October 29, 2014

Confirmation Bias in Action

On the Epidemics in History post, Tom points out that what I wrote here was completely wrong:

The other interesting insight was that in a world where global population has exploded, borders are porous, and people have the ability and means to travel almost anywhere on earth in just a few hours, every successive epidemic kills fewer and fewer people.

As he points out in the comments, the dots aren't in chronological order. In fact, they're ranked by the number of deaths. I've been trying to figure out how I got the idea that the death toll from epidemics was shrinking over time. The only thing I can come up with is some combination of looking only at the part of the graph I posted (the entire thing was too long to fit) and my simply seeing what my mind preferred to see.

I tried sorting the epidemics chronologically and running several curve fits through the data points to see if there was any discernable downward trend in deaths over time. Frankly, despite having screwed things up the first time, I still expected to see what I wanted to see.

Wrong again:

curve fit1.png

The line does go down, but the first few data points are so extreme that they're driving everything else. I suppose one could say that we haven't had an epidemic/pandemic on the order of the Plague of Justinian (541) or the Black plague (1346) in modern history, so in that narrow sense the death toll is decreasing over time but even if you leave out those two data points, you don't get an unambiguous downward trend.

Here's a color coded (green = plague, red = cholera, blue = flu) and chronologically sorted list:


It's fascinating to me how our minds want to see clear patterns in data, sometimes when there isn't much of a pattern (or even any pattern at all). As a killer of human beings over time, plague seems to have given way to cholera and then to flu. Since 1960, about half of the epi/pandemics seem to be "one offs".

Anyway, thanks to Tom for spotting my mistake and giving me the change to take another look at the data (this time more carefully, though unfortunately I'm still a bit rushed). Please let me know if I've missed or misstated anything.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:29 AM | Comments (13) |TrackBack (0) |

Why Has Violent Crime Dropped More in the US than Elsewhere?

Fascinating article on crime rates by Heather McDonald:

From 2000 to 2012, the U.S. violent crime rate fell over 23 percent. Such an improvement in the social fabric would be cause enough for celebration. But the crime drop of the 2000s followed an even larger decline in the previous decade: 32 percent from 1993 to 2000. The 1990s crime drop (in both personal and property crime) was so sharp and so unexpected that by 2000, most criminologists were predicting that an uptick was all but inevitable. Instead, after a brief pause, the crime fall again picked up steam, extending the longest and steepest crime decrease since World War Two.

America’s two-decades-long victory over crime reversed what had seemed to be an inexorable increase in lawlessness since the 1960s. The murder rate had more than doubled from 1964 to 1974, spiking again in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But just as crime was peaking in 1993, it reversed and went into freefall. The greatest beneficiaries of that crime drop have been the residents of minority neighborhoods, where crime was (and still is) highest and where the bulk of the recent crime decrease occurred.

The fact that the American crime drop encompassed every category of serious violent and property offense makes this transformation virtually unique among Western countries. Particular crimes went down by sometimes comparable amounts in other G7 countries, but those nations experienced increases in other serious offenses. And the fact that crime went down everywhere across America makes the phenomenon particularly puzzling, since crime is a local condition.


Neither liberal nor conservative root-cause theories of law-breaking have fared well over the past two decades.

...So what happened? No consensus exists. Favored explanations among criminologists include the collapse of the crack cocaine trade, a shrinking youth population, and a better job market, but none of these theories perfectly fit the data. The spread of New York–style policing and increased incarceration are better, but by no means exclusive, explanations for the national crime drop.

New York’s crime decline over the past two decades has been twice as deep as the national average and greater than in every other large American city.

Read the whole thing. There's a lot of food for thought there.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:29 AM | Comments (12) |TrackBack (0) |

October 28, 2014

Somewhere On The Dark Side...

...a door creaks open, the tinkle of bottles rolling across the floor barely announces the bolt of light that stabs and slices through the shadows.
"Pssst! Da boss! She be back!!" comes the hissed warning from the other side of the accursed door.
Dammit! I thought I had more time....how long has it been anyway?
*glances at the September calendar page*
Quick, gotta come up with some kind of distraction...I know!!
When all else fails, flaunt my mountainous privilege!!!

GNP ridge in the mist.png

Continue reading "Somewhere On The Dark Side..."

Posted by DL Sly at 02:41 PM | Comments (8) |TrackBack (0) |

The WH Has a Plan for That

Emmanuel Saez, inequality warrior extraordinaire, identifies the main factor driving what he calls "exploding wealth inequality": middle class families save too little and are saddled with too much debt:

The growing indebtedness of most Americans is the main reason behind the erosion of the wealth share of the bottom 90% of families. Many middle-class families own homes and have pensions, but too many of these families also have much higher mortgages to repay and much higher consumer credit and student loans to service than before (Mian and Sufi 2014). For a time, rising indebtedness was compensated by the increase in the market value of the assets of middle-class families. The average wealth of bottom 90% of families jumped during the stock-market bubble of the late 1990s and the housing bubble of the early 2000s. But it then collapsed during and after the Great Recession of 2007–2009 (see Figure 3).

But fear not: the Obama administration has a solution. Never mind the fact that the housing market still hasn't recovered. Let's make it easier for the middle class to assume even more risky mortgage debt, while making it harder for businesses to borrow the money they need to pay salaries and create new jobs!

Washington has settled on a perfect credit-allocation strategy to stunt economic growth. Step One: Hand out mortgages with little or no money down. Step Two: Discourage loans to businesses.

Last week we told you about Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt ’s plan to bring back down payments as low as 3% to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac , the two government mortgage monsters that helped create the last financial crisis. Along with Mr. Watt’s other initiatives to expand credit, it could lead to another boom and bust housing cycle.

Now the Federal Reserve and other banking regulators have approved new rules for private mortgage-backed securities that don’t require the underlying loans to have any down payments at all.

We hear they've got a nifty plan to reduce soaring black unemployment, too: make it legal for foreign workers to compete for American jobs:

A member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights told President Obama Monday that the administration’s reported plan to grant work permits to millions of illegal immigrants would have a harmful effect on black American workers.

Peter Kirsanow, a Republican appointee to the panel, said in a letter to the president and to the Congressional Black Caucus that issuing millions of work permits to potentially low-wage workers “will devastate the black community.”

“Such an increase in lawful workers would have a deleterious effect on low-skilled American workers, particularly black workers,” Mr. Kirsanow said. “Illegal immigration has a disparate impact on African-American men because these men are disproportionately represented in the low-skilled labor force.”

The president is planning to issue an executive order after the Nov. 4 election that many predict will grant temporary legal status for a significant portion of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Mr. Kirsanow should be ashamed of himself. Everyone knows that making it easier for millions of foreigners to come to the United States and work legally has absolutely NO effect on the supply of jobs. And despite all that ill informed, partisan sniping about the administration "making Ebola policy up as it goes along", it turns out that they've been all over this whole disease-preparedness thingy: (CWCID: spd)

A new audit has found major gaps in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) preparations for viral pandemics like Ebola: many of the supplies purchased by the government are expired.

Officials have spent millions to stockpile medical supplies since 2006 without knowing exactly what to buy or how they would be used, DHS Inspector General John Roth said Friday. The agency also failed to track the supplies it did purchase.

“We could not determine the basis for DHS’s decisions,” Roth told a panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee as he presented the 43-page report.

DHS, which is one of the agencies leading the response to Ebola, has “no assurance” that it has enough protective gear or antiviral medications or that its supplies remain effective, Roth said.

The department purchased 4,184 bottles of hand sanitizers that have expired, Roth found.

DHS spent $6.7 million for antiviral drugs, with no plan to decide what types of drugs it should purchase. It also has no way to know that the drugs were maintained at the proper temperature, which could have destroyed the drugs’ effectiveness.

The department has lost track of 2,055 doses of antiviral medication, the report said.

All this concentrated Smart Power is making us positively giddy. We should give more money and power to these people, stat. Their track record speaks for itself.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (8) |TrackBack (0) |

Epidemics in History

Interesting piece about epidemics through history. The most surprising thing to us was that cholera was the most common disease (at about half of the most recent epidemics/pandemics). The screen snap below shows just the tail end of the graphic:


The other interesting insight was that in a world where global population has exploded, borders are porous, and people have the ability and means to travel almost anywhere on earth in just a few hours, every successive epidemic kills fewer and fewer people.

Even in remote areas like West Africa.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:23 AM | Comments (7) |TrackBack (0) |

Saul Alinsky Would Be Proud

Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

- Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

Channeling Alinsky, 50 watchdog groups ask the Obama administration to live up to it's own rhetoric:

On his first day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum instructing federal agencies that the FOIA “should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”

However, transparency groups and media organizations have been largely disappointed by the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration in history.” Federal agencies largely ignored the memorandum, and the Justice Department has been less than aggressive in enforcing the memorandum.

“Today, more than five years later, we face many challenges in fulfilling your day-one commitment,” the transparency groups wrote to the White House. “The FOIA remains one of the most effective tools for the public to know what its government is up to, but changing agency practices under that statute to meet your transparency goals has been especially challenging.”

The groups support codifying President Obama’s memorandum in law, as well as five other measures that would stiffen requirements for when agencies could withhold intra-agency communications or documents older than 25 years.

“Without this legislative mandate, the FOIA will continue to be subject to the political whims of whoever occupies the White House,” the letter states.

The White House has so far not responded to the letter. It did not return a request for comment for this article.

Among the 50 organizations that signed the letter are the American Civil Liberties Union, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Sunlight Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the American Library Association.

Perhaps while they're at it, they could ask the National Science Foundation to stop using taxpayer money to monitor/harass conservatives on Twitter.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:05 AM | Comments (0) |TrackBack (0) |

October 27, 2014


The Editorial Staff apologize profusely for the recent dearth of posts.

We've been traveling and just got back to DC last night. Blogging should resume tomorrow after we dig our ownself out from under the to do list.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:58 AM | Comments (3) |TrackBack (0) |

October 22, 2014

Why Would Any Man Vote Democrat?

It's a bizarre question, but Grim gamely provides a response.

Questions like this are nothing more than brazen appeals to identity politics. Are you black? How could you *possibly* vote for a party that doesn't have put social justice and civil rights front and center? Are you female? How could you *possibly* vote for a party that doesn't put so-called "women's issues" ahead of everything else?

Are you Hispanic? How could you.... Well, you get the picture.

Right leaning pundits have been lambasting such gender and race based appeals for as long as I can remember. But these days we're expected to find a group to identify with and put the supposed interests of our little tribe first. The rest of the country, apparently, can go straight to hell in a handbasket. We recognize nothing greater than our own perceived self interest.

We're all single issue voters in a nation full of complex questions with no simple answers. A nation where the legitimate competing interests of all kinds of people - black, white, rich, poor, male, female, liberal, conservative, religious and secular - must constantly be balanced and prioritized.

That's what America was supposed to be about: that balancing process.

It was bad enough when only one side was doing this. If we've sunk this low then we really are doomed.

The times, they are a-changin':

Earlier this month, a coalition of some 20 African American Democratic leaders called a news conference to endorse the GOP candidate, state Rep. Rick Stream. Armed with voter registration forms, activists like Seals have been roaming black neighborhoods urging people to vote for anyone but the Democrat.

The plan is not only to beat back a local candidate they view as particularly unfriendly to black residents, but also to present a show of force to Democratic leaders all the way up to Sen. Claire McCaskill and Gov. Jay Nixon. By switching their allegiance in this election, these African Americans hope to demonstrate that their votes should not be taken for granted.

Ted Hoskins, the mayor of nearby Berkeley who has endorsed Stream, rattled off a series of slights and sins. They range from the governor’s decision to back the controversial prosecutor in the Brown case to the Democratic Party’s anemic support for the incumbent county executive, a black Democrat who was ousted by a white challenger during the August primary.

“This is about the total disrespect white Democrats have demonstrated against the black community,” he said. “This time, we are going to show them.”

It could be a difficult feat. A Republican has not held the St. Louis county executive’s position in 25 years.

The phrase, "Be careful what you wish for" comes to mind.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:35 AM | Comments (48) |TrackBack (0) |

October 21, 2014

Downstream Effects of Sequester Cuts to DoD

This doesn't sound good:

The U.S. Navy’s elite cadre of fighter pilots—made famous by Top Gun—are not flying nearly often as they would like. Instead, many of the Navy’s elite Boeing F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter squadrons are sitting on the ground with only two or three flyable jets available. The rest of the jets are awaiting maintenance for want of critical spare parts—and some of those parts are being cannibalized from brand new jets in an increasingly vain attempt to keep squadrons flying.

...Sources tell The Daily Beast that there are dozens of jets awaiting maintenance—and most of the planes are less than 10 years old, which by aircraft standards is practically brand new. Effectively, dozens of brand new jets worth billions of dollars are sitting on the ground useless.

Some drop in readiness is normal. Whenever a Navy squadron comes back from a deployment onboard a carrier, it loses some of its roughly 12 jets and readiness plummets before building back up. There is a rough floor of about six aircraft that a unit is supposed to have even at low readiness levels. “They have gone below that minimum,” one source said.

The result is that the Navy’s fighter pilots are not getting necessary training to operate their pricey machines in combat should the need arise. Given that the nation is once again at war, that need could arise again sooner than anyone expects.

The problem is neither the Navy nor Boeing has enough trained engineers to inspect and perform needed repairs on the various versions of the F/A-18.

One of the main causes of the problem, according to multiple sources, was the congressionally mandated sequester that automatically cut the Pentagon budget.

Money that was cut during 2012 budget year is only now having a real impact because the skilled engineering force of engineers and technicians at various government contractors were laid off and found other jobs since then. The result is a massive backlog of aircraft that must be repaired.

The Editorial Staff don't have much insight into the aviation community, except to recall that pilots are required to fly a certain number of hours to keep up their skills and proficiency. So in addition to the obvious effects of equipment shortages, there's a safety problem to be considered.

During the sequester fight, there was a lot of uninformed talk from both sides about how little impact cuts to the Department of Defense actually had. This ties in with a long term tendency to eliminate so-called "redundancy" (labeled "inefficiency"). Donald Rumsfeld was big on this, and it never made sense to us.

During wartime, a LOT of equipment is ridden hard and put away wet. Sometimes, it's not worth the cost even to bring it home. In war, things break - either from constant use or as a result of enemy fire. The DoD procurement process is anything but simple and speedy. Contracts that get cancelled now can take years to be resubmitted, approved, and executed.

In what sane world does anyone expect that equipment that is broken/worn/left behind won't have to be replaced? Where the DoD budget needs reducing is all those feel-good, touchy feely add on allowances the Democrats were screaming for during the Evil Bu$Hitler Era. As with so much else in our national infrastructure, we've replaced long term investment in vital public goods like roads and bridges with short term payments that go directly to individuals (and which do NOTHING to enhance the welfare of the country in general).

Scary, scary stuff.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (8) |TrackBack (0) |

Isn't "Celebrity Dachshund" Somewhat Redundant?

Posted by Cassandra at 08:44 AM | Comments (5) |TrackBack (0) |

October 20, 2014

Chart Interpretation for Bloomberg Dummies

Chart illiteracy: there has got to be a word for it somewhere. At any rate, the tragic inability to decipher fairly simple charts weighs heavily upon our sorely abused Brain Housing Group of late.

Speaking of which... how on earth does one get this assertion (bolded text below)...

Women fighting for a broader presence in the upper levels of management face at least one very personal obstacle: Most workers don’t want them there.

...from this study?

Americans are still more likely to say they would prefer a male boss (33%) to a female boss (20%) in a new job, although 46% say it doesn't make a difference to them. While women are more likely than men to say they would prefer a female boss, they are still more likely to say they would prefer a male boss overall.

The study didn't ask whether women should be bosses, or even whether they belonged in upper management. It asked men and women whether would rather have a male boss, a female boss, or whether the sex of their boss is unimportant. Here's the breakout for a mixed sample of men and women:

46% had no preference (this was the most popular response)
33% preferred a male boss
20% preferred a female boss

Now we realize that math is difficult for the intrepid journalists at Bloomberg, but last time we checked, 46 + 20 = 66% of the mixed-sex sample either don't mind or actively prefer a female boss. Now let's look at the breakout for a sample composed of just women:

34% had no preference
39% preferred a male boss (this was the most popular response)
27% preferred a female boss

Again, 34 + 27 = 61% of women (we're pretty sure that's "most women") either don't mind or actively prefer a female boss. So actually, whether you're asking a mixed male/female group or women only, "most people" (roughly two thirds -66% or 61%, respectively) have no objection to having a female boss.

How on earth does this become "most people don't want women in upper management"? The most interesting insight we got from this study is that women are more likely than men to view workplace issues through the tawdry lens of discriminatory gender stereotypes:


We can't help noting that the Bloomberg article was written by two women. Figures...


Posted by Cassandra at 02:36 PM | Comments (13) |TrackBack (0) |


This kind of idiocy (from Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks) begs to be fisked within an inch of its miserable life:

“Immigration is part of Ebola, is a part of this new virus – I say ‘new’ in quotations marks because it’s relatively new to the degree we’ve seen it in the United States of America that taking the lives of American children, that is causing partial or complete paralysis of American children. All of this is related to immigration because some of these diseases are coming from abroad. By way of example, there was a study in 2013 – I think it was called the enterovirus that is causing the paralysis and death of young children in America – that thousands of residents of Central American countries were found with this illness over a year ago in 2013.

We touched on this topic last week, but we're still seeing volunteer clowns everywhere we turn. Unfortunately for them, the study doesn't say anything even close to what Brooks (and far too many other bloggers) claim it does. Let's walk through Brooks' claim step by step:

(1) Step 1: "...thousands of residents of Central American countries"...

The total number of patients studied (taken from 8 different countries, only 2 of which are in Central America) was 3375. Only 246 of them came from Central America:


Now unless Rep. Brooks and every blogger who has cited this study are using some kind of newfangled math (perhaps Common Core?), it is impossible to get "thousands" from a sample of 246, not all of whom even tested positive for any of the 100-odd types of enterovirus. Thus, simple examination of the first part of his claim is sufficient to show that this man has absolutely no idea what the study he's flogging actually says. But hey, this is fun. Let's keep going.

(2) Step 2: "...were found with this illness". Again, the study says nothing of the kind. Or even anything close. "This illness" is one of about a hundred known strains of human enterovirus (HEV): Enterovirus D68. So, how many TOTAL cases of human enterovirus (of ANY kind) were found? From the study results:

Overall, HRVs and HEVs were identified in 16% (548 samples) and 3% (84 samples) of the ILI cases, respectively.

That 3% (or 84 cases) is comprised of all types of enterovirus, not "the specific strain currently spreading in the United States. And the 3% was taken from 8 different countries (not just Central America). So once again, clearly the people citing this study either haven't bothered to read the [short] summary or can't interpret a chart to save their own lives. It's right there in black and white. It's even in English.

Now let's move to the chart I keep seeing. Due to the extremely graphic [pun fully intended] nature of this chart, I have hidden it below the fold so as not to send the unwary reader into sudden and fatal cardiac arrest:


Posted by Cassandra at 08:45 AM | Comments (8) |TrackBack (0) |