Monthly Archives: October 2008

maybe I should check my e-mail again.

Earlier today I finished work on a paper I’ve been developing for the past couple of months. It’s sitting on my desk with the rest of the submission packet since the journal I’m sending it to is archaic enough to not have an online system. And despite the fact that I have another paper to work on, I’m finding it very difficult to do anything.

 

I refer to this as the post-paper slump and it always causes trouble for a few hours/days after I wrap up a project.

 

Does anyone else suffer from this disorder? Any good home remedies?

bad borrowers or bad loans?

The right-vs-left contest over the credit crisis seems to have crystallized to some extent into whether the crisis was the outcome of regulators forcing banks to loan to bad borrowers (the right-wing version) or of under-regulated banks and financial institutions peddling bad mortgage products and then aggregating them into un-valuable derivatives that “clogged” the credit system (ahh, such metaphors!).

A UNC researchers has produced a rather interesting report (PPT format) suggesting that it is more the latter than the former: “bad” borrowers with “good” loans didn’t default at a particularly high rate; it was “bad” borrowers with “bad” loans who did so.

The implications of this question are vast. If the problem is forcing banks to adopt bad borrowers, the policy implication is to deregulate, repeal the CRA, and so on, which would clearly have major effects on systematic wealth inequality over time. If the problem is the proliferation of weird mortgage-based financial products and instruments, the implication is to re-regulate markets, which would likely sacrifice some degree of growth for greater stability and equality.

theoreticians and the polls

In recent days I’ve chatted with several theory-oriented colleagues (two in English, one in poli sci) about the polling sites. Typically the question is which of the aggregator sites I prefer: Pollster, 538, or Real Clear Politics. (For the record, I typically watch Pollster most carefully.)

What I find interesting is that these colleagues–and, by the way, I, too–buy the critique of public opinion research launched by, e.g., Adorno, Horkheimer, Pollock, Bourdieu, Habermas, etc., that holds polls to be, at best, productive fictions. The performativity claim can get us only so far–but the ontological status of the opinions being “measured” here is hardly clear, and is never addressed by any of the polling sites.

My question, then, is not just why they’re (we’re!) paying attention to the polls. The question is why they/we seem to be doing so in such a rapt fashion, following every known-to-be-meaningless percentage point change with such fascination, even morbid curiosity. This strikes me as an almost Lacanian quest for the true public as an objet petit a–an unattainable object of desire, fetishized and packed into an object of worship, a totem, in the moving polling average.

bill the plumber

Our kitchen faucet sprung a leak so Bill the Plumber came by.  (We joke that we may have to adopt him, he’s been here so often lately with one problem and another.)  He’s a middle-aged white guy.  Chatting after the repair was done, he said “I’ll be so glad when the election is over.”  We kind of made careful noises to each other and I said something like, “I don’t know who you support,” and he said, “I’ll tell you if you want” and I said “OK” and he said “Barack.”  I said me too.  And then we chatted.  He said he thinks McCain is offering no programs, just attacks.  He also said he has a half-Black daughter-in-law and can’t stand racist attacks, spending some time on that theme, saying “of course all of us have some of that” but then going on about how can people go to church and then come home spouting that stuff.  He complained about one customer who spouts vile racist stuff and how he warns the boss that if the guy says that stuff while he’s around, he’s going to go off on him, because this is in the family and it is personal.  Then he said he has a son in the military who has been in Iraq twice, and his son and most of the guys in the military are going to vote for McCain because they are concerned about just pulling the troops out, and he said he and his son have talked about issues and they see each other’s point of view.  He says he tells his son, “I understand what you are saying, but as a parent, I don’t want you sent over there.”  And they agree they are going to vote differently.  He also said he’s obsessively watching television and going crazy, and I told him to stay off the Internet, or he’d never get any sleep.

gender and health insurance

A story from the New York Times today indicates that women who purchase individual health insurance policies pay more than men who do the same.

More and more people are shopping for individual health insurance policies because they have lost jobs that provided coverage. Politicians of both parties have offered proposals that would expand the role of the individual market, giving people tax credits or other assistance to buy coverage on their own.

“Women often fare worse than men in the individual insurance market,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee.

Insurers say they have a sound reason for charging different premiums: Women ages 19 to 55 tend to cost more than men because they typically use more health care, especially in the childbearing years.

The article goes on to show that even taking childbearing into account, women still pay more, but I find this whole line of argument, and all its derivatives, offensive. The whole point of insurance is to spread the costs of health care over a large population, insuring heavy users against heavy costs. And yet, the health insurance industry gets away with defining the population however it wants. Small workplace? Well, we’re only spreading costs across your workers. Elderly person? You have to pay more. Pre-existing condition? Too costly for us. At a certain point, the insurance part of insurance just disappears, and all you have is a payment plan for health care.

california’s culture war

By now, you have probably heard that Californians will be voting on a ballot initiative, Proposition 8,* that will ban same-sex marriage in the state, just after the state supreme court overturned the ban that was put into place by legislators. The polls show a very close race on this initiative.

But that is not the only issue California is dealing with.  Continue reading

what are you doing next tuesday?

Me: I’m going to be making gumbo. And some corn bread. Maybe fried okra. And greens. And a yet-to-determined starch. It will be a celebration of my southern roots. And I’ll be having folks over to watch the returns (NY readers: you’re welcome to join my “party” – if by party I mean anxiety fest). I don’t plan on going to bed until it’s over. I just hope this year isn’t like 2000, because that could mean being up for several weeks.

undecided voters: a very dubious argument

In a stunning example of the power of words like “neuroscience” to make us overlook half-baked arguments, today’s NYT contains an article by two neuroscientists suggesting that undecided voters are just more deliberative than the rest of us. They don’t have to make up their minds until Nov. 4, so they don’t.

Two problems. First, no evidence is presented that the people who are undecided are actually more deliberative. Second, it’s difficult to imagine what more information a thinking voter might need in order to make a decision! It’s all out there–whether you’re voting on foreign policy, domestic policy, blatant racism, record, judgment, party ID, whatever. Why is it rational to stay undecided, particularly in the light of the fact that deciding now could both lower the cost of voting (at least in early voting states) and raise the value to the extent that you’re being polled or asked your opinion.

Sheesh. How do these half-baked arguments make their way into the newspaper of record?

i don’t get it

Pew has a recent poll that shows some very good news for Obama.

Barack Obama leads John McCain by a 52% to 36% margin in Pew’s latest nationwide survey of 1,325 registered voters. This is the fourth consecutive survey that has found support for the Republican candidate edging down. In contrast, since early October weekly Pew surveys have shown about the same number of respondents saying they back Obama. When the sample is narrowed to those most likely to vote, Obama leads by 53% to 38%… Just as ominous for the Republican candidate, Obama holds a 53% to 34% lead among the sizable minority of voters (15%) who say they have already voted. Among those who plan to vote early but have not yet voted (16% of voters), 56% support Obama, while 37% support McCain.

But there’s something I don’t get. They also ask folks if McCain would do “too much for the wealthy”. By contrast, the question on Obama is whether or not he would do “too much for Blacks” (see after the break). What exactly does it mean to do too much for Blacks? Maybe this shows my complete political bias. You give them a disproportionate share of tax revenue? Reparations? 40 Acres and a mule? I just don’t get it. And I’d love to know what the 30% of Republicans thought he might actually do that was “too much.” Is Blacks just code for class? I repeat. I don’t get it. Continue reading

possibly the most remarkable first sentence of a political ad i have ever seen

BTW, for whatever reason earlier today I was looking at the 1976 Electoral College map. It’s trippy to imagine this was the Red-Blue map for an election in my lifetime.

barack, we are already behind enough in my baby stats class as it is

E-mail received from Obama campaign two minutes ago:

Jeremy –

Ask your Boss. Ask your Professor.

Take Election Day off and volunteer to make history.

[...]

No previous experience is required. Sign up now to take the day off and make history on November 4th:

http://my.barackobama.com/taketheday

Not even if I lived in a swing state, Barack.

you are getting sleepy, your eyes are getting heavy…

Early this morning I ran across this fabulous press release/blog post from the always fun Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).* I present excerpts of it here for you with only minimal additional commentary:

Is Barack Obama a brilliant orator, captivating millions through his eloquence? Or is he deliberately using the techniques of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), a covert form of hypnosis developed by Milton Erickson, M.D.? [links added]

Buhm-buhm-BUUUHHHMMMM!!!!

Continue reading

welcome back, grit

So NYC has lost 13,200 Wall Street jobs since last year. And New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli expects us to lose 40,000 by the end of the year. Even for the nation’s largest city, that’s a lot of jobs – a lot of high paying jobs. Tax revenues will take a serious hit (for the state as well). And I think NYC may look a little more like it did in the 80s. I’m not one of those people who has a fond nostolgia for then. You know the, “remember when NYC was NYC and not Disney?” As if grit and authenticity were the same thing. I would be glad if housing prices dropped; if the average cost of an apartment in Manhattan was well under 1.3 million. And with the loss of tens of thousands of financial jobs there would (WILL!) be a profound effect on the city. What’s fascinating about this is that in NYC it’s all about the rich getting less rich. That’s a crisis. I suspect things will change in the lives of the poor – but not that much. That’s never been a crisis.

the book party was awesomely awesome

I am walking on air the morning after my book launch party. We had it at Kid’s school, which is in a reinvented church, which is a beautiful space with high ceilings, decorated with about one million tiny books, abacuses, bells, counting beads, and other learning tools that look like toys. It was a grand and festive space, and we made the most of it.

Continue reading

what might have been

Paragraph from Wikipedia:

The names of the Seven Dwarfs (Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and Sneezy) were created for this production, chosen from a pool of about fifty potentials. The one name Disney always had in mind from the start was Grumpy, or something similar. Blabby, Jumpy, Shifty, and Snoopy were among those that were rejected, along with Awful, Baldy, Biggo-Ego, Biggy, Biggy-Wiggy, Burpy, Busy, Chesty, Cranky, Daffy, Dippy, Dirty, Dizzy, Doleful, Flabby, Gabby, Gloomy, Goopy, Graceful, Helpful, Hoppy, Hotsy, Hungrey, Jaunty, Lazy, Neurtsy, Nifty, Puffy, Sappy, Sneezy-Wheezy, Sniffy, Scrappy, Silly, Soulful, Strutty, Stuffy, Sleazy, Tearful, Thrifty, Tipsy, Titsy, Tubby, Weepy, Wistful, and Woeful.

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