Statistical Enquiry of the Devil’s Playground

Certain laws and regulations, and policies related to those, have a non-trivial impact on statistics which are not normally thought of in concert with those laws. For example, mandatory sentencing increases incarceration rates, which in turn will decrease the employable population. Child labor laws directly impact the employable population, but so do mandatory attendance requirements for high school.

How does the unemployment rate of the United States compare to other nations when differences in incarceration rates and school attendance are taken into account?

Or, where do these people find the time to riot?

New York City Department of Kafka

What the fuck?

We hear from New York City school teachers about a secret room in the New York City Board of Education building. Teachers are told to report there, and when they arrive, they find out they’re under investigation for something. They have to wait in this room all day, every day, until the matter is cleared up. They call this bureaucratic purgatory “the rubber room.” Some teachers have been stuck in it for years.

Thank You

To the person who purchased something from Amazon by clicking on a link from this site, thank you.

Now I have the difficult, but enjoyable, task of selecting something from the 262 items on my wish list.


I’ve liked WordPress because the interface has been straightforward, it’s easily upgraded, and the developers have done an excellent job of maintaining backward compatibility so I don’t have to think too much about it.

I just noticed that my feed URI is in an infinite loop, and likely has been since I installed WordPress 2.7 around December 11.

While I’ve left my half of the configuration unchanged — the rewrite rules that make the friendly URIs work — the WordPress team has deprecated the file that did the work: wp-feed.php. Unfortunately, the documentation is not quite up to date, so this may take some poking and prodding before it’s fixed. In the meantime, I’ve put the 2.6 version back in.

Yell Back

I would like a quick way to yell back at the radio while I’m driving, and have that yell posted on my web site.

For example, yesterday Terry Gross assumed that electronic medical records are needed, and that they were an appropriate target of Federal stimulus funds. No! If electronic medical records were as desperately needed, then the businesses in the health care industry would build something. There’s absolutely no need, whatsoever, for government participation or funding.

(I suppose if you want easier access to the medical records of the population, then electronic records are easier to search, even with a warrant: SELECT citizen_name,citizen_address FROM citizens WHERE peanut_allergy = 'Y' AND political_party != "Democratic";


Don’t get me started on our “crumbling” infrastructure. It’s not. Those potholes appear in New York streets every year. The roads are in great condition, even many in poorer States. Bridges? Maybe if they had not been poorly designed, then they’d last longer than 40 years.

Charitable Giving

As I pay the last set of bills before the New Year, I also make final charitable contributions. There are some guidelines that I use to select to which charities to give. First, what will I support? I support life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and so give to charities that enable, encourage, and provide these. Second, what must a charity do to retain my support? They must be effective, they must not misuse funds, and they must not give my name and address to other charities. Charity Navigator is helpful in determining the first two of those criteria. For the latter, I received a bunch of junk mail from environmental charities, and so will be removing one from our list. Is the marginal return from selling my address really worth the lost income?

This year due to the foolish behavior of certain people in the financial services industry, we will also not be making contributions in the “happiness” category. (If someone could recommend a charity that sponsors schadenfreude….) Instead, our focus will be on charities which provide the necessities of life: food, water, and shelter.

We recommend your local food bank, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International, and Medicins sans Frontieres.

Slow Banking Day

Odd. All of the banking sites I use are slower than molasses in winter. The rest of the Internet is responding fine.

I’m finding this intriguingly strange. I suspect something with my network link, since the sluggishness is impacting all of the computers attached to this network. I’ve not narrowed down any commonality other than banking sites, though it may be issues with HTTP/S. I would be more certain of that if the responses from non-bank sites were as sluggish. I’m curious enough that I might devote some time to isolating this.

Now Where Did I Read That?

Dear Google, where did I read that thing I remember reading a few days ago? Can you find it for me? kthxbye.

Google’s goal is to organize our information. One thing I have trouble with — though I suppose it’s only trouble because I have an obsessive need to cite my sources — is remembering where I read something recently. For example, the other day I read an article asserting that enterprise-grade software is expensive in order to cover the costs of compliance with the requirements of the large companies who would tend to buy that software, rather than to cover the costs of development or because of demand. Where did I read that? Given my continuing experiences with the enterprise-grade shit that we buy here, enterprise-grade is definitely not a synonym for quality.

Can you imagine how improved the lives of students, and even journalists, would be if they could properly cite the results of their casual reading?

Full vs. Abbreviated Feeds

It has been some matter of argument in what passes for the blogosphere for some time whether or not full-content feeds are better than partial-content. Some of this discussion was driven by the default behavior of competing publishing tools, but recently it seems to be in context of making money from one’s writings. This whole discussion seems rather pointless to me, mainly because some of those arguing don’t seem to pay attention to their own reading patterns, but pointless discussions are the raison d’ĂȘtre of blogs. Two that I read are abbreviated, containing only partial content, and terminated usually in the middle of a sentence. They are Freakonomics and the Legal History Blog.

Freakonomics often has interesting stuff. However, the cost to me, in time, of clicking through to the full page prevents me from reading it unless the lede grabs me by the throat and drags me over. Once there, navigation between posts is poor, so one must either return to the naggregator or to the top of their site. I usually just leave.

The Legal History Blog always has interesting stuff. What they post, however, are links to recent papers in the field. This falls into the category of “stuff to print and read later.” Because of the truncated posts, it’s difficult to skim through and mark those I’d like to read later. Instead, I ignore it until I have the time. And since I don’t have the time, I may never read it again.

The Value of an Automobile

It is said that an automobile loses half of its value when it drives off the dealer’s lot. That is, the price that is willing to be paid for it, now that you drove it, is half of what you just paid. For some reason this does not apply to the cars on the dealer’s lot but which the dealer allows to be driven around town, so it has no relation to the mileage on the car, only to the demands of potential purchasers. Such purchasers might be individual buyers who intend to use the vehicle, or someone who intends to resell the vehicle, or even the dealer from whom the vehicle was originally bought. Why is this?

This is not just a hypothetical question as the lease on our 2006 Honda Odyssey ends in February, and we have the opportunity to shop for a replacement in what should be a buyer’s market.

If the immediate resale price of the vehicle, when the only difference in state is a change of ownership, is 50% of the initial sale price of the vehicle, then the initial sale price is inflated.

Is there data on this truism?

Expanded Horizons

I used to follow about 300 or so websites, but pruned that back to about 10 and my friends’ shared items in Google Reader around two years ago. My job responsibilities, and workload, had changed dramatically, and my leisure time shrank to nothing. Things have been letting up a little bit, and I’ve gradually expanded my horizons. I just followed a link from one of those, and noticed that the world has changed.

When I put my head down, nose to the grindstone, Userland still maintained a list of recently updated weblogs, Technorati was still relatively new, and Feedburner was blazing new paths with feed management. (And I cared enough to put links on lots of words in my posts.) Now, I look up, and the world has changed. The horizon is far distant, and the lands around are populated by clusters of strangers, some of whom talk to each other.

Breaking News: Entropy Exists!

The Economist reports that the broken windows theory of policing is correct.

I think some theories are controversial only because the people who start the controversy have never maintained a household. Anyone who maintains a system, whether a computer or a household, knows that an ordered system tends toward disorder, and that disorder tends to encourage further disorder.

The acceptable level of disorder varies, but the trends should be obvious.

(Of course, it may be they simply have no ability to recognize the obvious, or prefer to argue against the policy prescriptions derived from the observation, rather than the against the theory itself.)


The Associated Press reported that the Food and Drug Administration has set a standard for the amount of melamine found in infant formula: one part per million.

The development comes days after The Associated Press reported FDA tests found traces of melamine in the infant formula of one major manufacturer [Mead Johnson] and cyanuric acid, a chemical relative, in the formula of a second major maker [Nestle].

This all begs the question, why is melamine in food to begin with?

Who You Know

Malcolm Gladwell has a new book, Outliers, which, good for him, will likely end on the bestseller list and pay his mortgage for a few weeks. In it he seeks to answer the question of why some people succeed, while others don’t. Matthew Yglesias picked up the book to see if it would explain why The Economist thinks he’s an up-and-coming public intellectual.

In response to Gladwell, and to clear the air for Yglesias, let me proffer some trite observations.

  • Nothing succeeds like success.
  • It helps to be in the right place at the right time.
  • It’s not what you know, but who you know.

I think most people can only juggle about 50 or so acquaintances, so when the time comes to think of others, either to fill out a list in The Economist, to help pull a TARP over a pile of shit, or to fill open posts in a new administration, one selects from those 50.