Monday, December 28, 2009

Trees are so communist

"I’d prefer to do energy because I think you could get a really broad consensus on a lot of energy legislation,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
Via Politico, Mark Pryor tries to shine his 'centrist' (read: 'moron') credentials by explaining why climate change legislation isn't feasible in 2010. I wonder how Mark Pryor thinks energy legislation differs from cap and trade....

A little while back another centrist, Mary Landreix of LA, justified tabling climate change legislation because, well, health care reform has been a lot of hard work. Does that excuse work anywhere but the US Senate? "Gee boss, I'd love to work on this next project, I really would, but the last one was hard, so I'd rather just spend the rest of this Congress voting aye on puppy dogs and nay on burnt toast"

My CSA is bigger than yours

As one often does with Wikipedia, looking up one things leads you to something entirely different. I came across a table of the Combined Statistical Areas of the United States, defined as "an aggregate of adjacent Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) that are linked by commuting ties" and is also the "the most expansive of the metropolitan area concepts employed by the OMB." I suppose a shorthand way of approximating this is, which NFL team does the network always show you on Sunday.

Anyway, I surprised to see Boston ranking much higher than I would have thought, coming in at number 5:

1) New York-Newark-Bridgeport
2) Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside
3) Chicago-Naperville-Michigan City
4) Washington DC-Baltimore-Northern Virginia
5) Boston-Worcester-Manchester

For comparison, Houston-Baytown-Huntsville ranks #9. If you were to look at a city based purely on its population, Houston is #4 and Boston is way down at #21. But, perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of people live near but not in Boston, while outside of the urban sprawl that is Houston, there is nothing. Certainly this matters when it comes to things like investing in transit infrastructure.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator from Rhode Island, makes this point:
When it turns out there are no death panels, when there is no bureaucrat between you and your doctor, when the ways your health care changes seem like a good deal to you, and a pretty smart idea, when the American public sees the discrepancy between what really is, and what they were told by the Republicans, there will be a reckoning. There will come a day of judgment about who was telling the truth.

I'd like this to be true, but isn't the whole problem right now that objective reality just keeps receding from view? Won't Fox News just run scary stories about grannies dying because of the health care bill (which doesn't take effect until 2014, but never mind that)? Is there any reason to believe that the Republicans won't just double-down on obstruction, while hoping and praying that the economy continues to recover slowly so they can win back some seats in 2010?

Speaking of which, thanks to the Club for Growth for getting a burr so far up Arlen Specter's ass that he switched to the Democrats. Do you really think he'd have voted for this bill if there was an (R) next to his name?

That's unpossible

If you know of any scientists, or even happen to be a scientist yourself, then you'll know that the best part about publishing papers is not the sense of self-satisfaction, or of increasing knowledge in the world, or even the career benefits. No, it is the subsequent emails from ESL (English as a Second Language) folks that will eventually arrive. For example, there's this, from a colleague who most decidedly has a female name:
Dear Sir,

Please send me following your article for personal use which is intersting for me

Will health care cover implants?

Over the weekend, Tom Coburn, Senator from Oklahoma, said "What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight. That’s what they ought to pray." It might be a bit harsh to read into this statement that he was actually wishing for someone to, say, die, but maybe just lock themselves out of the Senate or something.

So my question is, since that didn't happen and all 58 Democrats plus Sanders and [shudder] Lieberman made it to vote aye, has Coburn modified his thinking to reflect either:

a) Americans chose not to pray against health care reform, and thus he has misread the mood of Americans


b) Americans did pray but God wants health care reform, so He didn't smite Barbara Mikulsky.

I suppose option c would be that Coburn is a homophobic (1) and insane (2) grandstanding blowhard, but this is the US Senate, so we can just dismiss that possibility out of hand.

(1): “the gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power. [The gay] agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today.”

(2): "And I thought I would just share with you what science says today about silicone breast implants. If you have them, you're healthier than if you don't. That is what the ultimate science shows. . . . In fact, there's no science that shows that silicone breast implants are detrimental and, in fact, they make you healthier."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shamrock-shake-induced behavior, no doubt.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yglesias hits a point I made the other day:
What’s needed to regain footing, I think, is a different kind of issue. An issue where it makes sense to draw lines, pick a fight, and if the votes aren’t there to pass a strong bill just say to the public “we were out there fighting for you and senators x, y, and z killed it.” Swinging for the fences like that, you might actually hit a home run, which would be great. And if not, you energize your allies and make your enemies look bad. At least if you pick the right issue.

Financial regulation, it seems to me, would be that issue. In broad terms, the idea of regulating big banks is popular. And substantively speaking, a weak bill that’s full of loopholes would genuinely do very little good. We’re not in imminent danger of a bubble/crash replay but if we do something called “financial regulatory reform” we’re unlikely to do it again until there is a new panic. So there’s a strong case for coming out swinging against denouncing a too-weak bill as a sham and drawing some bright lines. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll do some Taibbi-style denunciations of Geithner & Rahm.

Tentacles unite!

Credit the emperor for being the first person on the internet to notice the brewing octopus uprising. I'm sure he found it in the course of actually thumbing through scientific literature, so the Venemous Bede would be proud of his use of primary sources. And Maniac Mansion was a great video game.

Anyway, here's a video:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Figure 2: Taunting the Octopus

From the ever-valuable Emperor:
Defensive tool use in a coconut-carrying octopus

Julian K. Finn1, 2, , Tom Tregenza3, and Mark D. Norman1,

1 Museum Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne, VIC 3001, Australia
2 Zoology, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia
3 CEC, Biosciences, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn TR10 9EZ, UK


The use of tools has become a benchmark for cognitive sophistication. Originally regarded as a defining feature of our species, tool-use behaviours have subsequently been revealed in other primates and a growing spectrum of mammals and birds [1]. Among invertebrates, however, the acquisition of items that are deployed later has not previously been reported. We repeatedly observed soft-sediment dwelling octopuses carrying around coconut shell halves, assembling them as a shelter only when needed. Whilst being carried, the shells offer no protection and place a requirement on the carrier to use a novel and cumbersome form of locomotion — ‘stilt-walking’.

Monday, December 14, 2009

John Lackey

31 years old, 5 year deal. Huh. Sons of Sam Horn site completely down.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Angry mob

Via Taegan Goddard, Rolling Stone's Matt Tiabi opines thusly:
What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.

If you read Andrew Sullivan enough, you can convince yourself that Obama is a Jedi mind warrior, minus the goat-staring, or perhaps a pre-cog/Oracle type: he sees five moves ahead and he knows the effects of his moves 6 months down the road. Don't get me wrong, I think Obama is a smart guy, but at some point you need to Obama's "patience" on an issue is better explained by "indifference."

I don't think it is too late for Obama to do something about our crappy financial system. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that it is something he does want to do something about, and I think it reasonable to argue that, if health care had been wrapped up by this point, he'd have taken it on by now. But both for the purposes of actually reforming the system, and for the sake of Democrats in 2010, Obama needs to pursuade Congress to make this the high profile issue of 2010 (and it pains me to prioritize it over climate change). From an electoral standpoint, it is a winning issue -- people are pissed at Wall Street, and rightfully so. This would help motivate the base and bring some independents back into the fold. As usual, the place where any legislation like this would die is the Senate, but my gut says that it'll be easier to call Senators bluffs on this than on health care -- nobody wants to be seen as defending Wall Street, whereas at least now you can position yourself as defending seniors or whatnot.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Home on the range

A debate has been raging in the blogosphere lately (no, not really) about the concept of home ownership as an investment. Matt Yglesias verbalized something I've thought for awhile:
I think the clearest way to make the point is just to observe that no matter what happens to the price of your home, it’s very hard to actually take advantage of any gains you may make. Bubbles aside, property values in a given metro area really can separate from the national trend in a fundamental way. Over the past several decades, the Detroit area has become a much less attractive place to live relative to the national average and some other cities have become more attractive relative to others. So you can “make money” by buying property in a city whose attractiveness increases relative to the average. But how are you going to realize these gains? By moving to Detroit?

Indeed, really the only way to play the housing market is to buy your first home when the market is down. But once you're in, well, that's it.

That's not to say that buying a home is a bad idea, compared to the alternative of renting. There are a lot of calculators that you can use to decide rent v. buy, which more or less come down to, well, how long are you gonna be around in place X. Certainly it doesn't make sense to buy a home if there's a good chance you'll be moving in 6 months, as there are a lot of transaction costs. But the longer you'll be in one place, the more sense it makes to buy. If you rent a place for 30 years, at the end of 30 years, you have... nothing. But if you buy that place, at the end of 30 years, you own a home and have no more housing costs to worry about. I don't know if that qualifies as an "investment" per se, but that doesn't mean it is a bad idea.

One thing I would like to see is reform of the tax code, which right now "encourages" (though I have no idea to what degree) home ownership by allowing a deduction of mortgage interest. While I think it would be essentially impossible to eliminate that politically, one thing you could do is instead expand the deduction to also allow people to deduct their rent. Indeed, Massachusetts does this on the state level, although it is still not comparable to the mortgage deduction.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

That's fat with an F

If you're the sort of person who has the DVR set up to record the Daily Show every night, make sure you get around to watching last's night show, with Mike Huckabee as the guest. One highlight when Stewart showed a poll that "Fox and Friends" were all excited about (done by Rasmussen, of course) detailing doubt as to the veracity of climate change. The percentages on the poll added up to 120%, so, um, the numbers were made up. Nice.

One item of note... Mike Huckabee has gained a lot of weight. Now, he was a big guy when he was governor, and lost a lot of weight and wrote a book about it. I remember awhile ago people had a theory about Al Gore's weight and his propensity for running for office. I forget how it worked, but that's not the point, because I have no point.


A new poll by Public Policy Polling asked an interesting question: Who would you rather have as president right now, George W. Bush or Barack Obama? Obama won, but barely, 50% to 44%, with 6% either undecided or unable to successfully press "1" or "2" on their phone. Jeez, I thought, that seems really bad for Obama. So I looked at some other results in their poll, and it seems skewed towards the GOP (I'm not accusing of malfeasance in any way, just saying that their data has a bias). For example, the actual results from the 2008 election has Obama winning 53% to 46%, but when this sample of people was asked who they voted for, it was 47% Obama and 45% McCain, with 8% remaining. So in this sample, Obama voters are under-represented by about 6 percentage points. Further, when you look at the breakdown of McCain voters who still choose Obama over Bush, and Obama voters who would now choose Bush, McCain has a defection rate of 10%, while Obama's is less than 5%. Further, the 8% of people who voted for "someone else" in 2008 (the non-Obama/McCain percentage was actually less than 1%), well, those folks/fools prefer Bush to Obama by a 3.5 - 1 margin, which further biases the data.

By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, when you correct for the sampling bias, you find that greater than 55% of people would prefer Obama to Bush -- so definitely at least equal to and maybe a smidge higher than actually voted for Obama. That sounds about right to me, and now that I think about it, is not cause for concern.

And this is why we're headed down the tubes

From a local site, in regards to yesterday's primaries and the idiocy of the voting public:

Inspector: You are unenrolled. Which ballot would you like, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian?

Voter: I’m an independent.

Inspector: Yes and you have the choice of any of the three ballots. Would you like, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian?

Voter: (angrily) I don’t have to tell you who I’m voting for!

Inspector: That’s true, but you do have to decide for today’s primary which party ballot you want.

Voter: (raising voice) No, I’m an independent!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I looked at the returns after exactly one town in Massachusetts (Southampton) had reported results, and it was 53-29 for Coakley v. Capuano. AP has just called it for Coakley with 44% reporting, and it is Coakley by 48-27. I hope to one day drive through Southampton and see a sign designating it the "Bellweather of Massachusetts."

Too bad, I wanted Capuano. Coakley seemed a bit too boilerplate for me, the sort of person who will get to the Senate and do nothing in order to... get re-elected to the Senate. I hope she proves me wrong.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Red Sox Hot Stove

Sox have apparently signed Marco Scutaro, SS from Toronto. Sigh, SS for the Red Sox under Theo is Defense Against the Dark Arts, just one train wreck after another. It is apparently a two year deal with an option for a third year. First, the guy is 34, and second, he is coming off a career year. And that career year he had last year? A whopping 12 HRs with an OPS of 0.789. In '07 and '08, his OPS didn't break 0.700. His defense is apparently okay but nothing stellar.

They needed to fill the position with, well, someone. And Marco Scutaro is someone, but nothing more. He's a #8 or #9 hitter, not a leadoff guy, even though a lot of casual fans think that scrappy players (i.e. middle infielders with no power) make for good leadoff hitters. His strengths at the plate are that he walks a decent amount, and in the past three years has more BBs than Ks, which I guess is good.