Not surprising

Isn't it interesting that in this article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (about friends on Facebook breaking up over the Wisconsin situation), they couldn't find a single person who had problems with insulting or nasty things said by the union side? All of the problems mentioned are with the rudeness and nastiness of the Walker side.

Feeling Homesick - Weather

The weather has been nice down here in the South. It was around 70 again today. Meanwhile, it's been snowing again in Milwaukee. Fortunately, there are some videos out there of Midwest weather to make me feel a little less homesick. Like this one, from Chicago:

h/t Threedonia

Bad Article

Wow is this piece from Reuters idiotic. The headline and lede:

Study says most corporations pay no U.S. income taxes

(Reuters) - Most U.S. and foreign corporations doing business in the United States avoid paying any federal income taxes, despite trillions of dollars worth of sales, a government study released on Tuesday said.

Note the conflation of sales and income (a pet peeve of my Dad's, as I recall.) Reading the article, we see that in the 8-year period studied, 57% of corporations paid no income taxes in at least one year. First of all, how does that get translated into "most"? Wouldn't "most" mean at least 50% each year?

But, more important, couldn't this mean that 57% of corporations don't make any money in 1 or more of 8 years? Note that 57%/8 = 7%. Is it reasonable to think that about 7% of corporations make no money in a given year? Seems reasonable to me.

Of course the article doesn't give us any details. It's just an anti-corporate hit piece, and giving details would likely spoil the fun.

Decades-long tradition...not really

So, is the fight in Madison over some long-held, deeply-cherished cornerstone of decades of public union powers?

Not according to John Fund in the WSJ:
The governor's move is in reaction to a 2009 law implemented by the then-Democratic legislature that expanded public unions' collective-bargaining rights and lifted existing limits on teacher raises.
So, Walker is actually just trying to take back union powers that they've had for a whoppin' 2 years.

On the flip side, since they've only had these powers for two years, you can't really blame the collective bargaining rules for the deep doo-doo that Wisconsin is in.

On the other flip side (we're up to three) since the unions did not have this power from 1848 through 2009, they can't really make the point that removing them would be a catastrophe and lead to working conditions where there's a guy beating on a drum while another guy walks up and down with a lash.

Update: I tried to find some contemporary coverage of Fund's claims, and I couldn't really find anything. The closest was the extension of collective bargaining to various teachers at UW--including grad students. If you read his words carefully, this might be what he is talking about, but it is not the wholesale implementation that he seems to imply.

Permission slips

If, as has been reported, some teachers marched their students to the Madison Capital to participate in the demonstrations, I have one question: did they have permission slips from their parents?

At every school I know, the teachers need a permission slip every time the kids are taken off campus--even for regular monthly trips, a permission slip comes home every time at our school. I've always assumed that was due to a law. If so, can't parents protest the taking of their kids without permission?

Elementary, My Dear Watson

IBM's Jeopardy-playing computer, named "Watson" did very well today on Jeopardy.

On the 30-question game board, veteran "Jeopardy!" champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter managed only five correct responses between them during the Double Jeopardy round that aired Tuesday.

Usually, I am quite skeptical about this sort of thing, but I have to say I am pretty impressed. Note that the human players weren't just any players. Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutt are often cited as the best human Jeopardy players ever.

Watson did not have to process the audio, it was given the questions as text input. Since the players can read the questions too, this seems fair to me.

One point though is that it seemed to me watching that often the humans had the answer in mind but were not as fast as Watson at pushing their answer buttons. It used to be, in the old days of Jeopardy, that a player could ring in whenever he wanted, even before the question was completely read. Nowdays however, players must wait until the question is read completely before they press the button. It seems to me that Watson, knowing the question, would be able to ring in much faster than any human. This has nothing to do with "brain power," it's just human reflexes versus electronics.

Overall though, it's quite an achievement for Big Blue. Up there with their beating of Gary Kasparov at chess 10+ years ago.

Don't Buy Stuff

In light of the President's new proposed budget...

Why I'm Not a Billionaire

Ok, so there are probably a billion reasons why I am not a billionaire. But the one that keeps coming to mind is that I have no clue why some companies, reportedly worth billions, are worth anything at all. The messaging service Twitter is said to be worth 8-10 billion dollars.

... what's remarkable is the money that people familiar with the matter say frames the discussions with at least some potential suitors: an estimated valuation in the neighborhood of $8 billion to $10 billion. This for a company that, people familiar with the matter said, had 2010 revenue of $45 million but lost money as it spent on hiring and data centers and estimates its revenue this year at between $100 million and $110 million.

So Twitter took in $45 million last year (from companies advertising on their site) but it cost more than that to run their computers. Where does the $8 billion come from then? Twitter, like Google and Facebook, seems to provide me with excellent services in return for absolutely nothing from me. How do they make up the cost of running the computers that do all this for me? Volume?

I recently switched from Internet Explorer to the Google Chrome browser. Google provides this browser for free. With a few more clicks, I installed AdBlock as well. AdBlock, also free, effectively blocks all ads on Google, Facebook, Twitter and practically everywhere else. It's great! So here is Google, providing me with free tools to avoid the only hope that Google has to make money off me. Estimates of how much Google is worth? 100 billion? Beats me.

Facebook makes money on ads too, or supposedly will some time in the future. Even before I installed Chrome and blocked all ads, I can't recall ever seeing an ad on Facebook. I think they are off on the side somewhere, but I certainly never clicked on one. I don't even think their presence registered in my brain. I recently saw a discussion on the Bloomberg business cable channel about Facebook. The analysts were raving about it, saying how it is going to revolutionize marketing. They were estimating a worth of $50 billion or more. In their vision, Facebook users will network with their friends to rate and recommend products targeted to them. Who is going to bother? Why? Is that why people use Facebook? So they can tell their friends how much they like Jiffy Pop?

Then there is Groupon. Groupon started in November 2008, and expects to have a $15 billion IPO this year. It is said to be the fastest growing company ever, going from a value of zero to a billion in about a year. At least Groupon has a kind of product. Essentially, you get an email every day offering you a coupon for a deal at a local business. If enough people commit to the deal, the business is bound to it. If not, then the deal is off. I don't really see why this appeals to businesses. Is there some economy of scale where only if a certain number of people want, say, 50% off a haircut, is it worth it to offer? Or are businesses hoping most wont bother to redeem the coupon? I don't get it. Anyway, I signed up for this a month or two ago. After a couple of weeks I cancelled it. I just wasn't interested in the items they were offering at a discount. Half off a dinner at a restaurant I've never heard of. Twenty percent off a ticket to a band I don't like. When you think about it, what are the chances that a random coupon offered to you is going to be something you are interested in having? There are millions of products out there, of which I purchase I tiny, tiny fraction.

Are these businesses really worth this much? Is this all some sort of bizarre market bubble/speculation phenomenon? A modern-day Tulip mania? Maybe if I were a budding billionaire I would understand.

What's wrong with this ad?

I don't understand what's wrong with this ad:

It's been pulled from the air in China. I don't get it. Do people think it's racist? Why? Or is it the slapstick violence? Aren't presidents pretty much fair game for these sort of ads? Hasn't it always been so?

Ann says: It's obviously promoting violence against politicians through the use of fish sandwiches. If this airs, what's next, pelting with hamburgers? Rampages with Philly cheese steak? Where will it end!

More here.

How about this one? No problem, I guess.

The Power of Hoo-Doo

Stay for the punch-line...

High Speed Rail

I don't think it is a wise investment now. An interesting post at NR, and the comments thereon prompted me to post a comment of my own:

State governments collect $0.27 per gallon in gas taxes. The Feds collect another $0.18. If we are going to make an honest assessment of highway subsidies, shouldn't these taxes be subtracted to get the net? Aren't these taxes essentially user fees?

Doesn't it make more sense to work on increasing freight rail rather than passenger rail? Getting more trucks off the highways would decrease fuel use and road wear, and wouldn't require the high speeds. For some reason, people rarely discuss the question of freight transport.