From the Guardian:

There is a large body of primate research on the evolutionary origins of aggressive male sexual jealousy, covering the strategies of rape, harassment, intimidation and monopolisation of time – referred to as “mate guarding”. Males usually behave in these sexually coercive ways around fertile females they want to impregnate. These strategies can be observed in all ape species, but less so among gorillas, who live in harems with a dominant silverback male. Sexually aggressive male behaviour has evolved as an adaptation to living in multi-male, multi-female societies where there is a lot of choice in mating opportunities but also a lot of sexual rivalry.

These sorts of sexually aggressive male behaviours are more often exhibited by low-status males. High-status males who have repeatedly shown kindness, and are high status due to their mix of good genes for intelligence and physical stamina, are more likely to have females soliciting them for sex rather than their having to harass or rape in order to mate.

The article cites this article from Animal Behavior. Here is the abstract:

In a wide range of animal species, males coerce females to mate with them, either by physically forcing them to mate, by harassing them until they mate or by punishing persistent refusal to mate. The first section of this paper argues that the possibility of forced copulation can generate arms races between males and females that may have substantial costs to both sexes. In the second section, it is suggested that sexual harassment commonly represents a ‘war of attrition’ between the sexes; existing game theory models that may apply to sexual conflict over mating decisions are reviewed. The third section develops a simple prospective model for the evolution of intimidation by punishment in situations where males can raise the probability that females will accept their advances in future by punishing them for refusal to mate. Where the benefits of sexual coercion to males are high, all three male strategies may develop to a point where they have substantial costs to females. In the final section, evidence that female behaviour is adapted to minimizing these costs is reviewed.

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What incentivizes government officials in Madagascar?

The NYT reports:

This accelerated plunder of the rainforest coincided with a military coup in March 2009. Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, was installed as president and he has since led a weakened and tottering government that is unable — and perhaps unwilling — to stop the trafficking.

“The government does nothing because it shares in the money,” said Ndranto Razakamanarina, president of an association of Malagasy environmental groups and a policy officer with the World Wildlife Fun. “Many of the ministers think they’ll be in office only three or six months, so they decide to make money while they can. The timber mafia is corrupt, the ministers are corrupt.”

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Extended thoughts on Rand Paul and naive libertarianism

So I want to expand on this argument that there is a difference between consensual relations between individuals and consensual relations between individuals and businesses. The thing that Rand Paul gets wrong is that business transactions don’t happen in a vacuum, they happen in a market. Markets (at least legal ones) have the feature that they feature a varied and rich legal architecture binding a business to the larger communities like the cities and states where they have business licenses. In some senses this is a very democratic notion: markets should be accessible to anyone regardless of race because it is only through the regulatory functions of representative governments that they are able to exist in the first place.

In other words, if we have to give everyone suffrage regardless of race, we have to ban racist business practices.

Think of the analogy to building codes. Businesses operate under the very real parameters that they have to conduct business in buildings that are physically safe. If these buildings were not physically safe, and were for instance in a negligent state that inappropriately risked catching on fire, then there are serious obvious negative externalities that exist. If one building is on fire, other nearby buildings are at risk, and there is damage to property and life that must be evaluated. Hence, we have building codes and fire codes (regulations) to mitigate these risks so that one business can co-exist with others in geographic space.

Regulation against racism is much the same. Has anyone ever proposed to Rand Paul that in a world where he refused to regulate racism, racist businesses risk being focal points for violence and riots? The public safety considerations are substantial and presumably justify quite a lot of government intervention (anyone remember the Rodney King riots?) You could come up with a variety of empirically relevant scenarios here.

I understand that part of Paul’s argument is that federal regulation is not necessarily good. That is conceded. But the part of his argument that says government shouldn’t intrude on private conduct does not extend to business conduct and I think it is important that people understand that.

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World Cup Watch: Why are American goalkeepers superior to the Europeans?

From the NYT:

In England, American goalkeepers have become as reliable as tea time. The theories for this are plentiful and speculative: Americans grow up playing sports that require use of the hands. The population of 300 million is bound to produce a high number of terrific athletes. The 6-foot-3 Howard, for instance, was a formidable basketball player at North Brunswick High School in New Jersey.

Bob Bradley, the United States coach, does not subscribe to the good-hands theory. He believes more in the ancestry of role models. In this view, Gianluigi Buffon’s impenetrability as Italy won the 2006 World Cup can be directly traced to the magnificence of Dino Zoff, who captained Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning team at 40.

….

Hahnemann said he thought the goalie position was more prized in North America than it was in England, mentioning both soccer and hockey.

“After an N.H.L. game, what does everyone do? Skate over to the keeper,” Hahnemann said. “That sort of respect, they don’t really have over in England. For donkey’s years, they’ve always stuck the worst player in goal. No one wanted to play back there. Part of the reason is, the press is so ruthless with us. Anything happens, and they blame the keepers.”

The situation in England is changing, Hahnemann said, though he thinks Americans still hold a cultural advantage — comfort with athletic individualism. He speaks of goalkeepers and field players as “us and them.”

Hahnemann said: “There’s only one of you. You can’t do it if you want to be like everybody else. We enjoy being a little different. As Americans, we don’t mind that, so we strive as goalkeepers.”

The cultural argument strikes me as the most compelling, though not exclusively. If you’re a keeper in England, especially in the lower leagues, it really is the least glamorous position. It suggests many good goalkeepers are undervalued by a large sector of the market, which means many high status offensive players are overvalued. The implications for teams looking to move up in the rankings are obvious.

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Is someone making a power play in North Korea?

Ruediger Frank at 38 North has this to say about the Cheonan incident:

The “cornered tiger” scenario is the only condition, beyond mental illness, under which Kim Jong Il would choose this option. One possible interpretation of the sinking of the Cheonan is that the situation in North Korea is so bad and the regime so desperate that it believes risking annihilation is its only option. But while it is hard to regard the situation in North Korea as rosy, it has been through worse times. With the currency reforms of 2009, the regime was able to win some time in its otherwise hopeless fight against the inevitable transformation of North Korea’s society when it expropriated the growing wealth from the newly emerging middle class and tried to partially demonetize the economy again. And as far as we know, prior to March 26, there was no intelligence pointing to unusual troop movements; no increase in communications that might have signaled something out of the ordinary was about to happen or signs that a change in the military’s alert status was about to take place.

Of all the possible scenarios for why North Korea would have been involved in the Cheonan incident, the one that should worry us the most is the possibility that it was NOT Kim Jong Il who gave the orders. While in 2008 one could have imagined, under certain circumstances, that a young recruit overreacted and shot a South Korean tourist at Mt. Kumgang, it is much less likely that the captain of a North Korean submarine had a short fuse and sank that corvette. He must have done so upon receiving orders, or at least a “go ahead” from someone above him. The higher up we move in the command chain, the stress motive becomes less likely. A lieutenant commander in his sub might think twice; a rear admiral will think ten times before pulling the trigger.

If the North Koreans torpedoed the ship, and if it was not done after a self-destructive order by Kim Jong Il, this may be proof of a destabilization of the current leadership in Pyongyang. Sinking the Cheonan without consent by the top leader would be an open act of insubordination. An autocratic leader who does not have his lieutenants under control becomes a liability to the system. It is fear and the unchallenged authority of the top that keeps an autocracy together. Many of us have argued that such considerations had allowed Kim Jong Il to take over power from his father so smoothly despite his very different personality: the elite knew that regime stability depended on a strong and undisputed leader, and he was the only realistic candidate for the job.

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Sandra Day O’Connor on merit selection of judges

Her op-ed in the NYT is here. I think it is worth reading:

In our system, the judiciary, unlike the legislative and the executive branches, is supposed to answer only to the law and the Constitution. Courts are supposed to be the one safe place where every citizen can receive a fair hearing.

In a merit selection system, a nonpartisan nominating commission interviews and investigates applicants for judicial vacancies, and ultimately recommends a few candidates to the governor. The governor appoints one from the list. Regular “retention” elections are held to allow voters to decide whether to keep the judge in office.

There are those who assert that this system benefits legal insiders, because lawyers will inevitably dominate the nominating commissions, which would hold their meetings in secret. But to the extent that this could be a real problem, Arizona has already demonstrated how to avoid it. In that state, nominating commissions are dominated by non-lawyers, and their meetings are open. Candidates’ applications are available online, and the public is invited to comment.

Another argument against this system is that it deprives voters of the chance to choose their judges. But the truth is, in those states that elect judges, candidates often run unopposed, so voters are left with no options, and little information about the people who are on the ballot. In a system where judges are evaluated before they are put on the ballot, voters can make their decisions more knowledgeably — with relevant information about the judges’ performance on the bench.

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Thoughts on Rand Paul, racism, and naive libertarianism

I think Rand Paul is absolutely right when he defends the ability of people to engage in private, consensual relations, even if the content of those relations is offensive and wrong, like racism. He is however absolutely incorrect by extending this analysis to businesses like Whitworth’s, and here’s why.

I tend to think of laws against racist business practices in the same way I think of building codes, or food safety regulations. This is because a business implicates more than just the business owner and a customer; the community that the business exists in provides legal sanction for that business’s operation, and with that legal sanction is attached the variable requirements for building safety and good conduct that individual communities deem important and necessary for the operation of business. Regulations preventing racist business practices are no different from the health code or zoning laws in some important ways: they have a branding function that implicates both the business and the community the business is situated in, and they create dangerous environments that require intervention by law enforcement. It is not unreasonable that a government seeks to actively curate a city’s image (to enforce voter-expressed preferences) and regulates the business climate with that in mind, nor is it unreasonable that government should seek to prevent the public disorder that inevitably follows racist practices. I would add that regulations should also be content-neutral as a matter of fairness, but stipulation doesn’t meaningfully change my argument.

I could say alternatively that racism by businesses has serious negative externalities in practice and I’m ok with government regulation on those grounds.

So I think that Rand Paul, as much as I like his robust defense of civil liberties, is guilty of being delusionally naive about these questions.

Here is a couple of other worthwhile reads from Volokh Conspirators Ilya Somin and David Bernstein on the subject.

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