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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Orwell Meets Google

A match made in Oceania. I decided to check which Orwell phrases had the most google hits who remembers "memory hole" ? About 424,000 results (0.31 seconds) Is he watching you or the boob tube ? "Big Brother" About 95,500,000 results (0.31 seconds) damn telescreen. Orwell would be soooo pleased. "ignorance is strength" About 311,000 results (0.23 seconds) "freedom is slavery" About 340,000 results (0.25 seconds) "war is peace" About 379,000 results (0.39 seconds) "Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia" About 131,000 results (0.57 seconds) "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia"About 6,430 results (0.30 seconds) hmm I guess Oceania really has always been at war with Eurasia. doubleplusgood About 150,000 results (0.30 seconds) doubleplusungood About 47,200 results (0.32 seconds) new google slogan "don't be doubleplusungood" newspeak About 508,000 results (0.37 seconds) OK let's see how 1984 stands up to the Princess Bride's Spinal Tap etc "goes up to 11" About 282,000 results (0.30 seconds) "goes uo to eleven" About 43,100 results (0.32 seconds) "I don't think that word means what you think it means" About 36,200 results (0.33 seconds) "lucy and the football" About 1,320,000 results (0.47 seconds) Good Grief ! "McLuhan" "Annie Hall" About 25,100 results (0.31 seconds) huh it seems that a lot of people know nothing of Woody Allen's work. "clap harder" About 15,700 results (0.33 seconds) "I do believe in faries" About 227,000 results (0.27 seconds) "Kardashian ass" About 557,000 results (0.28 seconds) (beats all Orwell quotes but "big brother") Just kill me now.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Game of Thrones

Spoiler Alert I have read the 5 published volumes of "A Song of Ice and Fire" Heptology. In this post, I will not try to avoid spoilers. I will discuss the books not the TV series. I think that when they differ, the plot of the series is not inferior, but I know the books. OK this is no longer a spoiler, since it has been widely discussed on the web. Who is Jon Snow's Mother? What did Eddard Stark promise Lyanna Stark as she was dying ? In volume 1 "The Game of Thrones" these two questions are often asked but never answered. I guess that the answer is that Lyanna Stark made Eddard Stark promise to tell no one that she was Jon Snow's mother. So Jon is Eddard's nephew not his son and Rhaegar Targaryen was Jon Snow's father. Rereading I note Eddard thinks of promises (plural9. I guess the second is that she ran off with Rhaegar voluntarily and was not kidnapped and raped. Among other things, this resolves two incongruencies. Rhaegar is highly praised by all who knew him (except Robert Baratheon who regrets killing him only once). Rape just doesn't fit. Also Eddard Stark is very honorable (even a bit rigid). Breeding bastards may be consistent with Medieval or Westerosi ideas of honor, but it doesn't fit the character. Another problem is that there are 3 dragons and only one known dragon rider. There is a shortage of Targaryons (semi spoiler there are two living Targaryons at the end of book 5). Whatever happened to Jacquen Higuar ? I am fairly confident that he is the guy who is teaching Ary to be a faceless person. The reply to her question is always "there is no one who goes by that name here" which is not "the man you knew by that name is not here." What with the one eared black tom cat ? Arya is chasing this cat when she finds Dragon skulls and Varys conspiring with Illirio Mopatis. Tommen complains about this cat thousands of pages later. A bit of local color (although colorless ?). I note on re-reading that Rhaenys Targaryon had a little black kitten which she called Balerion. The cat doesn't seem to like Lannisters. We will know (there being greenseers and wargs about). Robert Arryn being fostered. There is a hint about the true killer of Jon Arryn based on the fact that he proposed sending his son to be not over-protected on Dragonstone by Stannis Baretheon (a bit throwing the kid in the deep end I'd say). Lysa Arynn's reaction to her sisters' proposal to take Robert Arryn to Winterfell is another hint. Mormont's

Restoring Coral Reefs

I am not sure that I should be, but I am very excited by recent work on restoring coral reefs. The science is simple, very small fragments of coral with just a few polyps grow quickly. So it is possible to quickly produce a large number of small but not tiny colonies in acquarium and then put them on dead reefs. The living polyps spread over the dead coral and, maybe, the reef can be restored. The reason I am excited is partly that a huge amount of carbon is sequestered in coral reefs. With global warming, coral may have to move away from the equator. Coral is beautiful but stuck in the ground. Now acidification might kill coral (etc etc etc) everywhere and then we are cooked. But I like it. This is in addition to my longstanding enthusiasm for restoring oysters to Chesapeake Bay.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In which a nerd gropes for the concept of "social intelligence"

It is widely agreed that, in addition to the sort of smartness correlated with IQ scores there is such a thing as "social intelligence". I must accept the claim that it exists even though I have no personal experience of the phenomenon (that is I my social intelligence somewhere is somewhere between that of a high functional autistic person and that of a slime mold).

So I was thinking about how some people have different personalities than others. To be honest about my nerditude I was thinking about extremely smart people I have known and how their ways of thinking are completely different But anyway I thought of a very geek question. You know two people. They are quite different. Now imagine a Science Fiction novel where the characters were aliens. Would a reasonable science fiction author choose to make those two characters members of two different intelligent species ?

I am reminded of a not very good Sci Fi movie Sphere (which I think was an Ishtar level waste of talent). It starred Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel Jackson who are stuck on a spaceship from the future which contains a strange sphere (you guessed that) which spoiler alerts them.

The Jackson character is interesting. An un-naturally calm math genius who doesn't relate with other people in a normal way (the millionth Spock in science fiction) . He shaved his head for the role. Now it just so happens that Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone are almost exactly the same height and Jackson is a head taller. Oh also you know he is African American. I noted that he looked about as physically different from his crew mates as Spock ever did.

The role was Spock who might or might not be Spock with a beard. I think the film is worth 5 minutes of your time (scroll past the boring beginning) for a bit of his performance.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Phrase of the Day: Fournier Transform

Fournier Transform: This phrase is a technical term which describes the process through which an urgently needed excellent moderate proposal supported by all very serious centrist pundits changes into a partisan extreme one sided bill when Obama proposes it and Republicans reject it. the Fornier transform is somewhat similar to transubstatiation, as unbelievers are not able to detect any difference at all between the text of the needed proposal and the text of the partisan bill. It is also the same as similar to the change of the word in the Nicene creed from Homoosian to Homoiosian (which lead to many deaths back when the stupid was even stronger, hard as that is to believe). (for those who know as little Greek as I do, Homoosian means "of the same substance" and Homoiosian means "of similar substance").

Read this post for free (shrimp not included)

David Scholnick wins the internet

It seems that Forbes, the AARP and Mike Huckabee object to his research which involved a shrimp running on a treadmill. He confessed at the Chronicle of Higher Education

My name is David, and I am the marine biologist who put a shrimp on a treadmill—a burden I will forever carry. To be clear, the treadmill did not cost millions of taxpayer dollars, the goal of the research was not to exercise shrimp, and the government did not pay me—or anyone else—to work out shrimp on treadmills.

Exactly how much taxpayer money did go into the now-famous shrimp treadmill? The treadmill was, in fact, made from spare parts—an old truck inner tube was used for the tread, the bearings were borrowed from a skateboard, and a used pump motor was salvaged to power the treadmill. The total price for the highly publicized icon of wasteful government research spending? Less than $50. (All of which I paid for out of my own pocket.)

In an effort to put an end to the erroneous media reports of wasteful government sponsored shrimp-treadmill research, I am willing to put my infamous treadmill up for sale. All profits will go toward supporting marine-biology research so that grandmothers across the country will no longer be denied medication, our heroic soldiers fighting abroad might be able to get the military equipment they need, and the House science committee can rest easy knowing that they can once again eat fat juicy shrimp—free of bacteria—without using up government funds. For the bargain price of $1-million (shrimp not included)—that’s 67 percent off the price listed by—a lucky individual, perhaps Rep. Lamar Smith (the Texas Republican and chairman of the House science committee), can literally put their money and their shrimp where their mouth is.

He got links from Wonkette and Mike the Mad Biologist (but isn't in the Fournier league)

The merchandise

The Fournier Transform

Near Stupidoclypse Alert

Major meme


It looks as if Ron Fournier may sweep the left blogosphere.

I read this by Joan McCarter at DailyKos

The nation's most stubborn and willfully ignorant pundit, Ron "why won't Obama lead and make Republicans like him" Fournier, strikes again.

On health care, we needed a market-driven plan that decreases the percentage of uninsured Americans without convoluting the U.S. health care system. Just such a plan sprang out of conservative think tanks and was tested by a GOP governor in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.
Honestly. He wrote that. In November, 2014. Four and a half years after the Affordable Care Act—modeled after a Heritage Foundation proposal and Mitt Romney's Massachusetts law—passed. After a presidential election in 2012 that featured Mitt Romney going through insane contortions trying to differentiate between Romneycare and Obamacare because they are almost exactly the same.
I thought it would be absurd for this blog (traffic about zero) to link to DailyKos (daily traffic much less than the population of China). McCarter goes on to quote Fournier again
Instead of a bipartisan agreement to bring that plan to scale, we got more partisan warfare. The GOP resisted, Obama surrendered his mantle of bipartisanship, and Democrats muscled through a one-sided law that has never been popular with a majority of the public.
So a bill to bring that plan to scale became a one-sided muscled through law that essentially brought that plan to scale (the main difference is that the Federal Government funded both, as the USA can't send the bill to the One World Government (yet)). So how did bringing RomneyCare to scale become "a one-sided law" ? That would be the famous Fournier transform, in which Ballance beats reality if reality is embarrassing to Republicans. I also note that Jon Gruber has become an un-person. It is very likely that, before his "stupidity" leaked, McCarter would have quoted RomneyCare architect Jon Gruber saying that it's the same damn plan. Jon Gruber, the wonk who must not be named (even though it is reasonably likely that you or someone you care about will owe him your, his or her life some day). Now I see that Paul Krugman and Matthew Yglesias are on the case. Yglesias even brought up Jon Gruber, reminding me that Yglesias is doubleplusungood at being a hack. Last I checked Chait hadn't checked in (he does have a genuinely great post on ObamaCare Uber Ales which you really ought to read) Update: Jim Newell too "DC pundit takes troll game to new level: Ron Fournier’s strange history of Obamacare" Aaron Carroll (via Jonathan Bernstein) Gary Legum at Wonkette (that hit is going to leave a snark)
Ron Fournier has written many dumb columns in his career. In fact, Ron Fournier has written only dumb columns in his career. But today he has outdone himself by gracing our political centrists, yearning as they are for some bipartisanship, with the dumbest column of his, nay, of any pundit’s career.
Steve Benen too

Monday, November 17, 2014

Waldmann V Waldman goes up past eleven

Ah I have a very minor disagreement with my fellow Waldman[n]. My usual complaint is that he, KagroX and Michael Waldman are more famous than I am (if you are asking "Who is Michael Waldman" then you just learned how obscure I am). It is a quibble with a surprisingly excellent post on why the extraordinarily successful health care reform remains unpopular. I write surprisingly, because this issue has been discussed so much that it is impossible to say anything really new, yet the post is written so well that I strongly advise clicking this link. Paul Waldman wrote "Add the success (so far) of open enrollment for next year to all the other good news about the ACA. We’ve had 10 million formerly uninsured Americans with coverage," The link leeds to a story reporting the Gallup study which estimated that there were about 10 million Americans *over the age of 18* newly insured due to the ACA *during 2014*. The Gallup estimate, therefore, didn't include people agend 18-26 who already had health insurance on December 31 2013, because the ACA required insurance companies to allow their parents to keep them on their parents' plans. Estimates of the effects this aspect of the ACA on the number insured range from one to three million. Also Gallup did not look at insurance of children. There are more people aged 18-64 than 0-17 and Medicaid and SCHIP caused the rate of non-insurance among children to be 10%: horribly high, but lower than the rate for non-elderly adults. Still the ACA probably has caused at least a million more children to have health insurance. So the correct estimate would be that the Gallup study suggests that 12-14 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured have coverage. In any case, "over 10 million" is a safe statement which is almost certainly accurate, while "10 million" is innaccurate.

Fear Factor

Atrios writes

Everything Is Horrible - Let's Stay The Course

So weird.

David Cameron has issued a stark message that “red warning lights are flashing on the dashboard of the global economy” in the same way as when the financial crash brought the world to its knees six years ago. ... Politically, Conservatives believe an emphasis on the risks still facing the UK will make anxious voters recoil from handing stewardship of a fragile economy to a relatively untried Labour team.
I comment

Both you and the Guardian's correspondent* are attempting to explain the strategy with a model in which voters decide how to vote based on their views of the consequences of their votes -- an attempt rational or otherwise to reason.

I suspect that Cameron's strategy is based on the fact that fear makes people conservative. Psychologists have published experimental results which I will paraphrase from memory (make up on the spot) in which showing people a photo of the mouth of a great white shark causes them to oppose gay marriage (that is in their is less support for gay marriage in the shown a shark subsample than in the shown a flower sub sample -- recall I am working from memory of what I remember from reading abstracts -- that is bullshitting) Here is the abstract I vaguely remembered (thank you Google). I don't know exactly what the "a mortality salience threat" was or what way of being "staunchly unsupportive of homosexuals" it induced.

I doubt Cameron knows this literature even as well as I do. I do not doubt that his message has been tested on focus groups and that it works, and that it works through fear. My guess is that ISIS and Ebola would do just as well as red lights flashing on the economic dashboard.

*I admit I just read the URL and didn't click.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In which I compare, Rand Paul, Jay Ackroyd, and David Dayan

Jay Ackroyd notes DDay's excellent policy proposals. I comment That is indeed an excellent list. I especially like point 3 (I think it is useful to ask people how much money Medicare Advantage saved the government if they object). It is petty picky and silly to quibble and I am that petty picky silly quibbler. In point 4 you followed acqua buddha. "Adding good jobs with proper pensions in the public sector — which employs the fewest workers since 1966 — could help. " The claim "the public sector — which employs the fewest workers since 1966" is absolutely false. The link evidence is an observation about the Federal Government. Federal Government employment is a small fraction of public sector employment (about one sixth of it). I invoke acqua buddha from the watery shallows, because this is exactly the dodge used by Rand Paul to hide his ignorance In an interview, he was visibly astounded by Paul Krugman's claim that government employment had declined during a period when it had in fact declined (hint the period was not "since 1966"). After the data were shown to him or, more likely, an aid -- he claimed he thought that Krugman had made a claim about Federal Government employment.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kevin Drum and the White Working Class

I agree a bit less than usual with Kevin Drum who writes on the problem of Democrats and the White Working Class (which is defined as whites without 4 year college degrees including, as John Quiggin noted, the horny handed sons and daughters of toil, such as Bill Gates and Paris Hilton).

I quote bits here and cut and paste my comment

"white working class, which voted Republican by a 30-point margin last week:"

"As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin observed this summer, 54 percent of the white working class born after 1980 think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, according to data assembled from the 2012 election." -- Kevin Drum quoting Noam Scheiber quoting Teixeira and Halpin

"But if that's the case, why does the WWC continue to loathe Democrats so badly? I think the answer is as old as the discussion itself: They hate welfare. "

"So who does the WWC take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor."

"That's because they're closer to it. For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars."

"Does it matter that the working class barely pays for most of these programs in the first place, since their federal income taxes tend to be pretty low? Nope."

"So sure: full-throated economic populism? That might work, though everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means. But here's one thing it better mean: policies that are aimed at the working and middle classes and that actually appeal to them. That is, policies that are simple, concrete, and offer benefits which are clear and compelling."

I comment

When Teixeira and John Halpin write "the white working class born after 1980 " they are basically not at all talking about the same "white working class, which voted Republican by a 30-point margin last week:"

Last week 12% of voters were under 30 and 37% over 60. The election told us what older people (such as myself -- age 54). You basically don't discuss age at all. This really makes no sense when discussing 2014, 2012 and how they are different.

OK what is to be done ? Look it's simple. There is a difference between not paying much income tax and paying less than zero. the number 47% horrifies Republicans for a reason. They fear that if the fraction whose income tax liabilities are less than 0 gets enough over 50% to make up for lower turnout of the less rich, then the "takers" will take over. I think they have a point, except that I think that would be a good thing (given the large numbers of takers who work full time year round and pay much more in payroll taxes than they receive in EITC).

I think that Democrats can win elections by promising higher taxes on the rich and lower taxes for everyone else. I think that few voters buy the Republican line that Republicans cut taxes for the non rich. I use the word "think" but I think that these claims are about as weak as the claim that the climate is getting warmer.

First try to name a Democrat with the following features

1. He was elected President

2. He was not an incumbant at the time

3. the top marginal income tax rate was under 69%

4. the income tax was constitutional

and 5 he didn't propose higher taxes on the rich and lower taxes on everyone else.

Hint, this is a trick question -- those 5 conditions have never ever been met. In contrast both Clinton and Obama were elected after promising higher taxes on the rich and a middle class tax cut (and Obama actually delivered).

I also recall a TV discussion of a focus group which watched a Bush senior Clinton debate with the dials. The group included declared undecided voters, declared Clinton supporters and declared Bush supporters. Clinton said something like " only the rich have received tax cuts" and the average declared Bush supporter twisted the dial to agree. Rage at the Republiscam of promising tax cuts for all and giving them only to the rich was strong in 1992 *among rank and file Republicans*.

Since then Gallup has polled again and againa and always gets solid majorities who support higher taxes on the rich (as I very much enjoy reminding you, long ago I pointed out these polls to you and you were very surprised). In 2005 polls showed that the only social security reform with majority support was raising the payroll tax ceiling. In 2009 and 2010 polls showed that the only provision of the ACA which reduced the deficit and had majority support was and is the surtax on high incomes.

People in the USA want to soak the rich and spread it out thin. This is a feasible policy (Obama did it -- mild on the soaking -- but he did it). I am sure it would be good policy. The popular populist policy and the practical way to address income inequality is to make the income tax more progressive.

This would, of course, creaate problems such as .... I mean we might return to the dread economic growth rates of the 50s when the top rate was 91% and the 60s when the top rate was 70%. I absolutely promise you that there is less than no evidence that a higher top marginal income tax rate would be bad for growth


. OK enough policy proposals, I want to whine about how unfair it is,

I note that the WWC includes a lot of people on food stamps and/or receiving EITC. I also note that the ACA has done a lot for a lot of white working class people including those under 4/3 the poverty line (who may be poor not working class by the original definition of the phrase but the few who vote are included in the numbers you quote), those who don't get insurance from their employers and those who might lose their job with benefits. That is almost all of them.

You note but do not focus on the deep deep irrationality of welfare hatred. The only huge means tested program is Medicaid which is almost as popular as Medicare. Many hard working people benefit from food stamps and the EITC. The people getting checks without working are over 65 (and that program is super popular) disabled (and that program is not hated) or very few and getting tiny checks. I am sure that welfare hatred is not based on knowing people who are actually living on welfare.

Also you don't note foreign aid hatred. On this issue, the delusions of the overwhelming majority of US citizens are so extreme that they are not discussed in polite debate. In polls The median US respondent guesses foreign aid is 10% to 28% of the Federal budget (I have a total of 2 polls in mind but the numbers are all in that range). This is absolutely not based on living next door to a foreigner who receives aid. This is pure fantasy (foreign aid is less than 0.7% of the US Federal budget). Foreign aid is a tiny program. But the vast majority of US voters think it is a huge program. That means that hatred of foreign aid is a big issue.

pulled back from comments: The counties in North Carolina that had the highest percentage of slaves to whites in 1860 are the same counties where more than 90% of whites voted for Mitt Romney. Links to follow at my blog. Thornton Hall Which reminds me that "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Thursday, November 06, 2014


Do I really have to wade through that Stephanie Schmidt-Grohe and Martin Uribe paper too, and reverse-engineer their result as well? I'm too old for this. Don't any of you young whippersnappers have an economic intuition? Do you all get snowed by every fancy-mathy paper that comes along?
I expect I will have to. Pray for me.
--Nick Rowe Who earns a bonus victory lap for keeping an extremely elaborate metaphor un-mixed and out of the ditch.

I had to click the link to find out that "the Scandanavian flick" was related to driving cars and not Swedish monetary policy.

If you had asked me to describe a Scandanavian flick I would have said there is this knight by the sea who meets death and they decide to play chess (actually I thought of another Ingmar Bergman film "Monica," which I have heard described on PBS as "an escapist skin flick" -- the sea is featured in "Monica" too, but Monica is much better looking than death).

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Grey Power and Rational Self Interest

The extraordinarily smart and well informed Richard Mayhew presents amazing data on voter turnout by age in presidential elections and mid terms. He also attempts to make sense of yesterday's vote. I think this attempt fails.

He concludes "we have an off-cycle electorate that assumes that they’ll be dead in 15 years, so let the good times roll."

I comment.

The argument makes sense, but the votes of US adults over 60 don’t. The Republican policy stance (except during campaigns) is the opposite of “let the good times role”. They fight for reduced deficits and, in particular, demand entitlement reform.

In particular, Arkansans over 60 voted for Tom Cotton who voted to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 70. This is a “death bet” only if to death they say “you betcha”.

Cotton’s vote is on a roll call and the Republican Study Group budget is public, so I think it is OK to link to a partisan source

“Cotton Was the Only Member Of The Arkansas Delegation To Vote for Republican Study Committee Budget That Transformed Medicare Into Voucher System, Raised the Eligibility Age For Medicare To 70 And Cut Social Security Benefits.”

One can not use rational self interest to explain why people aged over 60 vote for Republicans who demand that Democrats accept entitlement reform and then denounce the Democrats for accepting some of the Republican demands.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Orwell wasn't good at arithmetic

He wrote 1984 when he meant 2014. QOTD "a program called SAFe, Students Against Fear"
Orwell himself couldn’t have come up with a more ironic title for this spy program than “Students Against Fear,” although I suspect the idiosyncratic capitalization would’ve killed him if he weren’t already dead.

Being There: Colorado and Jerzy *

Lie imitates art (with a twist). Am I the first to note that, as predicted by Jersey Kosinski, C. Gardner is strangely politically successful, because people here what they want to hear in his contentless statements ? In fiction C. Gardner is a sincere idiot. In real life C Garnder is very smart, smart enough to know that he can't win if he reveals his true views, but has a very good chance if he asserts, for example, that personhood isn't personhood. I fear that Colorado will go red, because voters aren't paying attention. I blame marijuana. * The spelling of thr title was corrected thanks to malcolm

Stupidoclypse allert

Today could be the day. I am thinking again of the four horsemen of the stupidoclypse: Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondrake, Mickey Kaus and Fred Barnes. The end of daze will come when the four of them make the same stupid argument at the same time. So far there have been two Hemistupidoclypses. The first came in 2006 when Krauthammers and Kaus argued that the 2006 Democratic wave showed that the Democrats were weak as they obtained only the smallest possible margin in the Senate through two very narrow victories (both due to Markos Moulitsas by the way -- senators Tester and Webb said so). Neither mentioned that 40 Republican senators were not up for election, so the Republican Senate victories just had to reach double digits for them to keep the majority. This argument was profoundly dumb, they were insulting the intelligence of their readers and managed to underestimate the intelligence of the US public. However, 2<4 and it was only halfway to the ultimate abyss of idiocy. Similarly two of the four argued that it was good strategy to nominate Paul Ryan for vice president. How did that work out fellas ? But I really think 2014 could be the year. The stupid chum is in the water. There is a temptation to say that the US has rejected Obama after re-electing him because association with him is political poison in Lousiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana and Alaska -- states where he lost in 2008 and 2012. There is the temptation to argue that the election of the ernest Ernst and the shows how Republicans can win in purple states by not nominating extremists (when they might win because the press thinks that reporting their views on policy would reveal liberal bias (as Colbert noted the facts have a liberal bias)). I will try to avoid noticing the elections which I don't expect to enjoy, but I will keep a look out for the possibly imminant stupidoclypse.