Wednesday, March 22, 2006

More Numbers Games

...or Bo Bo's Bad Bad Boo Boos.

Last Friday, on The Newshour With Jim Lehrer, David Brooks made the statement:
"People choose the reality that -- that flatters their partisanship. For example, in the Reagan years, unemployment went from 13 percent to 5 percent. If you asked Democrats, at the end of that, did unemployment go up or down under Reagan, 60 percent said it went up. Republicans said down."

When I heard that, I was more than a little suspicious. But Media Matters has the goods. The 13% figure was totaly bogus, but more importantly, unemployment did go up in the Reagan Years. It went up the first year he was in office. On average it was higher for the first four years and the first eight years than for the previous four and/or eight.

So why do Republicans say down? Well, maybe Republicans do choose the reality that flatters their partisanship, even if Democrats don't. Or maybe it's because the media keep lying to them.
Permalink 8:56 PM

Choose Your Words Carefully

"I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America" --George Bush.

And of course, Michael Moore was very carefull never to say that George Bush ordered the attacks on America. So, why, why do people keep saying that bush blamed Hussein and Moore blamed Bush? Doesn't choosing your words carefully count for anything anymore?
Permalink 8:43 PM

Top 25 Library Books

Via Uncertain Principles

Based on the number of holdings by public libraries, here are the top 25 library books. Which of these is not like the others?

1. Bible [various] Library holdings: 796,882
2. Census [various] United States Library holdings: 460,628
3. Mother Goose Library holdings: 67,663
4. Divine Comedy Dante Alighieri Library holdings: 62,414
5. Odyssey Homer Library holdings: 45,551
6. Iliad Homer Library holdings: 44,093
7. Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain Library holdings: 42,724
8. Lord of the Rings [trilogy] J. R. R. Tolkien Library holdings: 40,907
9. Hamlet William Shakespeare Library holdings: 39,521
10. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll Library holdings: 39,277
11. Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes Library holdings: 38,485
12. Beowulf Library holdings: 37,914
13. Koran Library holdings: 37,080
14. Night Before Christmas Clement Clarke Moore Library holdings: 33,343
15. Garfield Jim Davis Library holdings: 33,234
16. Tom Sawyer Mark Twain Library holdings: 32,233
17. Aesop's Fables Aesop Library holdings: 32,232
18. Arabian Nights Library holdings: 31,728
19. Macbeth William Shakespeare Library holdings: 30,388
20. Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift Library holdings: 29,066
21. Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe Library holdings: 28,669
22. Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare Library holdings: 28,646
23. Bhagavadgita Library holdings: 28,588
24. Christmas Carol Charles Dickens Library holdings: 27,928
25. Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer Library holdings: 27,863
Permalink 4:22 PM

Monday, March 20, 2006

Numbers Game

I'm a regular reader of The American Prospect. They are on the side of the angels--if way more balanced than an overtly partisan publication has any reason to be. But this article by Garance Franke-Ruta is the kind of writing I just cannot somach:
"A Prospect examination of the authors published [in the NYT op-eds] between late February 2004 and late February 2006 found that 90 percent of writers -- including staff columnists -- who discussed abortion on the Times op-ed page over the past two years were male. These men wrote 83 percent of the op-eds that mentioned abortion.

Even more surprising, more op-eds that mentioned abortion in the Times were written by pro-life men than by women of any belief system."

"Even more surprising?" How could anyone be surprised by that second paragraph if they read the first? Assuming the first paragraph is true, then the second would almost have to be. In fact, that statement would be true if even 21% of the men were pro-life and 100% of the women were pro-choice. When a writer feels the need to play that kind of game with numbers, I strongly suspect that the numbers do not support her case.
Permalink 10:42 PM

Spotting Future Conservatives

This is a cheap shot, but hey, it's science!

From The Star via Suburban Guerrilla

But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids’ personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There’s no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it’s unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.

A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.

Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. But within his sample, he says, the results hold. He reasons that insecure kids look for the reassurance provided by tradition and authority, and find it in conservative politics. The more confident kids are eager to explore alternatives to the way things are, and find liberal politics more congenial.
Permalink 11:41 AM

God Hates Shrimp

God Hates Shrimp Posted by Picasa


Shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, mussels, all these are an abomination before the Lord, just as gays are an abomination. Why stop at protesting gay marriage? Bring all of God's law unto the heathens and the sodomites. We call upon all Christians to join the crusade against Long John Silver's and Red Lobster. Yea, even Popeye's shall be cleansed. The name of Bubba shall be anathema. We must stop the unbelievers from destroying the sanctity of our restaurants.
Permalink 11:33 AM

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Environmental Study: Setback for Up-Is-Downism

From YahooNews

A government report released Thursday does not recommend giving the Environmental Protection Agency the power to stop states from adopting tough vehicle-emission standards similar to those in California.
Let me get this straight: the EPA was attempting to block environmental protection efforts by the state.
Permalink 12:48 PM

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The End of Deficits

Deficit spending is, in some ways, a very appealing way to fund the government. It does not, as is often claimed, mean that we will pay later for the benefits of government that we receive today. It means that other people will pay later for the benefits that we receive today--our children, mostly--or better yet, other people's children. This is especially true if we can shelter our future earnings, and our children's inheritance, from future taxes.

It is no coincidence that the same people who are leading the charge to fund the government through deficit spending (while protesting that they don't want to do it, but just can't help themselves) are also pushing to eliminate inheritance taxes, reduce or eliminate capital gains taxes and create tax shelters to shield their and their children's future earnings from the high taxes that must inevitably follow years of deficit spending.

A classic example of a tax shelter designed by and for deficit spenders is the Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA (or 401k or the like) taxes are deferred on the investment until after the investor retires--when presumably one's income, and therefore tax rate, will be lower. But with a Roth IRA, one pays taxes on the investment immediately and then pays no tax on the interest or growth of that investment. The two give the exact same result--as long as tax rates are the same at the time of investment as they are at the time of withdrawal. If tax rates go down, the traditional IRA is better. If tax rates go up, the Roth is better. But they're supposed to be retirement accounts! Why would anyone expect taxes to be higher after retirement, than it is in peak earning years? Well, if one is a Congressman, and has decided to tax much less than is needed to fund the government, then one knows that the bill will eventually come due. Roth IRA's were designed by Congressmen who did not want to pay for the government today--and did not want to be stuck with the bill after they retired.

Having identified the problem--a problem, if you're one of those people who does not want to stick our children with the bill for our spending--the solution is simple. Change the tax structure. Don't have future earners pay for today's spending--have past earners pay for it. Interest and repayment of the national debt should come from taxes on assets--rather than from taxes on earnings. In this way, the people who benefit the most from deficit spending--those who are and have been acquiring wealth, while the government is acquiring debt--are the same ones who will pay for that debt. In this way, the net effect on future generations is essentially zero. While we are burdening them trillions of dollars of debt, we are also leaving them equal trillions of dollars of assets, in the form of government bonds. And, for the most part, the same people who will receive the one will be paying the other.

By shifting a portion of the tax burden away from income and on to assets, we also shift a portion of our tax burden away from Americans and on to foreign investors in the U.S. Foreigners own about $10 Trillion in U.S. assets, out of about $50T in total private wealth. If we exempted $20T, then one third of this tax would actually be paid by foreign investors. $20T is enough to give all senior citizens a $500K personal exemption and everyone else about $200K.* With a net tax base of $30T, interest on the national debt could be covered with about a 1% tax.

One might expect that, since investors would get a slightly smaller return on their investments under this tax system, interest rates might go up. But that is unlikely. Interest rates are determined by the threat of inflation and by the profitability of alternative investments. In fact, a modest asset tax can actually encourage investment and help to bring down interest rates, as it discourages luxury purchases. And there is some evidence that asset taxes are more effective at fighting inflation than income taxes. It would likely cause a small drop in the dollar against other currencies, which is neither all good nor all bad.

An asset tax would be a far more equitable and less painful way to pay for the deficit. But perhaps more importantly, it would virtually insure that we would never run another deficit. Why? Because wealth is much more concentrated than income, and even a flat asset tax is far more progressive than our 'progressive' income tax. When the millionaires and multi-millionaires who run the U.S. government realize that they are the ones who will have to pay for the national debt, believe me, they will get religion on deficit spending. They will become budget-balancing fanatics! The richest 1% of Americans earn 13% of all income and pay 25% of national income taxes. (But only about 17% of total taxes, and as I said, they are working hard to lower that share.) By contrast, however, seventy-five percent of all private wealth in America is owned by the richest 10% of households, and 40% is owned by the richest 1%. With even a modest exemption, a national asset tax will be paid entirely by the very wealthiest American households--and foreign investors.

*Since most Americans have much less than that in net assets, I am assuming that only about half of the personal exemption would be applied.
Permalink 10:14 PM

Monday, March 13, 2006

Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Ballpark Food

From grrlscientist

A friend sent me an article that describes Baseball's Best Burger that you can get only at an Illinois ballpark. This gut-busting artery-clogger is comprised of a hamburger patty topped with sharp cheddar cheese and two slices of bacon, all of which are nestled inside a "bun" made of a sliced Krispy Kreme Original Glazed donut.

Permalink 4:46 PM

Thomas Kincade Does Cthulu

Thomas Kinkade's depiction of Cthulu's savage revenge
Permalink 2:52 PM

Saturday, March 11, 2006

John McCain Is A Liar!

"Anybody who says the president of the United States is lying about weapons of mass destruction is lying," --John McCain said.
Permalink 5:47 PM

Friday, March 10, 2006

The World's Angriest Hummingbird

Brilliant Fury, originally uploaded by Acreepingmalaise.

Via Majikthise
Permalink 1:10 PM

Quote about General Relativity

This is possibly an urban legend, but supposedly the astrophysicists Arthur Eddington once said: "General Relativity is so simple, a 10-year-old could understand it---provided that he was familiar with tensor calculus."
Permalink 11:59 AM

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Schlesinger on "Doughface Progressives"

The classic indictment of the `elite' mindset was written in the late 1940s by American public intellectual Arthur Schlesinger Jr. In his book The Vital Center Schlesinger criticized an intellectual type he called `Doughface progressives'. According to Schlesinger the Doughface preferred impotence to responsibility, rhetoric to action and myth to reality.

"The weakness of impotence is related to a fear of responsibility - a fear, that is, of making concrete decisions and being held to account for concrete consequences. Problems are much simpler when viewed from the office of a liberal weekly than when viewed in terms of what will actually happen when certain ideologically attractive steps are taken.

``Too often the Doughface really does not want power or responsibility. For him the more subtle sensations of the perfect syllogism, the lost cause, the permanent minority, where lie can be safe from the exacting job of trying to work out wise policies in an imperfect world.

``Politics becomes, not a means of getting things done, but an outlet for private grievances and frustrations. The progressive once disciplined by the responsibilities of power is often the most useful of all public servants; but he, alas, ceases to be a progressive and is regarded by all true Doughfaces as a cynical New Dealer or a tired Social Democrat.

"Having renounced power, the Doughface seeks compensation in emotion. The pretext for progressive rhetoric is, of course, the idea that man, the creature of reason and benevolence, has only to understand the truth in order to act upon it.

``But the function of progressive rhetoric is another matter; it is, in Dwight MacDonald's phrase, to accomplish "in fantasy what cannot be accomplished in reality." Because politics is for the Doughface a means of accommodating himself to a world he does not like but does not really want to change, he can find ample gratification in words. They appease his twinges of guilt without committing him to very drastic action.

``Thus the expiatory role of resolutions in progressive meetings. A telegram of protest to a foreign chancellery gives the satisfaction of a job well done and a night's rest well earned. The Doughfaces differ from Mr. Churchill: dreams, they find, are better than facts.

``Progressive dreams are tinged with a brave purity, a rich sentiment and a noble defiance. But, like most dreams, they are notable for the distortion of facts by desire."
Permalink 11:07 AM

Sexy Blonde Crustacean

Via Pharyngula, it seems that the appeal of silky blonde hair is not limited to humans (or even vertebrates).

Scientists said the animal, which they named Kiwa hirsuta, was so distinct from other species that they created a new genus and new family for it.

A team of American-led divers found the animal in waters 7,540 feet deep at a site 900 miles south of Easter Island last year, according to Michel Segonzac of the French Institute for Sea Exploration, or IFREMER.
Permalink 8:25 AM

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Rotation Of Earth Plunges Entire North American Continent Into Darkness

NEW YORK—Millions of eyewitnesses watched in stunned horror Tuesday as light emptied from the sky, plunging the U.S. and neighboring countries into darkness. As the hours progressed, conditions only worsened.

At approximately 4:20 p.m. EST, the sun began to lower from its position in the sky in a westward trajectory, eventually disappearing below the horizon. Reports of this global emergency continued to file in from across the continent until 5:46 p.m. PST, when the entire North American mainland was officially declared dark.
From The Onion, of course.
Permalink 1:36 PM

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Plague Caused the Little Ice Age?

Via BBC News, from researchers in the Netherlands comes a new theory of the cause of the "Little Ice Age" responsible for putting Europe into a deep freeze (much colder than average winters) for 300 years (killing off all descendants of Viking colonists in Greenland). The new theory claims that the Bubonic Plague was responsible. How did that work?

Well, the Bubonic Plague swept through Europe in the 14th century killing by some estimates 1/3 of the population of Europe. As many as 200 million deaths were due to the plague. Because of this devastation, many farms in Europe fell idle, lacking the manpower to keep them in production. Trees sprung up where there was once plowed fields, and the resulting reverse greenhouse effect (too many plants taking carbon dioxide out of the air) caused a general cooling, resulting in the little ice age.
Permalink 11:06 PM

She's No Lady (bug)

Via the photography blog 10, 60, 200

If you see this creature, either kill it, or if you're not the violent type, get far away. It's an evil bug, and it bites. It looks a lot like a ladybug, but this is a different insect, known as the "Japanese Biting Beetle".

Here's a real ladybug (from The University of Kentucky Department of Entomology)

Some friends and I were menaced by these monsters while in Evanston for a college reunion a few years back, and I assumed that they were ladybugs gone bad.

Thanks to Richard Magahiz for the link.
Permalink 10:45 PM

Friday, March 03, 2006

Japanese Make Gasoline out of Bullshit

The energy crisis has been solved!
Permalink 9:07 PM

Thursday, March 02, 2006

President Chauncey Gardiner warned about Katrina

A newly released videotape from AP shows that President Bush was briefed in full about the threat to New Orleans posed by Hurricane Katrina, including dire warnings about the potential for serious flooding and the levees breaking. During the briefing, Bush did not ask a single question, but afterwards assured Lousiana officials "We are fully prepared." As we know, Bush only 4 days later declared "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees".

To his credit, feckless FEMA director Michael Brown at least had the sense to be worried:
"My gut tells me ... this is a bad one and a big one," then-federal disaster chief Michael Brown told the final government-wide briefing the day before Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29...

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and Brown, then the
Federal Emergency Management Agency chief, told the president and
Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.
Sometimes it seems that George W is barely even aware of what is going on in the country. His claims to know nothing about a topic is not actually contradicted by the fact that he was briefed on it, because he treats White House briefings the way a 9-year-old boy with ADD treats his school lessons: something to be endured, and immediately forgotten.

Given Bush's astounding political successes, you don't want to "misunderestimate" him, but all the evidence that I've seen is consistent with the theory that he is nothing more than a charming (to some, anyway) face put on the machinations of those actually in power.
Permalink 8:30 AM

Picture from Boston Harbor, Summer 2005

This is my kids, my wife, various nephews and sisters-in-law, a brother-in-law, and a niece. Oh, and Marty.
Permalink 7:39 AM