Quote of the Day

"At least with Clinton you could tell he didn’t actually believe anything he was saying."

A World Apart

A comment from a reader of the NY Times blog article "Lobbyists Flock to Climate Issue:"

I am so happy so many lobbyists are working on climate change problem. Hope these lobbyists possitive to work on this issue. Climate change issue is so important, it needs many people work on it. I see a slight of light raising from horizen line of earth. Making a roadmap of our future, a beautiful, full of hope roadmap!! Thanks for those lobbyists who are working on climate change issue.
— [Name], Japan
Indeed, if our educational system were serious about producing more lobbyists, there is no telling what we might accomplish. We need to set a Strategic National Education Policy right now that encourages young people to become lobbyists. Otherwise, we will have to import more and more lobbyists from places like China. We cannot afford that kind of lobbyist gap!

Business Must be Good!

The mortgage and real estate industry must be booming, because nobody seems to wants our business. I filled out a mortgage pre-qualification application on-line a few weeks ago. The bank said they would process it in 4 days. I haven't heard from them. I called them, and got an answering machine. Called again, again got the machine. I left a message asking about the status. They didn't call back.

I asked a real estate agent to contact me. The company web site said it would less than a day to get back to me. It's been about a week now; I haven't heard a word.

My wife called a mortgage guy at the bank. He said to call again this evening. I called. He said he'd call back. He didn't.

Not exactly confidence inspiring.

Comedy gold

I must say the video of the end of the NYU students' takeover of one of the campus buildings is pure comedy gold.

In my last year at college, the student body exploded over a small problem that had come up (married couples could live on campus, but a "married" gay couple was not allowed to). I felt that at least half the protesters were there because of protest-envy. They knew they missed out on all the really good protests of the 1960's and wanted to get their fun in.

That's what this feels like too. Spoiled kids, floating on their parents' money, desperately trying to relive the glory days that they missed by almost half a century.

"Cut the deficit"

Always, always, always, always, beware of legalese when listening to lawyers. For example, here's Obama:
“As our interest payments rise, our obligations come due, confidence in our economy erodes and our children and our grandchildren are unable to pursue their dreams because they’re saddled with our debts,” he said. “That’s why today, I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office.”
Got that? He's not planning on cutting in half the deficit that he's already signed into law--piling another trillion onto the sum--just half of Bush's deficit, including Tarp I. Tarp II, the stimulus package, and all the other candy Dems are eying don't count to his promise.

As I always say:

Stop Electing Lawyers!!!

Steve Says: Yes. He also says he will "create or save" thousands of jobs. Since we can't measure jobs "saved," he can claim he met his goal no matter what happens.

Housing Turnaround

House for sale, Newton MA.

They raised the price a few days ago from $569,000 to $575,000. Clearly, the price was too low for this 3 bed 1 bath 1120 square foot pink ranch charmer, especially in light of the President's new housing plan:

The housing plan unveiled by President Obama on Wednesday goes further than any previous effort to break the vicious cycle of declining home values, rising mortgage defaults and frozen credit that triggered the country's worst recession since the 1930s.
Seems to be working already! If we all pitch in, we can pump up that bubble just a little bit more.

Imagine what that house would be worth if the garage were big enough to hold a car!

Trickle Down Theory

I see that pipe smoking is "The Latest Thing" among young adults:

No one tracks how many young men and women are pipe smokers. But sales of pipe tobacco are rising again after years of decline, and many think young smokers are the reason. U.S. sales of pipe tobacco plummeted to 4.9 million pounds in 2006, from 52 million pounds in 1970, says Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America. Sales climbed to 5.3 million pounds in 2008. Pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco sales are on the rise, offsetting over a decade of decreases in cigarette sales.
I would point out that pipe smoking was "in" around the Boston area about 7 years ago. I guess it takes that long for high culture to trickle down to the rubes in flyover country.

Can't get a loan, can't buy a house

Everything below was stolen without mercy from Mark Perry's Carpe Diem blog.

If banks aren't making loans...

If nobody is buying houses anymore...

If the housing market is frozen and stuck...

Then what about these graphs?

That goes with this statistic:
The median number of days it took to sell a single-family home was 46.1 days in December 2008, compared with 66.7 days for the same period a year ago.

That can be summarized by this quote from the California Association of Realtors:
“The decline in home prices has brought the cost of housing more in line with household income, improving affordability across the state,” she said. “This should be especially helpful for first-time buyers who can qualify for a home loan.”
Funny how supply, demand, and the price curve work, isn't it.

Bayesian Inference Nonsense

I was reading the article on Bayes' Theorem on Wikipedia, which currently contains this bit on Bayesian inference:

Suppose we wish to know about the proportion r of voters in a large population who will vote "yes" in a referendum. Let n be the number of voters in a random sample (chosen with replacement, so that we have statistical independence) and let m be the number of voters in that random sample who will vote "yes". Suppose that we observe n = 10 voters and m = 7 say they will vote yes. From Bayes' theorem we can calculate the probability distribution function for r using

From this we see that from the prior probability density function f(r) and the likelihood function L(r) = f(m = 7r, n = 10), we can compute the posterior probability density function f(rn = 10, m = 7).

The prior probability density function f(r) summarizes what we know about the distribution of r in the absence of any observation. We provisionally assume in this case that the prior distribution of r is uniform over the interval [0, 1]. That is, f(r) = 1. If some additional background information is found, we should modify the prior accordingly. However before we have any observations, all outcomes are equally likely. [Emphasis added]
This last bit sticks in my craw, and I'll say why below. The article goes on to do some standard calculations, ending up with the conclusion:

One may be interested in the probability that more than half the voters will vote "yes". The prior probability that more than half the voters will vote "yes" is 1/2, by the symmetry of the uniform distribution. In comparison, the posterior probability that more than half the voters will vote "yes", i.e., the conditional probability given the outcome of the opinion poll – that seven of the 10 voters questioned will vote "yes" – is [.887], which is about an "89% chance".
Think for a moment about that conclusion. Is it reasonable? The experiment had 7 out of the 10 people asked saying they would vote 'yes.' Even if the total voting population is several million people, our new estimate of the probability that the referendum will pass is supposedly 89%. It doesn't seem to me that we have nearly enough evidence to reach that sort of conclusion. Mind you, I think the calculations based on Bayes' theorem are correct, and from my experience, similar calculations are common by practitioners of Bayesian inference.

But I disagree strongly with the conclusion. How is that possible? Math doesn't lie. The problem is with the assumption, which I italicized above
However before we have any observations, all outcomes are equally likely.

Even if you buy the idea that all outcomes are equally likely, perhaps justifying this assumption using a maximum entropy argument, there is the fundamental question of what an "outcome" is. I can easily choose a different assumption, no less justifiable, which results in a drastically different conclusion. It seems to me that if we really know nothing about the subset of voters who will be voting 'yes', then we might assume a prior on this 'yes'-subset as uniform on the collection of all subsets of the population. If there are N voters, then there are 2^N subsets, each of which might occur with an equal probability of 2^(-N). This uniform prior on the 'yes'-subset induces a prior on the rate r. For large N, the binomial theorem can be used to show that the prior f(r) is essentially a normal distribution with mean 0.5 and tiny standard deviation (4*N)^(-1/2). In words, practically all subsets of a large population N contain roughly N/2 elements.

Given this alternative prior, and the outcome of the survey, what is the new estimate of probability that the referendum passes? It's still essentially 50%. You could go through the exact calculation, but that's the answer you will get. With this prior, the evidence obtained from the survey of 10 people is nearly meaningless.

So who is right and who is wrong in his or her assumptions? No one can say. The fact is that this sort of blind inference is based on arbitrary assumptions, and without more information, there is literally no way to know.

Shredding the Constituion, Part II

I see that William M. Briggs, Statistician, agrees with me about the use of statistical modelling for the Census:

The mathematical apparatus that the statisticians have constructed has myriad knobs, levers, and switches that can be tweaked to produce numbers either higher or lower as directed. Twist this knob and Ames, Iowa goes up 2%, flip that switch and San Francisco drops 4%.

It would be very tempting for somebody to play with those controls to massage the numbers so that, say, the tenets of social justice are obeyed, and Congressional districts are apportioned to favor those politicians that are more properly Enlightened. A higher good is being served this way.
If you really believe that using statistics this way in the Census is valid, why not propose using them in elections as well? Why do millions of us have to go to the polls on election day when, with a few thousand phone calls to eligible voters, we could figure who's going to win statistically?

Briggs' blog, by the way, is quite good and I recommend it.


John Derbyshire mentions Malwerebytes today
Reader A introduced me to Malwarebytes, which cleaned up my computer a treat in just a few minutes — did a far better job that my lumbering Computer Associates "Security Center." THANK YOU!

That reminds me I've been meaning to post about Malwarebytes. It is easily the best anti-virus, anti-malware piece of software I have used. And it is 100% free. I had a nasty virus a couple of months ago (hint... don't keep old versions of Java around) I tried several different anti-virus programs to no avail. Then I tried Malwarebytes. Wham! Pow! Smack! Virus obliterated.

The gentlemen who took the time to put it together deserve a medal. Thank you guys!

Excuse me?

Regarding Barney Frank's desire to 'stimulate' local governments lest public employees find themselves out of work, the Committee on Ways and Means Republicans send out the following list of unemployment rates by industry:

Self employed and unpaid family workers - 6.5%
How can an "unpaid family worker" become "unemployed" and how exactly do they get a new job in their field?

He's Shredded the Constitution!

Shredded I say! It seems to me this power grab by the Obama administration is unconstitutional:

The Capitol Hill publication Congressional Quarterly yesterday reported that the White House, responding to minority groups' concerns about Gregg's commitment to funding the census, has decided to have the director of the Census Bureau report directly to the White House.
Follow the link above for analysis from the legal perspective.

Does anybody remember President Clinton's attempt to play games with the last census? The idea back then was to use statistical methods to "correct" the count. I remember Eleanor (Gee I think your swell-anor!) Clift on the McLaughlin Group group backing the idea. She said something along the lines of "you just give the data to a statistics/computer nerd in a little room somewhere. He runs his program and gives you the corrected result!"

Well, speaking as one such, I can assure you that if you give the data to a dozen different nerds in a dozen different rooms, they will return with a dozen different results based on a dozen different computer models they feel are appropriate. Then what happens? The party in power chooses which one they like?

I bet that if the census is in fact run out of the White House we will see some similar shenanigans attempted. Forget statistical methods. Count the people. That's the only fair and constitutional way.

Ann says: Gee, I could have sworn that was supposed to be Eleanor "you smell-i-nor" Clift.

There ought to be a law

From CNN's main story on their homepage:
An Ohio sheriff had harsh words for ice fishermen who had to be rescued Saturday after weather conditions caused an ice floe to break away and strand about 150 of them on Lake Erie. "If there was a section in the code about common sense, we would have had 150 arrests out there today," Ottawa County, Ohio, Sheriff Bob Bratton told CNN.
All northern states should have laws fining people for being idiots, for wasting the resources of the state, and fining them double the costs of the rescue. That goes for idiot mountain climbers too.

It's raining computers

According to National Review, the stimulus bill contains:
$350 million for Agriculture Department computers
You can pick up great laptops these days for about $800. So, that means this bill could purchase 437,500 laptops.

If it's the first Friday of the month, it must be Employment Day!

Here's the latest graph of employment. This is the Bush admin's final chart. And, I must say, it is seriously pathetic. With the initial hit from the collapse of the Dot-Com Bubble, it wasn't until October of 2004 that employment was back to when Bush took office. Then we had three years of rapid employment growth, beginning in January of '03 and ending in December of '06. This should now be tagged the Housing Bubble. In December of 2006 the bubble stopped growing, and starting in April of 2008 popped dramatically.

Click for a large version of image:

Some notes on the chart. In January of 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics changed the way it harvested the household survey data. This change caused a jump of 3.58 million jobs. I have plotted three horizontal lines. The small red one represents the Employment Survey's January, 2001 position.

For the Household Survey, because of this change, I plotted two small purple lines. The lower one is the reported January, 2001 starting point, the second is 3.58 million jobs higher, an estimate of the employment levels if the later system had been in place.

Bottom line: If you take the Household jump back off, in 8 years, the economy only added 2.5 million new jobs.

On the Television

A post for my sister:

The Tranquilizer!

Beauty and the Beet!

Wee Pitiful Lad!

There's an Englishman in the House!

They are all here. Except it seems for "This is Furniture... This is Chair!"

What a show! Thanks to George McGrath for posting these.

Ann says...the miracle spoon.


This is just astonishing. In Britain, they are creating a mandatory registry of every child. To include: Name, ID#, sex, date of birth, address, parents' contact information, doctor's contact information, school contact information, and a record of any social service agency involved in the child's life. This "secure" database will be viewable by about half a million different people inside and outside of government.

And if that weren't bad enough: kids of politicians and celebrities are exempt from having all their details listed, just name, rank and serial number for them.

How can a country which once had the best thinkers on the necessity of limiting government power and on the power of liberty have fallen so far?

If you described a police state to me, I'd have a hard time defending the idea that Britain is not one. Cameras on every street corner, a disarmed populace, a growing DNA database extended well beyond convicted felons, tracking of everyone's children, and even spies who make sure you sorted your garbage properly into the 5 different bins that are required.

It's Worse than We Thought

Ann says: The worst part is, I know one of my senators is even dumber. If Pelosi is "dumber than soap" as one YouTube page is tagging this comment, then Barbara Boxer must be dumber than mud.

Jimmy Carter is OK With Terrorism

I hadn't seen this quote before:

But the clearest endorsement of terror as a legitimate instrument of political bargaining came from former President Jimmy Carter. In his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," Mr. Carter appeals to the sponsors of suicide bombing. "It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Road-map for Peace are accepted by Israel." Acts of terror, according to Mr. Carter, are no longer taboo, but effective tools for terrorists to address perceived injustices.

From an article by the father of Daniel Pearl. Be sure to read it all.


I've been meaning to write about this for a while now:
33 minutes—about the time it takes to get a pizza delivered—is all it takes for a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile to travel halfway around the world and obliterate an American city. In less time, if detonated high above the homeland, its Electromagnetic Pulse would incapacitate everything from ATM and hospital machines to traffic lights and computers for thousands of miles. Life would never be the same.
In my opinion, the Corner post greatly underestimates the problem.

Try this as a thought experiment:

Iran asks a bunch of ambassadors, nuclear and ballistic weapons experts over for a demonstration. They first bring them down into a cave to show them a nuclear device. They show them the size and weight of the bomb. They then take them a safe distance away and show them a rocket. The payload of the rocket is a box about the same size and weight as the bomb.

They then launch the rocket and when it is about 300 miles up they ask an ambassador to push a button. When the button is pressed, the nuclear bomb in the cave goes off.

What has Iran just demonstrated? That they can launch a missile from a ship at sea and obliterate every piece of technology in every city on the eastern seaboard of the US, perhaps even reaching as far inland as Chicago. The destroyed technology would include: city water systems, all communications systems, medical systems, transportation systems (including cars), electrical systems, distribution systems, etc. In other words, Iran would have shown that they could bomb a third of the US back to the pre-industrial age with a single bomb that they could hide on a ship at sea.

Iran already has missiles like the one in the thought experiment. All they lack is the bomb...so far.

Now, after such a demonstration of power, what would Iran do? They could say that there are already 5 such ships floating the world's oceans, one somewhere near Europe, one off the Pacific coast of Japan, one off each coast of the US. They could also start setting terms: give us a tax on every barrel of oil that ships through the Straights of Hormuz, or we eliminate Japan...actually, make that every barrel of oil sold or shipped everywhere in the world. While we're at it, how about turning over 1 hour of prime time television on all channels to Islamic education and conversion efforts. Maybe a required class in every elementary school working to convert the young to Islam.

The technical hurdles for this demonstration will be all jumped over within a handful of years. Current estimates of Iran's getting its first bomb range from 6 months to 2 years. Which means that probably before Obama leaves office after 4 years, or certainly if he leaves office after 8 years, this scenario will be technically possible.

There's a scary world coming around the corner.

Super Bowl XLIII

I haven't liked the Steelers since Super Bowl IX. But I just saw James Harrison's 100 yard interception return at the end of the 1st half. I was on my feet shouting and cheering him on. Awesome! Totally Awesome!!!

Green Voodoo

Speaking of economics, I think that some of what I'm hearing about the "Green Economy" is just wrong. Voodoo economics, as they say.

Essentially, the idea is that that if we tax traditional fuels, or in some other way make them more expensive to use, then this will stimulate the economy through creation of "green jobs" and development of new "green technologies." I've heard President Obama make this argument, but I don't buy it.

If that sort of thing worked, we could create an economic boom by banning computers. Indeed, imagine a world free of job destroying, energy devouring computers! Without computers, many jobs that one person can do now might need three or more people to do. That means job creation! Scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs would be driven to discover and develop new technologies to boost productivity in our new computer-free economy. We cannot even begin to imagine what they will come up with. Think of the potential benefit to humanity!

Such ideas seem to me to be modern versions of the broken window fallacy. If we want a green economy, so be it. But we shouldn't kid ourselves about getting a boost to our economy from a gas or carbon tax. It might be looked upon as a long-term investment with a potential payoff, but in the short run it's going to cost us.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

This bit from Greg Mankiw's recent NY Times article caught my eye:

If you hire your neighbor for $100 to dig a hole in your backyard and then fill it up, and he hires you to do the same in his yard, the government statisticians report that things are improving. The economy has created two jobs, and the G.D.P. rises by $200. But it is unlikely that, having wasted all that time digging and filling, either of you is better off.
It caught John Derbyshire's as well:

Well, you're cardio-vascularly better off, aren't you? Whatever: I think it's safe to say there'll be a lot of $100-hole-digging in the nation's near future.
Indeed, Our Governement is already preparing such hole-filling plans.

The so-called “Accelerated Retirement of Inefficient Vehicles Act” is "Cash for Clunkers" with a twist. Instead of focusing exclusively on old cars as is typical with scrappage programs, this bill will target any vehicle with lower fuel-economy ratings. Participants will receive a cash voucher to purchase a more fuel-efficient new car or used car (model year 2004 or later) or receive credit for the purchase of public transportation tickets.

Under the legislation, “fuel efficient” means at least 25% better mileage than the CAFE standard. It will be illegal to resell the scrapped vehicles. Bill sponsors want to destroy 4 million pickups and SUVs over the next four years.
That's right. The proposal is to crush perfectly usable new-ish trucks and SUVs. It's difficult to believe anyone, even members of Congress, would think this makes economic sense.

Imagine a trillion dollars of this sort of thing.

Ann says: This is hardly a new idea, we have been doing exactly this sort of thing for decades in the farming industry: buying up surpluses, paying farmers not to farm, etc. Some of it done for exactly the same reason: to protect the environment from over-use of the land. All this proposal is, is an extension of farm policy to the auto industry.