Archive for July, 2009

31
Jul
09

Obama losing steam

The Pew research center has a nice article on public perception of the Obama administration. Here’s just one table.

Obama numbersThe largest drop in public confidence of Obama comes in the economy, which I guess has to be explained by the rising unemployment rate. Otherwise, it seems like all the data indicates that we’ve sidestepped a potentially disastrous depression.

Also, perception of Obama’s overall job performance has slipped precipitously in the last month.

Here’s one interesting question about the healthcare numbers: is Obama’s desire to get a healthcare bill quickly a canny tactical choice to use his popularity before it runs out, or is his insistence on rapid action the cause of the public’s recent turn against him?

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31
Jul
09

deviation from utility maximization

Here’s a typical scenario. Three friends are out hiking, and it is determined that given the relative strength of each of them and the duration of the hike, two of the three friends should split the burden of carrying the water (the third friend will be so burdened by carrying the water, that it is decided, in the interest of utility maximization, that he shouldn’t have to carry the water at all). Halfway through the hike, the third friend takes the backpack and carries it anyway. He sacrifices so that the other two friends are better off, even though total utility suffers. Think of this act of sacrifice as a move from A to B below (where the first column is the friend who will be really burdened by carrying the pack).

sacrifice

Utilitarianism says that this is prohibited, but we usually think that such a sacrifice is especially praiseworthy. In fact, we think it is supererogatory, or, above the usual demands of morality. It is optional, and especially good for that reason.

31
Jul
09

segregation in the south versus the non-south

I decided to look at the segregation indexes of various cities based on whether they were south or non-south. I expected southern cities to in general be more segregated, but instead I found that the average segregation levels in southern and non-southern cities to be about the same (the averages are basically identical).

south versus non south

From this, one could conclude that since segregation in the south must be racially motivated, so it must be elsewhere. In other words, Everywhere else is just as bad as the south. Or, one could argue that since there is less racial animus in the non-south, and the average segregation index between the non-south and the south is the same, that segregation is caused not by racism, but by something else (minorities want to live with other minorities maybe). A third option, which I find the least plausible, is that segregation in the south is caused by racism, but that the identical average segregation in the north is caused by something innocent, like the desire of minorities to live together.

30
Jul
09

public comments in Santa Cruz

This is a public hearing of the Santa Cruz city council on an ordinance relating to panhandlers. It’s pretty hilarious. I especially like the old lady who’s getting freaked out because homeless people are on her storefront.

public comment #4

30
Jul
09

housing segregation

housing seg

In the previous post, I mentioned that I was looking for some housing segregation data. Here’s some, where the index is the percentage of a metropolitan’s black population that would have to move in order to have neighborhoods reflect the overall racial composition of the metropolitan area. In other words, this number represents how far the metropolitan area deviates from an even spread of minority populations.

Now, one important point is that this index does not control for income. In other words, many times segregation results from the fact that minorities have less money and so live where housing is cheaper (this may raise problems of its own, but the problem isn’t specifically intolerant neighborhoods).

Also, this data is not meant to be normative, there may be many acceptable reasons for segregation. Now, there are many sinister possible explanations as well, and I’m not denying that they might be right, but whatever they are, they are not borne out by this data.

Boston ranks 68th which I think is pretty good, with New York at 4 and Chicago at 5. Big D is at 110. Uh huh.

Here’s the dissimilarity index plotted against total population, which shows a loose association between a city’s size and its segregation. Y axis is population with the top being 10,000,000

pop v. dissimilarity index

30
Jul
09

why I need to move

housing

I set out to look up the rate of racial composition of different neighborhoods in Boston, and instead I came across this map of the cost of housing in the United States.

Oddly, the makers of this map decided to represent apartment rental costs as the hourly wage someone must receive (working 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year) in order to spend only 30% of their income on a two bedroom apartment. The 30% number seems completely arbitrary and also I’m not sure how they control for the quality of apartments. Lastly, more expensive houses might be more expensive because they are near cheap, money saving things like public transportation (In other words, some of these houses might require more than 30% of one’s monthly income, but only because transportation makes up an even smaller percentage than elsewhere). Like I said, the metric is bizarre but kind of interesting to see laid out.

All told though, it looks like housing is really expensive in Massachusetts. I would also like to point out that housing is cheap in Texas because space is the state’s greatest natural resource, not oil, as some people wrongly suppose.

30
Jul
09

the Obama effect in international politics

favorability rating

This nice graphic from a pew research center article shows that the biggest change in favorability ratings has been among our allies in Western Europe. The lowest changes are by and large in predominantly Muslim countries.

To me, this suggests that our relationship with certain countries cannot be influenced very much by the president due to structural factors such as our choice of allies and maybe also fundamental cultural differences. There is more flexibility in how we are seen in Europe because for the most part, we have no irresolvable differences about life or death issues.

Also, look at this chart regarding how certain populaces feel about the use of suicide bombing. I’m not sure if these people were asked if suicide bombings against the U.S. were justified or just if they were ever justified.

suicide bombings

To me, this is some evidence that the naive Obama thesis — that other countries will damage our interests less because they like us more — is probably wrong. Softpower does not work merely by making other people like us more. However, these graphics to me indicate that a more sophisticated or nuanced softpower Obama thesis might be more sensible. Rather than claim that if other countries like us more, they will stop trying to destroy our way of life, a more nuanced view claims that the more our Western European allies like us, the more they will work with us on issues of international concern, including terrorism and intelligence gathering.

*Note: since there is no control for this data, it could be that Obama made us much more unfavorable to the world, compared to another president. I just doubt this because the numbers are really high, again though, there is no substitute for proper statistics.