Grandpa's Publications

I'd never heard of two of these.

Snow Today

It's cold here in Tennessee, and we've got a bit of snow on the ground. Our daughter really enjoyed playing in it.

Math inequality

This is about twice as long as it needed to be, but it's worth watching:

From Mark Perry at Carpe Diem, why do boys outscore girls on the math SAT?

Frisking Diplomats

Indian diplomats have gotten their saris in a bunch over having been frisked by the TSA.
"On December 4, Indian ambassador to the United States Meera Shankar was selected by security officials at a Mississippi airport for a pat-down search, despite reportedly notifying officials of her diplomatic status."


"We have taken it up with the U.S. authorities and the matter is at that stage," External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said on Monday, referring to Puri, a Sikh.

Sikh men keep their hair covered at all times with a turban, which is not allowed to be touched in public.

Boo freakin' hoo.

You think that because you are a diplomat, or a US Senator, or a member of some other self-proclaimed elite, that you should not have to go through the TSA process the rest of us have to? I call bullsh*t. If I have to go through it, then everyone else should have to as well. It's called "equality under the law."

Ann says: But diplomatic immunity is as helpful to us overseas as it is to visitors here. Do we want to do away with it, knowing that if we do, we will lose it for ourselves in other countries? What percentage of our necessary spying takes place under the cover of diplomatic immunity? The world is a safer place when we know what is going on in other countries. I'm not ready to throw all that away, just so that everyone has to go through the same foolish security-theater at airports.

Steve: Yes, I think diplomatic immunity should be abandoned. I would bet our gains from it overseas are greatly exceeded by our losses due to it at home.

Obama the Mythbuster

President Obama will be on Mythbusters this evening. He will be asking the show's hosts to once again investigate the possibility of "Archimedes' Death Ray." This is the legend that Archimedes was able to destroy ships at sea by having soldiers reflect enough sunlight off their shields to set the ships on fire. The Mythbusters have investigated this twice before, and each time it was "busted."

Really, it's preposterous, unless by "ships at sea" you mean ships a hundred feet from shore, sitting motionless in absolutely still water, and if by "shields" you mean parabolic mirrors. I found the whole process of testing this myth pretty boring. Both times. The myths that I think work best for testing are the ones that have some degree of believability from the start. I wasn't buying this one.

On the other hand, part of me thinks that they must have come up with some contrived way to make this work, or they wouldn't bother testing it a third time. I doubt President Obama came to them with this problem. They probably already had a plan to retest it and suggested it to him.

I think having the President on the show is a fun idea. It might get kids interested in science. I just wish they would have chosen a better myth.

Archimedes was a genius. I am awestruck by some of the mathematics he was able to do over two thousand years ago. With his towering achievements, it would be a shame to associate him mainly with this mythical "Death Ray."

Update: Busted again.


George Will:

Has the U.S. Supreme Court construed the commerce clause so permissively that Congress has seized, by increments, a sweeping police power that enables it to do virtually anything it wants?

Yes. Duh! How hard is this to understand?? How many more such essays are conservative and libertarian pundits going to write? Blah blah blah "10th Amendment!!" blah blah blah "Founders' Intent!!" blah blah blah "Federalism!!" It's like a bunch of people sitting around a burnt-out light bulb endlessly talking about how illuminating and warm it was. It's burnt out!

Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Go on quoting Marbury vs Madison, George. I'll go on living 200 years later, in what is often referred to as "the real world."

Politicians and the debt

Everyone always comments that the debt rose sharply under Republican presidents and declined under Democrats...basically just Clinton. And, it's true. Here's the graph.

But no one points out that in Washington, it takes three to tango. Here's the same data, matched to control of the Senate:

And here it is matched to the House of Representatives:

One note on how I colored the bars. I figured if a politician gets elected in 2010, he takes office at the start of 2011, but the first budget that he can pass is for the 2012 year. So that's how I colored the bars, and that's why it might look a little off. I didn't just go by election year. Otherwise, Republicans would get assigned our current year, even when all of Washington was firmly in the hands of Democrats, and I figured there was also a lag between taking office and actually starting to change things. For example, with this method, Bush gets blamed for Tarp I. Otherwise, it would have all fallen under Obama.

Warren Buffet's Interest

It's well-known that Warren Buffet is in favor of the estate tax. He is a favorite of the pro-tax pundits out there. They paint him as a humanitarian, willing to give up more of his wealth for the good of the people. However, he has another interest in the matter. A comment posted here:

I used to work IT in the Hartford Insurance arena. One day an agent sold a Life insurance policy worth 50 million dollars to a 75 year old man. The client paid a single premium of about 53 million and his son was the sole benficiary.

Why would anyone do this? because Insurance benefits are not taxed like a ‘death tax’

Warren Buffet owns six life insurance comapanies. Yeesh. Like I wasn't cynical enough already.

You can read a pdf report of the life insurance lobby's efforts to re-institute high estate taxes here.

Happy Thanksgiving 2010

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Comments Sections

Typically, I find the comments sections of blogs to be pretty depressing. Once in a while though, I am pleasantly surprised. Here, someone at The Corner posts an article praising the new airport security measures and the people who implement them. Commenters rightly give him what-for.

On the other end of the political spectrum, in this article at Huffington Post, a doctor warns of the horrible dangers of mixing alchohol with caffiene. "Combining alcohol and caffeine is -- in one word -- crazy. Don't do it! It has an excellent chance of hurting you, and a fairly good chance of killing you." Yes, that's right. Rum and Coke, Kaluha and Cream, Irish Coffee... cocktails of death!! His readers let him have it.

In both cases, the comments are pretty satisfying.

Tuition and Fees (II)

Doing some more math...if you put the 4-year cost of a Carleton education, $224,600, into investments, and only got back 3% a year, that would give you an annual benefit of $6,700 per year. In addition, instead of wasting four years paying others, you could easily make $20,000/year at a low-end job. That's $80,000 in your pocket, instead of $224k going out--a swing of over $300,000.

Of course, the $224k number doesn't take into account interest on loans. According to this loan calculator, assuming that Carleton's tuition will be 5% higher next year ($54,715), and an incoming freshman borrowed that entire amount, they will have to pay back $67,920 just for their first year--24% more than the initial loan of $55k. Carrying out the calculations at 24% overall loan interest, and a 5% tuition increase each year, that comes to approximately: $292,700 (Grinnell comes to $265,500).

So would a student whose family saved for college and could cover the cost be better off pocketing the cash?

Would a student who had to borrow $300,000 for a high-end diploma be better off getting a job instead?

Is the piece of paper from Carleton, Grinnell, or another high-end college worth $300,000?

Tuition and Fees

Tuition and fees at Carleton College, my alma mater

Academic Tuition Fees 2010-2011
Tuition: $41,076
Student Activity Fee: $228
Room: $5,676
20 Meal Plan (full board): $5,130
Total Due: $52,110

Absurd. If anyone asked for advice, I'd advise them to go elsewhere. Carleton is a fine school, but it's not worth $52000/year. A state school like Minnesota or Wisconsin would be about 1/3rd of that. I couldn't begin to justify the additional expense of going private.

Ann says: There are only three reasons to go private these days: 1) to get the name on the diploma, 2) choosing a network of friends, 3) being able to graduate in four years instead of 5-6. None of those are worth the $172,500 $224,600 (my math was wrong) Carleton or other high-end privates will cost to get through. (That's assuming 4 years at 5% tuition growth per year--when I was in school, the average increase was 8%.) Grinnell's 4-year cost at 5% growth per year is currently: $203,700.

If a student really has their heart set on a private, they should do a 2-year AB, then transfer in. Even that isn't worth it--especially if you have a soft major. And if you want to do a hard major like math, science, or engineering, you're better off with the larger facilities and opportunities of a state school anyway.

I come down on the side that young adults should walk away from school for a few years to decide what they want to do with their lives. Spending time being aimless at college, and spending a fortune doing it, really doesn't make any sense. You should only go to college these days if you have a real, concrete goal that requires a specific degree. (As long as you don't want to be yet another lawyer!)

Glenn Beck - Nutjob

In case there was any doubt...

I find it difficult to watch more than about 15 seconds of this. Who can stand this guy?

Entropy increases

"'Entropy increase,' as my old friend Huxley used to say, and I've never heard a truer word spoken." ~ Dr. Who (Tom Baker, I think in the episode "Logopolis", 1981)

"Second law of Thermodynamics: The second law of thermodynamics states that the efficiency of a heat engine is always less than 100% and that the entropy of a closed system must always increase."

Every time I think about the rallying cry that the economy will turn around once millions of "green jobs" start popping up, I think of entropy.

Basically, physics says that things will settle into the lowest energy state, and continue to decline--entropy increases. In order to get something into a higher energy state, you have to put in more energy than you will ever get out.

Economic energy flows into the most-efficient means of production. Successful companies maximize their outputs and minimize their inputs--becoming more efficient. Unsuccessful ones will go under and disappear.

The "green jobs" movement's claims go against the laws of thermodynamics. Basically, they say that companies will gladly sign onto what are currently--and will be for the foreseeable future--less-efficient and more-expensive means of production.

Until the green technologies evolve to the point that they offer better efficiency than current forms, adaptation simply can't happen without government force in the form of either laws or subsidies. In the absence of subsidies, the companies that adapt "green" technologies will pay a premium for doing so--will be inherently less efficient and will collapse in favor of more-efficient non-green competitors. If instead of subsidies, the government enacts laws, they then run into the problem that we don't live in a closed domestic market. Non-green competition from abroad would wipe out the less-efficient, but piously green, domestic companies.

But, in an open international marketplace, funding non-efficient technologies through subsidies puts your whole economy at a disadvantage against companies that allow companies to thrive on their own merits.

Companies will gladly adapt green technologies when it gives them a competitive advantage. They currently can not offer that, despite all the hype.

How Dare You Not Shop At My Store!

"Local" Boston grocery lashes out at his neighborhood.
“Don Otto’s Market wants to say we had few customers that understood customer loyalty and its importance to our business,” a message on its Web site reads, later adding: “If you came in only for baguettes, the occasional piece of cheese, the occasional dinner . . . you can not tell yourself you were a supporter of our market.”

“People don’t understand their purchases make a difference, and that by buying something that wasn’t exactly what you want, it gets you closer to what you want. It’s an investment.”

How dare you not buy my $8 carton of eggs! Which part of "buy local" don't you understand? You'll buy what I tell you to buy, and don't give me any lip!

Arguing with liberals

I think at some point, when you argue with a liberal, they will make a point so breathtakingly stupid that it is impossible to rebut it. If someone really believes that crap, you think, how can I possibly get through to them?

Steve: Like Ed Asner? Actually, I'm not sure liberals have a monopoly on this. Nuts abound on the Right as well, and among Libertarians too, I think. Just visit the comments section of politcal blogs. Pretty depressing.

Case Closed

There's nothing wrong with observing some interesting phenomenon and wondering "what the heck is that!?" Postulating this was a missile was perfectly reasonable, I think. The trouble is that no amount of evidence will convince some people once they have made that postulate. (I'm talking about people commenting in blogs.) They've decided it was a missile and that's that! Human nature, I guess, sad but true.

In case the text of in that screenshot is unclear, someone figured out what flight this was. At the same time the next day, he surfed over to a site showing a web-cam in the area. The webcam showed a contrail in the sky just like the one the day before.

Or maybe the Chinese have launched another missile!

Twinkie Diet

A researcher has lost 27 pounds in two months eating little more than Twinkies, a daily power shake, and a few vegetables. The reason this worked is that each day he took in fewer calories than he burned. It's not exactly rocket science.

After reading the comments about this on a few blogs, I'm sorry to report that many people really don't understand. It takes a certain amount of energy to do the things you do. If your body isn't getting sufficient energy from the food it takes in, it will make up the difference by breaking down tissue. The result is weight loss.

That's pretty much it. Yet it is common to hear people complain about how they eat nothing, exercise all the time, and don't lose weight. Where is their energy coming from then? Thin air? Perhaps they are burning fat but gaining water weight? Somehow I doubt that such a thing is common.

I think much of the diets out there do little but make money for their promoters. There is no miracle diet. Taking in fewer calories than you burn is all that matters.

That reminds me... I could lose 20 pounds or so...

EMP threat

A missile went up last night not far from me; it is supposed to have been a rather large one, and according to reporters at the Pentagon, they have no clue who launched it.

I've long wondered about this scenario: Iran or some other group of not-friendlies gets nuclear weapons. They perform an underground test to which foreign observers are invited. They show those visitors the size and weight of the bomb. They then have a successful detonation. Next, they put a payload of exactly that size and weight onto a missile and fire it from land or sea, shoot the missile up in the air, and they have it harmlessly go boom at altitude. That nation would have demonstrated the ability to take out a large segment of the world with a single EMP weapon.

So, who launched that missile yesterday?


Obama's handlers wouldn't let him visit the Sikh temple in Amritsar, because he would have to cover his head, and they worried people would think he was a muslim or something.

Obama's handlers have him scheduled to visit a mosque in Indonesia, which would in no way make people worry he was a muslim or something.

Drudge does it again

Drudge is a master of perception, subtlety, and placement. From today:

Why so much security in India, Mr. President? Hmmm? Yes, there are some violent Hindu nationalists, but is that really why the Secret Service is going so crazy? Is that why you need 6,000 people to guard you? Or...might it be a different ethnic, political, or religious group that is the problem?

Why the House matters

Here's a graph I made of US Gross Debt as a percentage of GDP, graphed over time (bar graph). Over the top, I've put in the balance of power in the House and Senate, listed as "Full Dem", "Full Rep" or "Split", and when it was split, I labeled the House.

You can see why the House is so important. While the Republicans held the House, the budget didn't explode. Whenever the Dems held the House, it did.

A graphic reminder that all spending bills originate in the House.

As an interesting side note, there is a reason I started the graph in 1981; because, that's the year everything changed. Prior to that, we'd been on a slow decline in Debt (or was it a GDP increase?) even though everything was held by Democrats. We were coming down from the high war years (click for the not-distorted-by-Blogger's-compression version.) In 1981 all hell breaks loose:

You... Can... Market... Carrots!!

A truism

Karl Rove on Hannity just now quoted the president from his press conference (transcript):

"If right now we had 5 percent unemployment instead of 9.6 percent unemployment, then people would have more confidence in those policy choices. " ~ President Obama, Nov 3, 2010.

To which Rove had this to say:

"Well, duh!"

California commits hari-kari

California just put a noose around it's neck and jumped off a cliff--Prop 23 failed which means AB32 will go into effect, requiring a 30% reduction in CO2 in 10 years--when we already have relatively clean energy in the state (much is natural gas, little is coal, and nuclear and renewables are sizable.) There's only one place it can come from and that is a slashing of the state's economic activity.

And, in the end, the only reason it will cut global emissions is by making Californians (that is to say: those Californians that are too poor or too stubborn to move) much, much poorer, and thus less able to buy stuff, travel, drive, or, you know, eat.

To a large extent, the decreased economic output of California will not change global CO2 by one ppm. All it will do is encourage relocation to places--like China or Utah (where Adobe, eBay, Oracle and Twitter have all recently moved)--which are less nice when it comes to pollution (not to mention regulations and taxes). Ironically, it might just increase global CO2.

Happy birthday

Happy birthday big brother!


Crystal Bottling Company

My great-grandfather August sold the Crystal Bottling works to the Raimer brothers in Portage Wisconsin around 1910. Here is a picture of a bottle from that plant. Click to zoom.

I found it here. It was sent to a bottle-collection site by a fellow named Tim, a descendent of the Raimers.

Feeling the Future

A research article in press in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology" by Daryl J. Bem of Cornell University shows that it is possible to study for a test after you take it... and influence your grade! As amazing as it seems, that is what the statistics show.

the current experiment tests the hypothesis that memory can “work both ways” by testing whether rehearsing a set of words makes them easier to recall—even if the rehearsal takes place after the recall test is given. Participants were first
shown a set of words and given a free recall test of those words. They were then given a set of practice exercises on a randomly selected subset of those words. The psi hypothesis was that the practice exercises will retroactively facilitate the recall of those words, and, hence, participants will recall more of the to-be-practiced words than the unpracticed words.

In other words, one hundred Cornell students were given a bunch of words to look at. Then they were asked to recall as many as they could. After that recall test, a computer randomly chose a subset of the original set of words for the students to study. A statistical analysis was then performed, and showed that the students did better at remembering the words they studied post-test! Woah. Maybe it's not too late for me to ace those SATs.

Cool 3D Mandelbrot Renderings

Benoît Mandelbrot passed away recently. He was a mathematician known for his work with fractals. Indeed, he coined the term. I saw him speak once, and I got the impression that he was a bit of a kook. Whatever my impression, there is no question that his work was of great influence.

Here are some beautiful renderings of 3D fractal sets. Be sure to scroll down the page for the best ones. Quite spectacular.


Megan McCardle uses my idea

Kinda cool.

A couple of days ago Megan McCardle in The Atlantic wrote a story titled "The Gentrifier's Lament". Here's the opening:
So having finally closed on the house, we're living in what is euphemistically known as a "mixed" neighborhood, where poor black residents who have lived there for a generation or more exist somewhat uncomfortably side-by-side with more affluent whites who are drawn to the relatively cheap rents and lovely Victorian housing stock. The tensions thus built up are played out in many places, notably local politics, where a recent attempt by a local cafe to get a liquor license triggered many of the arguments that we heard after Adrian Fenty's loss in the mayoral race.

Yesterday, I rode the bus for the first time from the stop near my house, and ended up chatting with a lifelong neighborhood resident who has just moved to Arizona, and was back visiting family. We talked about the vagaries of the city bus system, and then after a pause, he said, "You know, you may have heard us talking about you people, how we don't want you here. A lot of people are saying you all are taking the city from us. Way I feel is, you don't own a city." He paused and looked around the admittedly somewhat seedy street corner. "Besides, look what we did with it. We had it for forty years, and look what we did with it!"
It goes on to discuss how neighborhoods change from white to black and back again, from poor to rich, and so forth.

It put me in mind of an old article I read back in 2002. I actually was able to remember that it was also in The Atlantic. I figured out a keyword from that old article and was able to find it again. It was "Seeing Around Corners" by Jonathon Rauch. In the article, he talked about a researcher, Thomas Schelling, who used computer modeling of neighborhoods to see how they change over time. One model Schelling built was very simple: how would a neighborhood change over time if each individual would prefer having at least two neighbors of the same race. In the end, he determined that, even if each individual wanted to live in a diverse community, their desire to have at least 2 same-race neighbors would eventually result in solid segregation:
In the random distribution, of course, many agents are unhappy; and in each of many iterations [...] unhappy agents are allowed to switch places. Very quickly ... the reds gravitate to their own neighborhood, and a few seconds later the segregation is complete: reds and blues live in two distinct districts....

...When I first looked at it, I thought I must be seeing a model of a community full of racists. I assumed, that is, that each agent wanted to live only among neighbors of its own color. I was wrong. In the simulation I've just described, each agent seeks only two neighbors of its own color. That is, these "people" would all be perfectly happy in an integrated neighborhood, half red, half blue. If they were real, they might well swear that they valued diversity. The realization that their individual preferences lead to a collective outcome indistinguishable from thoroughgoing racism might surprise them no less than it surprised me...
I then posted a comment on McCardle's piece quoting from the other Atlantic article.

Today, McCardle followed up on her article with another, "Gentrification and Its Discontents", which went deeper into the issue of the first post.

And how did she end today's post?...This way:
But the stable mixed-income neighborhood with something for anyone remains very much a goal, rather than an achievement, of city planners.

An article from our pages several years ago might explain why. Jonathan Rauch watched simulated societies in a computer, and noted what happened even when the "people" of the model had only a modest preference for being around others like them:

[ Extended quote from the Rauch article I handed her on a silver platter! ]

This is not just true of race; it is true of a number of characteristics, especially economic class. Which is understandable, because neighborhoods have network effects. Having more people like you means having more services for people like you, which is very valuable. Unfortunately, even a very mild preference for being around a few of your "own kind" seems to result in fairly homogenous neighborhoods--which explains, in this era of labor mobility, why people seem to live around others who are not only similar in income and race, but also in political views and other characteristics. A city planner trying to fight this has a heroic task in front of them.

None of this is new, of course; it's a bog standard debate in most urban centers. The problem can also be readily observed in situ by going to the many cities which have enacted inclusionary zoning and similar measures in response to gentrification, yet still seem to be gentrifying. If Ms. Baca wants me to "change my attitude" about this area of city planning, she is going to need to offer a little more than a lecture. I'm going to need some actual evidence--and so far, she's utterly failed to provide it
You're welcome, Ms. McCardle :)

I don't think Drudge likes him much

Have you ever gotten the impression that Matt Drudge (who is supposedly a Democrat) doesn't like Obama much? Here are the 4 photos of the president that Drudge had up on his site today. Quite flattering, don't you think? (Click to enlarge)

I don't think he ever gave BushII this kind of treatment.

Chandra Levy murder trial begins

After 9 years and Condit's fall, Levy trial begins.

Yes, that's right. Someone else is standing trial for her murder. I wonder if FoxNews, and Bill O'Reilly in particular, will make a big deal about the trial? After spending countless hours harping on Condit--with O'Reilly being the biggest offender--perhaps they should do a little equal time reporting on this other suspect.

The worst part is, O'Reilly, who led the rampage against Condit, now decries how evil the press were when they jumped to conclusions. I know he gets his hair and makeup done by someone else, but you'd think he'd occassionaly look in the mirror.

Inside the Supreme Court

Just in case there was still some doubt as to how the Supreme Court functions, consider this letter posted at The Corner

"She [Justice Ginsburg] told those assembled that the justices do not use the analytical framework to reach the results in a given case, but that they decide the result first and then fit the opinion into the existing framework."

All together now, kids, bang your head on your desks!

Michelle Rhee has resigned as chancellor of the Washington DC schools.

When she came in, she found a completely disfunctional system, where they didn't even know how the payroll system worked, who was getting checks, or why. She found a system deeply sclerotic and profligate. D.C. claims to spend more than $14,000 per student, but a recent study which took into account all funding methods for schools, put that number much higher: over $28,000.

It is quite clear that that torrent of money is doing very little to improve the education of DC's kids.

In came Rhee. She demanded concessions from the unions and managed to fire a couple of hundred poor-performing teachers. Her reforms were a tiny first step towards what DC needed, and she got results. The DC schools were starting to turn around.

As you can imagine, the union's fury knew no bounds, and in heavily-democratic and union-friendly DC, that mattered. The Democratic mayoral primary election was all about Michelle Rhee. One candidate was the guy who appointed her; he stood by her and defended the reforms. The other candidate sided with the unions and opposed her reforms. The union-backed candidate won. (On the Republican side, no one ever seems much point in running anyone to oppose the Democrats, so no one was on the ballot. However, Rhee's patron, Adrian Fenty got over 800 Republican write-ins on the same day--in my mind, proving which party really stands with the kids and which doesn't. He said he was a Democrat, and so declined the Republican nomination.)

So, Rhee saw the rude graffiti on the wall and turned in her ruler.

The students of D.C. just lost their best friend and their best advocate. In addition, school reforms in D.C. will now be set back a decade or more.

But the union is happy.

Everyday Math

Interesting... many of the bits I've seen from Everyday Math are similar to the way I do arithmetic in my head. For 754-472, I would add 200+80+2.

Ann adds: I spontaneously did what I call "adding-up" subtraction a few years ago. I put absolutely no thought into it, but suddenly found myself looking at the bottom number, figuring out how many to add to get to the upper number, then, if I had to borrow, borrowing by adding to the bottom, instead of subtracting from the top. Instead of crossing off and rewriting above the problem--leaving everything a mess, all this method requires is a little tick mark on the summation line to signal when you have to add to the bottom number. I've been afraid to teach that to the kids, because (unlike EM), I think they should use just one algorithm, and get that one down, and not jump between a lot of different methods.

So, for your example, I'd ad 2 to get to 4, then, since I can't add to get from 7 to 5, I put a tick next to the bottom 4 and add from 7 to 15. Then add the tick mark to the 4 to turn it into a 5, and add 2 to get from 5 to 7. It's a really clean and easy way to do it.

Where EM really falls down is the inordinate time spent doing the "lattice method" for multiplication. I think they spend better than half of their multiplication time on it. And, when you start working with really large numbers, the method gets really tough to use.

And falling...

I just checked the InTrade numbers for the Senate.

Current betting has Dem control of the senate down at 44%, and falling. It fell below 50% just a few days ago.

Remember back a whole month ago, after Christine O'Donnell got the Republican nomination for the Senate in Delaware? Remember the hue and cry that this doomed...DOOMED!!!!...Republican chances at capturing the Senate?

Well, it's been an interesting month!

Hope the parachute opens

From Powerline:
I talked with a Republican Congressman a few days ago who told me that he expects the GOP to take the House, but doesn't think the election will be as much of a rout as it probably should be. The reason, he said, is that across the country, Democratic incumbents are sitting on huge piles of cash. He mentioned Oberstar and South Dakota's Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin as examples of incumbents who will be able to "carpet-bomb"--his term--their districts with ads during the campaign's last weeks. Republican fundraising has been good this year, but the concerned citizens who are contributing to Republican campaigns can't begin to match the mega-rich and special interest donors who are trying to stem the conservative tide by financing the Democrats.
If they control that cash...and if they know the Republicans are going to win the house...which means being a congressman just won't be as much fun...doesn't campaign finance law still allow them to walk off with the money? I know the law used to allow that, I'm not sure if it's been changed. If it hasn't been changed, these guys might prefer the golden parachute to another two years in office.

Still moving

Real Clear Politic's House preditions/poll section, has made 15 adjustments to their calculations since 9/28. Of those, only one goes towards the Democrats (VA5), and even that one is still in the "leans GOP" category--it's only dropped from "likely":

Also, today Rasmussen has the Senate tied at 48/48 with 4 toss-up races. Which means they still very much have the Senate in play. The toss-up states, according to Rasmussen, are: California, Illinois, Nevada, and Washington.

Right now, the momentum in the CA Governor's race is towards the Dem, Brown. But the momentum is the senate race, I think, is away from the Dem, Boxer. CA could easily send a Republican woman to the Senate (and by removing Boxer, would raise the IQ of that august body by about 100 points.)

Update: Mark Perry over at Carpe Diem notes that Intrade has a Democratic Senate now at less than 50% chance.

Picked up a link

A post on my Square Dots blog got linked from Richard Whitmire's "Why Boys Fail" blog on

I also have a new post up over there, on how far behind our kids are in math.

Warehouse 13

A year ago my brother posted:
I saw the tv show Warehouse 13 the other day. Seems clearly to be a reincarnation of the old Friday the 13th tv series. I liked that old show, so will try to check out a few more episodes of this new one.
I was catching up on old episodes (we finally entered the DVR world--nice) and came across one near the end of the season, "Vendetta". It's now clear that the makers of "Warehouse 13" are very well aware of "Friday the 13th: The Series" and did a small homage to it in the episode. For no real plot-related reason, two of the main characters stopped by a store front in the episode...the same store front (probably in Vancouver) that served as "Curious Goods" in Friday the 13th: The Series.

Of course, the show's name could be a tribute as well.

Stop electing lawyers!

In France, most politicians and bureaucrats graduated from the same university. It has become the one item that everyone who wants to get ahead needs on their resume. It's a narrow world where everyone basically has been taught to think alike.

How did we get to that point in the US? How has law school become our equivalent of France's École Normale?

Using the Real Clear Politics website and, usually, Wikipedia, I pulled up the names of all of the major candidates for Senate and looked at their educational background. Of the 71 Republicans, Democrats, and Charlie Christ running for the Senate, fully 34, or 48%, have law degrees.

In six races out of thirty-five (Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Oregon) (Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Oregon) voters will have no choice but to elect a lawyer. In only eight of 35 races (Arkansas, California, Maryland, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania Washington, and West Virginia) are there no lawyers on the ballot. Democrats have 20 lawyers out of 35 candidates, and Republican have 13 of 35 (Charlie Christ in Florida is also a lawyer.) Also, as far as I could tell, only one candidate has no college at all: Tom Sullivan in Idaho.

Lawyers actually make up about 1% of the country. How have we come to the point where far too many see law school as a qualifying factor?

To use Bill Buckley's formulation: I'd rather be governed by the first 50 names in the phone book.

Missed a milestone

The day before school started this year, both kids lost a tooth.

It wasn't until her orthodontist appointment yesterday that we realized Elizabeth had passed a milestone: That was her last baby tooth.

They grow up so fast!

(As for me, I'm still holding onto my last baby tooth...ack! My mind just did a rickroll! (Never gonna give you up...))

New post on Square Dots

I have a new post up at Sqaure Dots.

Merle Hazard

Here's Merle Hazard, country music economist, singing about Double Dippin'

Mostly I'm posting this because the backdrop is Bobbie's Dairy Dip, an ice cream stand a few blocks from my home. It's been there since 1951. Neat!

Also you can see shots of the Hoover Dam bypass. I mentioned it 3 years ago. Wow! Has it been that long?

Poll plummet

According to Rasmussen today (Sept 5), Obama has the worst approval rating so far, with nearly half, 47% of the country not just disapproving, but strongly disapproving.

Only 24% of the population strongly approves. I'd assume that he's still getting most blacks in that category. In addition, with some overlap, the percentage of workers in government is about 17%, and they are also probably strongly supportive. Trow in a couple more union workers, and I figure you can pretty much explain that 24% with just blacks, government employees, and unions.

Everyone else, he's lost.

It's in the bag

My bro has discussed the push to eliminate plastic grocery bags, and how it is based on completely bogus data--basically a study on marine deaths from loose fishing nets was morphed into a rallying cry against plastic bags.

Last night, in a late night session of the California legislature, a real shock. They voted not to impose a ban on the bags.

I'm grateful, because I recycle the bags by using them to dispose of smelly cooking waste.

Keep looking up

Jack Horkheimer has died. Better known to late-night PBS viewers as the Star Gazer.

A sad day.

Steve: AKA "Star Hustler." From his heyday:

Laffer Curve

There is some buzz on the webs about the Laffer Curve. As the government increases a tax rate, at what point do revenues start to go down due to the decreasing tax base? Some economists weigh in here. Interesting reading. You can see a strong dichotomy in how the question is answered by conservative vs liberal economists. More discussion here.

I think the conservative economists make the most interesting points. Most important, they point out that the question depends on the time frame involved, and the effect on the growth rate of the tax base. Here is a Laffer curve I got from the very best of sources... pulled from my *ss. Click to enlarge! Heh.

The Laffer Curve is in blue. You can see that tax revenue starts out at zero, increases to peak around the 65% tax rate, then falls off to zero. Sixty-five percent is in line with some of the more liberal economists. You can see that at the maximum point, government is vacuuming up about 2/3rds of the tax base. The actual tax base has fallen a whopping 40%. Only a loony-lefty government would operate at such a point.

What about a more reasonable point, say around a 30% tax rate? What happens if we raise the rate to 40%? The Laffer curve shows that revenues increase by about 6%, with a similar percent decrease in the tax base. So it looks like the government can get more revenue by going from 30% to 40%.

But what about long term? What about the effect on growth of the tax base over time? Republican politicians usually talk about the effect on higher tax rates on entrepreneurs, saying they will be less willing to start that next business if rates go up. This sounds like a growth argument to me. Suppose that raising the tax rate from 30% to 40% decreases the growth rate from 4.2% annual to 3.6% annual. Again, I have used the very best of sources. The next figure (click to enlarge) shows the result.

The 30% policy is shown in green, the 40% in red. The solid lines are tax revenue, the dotten lines are the tax base. You can see that at year zero the red solid line lies above the green solid line, so revenue has increased. The downside is that the tax base has taken a hit. The red dotted line lies below the green dotted line. You can see that as the years progress, the difference between the red and green solid lines decays. Around 35 years, the government is getting less at 40% than it would have at 30%. Meanwhile, the effect on the tax base is quite pronounced. At 35 years, the 30% policy results in a tax base that is 25% bigger than under the 40% rate.

If you were going to choose between these policies, which seems more reasonable? To me, the two revenue curves look like they are basically right on top of each other, when compared to the much more substantial difference in the tax base curves. So, even though the more liberal economists may be right that the maximum of the Laffer curve is way up there around 65%, that doesn't necessarily mean that the conservatives don't have a valid point.

Public Debt vs Vote for the O

I was reading this post by Chuck DeVore on Big Government:
According to Moody’s, the average state per capita debt of the 28 Obama states is $1,728 while the average debt in the 22 McCain states is less than half, at $749. This information alone says a lot about voters and their attitude towards government and debt. Voters with a propensity to elect politicians who burden future generations who can’t yet vote with huge debts voted for Obama while fiscally responsible voters generally voted for McCain.

And I thought I would do a scatter plot of each state's public debt versus its vote for Obama (click on image for bigger version):

It seems that while not all low-debt states were McCain states, all high-debt states were Obama states. And, the higher the debt, the greater the vote for Obama.

Employment Report

Oops, I don't think the employment numbers were supposed to look like this:

School Closings

My hometown is mulling school closings. It seems enrollment is flat and state money is drying up.

See here. And here.

What a strange turn of events. I remember bond issues for school expansion a school generation ago or so. Are families just not having kids any more? I find it hard to believe that Shorewood's population is falling that much.

I suspect that one reason this is happening is that the Village has become dependent on State aid money. With that aid going down, it is suddenly "impossible" to go back to how it was before, with schools paid for with property taxes.

As for the possible solution, it seems to me that closing the Intermediate school is the best option. That was the way it was before the Intermediate school was built some time in the early 70s, I think. The high school might be crowded for a few years, but if the school enrollment is going down anyway, that problem will correct itself.

Ann says: Enrollment seems to be declining. The SHS has 637 students, or 155 per grade level. SIS has 287 students, 143 per grade level, and Lake Bluff and Atwater combined, with their kindergartens included, have 975, or 121 per level.

Of course, I'm pretty sure my SHS graduating class had between 120 and 130 students.

I'd be interested to see how many non-teaching staff the district has compared to back in the day. My guess is, like at the university level, the number of extraneous staff has grown over the years. When we were in high school, there was the janitorial staff, the VP and Principal, two or three office staff, a librarian or two, three counselors--and maybe a nurse. I'd be surprised if there weren't a lot more than that now.

Poor Old Microsoft - Update

Last August I posted about how lame Microsoft Hotmail is. One problem that really bugged me was that there was no way to just display the mail you haven't read. Now, they seem to have added that functionality!

It's about time, but credit where credit is due!

Indian Cooking

If you are interested in learning about Indian cooking, I recommend watching the videos at Manjula's Kitchen on YouTube. They are nothing flashy (pardon the pun), but quite enjoyable and informative, I think. Manjula clearly has a lot of experience and knowledge on the subject.

We bought a pizza stone yesterday. We used it for pizza, which turned out great. Now perhaps I will try to make naan, an Indian bread. Here's Manjula making it:

Looks so easy!


Oregon officials close Al Gore's second chakra!

Ready, Set. Action!

So, last week I watched the new "Tron" trailer. My sound wasn't working on my computer, but it looked totally lame. Yesterday, my niece and I went to see "The Last Airbender" which was lamer.

Both suffer from the stupidest of new movie conventions: when the action is getting really good, they insist switching to slow-motion. Gee. Gosh. Exciting. In what world is slowing down the action to a crawl entertaining? "Airbender" did it so often the entire movie dragged (not to mention that the picture was terribly blurred through most of the film (we saw the 2D)). We'll have to see with "Tron", but here's hoping the final cut cuts the stupid slo-mo.

Walmart Paranoia

Walmart is expanding the use of RFIDs in products sold in its stores. In this story, we learn that this is an insidious invasion of privacy.
Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is putting electronic identification tags on men's clothing like jeans starting Aug. 1 as the world's largest retailer tries to gain more control of its inventory. But the move is raising eyebrows among privacy experts.

The individual garments, which also includes underwear and socks, will have removable smart tags that can be read from a distance by Wal-Mart workers with scanners. In seconds, the worker will be able to know what sizes are missing and will also be able tell what it has on hand in the stock room.

They are bugging our socks and underwear! Consumer advocates to the rescue:
"This is a first piece of a very large and very frightening tracking system," said Katherine Albrecht, director of a group called Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.

Albrecht worries that Wal-Mart and others would be able to track movements of customers who in some border states like Michigan and Washington are carrying new driver's licenses that contain RFID tags to make it easier for them to cross borders.

What paranoid nonsense. The bit about driver's licenses makes no sense at all, since Walmart or anyone else can already read those cards with a scanning device. It seems possible that someone might scan your trash to see what labels you have thrown out. But how important does Ms Albrecht and others in her group think they are? Who is going to care enough to scan her trash to figure out what brand of jeans she buys? Even if they do, who cares?

I rather like the idea of not having to go through the current checkout process. Imagine just walking past the register, and having your purchases scanned all at once! That would be great.

New technology seems to attract such fears. I remember when caller ID came out. This was a new feature of phones in the 90s. When someone called, you could dial *69 or some such and get the phone number the person who was calling you. The horror! Advocacy groups like MPIRG were up in arms about it. Their theory was that somewhere there would be an abused spouse, hiding from her husband. If she were to call home, the husband might be able to figure out where she was. Based on this scenario, advocates lobbied strongly to ban caller id. Having a blocking option wasn't even enough for the consumer advocates. (What if she forgets to block!) Now of course, people would think you were nuts for suggesting banning such a feature. Every time someone calls me, I can see who it is, or a notice that the id is blocked. If I don't know who it is, I don't have to answer. Who doesn't like having that ability?

Art Break

I ran accoss this photo on the web. It's a famous work of Edward Stiechen's.

I admit I don't recall seeing it before. Striking and beautiful! That's the Flatiron Building, of course. The photo was taken in 1904. Steichen has a Milwaukee connection, which I found interesting.

You Can't Go Home Again

Looking at the location of the sinkhole referenced below, I realized that it was right outside of Pizza Man, Oakland and North Avenue.

Then I was shocked to discover that Pizza Man burned down in January! Grecian Delight too.

Both places were near and dear to me, being regular hang-outs in high school and beyond. Especially Pizza Man. If it were up to me, it would be built back up exactly how it was. Somehow though, I doubt that will happen. That early 70's style irregular brickwork was dated even back when I was in high school.

However it is re-incarnated, I hope it comes back strong. Pizza Man will rise again!

Rival this

Update 7/25/10: I pulled this image off of a Fox6 report. Amazingly, it looks like their front doors were water tight:

(end update)

One of our high school's great rivals got badly pelted in the rain. Here are two pictures for Nicolet High School in Glendale, WI. One report had almost knee-high water inside the main building. The local Fox affiliate is reporting "most" of the high school is damaged. The torrent going into the basement is heading for the football locker room:

Our old stomping grounds is collapsing

A picture from tonight at the corner of Oakland and North Aves. in Milwaukee (From the Journal/Sentinel Online) This is a Cadillac Escalade:

Parts of Milwaukee got 7 inches of rain in a couple of hours.

Our Alma Mater can be embarassing

UPI Report:
Police drop teen's lunch theft charge

MILWAKEE, Wis., July 20 (UPI) -- Milwaukee police have dropped a theft citation against a 15-year-old accused of stealing a chicken nugget meal from his school cafeteria.

Police Chief David Banaszynski said the case against Adam Hernandez, who was handcuffed, photographed and fingerprinted after Shorewood High School officials accused him of stealing the lunch, was dropped with the agreement of the school principal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday.

[...] Hernandez, who had been scheduled to go to trial Tuesday, said he did not steal the food, but it was given to him by a friend enrolled in the free lunch program.


We've had a problem this year with ants in the house. We have had them once or twice in the kitchen and twice in the bathroom. I purchased the usual Terro brand ant killer and tried that, but it didn't seem to do the job. There was a ring of ants around the poison for weeks, with no sign of letting up. Out of frustration, I made my own, more powerful poison.

Looking on the label of my bottle of Terro, I noticed that there is only one active ingredient: borax. Terro ant bait is essentially a sugar solution with 5.4% borax. Well, borax is easy enough to get. I purchased a box of 20 Mule Team Borax from the grocery store. Mixing a spoonful of borax and a spoonful of sugar and adding a bit of water to make it liquidy gives you a 50% borax ant killer. Borax works, by the way, because ants mistake it for food. My home-made ant killer did the trick. The ants came out in force, but were nearly gone after a couple of days.

As an interesting exercise, let's see how much Terro ant killer we could make from a box of 20 Mule Team. You can buy a 76 oz box for $5.28 here. Well, 76/.054 = 1407, so you could make about that many ounces of Terro-strength poison, more or less.

You can buy 1.8 ounces of Terro product for $8.99 at their website.

Now 1407 x 8.99/1.8 comes out to around 7029. So that $5.28 box of Borax contains enough for around $7029 dollars worth of Terro ant traps. I like that margin!

Ok, you are paying for a lot of plastic, and convenience, but still that seems like Terro has a good thing going there. I'm sure Terro had to go through a lot of EPA hoops to get their product approved. That's probably a significant barrier to market entry. Don't expect to see Steve's Ant Killer
on your supermarket shelves soon.

Mango Pickle

I've tasted enough mango pickles to have a favorite. It's Mother's Mango Pickle Mild.

They have a hot one too, but it's really too hot to be delicious.

Putting the oil spill in perspective

According to the Wikipedia, the gulf oil spill is gushing out between 35-60,000 barrels per day, which, at 42 gallons per barrel is between 1.5 and 2.5 million gallons per day. According to AP, when the cap is removed today, the gusher will spew 5 million gallons in 48 hours. Taking 50k gallons per day from the Wikipedia estimate gives about 200 million gallons so far. If you take the capless AP value, you would also get around 200,000,000 gallons so far (but since the well hasn't been capless all this time, the real number should be a bit lower.)

Yesterday, as part of a family reunion in Minneapolis, we went through the northern-most lock on the Mississippi, at St. Anthony Falls. According to the boat tour, the lock releases 9,000,000 gallons of water every time it goes up and down. Which means the amount of oil spilled into the gulf is about the equivalent of 20 St Anthony locks.

Considering the immense size of the Gulf, that really doesn't seem like that much.

Steve: Wikipedia says the area of the slick is at least 2,500 square miles. If it were spread out evenly over that area, 200 million gallons would have a thickness of about 5/1000-ths of an inch.

Probability Code

Since John Derbyshire has posted code for the probability problem, I thought I'd provide my own, written in C. Typical output is:

Two boys: 2499636 0.249964
One boy, one girl: 4999669 0.499967
Two girls: 2500694 0.250069

Tuesday boys: 714025 0.071402
Their brothers: 357115 0.500144
Their sisters: 356910 0.499856


#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <math.h>

#define GIRL 1
#define BOY 2
#define TUESDAY 3

/* return a random integer from 1 to max */
int randint(int max)

int main(void)
int N=10000000; /* number of trials */

int n,g[3],d[3],a,b;
int twogirls=0,twoboys=0,boygirl=0;
int tuesdayboys=0,sibgirls=0,sibboys=0;

for (n=1;n<=N;n++)
g[1]=randint(2); /* random gender of child 1 (GIRL==1, BOY==2) */
d[1]=randint(7); /* random birth day of child 1 (SUNDAY==1, SATURDAY==7) */

g[2]=randint(2); /* random gender of child 2 */
d[2]=randint(7); /* random birth day of child 2 */

a=randint(2); /* child parent tells you about (1 or 2), chosen at random */
b=3-a; /* child parent tells you nothing about (1 or 2) */

if ((g[a]==BOY)&&(g[b]==BOY)) twoboys++; /* increase count of 2-boy families by one */
if ((g[a]==BOY)&&(g[b]==GIRL)) boygirl++; /* increase count of 1-boy 1-girl families by one */
if ((g[a]==GIRL)&&(g[b]==BOY)) boygirl++; /* increase count of 1-boy 1-girl families by one */
if ((g[a]==GIRL)&&(g[b]==GIRL)) twogirls++; /* increase of 2-girl families by one */

if ((g[a]==BOY)&&(d[a]==TUESDAY)) /* if the child the parent chooses to tell you about is a Tuesday-boy */
tuesdayboys++; /* increase count of Tuesday-boys you are told about by one */
if (g[b]==BOY) sibboys++; /* increase count of their brothers by one */
if (g[b]==GIRL) sibgirls++; /* increase count of their sisters by one */

/* print out counts and ratios */
printf(" Two boys: %d %f\n",twoboys,twoboys/(double)N);
printf("One boy, one girl: %d %f\n",boygirl,boygirl/(double)N);
printf(" Two girls: %d %f\n",twogirls,twogirls/(double)N);
printf(" Tuesday boys: %d %f\n",tuesdayboys,tuesdayboys/(double)N);
printf(" Their brothers: %d %f\n",sibboys,sibboys/(double)tuesdayboys);
printf(" Their sisters: %d %f\n",sibgirls,sibgirls/(double)tuesdayboys);


#undef TUESDAY
#undef BOY
#undef GIRL

Probability Problem

There is an interesting probability problem floating around the net. It is easily stated:
"I have two children. One is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability I have two boys?"

The "convential wisdom," from the math experts, is that the answer is 13/27th, not the 1/2 that one might expect. I read about this problem here and here and here, the last link being to John Derbyshire's blog. He has comments in the corner too, here, here, and here.

I came up with the same solution, but later had my doubts. I now side with the folks who say the answer is 1/2. The problem is one of language, which is ambiguous.

When someone says "I have two children. One is a boy born on a Tuesday" does he mean that he has at least one Tuesday-born boy, or does he mean that one specific kid, call him William, was born on a Tuesday? If the former, the answer is 13/27. If the latter, the answer is 1/2. That's the ambiguity.

Consider another, simpler, scenario: "I have two children. One is a boy." Has he told you that at least one of his kids is a boy? If so, then the probability of two boys is 1/3. Has he told you the gender of one specific kid chosen at random? If so, the two-boy probability is 1/2. What do you think is the more common meaning of the statement? I feel pretty sure that the latter interpretation, yielding 1/2, is far more often correct. This is not the interpretation of the "experts" linked above, who would give the answer as 1/3.

A comment posted here agrees with me and is a good explanation. Another great comment here.

MedVance Institute

While watching late night TV recently, I saw a commercial for MedVance Institute. It is a small for-profit private school offering degrees in practical medical-related fields such as Medical Assistant, Medical Billing & Coding Specialist, Sterile Processing Technician, and Medical Office Administration. What interested me most though was their degree in "Radiologic Technology." I thought this was interesting enough to look up on the web.
MedVance Institute prepares you with in-depth knowledge of X-ray positioning according to standardized practices and procedures, physics, specialized equipment and techniques, film critique and patient care.

Ok, so it's just x-ray tech training. If you want to become an MR tech or CT tech, you would have to get more training. But check out the annual tuition for the Nashville Campus:

Radiologic Technology............$36,995

Good Grief!! Thirty seven thousand dollars per year for two years, after which you get an associate's degree. Then you can take the exam to become an x-ray technician. Let's compare this school's tuition to some of the full fledged medical schools the Nashville area. In-state tuitions have been recently:

University of Tennessee....$18,256
East Tennessee State....$20,176
Meharry Medical School....$33,120
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine....$36,600

Only the private medical schools come close to the tuition of MedVance Institute.

There has been some buzz lately about the excessive fees that for-private schools are charging these days. I think this may be a good example. For-profit schools are making huge profits off the federal student loan program. That program has distorted the market. The Obama administration has been making noises about "cracking down" on these schools. I'm not sure what the best approach to the problem is, and I'm not sure that the not-for-profit schools are doing anything better.

But this bubble has to pop soon.

Happy Independence Day, 2010

Happy Independence Day everyone!

All in 1

So, bro, are all these movies worth 12 bucks?

Steve Says: Yipe! I'm not sure. I've seen a few of those, and they were pretty terrible. This collection, on the other hand, looks quite a bit better. A good deal, in fact.


I was making the kids' lunch with Fox on in the other room, and heard this laugh-out-loud gem from Kagan:

Speaking of McCain-Feingold: "I thought it was the most self-sacrificing thing the Congress has ever done."

If she thinks it was self-sacrificing, she's delusional.

All our children are above average

Starting this fall, Homestead will be joining a growing list of high schools across the nation deviating from the long-standing practice of including a student's class rank on his or her transcripts.

[...] Instead of providing universities and colleges with a rank, Homestead guidance personnel will supply other qualitative data, including grade-point averages, any college preparatory classes taken and standardized test scores.

Homestead joins two other North Shore high schools - Shorewood and Whitefish Bay - in ending class rank reporting. [...]

Proponents of instituting the change at Homestead said students might be inclined to take more challenging courses. There also was the argument that Homestead students were at a disadvantage during the college admissions process since the majority of the high school population excels, meaning a class rank might not adequately convey the students' successes.

Opponents, however, have argued elimination of class rank could shield students from the true competitive nature of life beyond Homestead. Others said eliminating the number does a disservice to those who truly are at the head of the class. [ From the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel ]
The parents live short distance from Homestead, I'm a graduate of Shorewood.

Just out of curiousity, I wonder about the gender breakdown of the top 10% at these schools these days. Of course, if you stop ranking kids, you stop noticing when things get out of whack.

I wonder how they will pick valedictorians? Or is that to anti-egalitarian for these folks?

Back from Vegas

We just spent some of the week in Vegas--with no gambling. We discovered that the Bellagio has a better buffet than Planet Hollywood, and it's a long walk from Mandalay Bay to Planet Hollywood, especially at 11pm with a tired 8 year old.

"The Lion King" is a very good show.

"O" by Cirque Du Soleil is amazing.'s not much fun to drive through the Mohave desert in a car without air conditioning--ours died just as we left Nevada for CA.

Minimum wage

Over on Carpe Diem, Mark Perry graphed teenage unemployment on the same graph as the minimum wage, but first, he subtracted the overall unemployment rate off of the teenage one--this gives, what he calls, "excess teen unemployment", or the increase in unemployment among teenagers above and beyond the general unemployment numbers.

It shows a tight correlation between the rise in the minimum wage and the teen unemployment rate:

From Carpe Diem:
"Bottom Line: As much as politicians and other advocates of the minimum wage might pretend otherwise, the laws of supply and demand (like the law of gravity) are NOT optional."

Toy Story 3

I took the kids to see Toy Story 3 (2D) this afternoon. Steven had read a book of the story, and had already fallen in love with the teddy bear that is the story's bad guy. He already spent half of his birthday gift cards on a talking stuffy of the bear--and I've been trying ever since to reduce the "smells like strawberries" smell they sprayed on him (mildly successful--a combination of him sitting on a fan overnight and putting him on a rack in the drier for an hour and a half.)

Surprisingly, the movie has a lot in common with "The Great Escape", as the toys try to break out a preschool.

The end of the movie was very sweet, and quite sad. Andy gives his toys away to a little girl, plays with her and them one last time, then says good-bye and heads off for college.

It does put me in mind of a comment I read after "Up" came out: when did Pixar stop making movies for kids? The comment meant that movies like "Up", "Ratatoille", and "Cars" are aimed far more at adults than kids. They have a wistful and melancholy feel that is strange in a kids film. "Toy Story 3" has that same feeling. The movie was about faith and friendship, loyalty and change. Not exactly kid-friendly.

I was in tears for about the last 15-20 minutes of the film, starting when Andy's mom walks into his stripped down room (it becomes his sister's room after he leaves for college) and breaks down in tears, I was lost. We also see the bad guy get his comeuppance, which had Steven in tears as well. Despite the fact that the evil teddy nearly caused all of Andy's toys to be incinerated, Steven didn't think his punishment fit the crime: in the end the bear was lashed to the front grille of a garbage truck.

Elizabeth thought the first movie was best, but Steven liked this one.

I thought it was very good, and more moving than a lot of live-action movies.

Potus and Totus

"Obama said after a meeting that stretched more than four hours, with Obama darting in and out of the room. "
He, obviously, was consulting with the TOTUS. But, wouldn't a discreet earwig have been easier?

$600,000,000,000 waste

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are challenging billionaires to give away half their wealth to charity. I can't help but think that is a waste of money.

Which would help more people, and raise more people out of poverty: $600B given to charity, where it does little to create economic wealth, or a massive $600B venture capital fund which helped small businesses--and tomorrow's large ones--get off the ground, and in turn growing wealth for everyone.

What a waste.

Stealing the show

Speaking of the theater, the 10 year old girl had her final theater show of the year. They did a stripped-down version of "The Lion King", with just the songs, and none of the words. Elizabeth was clearly the star of the show. She had two very large parts (the cast was small and lots of kids played multiple roles.) She was the bird "Zazu" who has a nice solo song, and "Pumbaa" the warthog, who has Hakuna Matata and is the comic relief of the show. Pumbaa's costume was ridiculous, and Elizabeth milked it for all it was worth. She really looked like she was enjoying herself, performed really well, and they gave her the final bow--to great applause from the small audience.

I highly recommend finding some kind of theater troupe for kids. It gives them amazing poise and confidence. At school, when there is any kind of presentation, the kids in Elizabeth's theater group really stand out.

Here are some pictures from the show (click to enlarge to 6x4 and 300ppi):

It's an honor to be nominated

Tonight the Tony Awards were given out for Broadway performances. A fellow Shorewood High graduate, Kate Baldwin, was up for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in Finian's Rainbow.

She lost out to Catherine Zeta Jones.

Congrats to Kate with a K for her great work! Better luck next time!

Happy Kamehameha Day!

President Obama wants us to celebrate Kamehameha Day

The nation's first Hawaii-born president signed a statement Thursday proclaiming June 11, 2010, Kamehameha Day in honor of "King Kamehameha the Great," who unified the Hawaiian Islands under one government

King Kamehameha "united" the islands all right. Using cannons and guns provided to him by white men, he invaded the neighboring islands and slaughtered the people there. I was appalled when visiting Hawaii how Kamehameha's history has been sugar-coated. Everywhere he is presented as some sort of hero. His brutality is excused. I remember one exhibit at a state park where a recorded message told how any commoner caught looking at the King would be instantly killed by the King's guard. But, I was told, that was ok, because that's what Kamehameha thought the gods wanted. Well, ok then!

In his proclamation, Obama refers to Kamehameha as the "Napoleon of the Hawaiian Islands," as if that's a good thing. News flash for the white house: Napoleon not a good guy. Kamehameha, like Napoleon, was a bloodthirsty warmonger.

More from the president:

"It is the story of Native Hawaiians oppressed by crippling disease, aborted treaties, and the eventual conquest of their sovereign kingdom."

In other words, Kamehameha obliterating his foes and establishing his "sovereign kingdom" across the islands was good, as was his brutal Kapu legal system. But the transformation of Hawaii from a brutal dictatorship into a democracy with equal protection under the law was an evil conquest.

Obama's declaration is disgusting.

Pathetic statistic

According to the EPE Research Center’s latest analysis of high school completion for Diplomas Count, the national graduation rate stands at 68.8 percent for the class of 2007, the most recent year for which data are available. That represents a slight drop, four-tenths of a percentage point, from 69.2 percent for the previous high school class; it also marks the second consecutive year of declines in the national graduation rate, following a decade of mostly solid improvement.
More that 30% of kids never get their high school diploma! That, even though many diploma's are nearly worthless, and that college is considered the new minimum requirement for many jobs (because the diploma is nearly useless.)

But wait, it gets worse:
Although more than three-quarters of white and Asian students in the United States earn diplomas, high school outcomes are much worse for others. Among Latinos, 56 percent successfully finish high school, while 54 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Native Americans graduate. On average, only two-thirds of male students earn a diploma, a rate 7 percentage points lower than the rate for female students. Rates of high school completion for males from historically disadvantaged minority groups consistently fall at or below the 50 percent mark.

Across all urban school systems, the data show six out of every 10 students from the class of 2007 graduating. In districts characterized by high levels of racial or socioeconomic segregation and those serving communities with high rates of poverty, graduation rates typically range from 55 percent to 60 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, the EPE Research Center identifies 21 “urban overachievers,” big-city districts where the actual 2007 graduation rate is 10 percentage points higher than expected based on their circumstances.
There is a major historic opportunity at the moment, that I'm afraid we're missing out on. If the president would get more vocal on this issue and really push minority kids to get their education, if he would dedicate one day a week to touring the country talking to minority kids and working to make this issue a priority, he could still salvage something good out of the disaster of his time in office.

As it is, I fear his time in office will pass without it making a ripple on the education culture in the country.

Speaking of old books...

I was trying to think of the books on our grade school librarian Miss Prince's "Book Club" list. (If you read a certain number of them, then took a quick test, you could become a library helper and work in the library--I spent more time there than in class.) I figure any one of them has got to be better than the current books.

There were about 40 books on the list, and I can barely remember any of them:

Red Badge of Courage
Little House books must have been there
Wizard of Oz was probably there

I'd guess: Cricket in Times Square. The Borrowers. Stuart Little. Some Beverly Cleary like Harriet the Spy or Romona the Pest. Johnny Tremaine. Call of the Wild (maybe). I think "The Trouble With Jenny's Ear" was on there--it's one of the few books I remember reading as a kid. Encyclopedia Brown. Homer Price. The Great Brain.

Bro, can you remember any of them?

Steve Says: Let's see if I can add to your list... some of these I'm not sure about.

Amos Fortune, Free Man
Banner in the Sky
Big Red
Black Stallion
Call of the Wild
Cay, The
Charlotte's Web
Chronicles of Narnia
Cricket in Times Square
Doctor Dolittle
Encyclopedia Brown
Endless Steppe
Flight of the White Wolf (out of print!)
Follow My Leader (Garfield)
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler
Great Brain
Harriet the Spy
Henry Huggins
Homer Price
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Johnny Tremaine
Lemonade Trick
Little House on the Prairie
Little Women
Misty of Chincoteague
Mr. Popper's Penguins
My Side of the Mountain
Old Yeller
Phantom Tollbooth
Pushcart War
Rabbit Hill
Red Badge of Courage
Rifles for Watie
Romona the Pest
Stuart Little
Summer of the Swans
Thimble Summer (?)
Thursday's Child (streatfeild author?)
Time Cat
Trouble With Jenny's Ear
Twenty-One Balloons
Wizard of Oz
Wrinkle in Time
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (??)

I remember a story of some kids trapped in the mountains in winter, but I don't remember the name.

Ann says: That's funny, I remember the same book, and also can't remember the name. Of those, so far, E has read: Charlotte's Web, Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Cricket in Times Square, Mixed up Files, Half Magic, Harriet the Spy, Island of Blue Dolphins, My Side of the Mountain, Phantom Tollbooth (twice, I think), Trouble with Jenny's Ear, and Wrinkle in Time (one and half times).

I just ordered 21 Balloons from Amazon as well as the first Three Inspectors books. We have the Pushcart War, I think. And S's read most of Mr Popper's Penguins, of course.

Steve: Wow, my niece has read a lot! Thinking about this topic a bit, I now remember something about children's books and how they have changed. Somewhere in the 70's I recall children's books became more serious. Whereas before they were most often thrilling adventures, they later became more concerned with ``teen problems.'' It's difficult to explain... perhaps this famous book gives the best idea of what I mean.

Ann says: She also tried to read The Secret Garden, but it was too hard for her when she made the attempt--in second grade. She read Island of Blue Dolphins and Mixed Up Files this year for school (along with Indian in the Cupboard, Trouble Don't Last, The Penderwicks, Holes, and a couple more.) Her current favorites are the series by Pseudonymous Bosch which began with "The Name of this Book Is Secret" and includes "If You're Reading This It's Too Late" and "This Book Is Not Good For You". She's also managed to get through the first 5 Harry Potter books--the fifth being the tedious, bulky, poorly-written one.