I disagree with Hightower.

What you will find here is: a centrist's view of current events;
a collection of thoughts, arguments, and observations
that I have found appealing and/or amusing over the years;
and, if you choose, your civil contributions which will make it into a conversation.

He not busy bein' born, is busy dyin'. - Bob Dylan

Please refer to participants only by their designated identities.

suggestion for US citizens: When a form asks for your race, write in: -- American

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Are Machines Better Than You?

This is exciting and scary.  Of course every science fiction novel ever tells us that this way leads to disaster.  But, what the heck, let's try it anyway.  Let's let machines make our decisions for us since they do it so much better.  What could go wrong?


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stasis fallacy 3

The stasis fallacy is the assumption that if the rules are changed, the actors will play the game in the same way they did before.

Nate Silver's Five Thirty Eight (Jan. 25, 2013) contains the very interesting article Electoral College Changes Would Pose Danger for Democrats by Micah Cohen in which there is discussed a variation of how the Electoral College votes.  Mr. Cohen ends his article with an example of the stasis fallacy by making the logically invalid assertion that with one alternative method Mr. Romney would have won the last election.

When voting in the Electoral College almost all states use the winner take all system: the candidate who gets the MOST popular (people) votes in the state gets ALL of that state’s electoral votes.  Exceptions are Nebraska and Maine which use the “congressional district” method which allows 1 electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district and two for the state at large.  (There was a variation in Virginia which would given the two statewide electors to the candidate who received the most district electors.  For our purposes, this is no different from the congressional district method.)

Mr. Cohen includes a complete compilation of how the votes that were cast in the 2012 election would have determined the electors if they had been selected by an alternative method:  a modified "congressional district" method.

"If the Virginia proposal had been adopted in 2012 and the other 47 states had adopted a system like Maine’s and Nebraska’s (where one electoral vote goes to the winner of each Congressional district and two votes go to the statewide winner), then 103 of Mr. Obama’s blue state electoral votes would have gone to Mr. Romney. Mr. Obama, by contrast, would have gained only 32 electoral votes in red states."
Mr. Cohen then moves from arithmetic to the area of logic as follows:
"And, by an Electoral College count of 277 to 261, Mr. Romney would be president."

This is not a valid conclusion, unless Mr. Cohen means that, after the election was conducted according to law, God came down and declared that the votes would be counted differently. However, the drift of the article is that a CHANGE to this new system would give the Republicans an advantage, which indicates that he means to be assuming that the new system would have been the law BEFORE the election.

Notice that I am not saying that Mr. Romney would not have won.  I am saying that the information at hand does not assure us that he would have won.

The flaw in the thinking in the article is the assumption that is implicit in counting the votes that were cast using method A and assuming that they would be cast in exactly the same way if the election were held by method B.  That in turn implies that the candidates would have campaigned (in election method B) in exactly the same way that they had campaigned in election method A.

This is the error.  Consider Texas.  In method A, Obama ignores Texas because it is hopeless.  In method B, Obama would likely campaign in Houston, Austin, Ft. Worth and perhaps Dallas.

For another example, consider Pennsylvania, 2012.  In method A, Obama, by the way he campaigned, piled up huge majorities in Philly and Pittsburg to overcome the Romney vote in the rural areas.  In this way he carried the whole state of PA.  In method B, those extra votes in the large cities will not be of nearly as much value (although they can still help win the 2 statewide electors).  Therefore, if we used method B, Obama would be moved to revise his campaign plan to be more consistent with the reality of that different method of counting.  

Once you recognize that the method of campaigning would change, then surely it becomes clear that the votes could change.

 Consider a simpler example from a different election. Al Gore obtained more popular votes for president than George Bush did in the presidential election of 2000. But Bush won the electoral vote and the presidency. We heard over and over again: “If the election of 2000 had been decided by popular vote, then Gore would have won.” The response was always some variation of: “But the election was not by popular vote”. For some purposes, that is a sufficient answer. But I think that this is worth a bit more reflection. Put aside your own political perspective and consider the logic of the statement: “If the election of 2000 had been decided by popular vote, then Gore would have won.” Again, suppose one is talking about God coming down after the election is over and decreeing that the voting system has been changed to popular vote. If that is what was meant by the statement, then the statement is obviously true, but also silly. For the statement to be meaningful it has to be about what would have happened if the rules had been changed (to popular vote election) before the election took place. To claim that the vote as actually cast would have been duplicated with those other rules, then one has to assume (among other things) that the candidates would have campaigned in exactly the same way. That is nonsense. In fact, if the rules had been changed, then the candidates would have campaigned very differently. With the existing system, it was totally irrelevant whether Gore won California (or Bush won Texas) by 1 million votes or 3 million votes. Either way he still got all of the electoral votes of that state and nothing else. There was no reason for either candidate to try to win the national popular vote. And they didn’t. If the rules had been changed to national popular vote, then Gore would have spent more time on the coasts and Bush on flyover country getting out their base voters. It is very possible - perhaps even likely - that Gore would have won.  But it is not certain. Also, even if one could know that Gore would have won a hypothetical national popular vote election it would have been because of how the votes had been cast in that completely different kind of election.  It would not have been because of how the votes were actually cast in 2000.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Republican Electoral College Chicanery

The Republicans have a problem with the electorate.  There are at least two approaches to this problem.

One, they can listen to Gov. Jindal R(LA) and quit being “the party of stupid.”  That might include getting some counseling for their candidates about how certain expressions sound to minorities and women.  They definitely need to broaden their focus to all of their principal values (economic freedom, individual responsibility, and equal opportunity) and quit sounding like their only objective is to protect the money of rich people.  I hope that they go this way.

There is another approach involving the  electoral college that is, I think, properly called chicanery. 

Recall that the president is elected by the electoral college in which each state is assigned a number of “electoral votes” which is equal to the number of members of congress that that state has.  Exactly how the state assigns those electoral votes is entirely up to the state legislature.  Almost all of states vote in the electoral college by using the winner take all system: the candidate who gets the MOST popular (people) votes in the state gets ALL of that state’s electoral votes.  Exceptions are Nebraska and Maine which use the “congressional district” method which allows 1 electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district and two for the state at large.  There is nothing inherently wrong with supporting this latter system if you advocated it nationwide and across the board.

Some folks find the winner take all system very troublesome since – to look at two examples – in California the Dems are a lead pipe synch to win the state (about 8 million to 5 million in 2012) which means that those 3 million people in CA who voted for the Reps “totally lost their vote” since all 55 electoral votes went to Obama.  Why doesn’t CA use the congressional district method?  The reason is quite simple.  If they did the Reps would win some votes in some of those districts.   The Dems control the CA legislature and they are not about to give the Reps a shot at those electoral votes.  The exact opposite holds true in Texas.

But what if the sentiment was not so one sided?  What if you were in a swing state like say Pennsylvania or Florida?  If you could get the electoral vote divided then you could be sure of getting some votes, but not all.  Pennsylvania leans Dem, but now has a Rep legislature.  Last year (to late in the game I thought) the Reps tried to change the rules on the electoral vote of PA.  They were stymied.  They have a lot more time now and the proposal is to try to change the rules in several key swing states.  From looking at them the states meet two conditions:  They have Rep legislatures and they are not solid Rep states.  To split a solid Rep state would increase the Democratic vote.

There are basically two proposals and one can find considerable detail on them at Electoral College Changes Would Pose Danger for Democrats.

One proposal is to cherry pick some states that have Republican Legislatures and would be helpful to Reps (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia and perhaps Florida).  To use a temporary legislative majority to do this is what seems to me to be quite inappropriate chicanery and also likely to backfire on whoever tried it.  If it changed some future presidential election then the state’s majority would be quite upset.

A fair and above board way to do it would be to advocate the congressional district plan be used in every state.  That would require a constitutional amendment which would not likely pass.  Other objections will be listed in a post here soon on the congressional district method.

Finally, as people so often do when discussing alternative methods of doing something, the author commits the stasis fallacy which is described here and here.   He tells us that if the congressional district plan had been in use nationwide in 2012, then Romney would have won the election.   This is not a valid conclusion as will be explained in a day or two in the post on the congressional district method.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Through the Looking Glass

I read of a second amendment defender who made the statement that:

"If the slaves had been given the right to keep and bear arms, then slavery might not have done so well in America."

I know that a gun advocate said something like this but am unable to confirm that the statement was also made by a person of more substance. Help me if you can confirm it.

In any case this statement seems to require an new category: looking glass

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Obama’s Second Inaugural

I am not sure that the Republic can survive.  It now seems beyond a reasonable doubt that Beyonce lip-synched the Star Spangled Banner.

My favorite part was:

“We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us.  They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.”

That is a nice statement of the liberal position on the “expanded safety net” and our communal commitment to provide those worthwhile (and expensive) things to each other.  I support it.  Those benefits cover all of us, including the much courted middle class.  Now, how do you keep this vision of “communal commitments” from being just a nice cover story for “the people voting themselves money out of the public treasury?”  I read on in order to find out about how he would handle the call on us to sacrifice to meet the other half of this enormous obligation to the community.   

It never came.  Mr. Obama’s commitment to community centers on distribution not responsibility.

The thing that I liked least about the speech was that:

If you look through it you will find numerous tributes to the community, but very few to the individual.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Michael Anders

I discovered today, two weeks after the event, of the death of a friend, Michael Anders, chess man.  I have known him for over 25 years as a player, coach, organizer, director, vender, and very enthusiastic supporter of the game.

My favorite memory of Mike is from one of the four board team tournaments that we held at Murray in the eighties.  The teams could choose names.  Mike's team went further.  With a full set of black tee shirts they came as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse:  War, Pestilence, Famine and Death.  Michael rode the pale horse.

I will miss him.    For more details on the story see here.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Purpose for the 2nd Amendment

I was fascinated by this article regarding the reason we had to have the 2nd amendment.  I do not know if it is accurate.  Any comments by the YA community would be welcome.   I know there are some that are more historically astute than I..in fact it would not be out of the question to assume that all members of the community are more historically astute than I.


Jobs Coming Back Home, But Who Will Do Them

Another article reinforcing that jobs are moving back home from overseas, but with some interesting caveats which I agree with whole-heartedly.  The jobs that seem to be coming back require high quality well educated workers.  This highlights the country's need for a workable plan for educating the U.S. citizenry to the highest degree possible.

The disincentive that currently exists is that the cost of higher education has become impractically high.  So much so that many believe the cost is just not worth it.  We desperately need to be more creative in finding ways to dramatically decrease the cost without sacrificing quality.  Whether we pay for higher education individually or as a nation with shared goals and objectives it seems paramount that the cost come down dramatically. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Presidential children

The President put some children behind him when he made his report on the Biden study about the killing of the children in Connecticutt.

For this or some other reason the NRA thought that they had been given an exemption from the rule about not using presidential children in the political discourse.  They proclaimed in an ad that the President was opposed to protecting your children with guns and yet he used guns (secret service) to protect his children!!

I think that they looked bad and the reason is that they tried to make the President look hypocritical which doesn't work because:  1.  All recent presidents have done the same thing and 2. there are clearly reasons why presidential children need more protecting than other children.

They would have done a lot better to have focused on the fact that all of those presidents, whatever they claim, recognize that guns are useful in protecting (their -1-18) children from the crazies.

More changes to come

A Pennsylvania Hospital will stop delivering babies because it believes that reimbursement under the ACA will make it financial impractical.

I don’t offer this article (URL below) to be critical of the ACA.  I do offer it as an example of what I think will be an extensive and often painful adjustment in our healthcare system to meet the requirements of the ACA.  See article below.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Steve Jobs 2

The question in Steve Jobs (here) seems similar to the problem:

What should an agnostic or atheist in a religious culture tell their children about god?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ben Stein and Obamacare

Ben Stein actually made this quote last year, but I just ran across it today.

"Fathom the hypocrisy of a government that requires every citizen to prove they are insured...but not everyone must prove they are a citizen."

Now add this, "Many of those who refuse, or are unable to prove they are citizens will receive free insurance paid for by those who are forced to buy insurance because they are citizens."

In this quote Ben has conflated the issues of healthcare with the issue of immigration.

Questions:  Should the issues be argued separately or as an integrated topic?

Friday, January 11, 2013

squiggle signature

I'm not as worked up as some of the talking heads are about the lack of diversity among President Obama's inner circle. One thing does bug me a little bit.

Jack Lew, for example - I'm led to believe that he is a smart, capable guy. However, it doesn't sit all that well with me that he just bumbles around Washington DC from one post to the next (budget director, chief of staff, now treasury).

Are the skill sets required for each of these jobs so similar that one guy is the best our nation has? Maybe he was the world's best chief of staff, but does that necessarily translate to being the best person to run the treasury?

Perhaps it does - I'm young and only recently starting following Washington closely. I get the sense that it has always been the same cast of characters in our nation's capital...

U.S. Corporate Tax Rates vs Other Countries

A link to an article highlighting the complexities of the question of whether the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate "in the world".  Also links to other current stats regarding international tax rates.  What is a country's corporate tax rate?  Depends on what taxes you include in the corporate tax rate.  In the U.S. discussion we generally are referring to the top federal coporate income tax rate.  But is using that rate to compare really an apples to apples comparison?  Maybe...maybe not.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

United States Finances

Some may find this interesting.  It's a CPA discussion of the nation's finances.  There is a lot of information but for anyone interested it's good substantive stuff.


Steve Jobs

I saw a special on Steve Jobs Monday night.  He was talking and it was broken into three parts.  I think in the following order.

"When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and that your life is to live your life inside the world try not to bash into the walls too much.  Have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money." 


"Life can be much broader.  Once you discover one simple fact and that is everything around you that you call life was made up by people who  were no smarter than you."


"The minute you realize that you can poke life - that you can push in and something will pop out the other side.  That you could mold - it that you could change it."  pause  "When you realize that you can change life.  That's maybe the most important thing."

Question:  "Suppose that you believe this and you have children.  Should you tell them about the last two paragraphs?"

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel  once said that he was a Senator from Nebraska not from Israel.  Even that mild (and unquestionably true statement) was criticized as being not sufficiently pro-Israel.

 Some believe that if he becomes Secretary of Defense, then
1.  he will not be as supportive of Israel as some would like,
2.  he will not be as opposed to the Arabs as some would like,
3.  he will not be as vehement in his opposition to Iran as some would like, and
4.  in facing the perils of the world that he will not always be as intransigent as some would like
     in defending the view that America is always right.

I hope that they are right.

It seems to me that he fits pretty well the foreign policy that I would like to see us follow.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Hurricane Katrina "was nothing in comparison" to Hurricane Sandy, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a speech on the Senate floor Friday.

Sometimes you simply have to admit that was a stupid thing to say.  In the article Reid also references the response to Katrina up as a good example.    At the time of Katrina I don’t recall the Ds saying anything good about the Bush/Brown handling of Katrina.  Come to think of it I have not heard the Ds (or the media) put any blame on Obama for what Reid obviously thinks is a poor response to Sandy. 

Tax holiday

It seems that many, if not most, Americans are comfortable with increasing the taxes on higher income Americans.  An under reported fact is that the tax holiday of 2009 has expired and payroll taxes have returned to 6.2%.  Up from 4.2%.

It will be interesting to see reactions of the 98% when they see their first paycheck in 2013. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why do we have a deficit?

I watched the Sunday talk shows this afternoon and listened to folks from all over the country talk about how dysfunctional the U S government is.

Not a single one of them talked about how the people want all of those programs and at the same time do not want to pay for them.  The Rs are unwilling to admit that the people want them.  The Ds are unwilling to admit that the people do not want to pay for them.  That, quite simply, is why we have a deficit.

We want the National govt to spend at least 24% of GDP on us and we want it to collect at most 18% of GDP in taxes from us.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The heart of a scoundrel

There is a quote in my mind that I thought came from Confessions by Rousseau, but I can find no confirmation of that.  It goes like this:

"I do not know what may lie in the heart of a scoundrel, but I have seen the heart of an honest man and it is horrible."

Can anyone help me?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Fiscal Cliff 2

The Senate has a fiscal cliff proposal.  It calls for 15 billion in spending cuts and 620 billion in tax hikes.
(Recall that the Dems want the problem solved by tax increases and Reps want it done by spending cuts.)

5 things about this deal.

1.  Oviously it is an overwhelming "win" for the Dems and their preferences by roughly 40 to 1.

2.  If the House does not go along they will be the ones labeled by the media as intransigient.

3.  This is a ten year proposal which will produce "savings" of $63.5 billion per year.  The ANNUAL deficit is well over $1,100 billion.  That means that this proposal is 5.7 % of the solution of that short term problem and does not deal at all with the long term issue of entitlement reform.

4.  Nobel prize winner Paul Krugman a supporter of Obama, taxes, borrowing, and spending tells us his view in conceder in chief.  As the title suggests that he views it as a loss by Obama.  In fact he says at one point that "it’s a bad and upsetting deal".  However, he also notes that there were "no spending cuts at all."

He also told us that the really bad thing about this deal is that Obama did so badly that:  "Republicans will go right from this negotiation into the debt ceiling in the firm belief that Obama can be rolled."

What kind of proposal would it take for Krugman to consider it a win?

5.  One wonders what happened to the Constitutional requirement that revenue bills begin in the House?
(added at 7:15 PM - Perhaps the Senate bill is not original but rather a revision of a previous House bill.)

The Emancipation Proclamation

This was issued by President Lincoln on this day one hundred and fifty years ago.

See also The Emancipation Proclamation for discussion and detail

January 1, 1863
A Transcription
By the President of the United States of America:
A Proclamation.
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.