Student Loans

The government's recent takeover of student loans has been overshadowed by the rest of the health-insurance bill of which it was a part. On the one hand, Obama is right that the current system amounted to an absurd giveaway to banks. On the other hand, Obama's claim that this new legislation will somehow reduce the cost of college is absurd. Perhaps I've said it before, but when he makes claims like this, I find myself trying to decide if he really believes it or if he is lying as a means to an end. I'm tending toward the latter conclusion.

This post at The Corner sums up the situation well. Not surprising is that it was written by a guy at CATO.

I saw in a blog comment somewhere that people with student loans who work for the government will have their loans waived after 10 years. I am not sure if that made it to the final law. If so, I find it pretty disgusting. We seem more and more to have two classes of citizens.

A tiny glimpse of silver

Lots of people have pointed out that for many employers, it will be cheaper for them to dump their employee's health insurance and pay the fines instead. Which means the link between your employer and your health insurance is about to be broken for a large number of people across the country.

Isn't that a good thing? Isn't making individuals responsible for purchasing their own insurance something conservatives and market experts have been hoping for for a long time?

Anyway, it's a tiny glimpse of silver lining.

Google should have done this long ago. Still, I salute them for doing the right thing now. Via the Corner
Two months after a series of suspicious China-based cyber-attacks, Google has stopped censoring Chinese search results, and now redirects to a Hong-Kong based site,

Like they say, don't be evil.

Words of Wisdom

It might be a good time to remember that the ends never justify the means. It was one of Nixon's mistakes. There are no ends, only means.

-Penn Jillette

Never Paying the Piper

KJL writes in the Corner:

Congratulations, Democrats. Beginning now, you own the health-care system in America. Every hiccup. Every complaint. Every long line. All yours.

I don't think that it will hurt them. The Democrats have owned public education in urban areas for many decades. Have they been held accountable? Has it hurt them? No.


Looks like National Healthcare has landed. I believe Kent Brockman said it best...

"Ladies and gentlemen, uh, we've just lost the picture, but what we've seen speaks for itself. The Corvair spacecraft has apparently been taken over- 'conquered' if you will- by a master race of giant space ants. It's difficult to tell from this vantage point whether they will consume the captive Earthman or merely enslave them. One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords. I'd like to remind them as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves."


I understand AI's position...

Amnesty International is calling on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to stop the execution of a Lebanese man sentenced to death for "sorcery."

In a statement released Thursday, the international rights group condemned the verdict and demanded the immediate release of Ali Hussain Sibat, former host of a popular call-in show that aired on Sheherazade, a Beirut based satellite TV channel.

According to his lawyer, Sibat, who is 48 and has five children, would predict the future on his show and give out advice to his audience.

but if they let him go, and he turns someone into a toad, is AI going to take responsibility?

Hypothesis Testing - II

A comment I posted on a blog:

[previous commenter] has a good point, and I see this sort of thing all the time in medical research. Do you think the life expectancy of people who drink Coke is *exactly* equal to the life expectancy of people who drink Pepsi? Exactly equal? Of course not. If you sample enough people, eventually you will detect a "statistically significant" difference. Then you can publish your paper saying e.g. "we found that people who drink Coke live significantly shorter lives than people who drink Pepsi!" Or, as it would appear in the newspaper and on tv: "Coke Kills!!"

Hypothesis Testing

I think the way hypothesis testing is presented to students and justified makes no sense. Suppose we know that x has been drawn from a normal distribution with unit variance, and we want to test H_0: mu=0. Suppose x=2. Then they say “given H_0, the chance of seeing |x|>1.96 is less than 5%, so since x=2>1.96 we reject H_0.” Why does this make sense? Given H_0, the chance of seeing |x|<.01 is less than 5% too. Would you reject the null if our sample were x=0? No! So then they talk about x being “extreme,” i.e. far from the mean. What exactly does distance from the mean have to do with it? Suppose we knew that x was drawn from a uniform distribution on some interval [mu-1/2,mu+1/2], and again we wanted to test H0: mu=0. If x=.4999 would you reject? No, that makes no sense, because given H0, x=.4999 is no less likely than x=0. You could reject if x=.5001, but not if x is in the interval (-1/2,1/2). You could easily find an example of a bimodal distribution where the pdf at the mean is zero. Then you should reject if the sample is near the mean! Distance from the mean is not in general relevant.

I am being pedantic, but hypothesis testing works e.g. for the standard normal distribution f because if x>1.96, then f(x) is much less than values of f near x=0, not because of areas at the tails or distance from the mean.

Corner Filter

I was just thinking... wouldn't it be nice to have a browser extention that allowed you to read NRO's "The Corner" without having to wade through KJL's endless abortion and Catholic-related posts?

California Energy

Interesting article on California's energy policy.
In many countries, electric utilities struggle to keep up with demand, and often fail. The World Bank estimates that almost 1.5 billion men, women, and children lack reliable access to electricity. They want it, but they can't have it. In new-agey   California, it's the other way around. The centerpiece of California's energy policy is really the absence of energy.

The state is in serious trouble. Its leadership doesn't seem to understand that.

Fess Parker

Fess Parker has died. His tv-star days were a bit before my time, but I remember we had a Disney album of his, "Pecos Bill," that I enjoyed a lot as a kid.

One of the songs "Hunter's Return" is a lullaby that I like and remember. I sang it about 1,000,000 times to soothe my daughter when she was a baby. So thanks to him for that.

Rest in Peace.

Woulda Coulda Shoulda

Saw this last night...

"Gee, that's a bit high!" I thought.
The lastest...

What a difference a day makes. Coulda made some easy money. No guts no glory.

Why is everyone suddenly re-evaluating this?

3000 percent!

President Obama yesterday:

Now, so let me talk about the third thing, which is my proposal would bring down the cost of health care for families, for businesses, and for the federal government. So Americans buying comparable coverage to what they have today -- I already said this -- would see premiums fall by 14 to 20 percent -- that’s not my numbers, that’s what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says -- for Americans who get their insurance through the workplace. How many people are getting insurance through their jobs right now? Raise your hands. All right. Well, a lot of those folks, your employer it’s estimated would see premiums fall by as much as 3,000 percent [sic], which means they could give you a raise. (Applause.)

Wow. Just... WOW. If premiums fell to $0 that would be a 100% decrease. This is 30 times more than that. That our president suffers from this level of innumeracy is shocking and deeply disturbing.

Article 1 Section 7

Many people have been pointing out that the Slaughter solution to the Dem's quagmire, is unconstitutional based on Article 1 Section 7 of the constitution--they've been focusing on the second paragraph:
Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law.
But doesn't that same section have another bill-killer? How about the paragraph immediately before the above:
All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.
This will be raising revenue in a big way, and thus, the bill should have to originate in the House not the Senate. Notice it doesn't say "taxes" it says "revenue". In other words, laws that take money from people and give it to the government must originate in the House. So Article 1 Section 7 makes Obamacare doubly unconstitutional.

Remember a time when pesky little things like the Constitution actually mattered. Reminds me of my favorite Tea Party sign, which I saw way back a the Tax Day party last year in Glendale: "Legalize the Constitution!"

Steve: More here. "The end result is that however clear a constitutional violation may be presented by the Slaughter rule — and I think former judge, now–Stanford Law professor Mike McConnell is correct that it's pretty clear here — there is a significant impediment to challenging that violation in federal court." So, basically, nobody in power cares.


This is about the scariest healthcare story I've seen so far. And it's from the MSM.
Will "Obamacare" Create Two Americas?

The only likely outcome of this plan will be for companies to drop coverage entirely. Younger, lower-income workers will be eligible for a subsidy and forced into the health exchanges. That will compel them to do something that doesn’t make economic sense. Most young workers don’t use health care much-unless you give them an incentive to over-consume care by paying for it up front for them.

There’s a final step here, though, that’s critical to understand: once those younger and lower-income workers are forced into a system that eliminates rational decision-making, they are made beholden to these taxpayer funded subsidies, and face massive penalties if their income rises such that they lose the subsidies. The marginal tax penalty for an individual moving up from to $40,000 a year to $45,000 is massive, as also for families earning $95,000 versus $90,000, creating an artificial cliff that dramatically penalizes success.

Jefferson on Meteors

Thomas Jefferson exhibiting a healthy skepticism.

From the Jefferson cyclopedia.

Related post here, at Classical Values.

A Global Warming Data Set

The UK Met office has a temperature observation data set that you can download here. I am not sure, but I believe that this is in response to the recent Climate-Gate controversy. In any case, check out the "Questions About the Dataset." I will highlight the juicy parts:

1. Is the data that you are providing the “value-added” or the “underlying” data?

The data that we are providing is the database used to produce the global temperature series. Some of these data are the original underlying observations and some are observations adjusted to account for non climatic influences, for example changes in observations methods or site location.

The database consists of the “value added” product that has been quality controlled and adjusted to account for identified non-climatic influences. It is the station subset of this value-added product that we have released. Adjustments were only applied to a subset of the stations so in many cases the data provided are the underlying data minus any obviously erroneous values removed by quality control. The Met Office do not hold information as to adjustments that were applied and so cannot advise as to which stations are underlying data only and which contain adjustments.

2. What about the underlying data?

Underlying data are held by the National Meterological Services and other data providers and such data have in many cases been released for research purposes under specific licences that govern their usage and distribution.

It is important to distinguish between the data released by the NMSs and the truly raw data. e.g. the temperature readings noted by the observer. The data may have been adjusted to take account of non climatic influences, for example changes in observations methods, and in some cases this adjustment may not have been recorded so it may not be possible to recreate the original data as recorded by the observer.

3. Why is there no comprehensive copy of the underlying data?

The data set of temperatures, which are provided as a gridded product back to 1850 was largely compiled in the 1980s when it was technically difficult and expensive to keep multiple copies of the database.

For IT infrastructure of the time this was an exceedingly large database and multiple copies could not be kept at a reasonable cost. There is no question that anything untoward or unacceptable in terms of best practices at the time occurred.

This is really much of the controversy in a nutshell. The original data has been adjusted, and no record of those adjustments exist. We are supposed to spend trillions of dollars on this basis? I wouldn't claim that there was anything untoward done here, but to say this is acceptable "in terms of best practices at the time" is a bit hard to swallow. In what other field of science would such a process be acceptable, and considered "best practice?"

Imagine testing a new blood pressure drug. The drug is administered in a test population, then follow up blood pressure readings are taken. Next, each reading is adjusted in some non-specific way to account for vague external factors, e.g. stress on the patient. These adjustments are then discarded along with the original data. Statistical analyses are run on the adjusted data and a manuscript is written and submitted to a journal for publication. Good luck with that.

In criminal trials, if evidence has been tainted, it is appropriate to throw it out. This can happen even in the most severe criminal cases, regardless of the consequences to the prosecution's case, and regardless of the intent of the police. The same should be done here. Tainted evidence is essentially worthless.

Ann says: Just think how small an error could be, and yet still throw one station, or if the error is more systematic, the whole data set out of whack. We just adjusted our clocks for daylight savings, what used to be 7AM is now 6AM, and the temperature difference between those to times can be several degrees--it's just when the sun is coming up this time of year. Imagine if a station starts reporting the old 7AM temperature in a way that makes it look like the 6AM temperature is a couple of degrees warmer. Voila, global warming! The simplest thing such as time of day for the recording can vastly change the outcome of these records.

These are very complicated datasets, with an enormous number of variables that need to be controlled: station siting, time of day, frequency of recording, growth of heat islands, etc. The fact that the researchers are basically saying "trust us!" at the same time they are screaming that the sky is falling, and at the same time they are being daily shown to be incompetents, doesn't exactly promote a belief in their science and theories.

Some least squares Matlab code

Related to a climate statistics post here.

function [tau,mu]=roman3(x,h,w);
% Finds tau and mu to minimize the sum of squares
% \sum_n \sum_m h(m,n)*(x(m,n)-tau(n)-mu(m))^2,
% subject to the constraint \sum_m w(m)*mu(m)=0. Here x and h are MxN,
% and w is Mx1. Normally, one would have non-negative h, positive w, and
% \sum_m w(m)=1. Upon return, tau will be 1xN, mu will be Mx1.
% The method uses a Lagrange multiplier (lambda) and Gaussian elimination.
% The matrix h must not contain an all-zero row or column.

[M,N]=size(x); % x and h have M rows, N columns
A=zeros(M+N+1,M+N+1); % A will contain the linear system matrix
A(1:N,1:N+M)=[diag(sum(h,1)) h']; % dL/dtau, N equations
A(N+1:N+M,:)=[h diag(sum(h,2)) -w/2]; % dL/dmu, M equations
A(end,N+1:N+M)=w'; % dL/dlambda, one equation (the constraint)
b=[sum(h.*x,1)'; sum(h.*x,2); 0]; % b is the "right hand side"
y=A\b; % solve Ay=b for y, using Gaussian elim.
mu=y(N+1:N+M); % note the multiplier lambda is always zero

Ann says: Man, you beat me to it. That's just what I was thinking!

Socialization of Private Debt

Iceland's economic situation is pretty grim. In the news now is the Icesave affair. I am not very familiar with it, but it seems Icesave was a private bank in Iceland with international depositors, including some in Britain and the Netherlands. When the bank failed, those countries reimbursed the depositors. Now they expect to collect the money back from Iceland. As I read the NYTimes article, I was scratching my head wondering why Britain and the Netherlands think they have they right to such a claim.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Parliament from the fledgling people-power Civic Movement Party, said that a “no” vote would send a strong message to the world.

First, she said, “We don’t believe in the socialization of private debt.” Second: “It is time for Britain to treat us like a sovereign nation and not a colony.” And third: “They can’t use the I.M.F. to blackmail us into doing what they want on Icesave.” But it seems they can.

Right on Civic Movement Party! If my neighbor's business fails, am I responsible for his debts? The whole premise is bizarre. Private is private. I think this issue reflects badly on the IMF, giving me the impression that they have too much power and are willing to abuse it.

As with our government's recent bailouts of companies "too big to fail", there is the potential for serious moral hazard here.

Good for the people of Iceland for telling Britain, the Netherlands and the IMF to go spit.

Ann says: Unfortunately, in the US, that ship has already sailed. I do not begin to understand why people who invested in real estate, and who lost their shirts, should be preferred over people who invested in stocks and lost their shirts. I don't care in the slightest that a neighbor is "underwater" on their real estate investment, since my investments are similarly "underwater". Funny how when stock prices drop, we don't get bailed out and our losses are not (thankfully) socialized. The same should be true for real estate.

If you choose to invest in real estate, and the value of your property declines, you should not be able to walk away from the debt or the mortgage. That is a large part of the problem. In Australia, when you take out a home loan, you are responsible for repaying that loan. Shocking idea, isn't it. As a result, Australia's banks are just fine and they've weathered the international crisis quite nicely. People there are careful when taking out loans, because they know that they are responsible for repaying them. In the US people can be cavalier when taking out mortgages, because they know the government or the banks will get stuck with them if they stop paying.

Clueless statement of the day

[ Restaurants adding "Health" fee to bills ] Nothing succeeds in the travel industry like a bad idea. The latest hidden mandatory add-on is a "health" charge added to restaurant bills. As far as I know, this scam cropped up first in San Francisco, but you can count on it to spread.

The rationale for this one is to cover the employers' mandatory contribution to the City's "Healthy San Francisco" health-coverage system. The charge actually is levied on employers, but at least some restaurants are adding a few dollars or percentage points to each customer's bill to cover this charge.
See, employers are supposed to be paying this, but the b&^%@*$s are passing the cost on to the customer!!! Greedy, immoral as&^%$#@!

So, how deep is the state of California's problems?

My license tags on my car expired in January, but we only realized it today. As a result, I just had to spend 2 hours at the DMV and pay a 60% late penalty for my new tags.

According to a person at the DMV, they sent me two notices, one in mid-November, and another about two weeks ago. Neither my sister nor myself ever saw either of those notices. Now, I can see misplacing one of them, but not two of them.

So here's the question: is California in enough financial do-do, that they secretly stopped sending out the renewal notices in hopes that there will be lots of people like me who have to pay the 60% penalty?