Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Monday, March 31, 2008

I bless the rains ...

OK folks. I have been on the internet for two US election cycles, and have observed that during a Presidential election year, the political web becomes totally fucking unusable, as one gets sucked into a) a vast amount of pointless horse-race coverage and b) the horrific internecine fights of one's friends in vaguely left-wing politics in the US (this has been mainly over Ralph Nader last time round, but the Hillary/Barrack fight certainly appears to have the legs).

I've basically despaired of being able to do anything about this (not even resist the temptation to get involved myself), and so I've decided that starting today and ending on election day, I will be unmooring the semi-island D-Squared Digest from the Anglosphere and hiring a fleet of tugs to tow it to Africa. For the next six months plus, this will be an African politics blog. I've sorted out a few reasonably reliable looking African media sources and will be mainly linking to other African blogs. The purist approach would be to also maintain the all-Africa, all the time policy on Crooked Timber and the Guardian blog, but we'll see how this goes.

Bwana awabarik to all of us, but particularly me.

Update: by the way, somebody slap me if I try to weasel a US elections post by on the pretext of Obama being half Kenyan.
14 comments this item posted by the management 3/31/2008 04:32:00 PM

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Calm down, Danny me boy, sit down in comfy chair and let's all brew up a nice pot of Shut The Fuck Up

Still pretty angry, but long and outraged lists of things tend to dilute rather than reinforce the impact, and listing all the errors I can find would probably take me over the "fair use" limit for quoted material. There is an awful lot of statistically illiterate crap in Megan McArdle's piece in The Atlantic, and some laughably one-sided presentation[1] but I'm going to concentrate on two sentences.

Yet though its compromises made it particularly unreliable, the Lancet study remains the most widely known. Its conclusions were the earliest and most shocking of the scientific estimates and thus generated enormous media attention. The more-careful counts that followed prompted fewer, and less prominent, articles.

McArdle is here referring to the 2006 Johns Hopkins study (Burnham et al), which she believes to have been falsified by the WHO study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and which found a much lower rate of violent death (although a correspondingly higher rate of non-violent death; Lancet hacks seem to regard this fact as something that can just be brushed away in what I call "Greengrocers' Arithmetic"[2]).

However, of course, Burnham et al (2006) was not "the earliest" such study. It was (and this is not exactly a little-known fact) a follow-up to Roberts et al (2004), the original Lancet study. And, as is abundantly clear to anyone who has read the study and can multiply, the rate of violent death found in Roberts et al (2004) is very nearly exactly the same as the rate of violent death in the WHO study.

The first Lancet and the NEJM studies confirm each other on violent death rates, and all three studies give a fairly similar answer for total death-rates post-invasion (the WHO study does not calculate a rate of "excess deaths" from non-violent causes, but barring really quite strange correlations in the data, simple subtraction of the death rates gives a consistent answer). So the two possibilities here are that either the three studies are all broadly confirming each other on the total death rate, and something about Burnham et al (2006) caused respondents to classify a greater proportion of the deaths as violent[3], or that Burnham et al (2006) is a complete outlier because its violent death count is so high, and the fact of a very high nonviolent death rate in both Roberts et al (2004) and the WHO study is just some sort of coincidence.

But this is by the by. The important point here is that Megan McArdle, in what she believed to be her definitive, highly researched article, appearing in the print version of The Atlantic, still managed to get confused between the two Lancet studies and claim that "the earliest" study was falsified by the NEJM article. Nobody caught this mistake between copy and print, but it wasn't anyone else's job to.

I'm astounded. McArdle has apparently recanted on previous support for the war, and has apparently also quietly given up on a number of the astonishingly stupid arguments she made about Burnham et al (2006) at the time - in particular the "mythical Central Death Certificate Repository". So it is difficult to see why she might have wnated to write this article (which has very little to say about the studies themselves - half of it is boilerplate pop-science versions of Tversky's anchoring hypothesis with very little relevance to anything), as she no longer has any particular point of view to defend. As far as I can see, the only purpose is to try and lay the ghost of the fearful ass she made of herself back at the time, and re-establish some sort of credibility on the subject, while whining about how nasty everyone else was. The vanity is really quite overwhelming. And even in that article, she couldn't even be bothered to keep the Lancet studies straight. And such a person, such a journalist, someone with such a lack of self-awareness, has the outright temerity to try and psycho-analyse people like me and Tim Lambert, and to claim that we rejected the obvious truthiness of the NEJM violent death count because we were disappointed to find that 450,000 Iraqis had not really died? That we were lost in partisanship of Les Roberts and could not find it in our hearts to celebrate? I find it really rather disgusting.

[1] Most notably, trying to sound all knowledgable by running through the Hicks-Rei critique of Burnham et al's interviewing protocols and potential sources of bias in the subjective element in selecting house for interview, but somehow neglecting to mention that the WHO decided not to carry out any interviews at all in Anbar province because it was too dangerous and then made a "statistical correction". In actual fact, the correction made to the WHO study was about the best way you could have massaged the data and the article itself is quite upfront about what they've done and the uncertainty it might introduce, but to not even mention it is quite ludicrous.

[2] Because it tries to compare apples to oranges, picks cherries and ends up with a lemon.

[3] Not at all necessarily incorrectly - there are very good reasons to believe that in Roberts et al (carried out much more recently after the war) and the WHO study (carried out by government personnel who identifed themselves as such), respondents had a significant incentive to misclassify death squad killings or deaths of family members who were part of the insurgency.

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10 comments this item posted by the management 3/27/2008 02:52:00 PM

There really is no excuse for this crap these days. Note the ratio of actual analysis of methodology to bald assertion (none to some) and the ratio of even attempted analysis of numbers to rambling speculation about psychology (not very much to nearly all). McArdle claims to have "accumulated a fair store of knowledge on the subject"; precisely none of this store (which frankly I believe to be rather like Saddam Hussein's store of biological weapons - long since spirited off to Syria if it ever existed at all) is present in the article.

I also note the following:

Conversely, few of the study’s supporters expressed much pleasure at the news that an extra 450,000 people might be walking around in Iraq

Let's get this straight; anyone who, even by implication, accuses me of being the kind of person who is happy to think of hundreds of thousands of people being dead in order to prove me right in arguments on blogs, has insulted me about as deeply and personally as it's possible to do [1]. It's like being accused of Holocaust denial, and a similarly robust response is in order. Megan McArdle claims (in the course of this risible whine that she doesn't learn very much from people who are nasty to her. I suspect, therefore, that she is about to get a lot stupider. More to come.

[1] Saying stuff like ""The mechanism for collecting death certificates has broken down: it's not clear how many of the certificates are being recorded anywhere, but at any rate the central ministry doesn't seem to have all of them" without acknowledging that she argued the opposite case at length, and not crediting me for the number of times I explained this to her on her blog, is irritating, but the slight is only to my personal vanity and is therefore an order of magnitude less enraging than the vile accusation.
3 comments this item posted by the management 3/27/2008 11:01:00 AM

Monday, March 24, 2008

We all live in a Frank Dobson world, a Frank Dobson world

Dobbo shoots back against his critics in the Camden New Journal (your leading news source for geopolitically significant baked goods). He makes three main points, both of which I consider palpable hits:

1) That the NHS under "disastrous and incompetent" Frank Dobson reduced waiting times (despite not much new money as the government was sticking to Tory spending limits at the time) and improved its performance against a number of important indicators, while under "Blairite and modernising" Alan Milburn, "dynamic and competent" Patricia Hewitt and "ruthless and efficient" John Reid, the whole fucking thing nearly fell to pieces.

2) That this was probably not entirely unrelated to the plethora of damn fool PFI schemes and semi-privatisation initiatives which Jonathan Powell thinks he should have pushed more of and which Frank Dobson managed to largely shield the NHS from in his time.

3) That even if this weren't the case, anyone who helped build the public case for the Iraq War ought to keep his fucking mouth shut about anyone else being "disastrous". (Dobbo, it should be noted, was slap bang right about Iraq along with Robin Cook, although of course nobody cared by that time as he had been stitched up and had his career destroyed by the Blairites who viewed him as too unrealistic and not modern enough in his lack of zeal to change everything in all directions simultaneously).

In related news, Dobbo is now batting 4-4 with respect to helping me out as I finally got round to phoning his office about the Iraqi Employees campaign last week like I promised Dan I would and his assistant got back to me toot suite to say he was on the case.
2 comments this item posted by the management 3/24/2008 11:10:00 AM

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Let it further be resolved

Bear vs Shark (ie, who would win in a fight between a bear and a shark if the fight was staged in a pool of water deep enough for the shark to manouevre, but shallow enough for the bear to be able to stand up) is apparently a subject of controversy among the violence-loving, animal-hating, crap-talking community. I can settle this one.

Bear, by a mile. The shark gets one good bite, maximum, and then gets mullered. Proof. Sigurdur Petursson is by all accounts a reet hard bastard, even by the standards of Icelandic trawlermen, but he is not as strong as a bear.


7 comments this item posted by the management 3/20/2008 01:36:00 PM
Let it be resolved

That nobody cares that the Bank of Sweden Prize in the Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is not a "proper" Nobel prize.

That the Arabs are also Semites and nobody cares.

I don't expect this will be resolved of course - bores and Mike Gigglers have been arguing about this one for the last millennium. Which ended on January 1, 2001, of course and nobody cares.
5 comments this item posted by the management 3/20/2008 08:28:00 AM

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

27,000,000 x 0.24 / 10 = 648000

One of those fifth anniversary surveys, asks a number of questions, but look at Q20. Apparently, 24% of Iraqis answered "yes" to the question "Have you personally experienced the murder of a member of your family or relative since the invasion in 2003?". If we were to assume that no families in Iraq had more than one member murdered, for this response to be consistent with an overall violent death count of 150,000, the average size of an Iraqi family would have to be 35.

Mind you, the poll is dodgy - 10% of Iraqis claim to have personally seen a car bomb or suicide attack in the last month, but this is clearly impossible because the surge is working.

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11 comments this item posted by the management 3/18/2008 09:24:00 AM

Monday, March 17, 2008


Oliver Kamm writes:

I was a constituent of Dobbo's in Holborn & St Pancras. He was useless and idle at anything he set his mind to.

and once more I point out that my experience has been wholly at variance with this. I still am a constituent of Frank Dobson and have been for the last ten years. In that time I've had occasion to write to him three times (once about a parking ticket that I didn't want to pay, once about a planning application to demolish a pub, and once about the Iraqi employees campaign) and he's been responsive and helpful every time. He was also neither useless nor idle in kicking the shit out of that terrible education bill a few years ago, for which service to the public, his reward was to have all of his amendments and contributions appropriated by the Blair government and used as evidence of how they care about real opportunities and solutions, not like those Luddites like Frank Dobson.
5 comments this item posted by the management 3/17/2008 01:37:00 AM

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cheap at half the price

Good news, UK taxpayers! You've just bought twenty grand's worth of analysis of antisemitic discourse from Stephen Pollard!


a) I am not going to make the cheap jibe about this being a waste of money. At the end of the day, the government needs research in order to make policy, research is commissioned from research institutes in the same way in which buns are bought from bakers, and although I regard the purchase of twenty grand's worth of analysis from Pollard[1] as highly unlikely to result in a wortwhile deliverable, I am not going to get into the game of second-guessing the overall process, and "the prevalance of antisemitic stereotypes in the media" does seem to me to be the sort of thing that it's legitimate for the DCLG to be looking into. It would be rather sweet, though, if any readers could dig up examples of Pollard doing his normal chucklehead act at government-funded media studies when it was someone else's nose in the trough (Update: here's what two minutes google turned up, not great but a start)[2]. I will particularly be looking out for any instances of Pollard having a go at any of the other workstreams within the wider government initiative that's putting bread on his table[3].

b) Fair do's to the EISCA, I had marked it down as a brass-plate thinktank but if it is actually producing a measurable quantity of think then that was unfair of me and to that extent I apologise.

c) David Hirsh ought to be fucking fuming, because this would have been £20k that any sane man would have said was a racing certainty for his sky rocket[5] until the well-connected Pollard showed up with his johnny-come-lately Institute. Hirsh is on the EISCA advisory board though, so maybe he will see a few crumbs.

[1] As a taxpayer I am obviously hoping that the actual work gets done by Abe Sweiry, the "Research Fellow", who at least appears to be someone doing genuine research in the field.

[2] Pollard has something of a track record in finding anti-Semitic implications in utterly pedestrian and commonplace metaphors, but I think that one is so hackneyed that it's unlikely.

[3] A small book token prize[4] for any reader who can find an anti-Semitic implication, trope, topos or connotation in the metaphor "putting bread on his table". Go on, I'm sure it can be done.

[4] Employees and directors of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism, their spouses and families, are not eligible.

[5] Or possibly the institutional sky rocket of Goldsmiths College; I am not particularly familiar with how these funding arrangements work.


11 comments this item posted by the management 3/14/2008 04:34:00 AM

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Show me an "alpha male" and I'll show you a monkey

(posted here rather than CT because I like it too much to let it fester in comments but not enough to hog front page real estate)

In the Evolutionary Adaptive Environment, out on the African savannah, it was obviously vitally important for hominids to have a mechanism for identifying bores, weirdoes and nutters within the tribal group, and sloughing them off onto other tribes. Not only did this increase the reproductive fitness of the kindred-group, by getting rid of low-quality or dangerously insane group members, in the long run it helped to weaken the gene pool of rival groups by a kind of reverse eugenics.

We can see the modern descendant of this primeval behaviour in the struggle in our comments section over the evolutionary psychologist, academic racist, genocidal fantastist and general-purpose embarrassment[1], Satoshi Kanazawa, on the general subject of everyone with a perceived national, institutional, disciplinary or academic connection to him desperately trying to backpedal and claim that he's one of you lot, not one of us lot.

The Americans are pointing out that he works at LSE; the Brits that he did all of his studies in America. The sociologists want to make it very clear that he's a psychologist - the psychologists that his PhD is in sociology. I have noticed that he actually works in the Managerial Economics and Strategy Group (ie he's a business school type) and am staying bloody quiet about it in the hope that nobody else will twig.

There might be something to this evolutionary psychology lark after all.

[1] Actually I am theorising beyond the data here. It certainly seems to me that Kanazawa possesses a general cognitive ability to come up with fundamentally flawed research in the service of reactionary political views, and then to publicise his results in a calculatedly offensive manner. Someone like Noam Chomsky or Steven Pinker, however, might credibly argue that what we are actually seeing here is the operation of a number of specialised "modules" which have separately developed in Kanazawa, each one dedicated to the task of being a frightening academic loony on a slightly different topic.


4 comments this item posted by the management 3/13/2008 06:16:00 AM

Monday, March 03, 2008

Real-time rolling Will-you-condemn-athon!

D-Squared Digest officially condemns:

  • Iranian laws on female clothing, and heavy-handed police behaviour in the riots their enforcement provokes

  • Imprisonment and flogging of Iranian trades unionists in May last year

  • The imprisonment of Mansour Osanloo

  • Any doctoring of footage in the case of Mohammed al-Dura, if it at any point turns out that such doctoring took place

  • Rocket attacks on civilian targets in Sderot and Ashkelon

  • More or less anything Ken Livingstone has ever done

Further updates on what I'm condemning can be found here

I apologise for wasting readers' time with what looks like a pointless litany, but on this blog I occasionally write about such subjects as war crimes, the Geneva Conventions and the illegality of collective punishment of civilians, and I'd hate to think that my condemnations of everything else in the world weren't up to date. Because ... well, you know.

Thanks to Malky Muscular for originally inventing the concept and maintaining the web's definitive list of condemnerata.
11 comments this item posted by the management 3/03/2008 03:03:00 PM
Dog bites man, repeatedly

British nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in "massively optimistic projections/comically inadequate delivery" shock horror scandal. We're going to be giving these people quite a lot of taxpayers' money to build power stations, you know.


1 comments this item posted by the management 3/03/2008 03:45:00 AM

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