07 December 2008


Some of you may know that I recently bought a new ride (2007 Peugeot 207). Here it is after our drive to Wells-next-the-Sea a couple weekends ago (a little dirty from the trip):

03 December 2008

Apple are tightwads

Finally got my new Macbook today. Very nice, except they don't ship a display adaptor for it with the computer! The only displays in the universe which connect out of the box to the MiniDisplayPort are (suprise, surprise) Apple's cinema displays. If you want to plug the thing in to any other monitor, you need to spend thirty bucks!

01 December 2008

Greengrocer's apostrophe

Some of you might know that one of my pet peeves is typographical errors in displayed advertising material (e.g. an awning over a greasy joint saying "Delicious burger's"). Don't even get me started on the sign in the pub this weekend advertising "Cristmas specials". Latest example observed on the little signs on every table in the cafeteria:

20 November 2008


The Sports and Social Club at the Sanger hosted a not-for-money poker tournament last night. At first glance it was an interesting event: thirty entrants started out at five six-seat tables (just due to the size of the furniture, not because of any stylistic choice). In the interest of time, however, the structure is quite odd:

  1. A 45 minute round with $1500 and fixed blinds of $25-$50. At the end of the round, each player receives a score equal to his remaining stack.

  2. Another identical round, with all players starting over from $1500. At the end of this round each player again receives a score equal to his remaining stack.

  3. The six players with the highest cumulative score from the first rounds play a final table (again starting from equal stacks) in the standard way.

Now, there's all kinds of things wrong with this style, including the fact that it hugely emphasises luck, because it keeps resetting the chip count even after players might have built up a large lead. It also leads to some quite interesting strategic choices, because you have to play very aggressively in order to build up a score to put you into the top six.

This was complicated by the fact that roughly half the players had literally never played before, so you have to try to aim your play at one particular kind of frustrating (albeit predictable) opponent. I finished with zero from the first round after getting hammered on a draw-out, and I found that the top six at that point were all above $3000. So my goal was the very difficult task of building up to about $4500 in one round (since the winners between rounds were not highly correlated). I made it to about $3400 with 10 mins left to play, but was essentially forced to repeatedly go all in as time was expiring, since that was the only way I could hope to make it to the final table. Amusingly, I finished with zero overall score despite now insisting that I was by far the best strategic player in the field. :)

05 November 2008

Dreams, meet reality

Well, I made it into work about 0930, despite being up until 0330 last night watching election returns (I had hoped to stay awake until Obama's victory speech, but it was just too late: 0515 UK time). A few thoughts on watching the dawn of a new era as an ex-pat:

  1. BBC coverage was fun to watch, although it had a bizarrely amateur feel. They had all the flash modern graphics, with a dude with a touch screen and zooming maps, but it felt like the junior varsity production team was running the show. Nearly every toss from the central desk in Washington was bungled. Over and over again the camera would cut to a reporter in some US location who was staring off screen, or talking to someone else, etc.

  2. Seventy-year-old David Dimbleby (still younger than McCain) emceed the proceedings. He seemed to have a hard time keeping up with the whizzing graphics, but generally did a good job of keeping his guests on topic despite repeatedly calling "North Hampshire" for Obama.

  3. John Bolton was a guest on the program for about an hour, and proved himself a hugely arrogant blowhard, preferring repeatedly and obnoxiously to chastise the BBC for its biased coverage rather than discuss the ongoing events. At one point he shouted that one of the reporters should be immediately sacked for daring to actually probe an interviewee (something British newspersons are generally much better at than their American counterpats).

  4. Saw a snippet of McCain's concession speech, and I have to echo MRhe's comments that it seemed very gracious and unspiteful. Jenny remarked that he must feel very relieved today that at least this campaign is finally over.

  5. I think this calls for a public display of Old Glory!


Amusing tale from the required bilinguism on road signs in Wales.

04 November 2008

Triumphant return

Well, maybe not "triumphant". I am, however, back in the UK after an awesome holiday in California and then Belize (hence my relative lack of access to the interwebs, and silence in this space). Today is Day 2 at my new job at the Sanger, so I'm still running around trying to get settled in etc, and anxiously looking forward to a long night of following election returns tonight!

Lengthier update soon!

05 October 2008

Quick update from the road

Just wanted to post a quick precis of my trip so far.

  • Jenny and I landed in SFO and headed straight to Sonoma, where we spent a day bicycling from one vineyard to the next doing wine tasting. We had an awesome picnic in one of same and picked up a few excellent bottles.

  • The next day we went hiking in Jack London State Park. It turns out that Jack London is even more awesome than you thought. In addition to his adventures in the Klondike and as a press correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War he eventually settled on a vineyard and ranch in Sonoma where he established a farm aimed to be sustainable and based on proven practices. His novels (of which he wrote fifty in his forty-year life) were a "profitable chore".

  • Now we're in San Francisco, where we've been to Chinatown and the Fisherman's Wharf and rode a cable car across town. We're staying with Jenny's friend, who lives near the famous summer of love neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury.

  • Tomorrow we leave the city by the bay for Yosemite!

30 September 2008

The Wall Street bailout, or the Public's denial of Facts.

I watched part of yesterday's floor debate in the House (surprisingly inspirational) and subsequent vote (surprisingly tense, especially for CSPAN) on HR 3997 (bizarrely titled, "To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide earnings
assistance and tax relief to members of the uniformed services,
volunteer firefighters, and Peace Corps volunteers, and for other
purposes" — some of the maneuverings of the legislature are far too arcane to figure out).

What I've most been struck by in the aftermath, however, is the denial on the part of the voting public of the facts of the situation. I suppose there is a strong instinctive urge towards vengeance, and thus people are bizarrely satisfied with watching the Dow tumble, because to them it represents "the fat cats getting what they deserve." Back in the world of reality it represents the health of the entire economy, including the parts which pay their wages, or provide for their retirement and the education of their children. Unfortunately, Congress (facing down the barrel of a tight election) has been held hostage by this short-sighted reaction among the populace.

Who's to blame for the failure to communicate that this rescue package is to rescue the whole economy and not just stockbrokers? Well, I think there are a number of culprits. Certainly that aforementioned desire on the part of the public to punish Wall Street for its excesses played a role. Note that nobody complained when selling a house for far above its actual value, or making money hand over fist in his 401K on the back of this bull market. That's just Capitalism in action, baby! Congressional leaders did a decidedly poor job of communicating the situation to the public (and it was on them to do it, since the President is basically on extended holiday now). Even though some of the floor debate was great, not that many people actually bother to watch it. Which brings me to my final point: the media loves a story so much that they spun the whole deal as a "Wall Street bailout", which might've doomed it from the beginning.

David Brooks, whom I often find smarmy and obnoxious, lays it out well.

Also, Paul Krugman, whom I find myself liking more as I become more and more liberal, dispels one popular notion that all these billions are coming from Red China.

Finally, Nate from the ever-awesome fivethirtyeight.com has a few interesting thoughts.

26 September 2008

An open letter to Change Congress

I support the Change Congress movement, which seeks to sever the connections between Congress and the wealthy lobbyists who fund their campaigns. I was disappointed to receive an email from them today titled "How bad can it get?" In this message, CC lays the blame for the ongoing financial crisis squarely at the feet of Congress, which is itself a dubious claim. They then go on to lambaste Congress for giving $700 billion to "Wall St millionaires" as an example of the utmost folly.

I'm incredibly disappointed that this usually quite sensible organization has got this issue so dead wrong, so I'm posting this letter which I sent to them in response:

Dear Change Congress,

I'd like to write to express my disappointment with the email which you've sent to supporters like myself. I associate the Change Congress movement not only with the goal of severing the connection between monied interests and Congress, but also with a desire for political discourse based on facts instead of scandal.

Your appeal is very misleading about the nature of of the proposed Wall St bailout. You say, "They can never find the money we need for health care or education, but somehow they can write Wall Street a $700 billion blank check." This is a gross misrepresentation. Congress isn't giving $700 billion away, they're using it to buy securities, which can some day be resold. Now it may be true that the eventual sale price will incur a net loss, but it might just be the case that the venture makes a profit. In 1992, Sweden spent 4% of GDP in a similar bank buy-out, but it ended up costing betwen 0-2% of GDP after the assets were re-sold. Surely you should know better than to blatantly misrepresent the truth of this bailout.

Furthermore, you say, "I would happily pay an extra $2,000 for health care for poor children. But $2,000 for Wall Street millionaires? What is wrong with our system?" Notwithstanding the point above that this money isn't being given away, the bailouts are not going to be pocketed wholesale by investment bankers. The purpose of the bailout is to inject liquidity into the lending markets which will, it is
true, help out the ailing banks, but also help those millions of Americans you mention get mortgages, car loans and jobs generated by companies borrowing to expand their operations.

I support Change Congress to get away from this hyperbolic fear-mongering, so I'm especially shocked and disappointed to see it coming directly from you!

Jeffrey Barrett

11 September 2008

We pledge ignorance...

The latest (and possibly best?) example (hat tip to Boston 1775, via MRhe) of why Sarah Palin is a bad, bad choice for Vice President:

[H]ere’s vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s invocation of the
founders in a response to a questionnaire from the hard-right Eagle
Forum Alaska during her run for governor in 2006. (After this exchange
received national attention, the webpage was deleted, but it survives
on an archive site.)

11. Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?

Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its
good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of

The phrase “under God” was added to the pledge in 1954. Francis Bellamy wrote the rest of the pledge in 1892. The founding fathers never heard it.

The relationship between modern US government and its origins in the Constitution is one of the greatest strengths of American governance. Not everyone has to appreciate that, or study early US history, but I think it's a reasonable requirement for a job actually named in said document.

05 September 2008

Electoral experience

I've been ticked off lately by how Republicans have several times referred to Sarah Palin as "Governor of the largest state in the union" as if it's an amazing administrative feat. Alaska is a huge, but almost completely empty wilderness. It is first in size, but 47th in population. In winning election as Governor she received 115,000 votes. Barack Obama's Senate victory, by comparison, required 3.6 million votes.

And if you want to really hammer the nail in the coffin, consider Palin's landslide re-elction margin as Mayor of Wasilla: 826 votes to 255.

20 July 2008

Al Gore is awesome

Political wash-out turned climate change evangelist Al Gore presents an eloquent argument for "100% renewable and truly clean electricity within ten years". I've said it before, but I'll say it again: if only he could've been this impassioned and moving when he was running for President!

30 June 2008

Update: the interview

An mp3 of my interview with BBC Radio Oxford is now available. Cheers to my sound engineer, jrandall.

The Press

My latest paper got a little bit of press coverage, including a quote in the Reuters release and an interview with the local radio station later today.

05 June 2008

Posted without comment

No contest in skills of oratory

After watching Obama's typically impressive performance for his "the Democratic primary is finally over" speech, I checked out the beginning of a clip of John McCain's speech from the same night. Watch for a few minutes and see how painful it is when he stops to smile (presumably at the insistence of one of his handlers). As some slate blogger said, "he barely knows how to read a teleprompter".

02 June 2008

Homemade tonic water

Pretty sweet how-to on how to make your own tonic water. Would be cool to experiment with different flavours and see how it affects the true gentleman's drink: the G&T. MRhé, I'm looking at you.

22 May 2008

Supporting veterans

An interesting debate is going on between Senators Obama and McCain about the Webb-Hagel GI Bill. Senator Obama criticised McCain for not supporting the bill (it passed, 75-22, with McCain as one of three abstentions). Obama portrayed McCain as unsympathetic to veterans, prompting him to respond that he knows whereof he speaks, and that he supports a different, less generous benefit.

I think the true debate is more subtle than either side paints it, but McCain's central premise, while logical, is extremely distasteful:
Our bill has a sliding scale that offers generous benefits to all
veterans, but increases those benefits according to the veteran’s
length of service...otherwise, we will encourage more people to leave the military after they have completed one enlistment.
Essentially he wants to use the GI bill to bribe soldiers and marines into re-upping multiple times. While I can see why this is useful to the armed forces, it seems contrary to the idea of a voluntary force. We don't conscript our citizens, and so those who choose to serve — for any amount of time — should get the fullest extent of our gratitude. If McCain wants to encourage reenlistment he should sponsor a bill that goes above and beyond the current one, not shortchanging GIs who serve only one or two tours out of choice.

21 May 2008

Coupla' jawns.

I don't usually care for Maureen Dowd, but her editorial about the Dem primary today is pretty funny. Checked out the Cambridge Beer Festival yesterday, which was a good time. Word to the wise: cranberry beer is a mistake. Also picked up a hardback copy of "The Grass Crown" at the charity sale there for 50p (original price £23!). I believe MRhe recommended this to me, and the price was so good I practically had no choice!

Also, I hear some basketball team won the first game of the semi-finals.

20 May 2008


Fascinating piece by Errol Morris in the Times about one of the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs.

30 April 2008


The Sox won a nailbiter last night as Big Papi chugged home from second on a Youkilis single. After the game, Youk had the following to say:

“Even though Papi is probably
not running that well right now, he put it into second gear.”

I love how Ortiz's high gear is second, implying that he's cruising around in first at 5mph most of the time. Just like me trying to learn to drive stick.

29 April 2008


Finally we have a policy difference between Senators Clinton and Obama: the former has jumped on board with John McCain's proposal to suspend the federal gasoline tax over the summer, whereas the latter opposes such a measure. This is the latest maneuver by Senator Clinton to adopt any strategy which will prolong the bloody fight for the Democratic nomination.

This "solution" won't actually help the average motorist: Congressional economists estimate that it would save about $30, on average, over the whole summer tax holiday. Even more importantly, however, it gets the issue exactly back-to-front: the problem isn't that America pays too much for gas, but rather that it pays far too little. Consider that in Massachusetts the total tax on gas (both State and Federal) accounts for something like 12% of the price (and note that the McCain/Clinton plan only affects the Federal slice, which is less than half of the total), whereas in the UK taxes comprise nearly 70% of the price of a litre of petrol.

I don't necessarily advocate European-level fuel taxes, but clearly the US is operating in a fantasyland compared to other modern economies. These taxes have a number of benefits: they raise money to fund public transport and other services, they encourage both fuel conservation and technological innovation (with obvious environmental benefits), and they cushion fuel prices to fluctuations due to oil supply. While Americans have seen prices swing wildly between $2 and $4 over the last couple of years, making it difficult to budget for gas, the price in the UK has slowly, but steadily trickled up by only a few pence.

I seriously hope that Obama stands his ground on this issue.

21 April 2008

Sometimes I wish I rooted for the Royals

I'm going to be in Boston for a week at the beginning of May, so I checked the Sox' schedule to see if I got see a game while home. Turns out the only two home games while I'm there are a Saturday/Sunday pair against Tampa Bay.

Both sold out.

An early May game against the Rays is already sold out? Geez.

18 April 2008


Kyle Farnsworth threw a nearly 100 mph heater at Manny's head last night. After the game, Boston manager Terry Francona was asked about his reaction to the pitch:

Asked about the pained expression on his face when it happened,
Francona said, "I had gas. I was just glad it didn't hit Manny. A 98 at
your lips is going to hurt."

17 April 2008

Conspicuous Patriotism

To my mind, one of the most troubling fall-outs from the post-9/11 changes to public policy is the suborning of 'Patriotism' to a variety of unseemly purposes. Take for instance, this excerpt from the New York Times' wrap-up of last night's Democratic Primary debate:

A voter on video says she’s troubled about Mr. Obama’s patriotism because he doesn’t wear a flag pin on his lapel.

The whole flag-pin thing bothers me in general. If you're serving in the Senate of the United States, do you really need to wear the stars and stripes on your person at all times to remind people what nation you're affiliated with? How can we consider our selection of candidates well informed when we fixate on their sartorial accessories?

16 April 2008

Belated photos

Tabblo from my post-submission trip to the Bahamas.

14 April 2008


Last year at this time Gabe 'the Babe' Kapler was managing in the Sox minor league system. He came out of retirement, however, to play for the Brewers in 2008, and currently has four home runs in 26 at-bats. This is a dude who's mustered that many home runs in only two of the last seven seasons. Given his historical rate of one homer per 36 ABs (generous, since he's 32, now), there's only a half-a-percent chance this streak would occur by chance. Not impossible by any means, but he might want to cool it for a while before Senator Mitchell comes knocking.

18 March 2008

A more perfect union

Barack Obama delivered a speech on race in America today, and it was beautiful. He was eloquent, carefully reasoned and heartbreakingly truthful. I cannot remember seeing a more daringly honest speech by a major Presidential candidate.

17 March 2008

Lack of creativity

Sample graffiti from Temple Bar:

Fag's are gay.

Not only a shocking lack of creativity, but an atrocious example of greengrocer's apostrophe to boot!

23 February 2008

Universal health care

One of Senator Clinton's last ditch attempts during the Texas debate to separate herself from Senator Obama, policy-wise, was to draw distinctions between their plans for overhauling the health insurance industry. The New York Times has an excellent article describing how the argument is mostly pointless because the candidates don't describe their plans in enough detail to actually establish what differences they would have in outcome.

Even given fully detailed plans would only go as far as to allow economists and actuaries to model what might happen in each case. This isn't a debate about the ultimate aim of health care reform: both candidates have repeatedly said they favour universal coverage. It's a debate amongst their respective technocrats about how to achieve that goal, and I don't think there's enough data to declare whose plan is better.

Finally there's the issue that neither plan is worth the paper it's written on unless it can be passed by Congress. Where's the debate, therefore, about how to get these laws enacted?

Lie-rockets in flight

Jon Stewart had some amusing commentary on the Rocket's testimony before Congress last week, and I have a question of my own. What kind of weak-ass defense is it to claim that Andy Pettite "misremembered" their conversation about HGH, and that it was Clemens' wife who was juicing? WTF? Sure, that sounds plausible; I comment to my friend that my wife is using HGH and he misunderstands me to be confessing to blatantly cheating? How did he not get hammered more about this? Pettite is the smoking gun for me, because he has no reason to make up a story about Clemens, but has every reason in the world to protect his friend.

22 February 2008

Debate thoughts

I stayed up last night to watch the Clinton-Obama debate online. Overall, I'd say it was close to a draw, perhaps tipping slightly toward Senator Clinton. She seemed more on the ball in the first half, including her opening statement, whereas Senator Obama felt a little flat. She was surprisingly courteous (with the obvious exception of the "change you can Xerox" gaffe), defying the conventional wisdom among the pundits that she was going to come into this thing with guns blazing.

Obama picked it up in the second half, including his mature handling of the plagiarism swipe. One thing I wonder about is why he doesn't cite his impressive legislative record when Clinton tries to label him as inexperienced, or full of hot air. By some relatively even-handed accounts his record in the US Senate is actually more impressive than Clinton's.

Also interesting is the media speculation that this was Hillary's valedictory appearance, or an attempt to go out with class instead of in a blaze of glory. Too soon to tell, but I agree that she was surprisingly mild in her criticism of Obama.

Best comment I saw on the debate, though, came from Slate's politics blog:

Obama looks like a Roman senator. Hillary looks
like a guest star in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

17 February 2008

Progress, and ice cream

Spent a lot of the weekend thesis-writing, and while I haven't been as productive as I hoped, it hasn't been a complete wash either. Just now I took advantage of the proximity of the new G&D's to my house to get a little ice cream pick-me-up. G&D's is the Oxford equivalent of Tosci's: locally owned, creative homemade flavours, hip youngsters behind the counter, and income tax evasion (OK, so the last part isn't true).

Some of you may be crying out that I don't really like ice cream, which is only sort of true: everybody likes ice cream sometimes. Or maybe I'll just do anything to avoid writing my thesis. Plus G&D's gets bonus points for being the rare British business open until midnight every day (including Sunday, bloody Sunday).

15 February 2008


I'm addicted to coverage of the primaries. I can't help myself. Anyway, an observation on some of Senator Clinton's rhetoric. In an attempt to put a the brakes on Obama's momentum, she said in Ohio:

“Speeches don’t put food on the table. Speeches don’t fill
up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that
stack of bills that keeps you up at night. My opponent offers speeches. I offer solutions”

And on winning the New Mexico primary:

"I will hit the ground running on day one to bring about real change."

These are both common themes from Senator Clinton lately, but they're bogus. Obama is a much better public speaker than Clinton, so she tries to turn that advantage into a weakness by implying it means he is a head-in-the-clouds idealist who won't be able to undertake the tedious task of actually governing. But I think this criticism misses the point of the Presidency. Federal government policy matters, but it is (a) not set exclusively by the President and (b) rarely directly solves people's day-to-day problems.

Democrats tend to get too obsessed with minutiae. Some issues (like healthcare) can be transformed on a personal level by new federal legislation, but most (the housing crunch and shifts in the job market due to globalisation, to name two) can't be meaningfully affected by the Whitehouse. The ideal candidate has both speeches and solutions, whereas Senator Clinton portrays herself as a sort of national auto-mechanic.

14 February 2008

Fear, and hope.

The 2008 presidential election might be the perfect storm. There are hints (so far only hints) that the election might be the turning point for the nature of the public discourse in the United States. A large part of this election will likely be a referendum on the Iraq war, but that already happened to a lesser degree in the 2006 mid-terms, and it's an easy position for Democrats to hold right now: the country is overwhelmingly fed up with the war. Opposing the war takes little political courage right now, and indeed I hope that this easy stance will pay off for whoever the Democratic candidate is when people hear John McCain talk about his 100 year war in the Middle East.

There's another issue, however, which is related, but distinct, and
that's the climate of fear that Karl Rove and colleagues have
cultivated in America in order to advance their political agenda. The
opportunity for this perversion of the American political process came
in the form of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This video
of a heartbroken Jon Stewart introducing his first show after the
attacks captures the amazing sentiment of unity at that moment. Toward
the end he is describing the aftermath and he says, "It's light, it's
democracy. We've already won. You can't shut that down." President Bush
and his minions took advantage of that national unity and combined it with fear-mongering to lead the country to war in Iraq.

Over the past six and a half years, now, they've continued to push their agenda on the American people by conjuring the bugbear of terrorism to continue the war, to excuse lamentable foreign policy around the world, and worst of all, to trample upon the very freedoms which the President is sworn to protect. There is actually a debate at the highest levels of our government about whether we should torture prisoners. How have we fallen from being a beacon of hope to the world to being lumped in with medieval dictators? The democratic principles which we cherish so much, and which differentiate us from those who seek to harm us have been sacrificed for foreign and domestic policies which make us less, not more, safe.

Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist and author. He often points out that we're presented a choice between security and privacy. But it isn't an either/or proposition: we can defend ourselves from terrorism without spying on American telephone conversations; we can keep our airports and borders safe without banning liquids or harassing visitors to the country. We need to escape this cycle of bad policy motivated by imaginary fears.

The Republican party has so ingrained the sense of fear in the American people that it is very difficult for anyone running for national office to proclaim that these dangers have been exaggerated. Saying that we can protect civil liberties and treat prisoners humanely, and give them fair trials makes a candidate seem "soft". After sweeping the "crabcake" primary, John McCain said:

They will paint a picture of the world in which America's mistakes are
a greater threat to our security than the malevolent intentions of an
enemy that despises us and our ideals...In a time of war, and the terrible sacrifices it entails, the promise of a better future is not always clear.

He, as President Bush did before him, appeals not to the better angels of our nature, but to a fear that we are being assailed from all sides. Another President, in a much darker time, said:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning,
unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat
into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of
frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the
people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that
you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

And maybe, just maybe, there is hope for that same leadership of frankness and vigor. One candidate dared to say:

It’s a game where the only way for Democrats to look tough on
national security is by talking, and acting and voting like Bush-McCain
Republicans, while our troops are sent to fight tour after tour of duty
in a war that should’ve never been authorized and should’ve never been
waged. That’s what happens when we use 9/11 to scare up votes, and
that’s why we need to do more than end a war – we need to end the
mindset that got us into war.

It's a small step, but an important one towards a President(ial candidate, for now) who is not afraid to tell us that the threat is not as great as some would have us believe, and that we can return to setting the example for how an open, peaceful democracy acts.

Uh oh

Move over will.i.am, nothing says POTUS like a Jackson 5 mash-up:

(Also: who the hell thought "Hmm, cyan on brown, that's a winning colour combination!")

13 February 2008

Campaign finance

Demonstrating that I try to be even-handed:

Hillary Clinton has been criticised several times (including by the eloquent Lessig) of cozying up to special interest groups for money (via PACs and similar). The evidence, however, suggests that none of the candidates get very much of their money from PACs. In Senator Clinton's case it comes to about one percent of her 2007 Presidential campaign funding. Instead, she (and essentially every other candidate) get all of their money from individual donors (with the exception of the Mittster, who blew $35 million of his own dough; should've just put it all on black).

So I don't get it: where's all this evil special interest money that people are talking about? The more interesting data is the sizes of donations to each candidate. Instead of working on my thesis this afternoon, I downloaded the data for 2007 from the FEC and found the following distributions of donation size (money coming from private individuals only):


This shows a substantial difference in the ways in which the two candidates have raised roughly $100M each. A third of Obama's money has come from donors contributing less than $200 each, which means that he has an incredibly broad fundraising base compared to Clinton, who raised nearly two-thirds of her funding from individuals who donated the maximum allowable by law ($2300 per campaign, per year). This is perhaps especially interesting given that she is generally reckoned to appeal to lower- and middle-class voters. The data suggests this not to be the case when it comes to opening pocketbooks, since the sub-$200 are presumably mostly from these groups.

Also of interest is the tendency for people to donate an "even" $500 or $1000 regardless of whom they support.

Anyway, I should probably do some actual work now, although the FEC files are fascinating, and include full records of every donation of more than $200 to every candidate for public office. A man named George Clooney, from LA, for instance, donated the legal maximum of $2300 to "Obama for America" last April.

12 February 2008


I will try to post something other than political activism. Although, at least my newfound Obama passion is generating content.


The Senate voted today, 67-31, against an amendment to the amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. This vote effectively granted immunity to telephone companies (like AT&T) who were complicit in the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens.

Senator Barack Obama aligned with the forces of light, resisting the Bush administration's overwrought fear-mongering and stood for the rights of individual citizens.

Senator John McCain bowed to popular pressure despite previously expressing unwillingness to grant immunity.

Senator Hillary Clinton was one of two members of the Senate who could not be bothered to turn up.


Wow, this is a truly bizarre article about cleaning up the Florida prison system, where apparently:

"People were promoted on the spot after a softball game at the drunken
party to high positions in the department because they were able to hit
a softball out of the park a couple times."

Why I won't vote for Hillary in the general election

I've been wishy-washy about this in recent posts and comments. People get aggravated about the "Hillary haters" and eagerly point out the similarity in the policy platforms between Hillary and Obama. I have decided today, however, that if Hillary is the nominee of the Democratic Party I won't for her in the general election (don't worry, I won't vote for 'Bomb Iran', either).

The thing that bothers me most about the American political during my adult life has been the lack of integrity amongst politicians, exemplified by Karl Rove's destructive attacks on John McCain in 2000 and his swift-boating of John Kerry in 2004. I want my candidate to raise the level of discourse and set a standard for integrity for all of us. Hillary Clinton has consistently shown that she prefers political expediency to integrity, by making misleading statements about Barack Obama's comments on Ronald Reagan, and trying to impugn his strongest policy stance: his unwavering opposition to the war in Iraq (hat tip to Larry Lessig for these examples).

The bridge too far for me, though, is the issue of the Michigan and Florida delegates. On a New Hampshire Public Radio interview in October of last year, Hillary said the following:

"Well, you know, It's clear, this election they [Michiganders] are having is not going to count for anything"

She said this in the context of explaining that she had not taken her name off the Michigan ballot (as Senators Obama and Edwards did) at the behest of the DNC because she was worried that ignoring it would aggravate voters in the general election. In retrospect it is clear that in October she expected to sweep into the nomination, banishing the issue of the MI and FL delegates to the back page of the newspapers, and to gain a bump in those states in the general election because she did not ignore them in the primary. She went against the wishes of her own party (unlike her opponents) as part of a calculation regarding the general election. This by itself is slimy, but not unforgivable; I can appreciate her keeping one eye on the primary and the other on the general election.

Now, of course, she is locked in a delegate battle with Obama, and has quickly changed her tune:

"I think that the people of Michigan and Florida spoke in a very convincing way, that they want their voices and their votes to be heard."

This demonstrates unambiguously to me that political expediency is what matters most to Senator Clinton and her campaign. She won't even be honest about it and just point out that she wants to win; it has to be about having "voices heard", which is downright obscene, given that hers was the only top-tier name on the ballot in Michigan! It reminds me exactly of the anti-democratic, bloodthirsty way in which the 2000 campaign was decided, and it disgusts me.

11 February 2008

Do yourself a favour

And watch this video, courtesy of copyleft attorney and freedom advocate Larry Lessig, about why he is "4Barack":

Enough already

Enough already with the handwringing about Democrats and "identity politics". See, for instance, this New York Times article about how Democratic primary voters have been split demographically between Senators Clinton and Obama. Women vote for Clinton, blacks for Obama. White collar for Obama, blue collar for Clinton. Education vs working class. The list goes on. But the coverage of this phenomenon is overwrought for several reasons:

  1. The only large associations are Clinton-women and Obama-blacks. Obviously these two groups are fired up about the potentially landmark candidate from their respective groups, and well they should be. Both are highly qualified, and there's nothing wrong with supporting your own demographic group.

  2. The other trends are much more subtle. Just compare the popular vote totals to see how incredibly close the results are. Pundits act as if a 55/45 split amongst some particular group signifies a heinously divided party.

  3. Once someone is nominated, everything changes! Does anyone really believe that blacks are going to vote for John McCain over Hillary, or that soccer moms will vote for him over Obama?

10 February 2008


The last interesting event on my calendar before my thesis submission deadline of 28 Feb was a quick hop to Torino, Italy to speak at a workshop and take in some mountain air. I didn't know much about the city going in, but it is a really lovely place. You can totally tell that it was substantially spruced up in preparation for the 2006 Olympics, which makes it feel less run-down than some places I've been to in Italy without losing its Old World charm.

The workshop was on a hill outside the city, and I took this photograph while walking up there after arriving on Thursday morning. The view of the city and the Alps beyond was spectacular that day. That evening our hosts took us out to a dinner with many dishes typical of the Piedmont region, which was, as expected, delicious. I wish I could eat every meal in Italy.

Friday was taken up with the workshop, but I did manage to go back into town with some of other speakers that night, and see a bit of local nightlife. Saturday morning I was up early to head back to England, and my thesis, but it was a nice break.

06 February 2008

Still hoping

I've been getting more and more excited about Barack Obama recently — far more excited than I have ever been about a political candidate before. But in reading coverage of the elections online, there's a lot of anti-Obama sentiment. The most frequent accusation made about him (especially with Senator Clinton incorporating it into nearly everything she says) is that he lacks sufficient "experience". I have two problems with this criticism:

  1. Hillary has only been in the U.S. Senate for one term longer than Barack, and has served less total time in elected office. She's presumably claiming credit for experience as First Lady, which is neither elected, nor granted any particular duties or responsibilities by the Constitution. Her harping on this point actually makes me queasy, as it seems dangerously close to violating the 22nd amendment. Was she co-President? Makes you feel bad for poor Al Gore.

  2. The President of the United States is not just the chief executive, but also the head of state. This is unusual in Western democracies, in that most have a Prime Minister and a separate President (or monarch). For the USA, however, it is crucial that the President not only pushes sensible policy, but also acts as a symbol of the country as a whole. This is a point I've learned the hard way as an expatriate, when people associate all Americans with President Bush. This is also where Obama just blows Hillary out of the water.

    More than any one thing since moving to the UK, supporting Obama makes me proud to be an American. This is a sentiment I've seen on blogs and Op-Eds over and over again, and just thinking it gives me the chills. Surely this trumps nearly any other thing in choosing a President? Policy is important (and I think Obama has sound policy choices). But inspiration isn't just hot air; it's the reason 65 year-olds still remember JFK so fondly.

If any of this sounds familiar, it may be that you read something very similar at Chez MRhé. We even used some of the same phraseology, but I drafted this post before I'd even read his. Take from that what you will.

Finally, Barack's candidacy gives me faith that sometimes the American system does work right. Instead of getting a dunderhead son of a former President we get someone who is the first ever black president of the Harvard Law Review. I got rejected from Harvard Law, so I'm damn glad to be able to support someone who is smarter than I am for President. The downside to feeling this excited is that I'll be absolutely crushed if friggin' Hillary gets the nomination.

05 February 2008

27 January 2008

Kennedys all around

Obviously the only thing that can drive me to bløg is having work to do but not feeling like doing it. I'm pretty psyched about the Democratic primaries, and very please that my man Obama won the SC contest so handily. Hopefully he can translate that into momentum on Super Tuesday, instead of pulling another NH fizzle.

One thing which might help him is the support of various members of the Kennedy family, including Caroline and Ted. These are especially meaningful, as many people are drawing parallels between Obama and JFK, and these family connections can only help cement that connection in people's minds. (Luckily the people for whom this is a bad thing don't get to vote in the Dem. primary.)

21 January 2008

Strange incentives

OK, I agree that Tosci's is delicious and everything, but seriously, what the fuck is up with this? A business doesn't pay its taxes, so the Dept. of Revenue shuts them down. And then they ask customers to donate money to re-open? If I choose not to pay my taxes and then get busted should I send an email to my friends asking for money to pay them off? How does this make sense? Why is a for-profit business suddenly a charity just because they employ hip Central Square types to serve their ice cream?

14 January 2008


An excellent article on trying to understand morality by Steven Pinker. I usually think he's a bit of a blowhard, but he does make some very intriguing (and typically provocative) points.

05 January 2008

In the interest of those around you, please read this blog.

There's a tendency in the UK to make public signs polite to the point of silliness, and it's been grinding my gears lately. Illustration by way of two examples:

  • On a bus: "For your safety and comfort, please do not use mobile phones in these seats, as it may distract the driver."

  • In a supermarket: "Motorcyclists, please remove your crash helmet as you enter the store, so that we may serve you better."

Now, in both these cases, the actual message is reasonable, but what annoys me is how they throw in an extra clause to make it sound like it's for your own good, camouflaging the true nature of the request. It may make me marginally safer to not annoy the driver with my inane mobile phone conversation, but it sure as hell has nothing to do with my comfort. And I truly have no idea how I'm going to be "better served" by Tesco if I don't wear my helmet around the store.

03 January 2008

Quick hitsz

I've been pretty remiss in the blogotrain lately, but I've got 15 minutes to kill before lunch and don't fancy diving into a new thing before getting some food in my stomach, so here goes:

  • Moved into my new pad in the fens yesterday, and man is my room small. I don't mind too much, but still, it is interesting to have to get used to having literally nothing but a bed in my room. There's a wardrobe too, but I haven't decided whether to keep it inside or follow the practice of the previous tenant and keep it in the hall just outside the door. Good thing I still have my pad in Ox.

  • Getting pretty psyched to be back at work after the prolonged holiday break. Time for some productivity, I think.

  • These new Grado headphones I got for Christmas are the bees knees for high quality listening at work. Unfortunately they're open-design, so they'll annoy the hell out of other people in the room unless I turn them way down. Luckily right now we're still in the post-holiday doldrums, so I have the office to myself. They also keep my ears warm, since the office is freezing.

  • Happy New Year!