Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Robot Menace: The Latest Developments

Via Ezra here, he points out the innate bloodlust of robot kind.

The article he quotes has far more pernicious implications, however. As the article points out, robots function best in "highly structured environments made just for them." It's not just that robots wish to kill. I mean, sure "If you took a welding bot from an assembly line and put it in your local body shop, it would end up killing somebody in about 30 seconds." Of course. But WHY? It is seeking to eliminate the unstructured elements of its environment. They seek their perfect world...

"Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the matrix."

Original article here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Citi Bailout 2: Electric Boogaloo

Well, the US Government this morning announced that it would be bailing out Citigroup to the tune of $20Billion in Preferred stock, and, more importantly, guaranteeing some $300 Billion in bad assets. This is in addition to the $25 Billion in preferred stock the US taxpayer bought as part of the first "Big Bailout." This sent the stock market up on strength of a rally in financial stocks, but the reaction of most economists around the blogosphere has been somewhere between "decent idea, bad execution" to "OMG this is cover-your-eyes awful." Mark Thoma has a good round up of informed opinion here. As with a lot of this, I don't know what to think, but I do know who I trust, and the people that I trust seem to think this is a pretty shitty idea.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obama's Economic Plan

Robert Reich has a nice piece up here describing Obama's economic plan which will be "what he plans to do starting the afternoon of January 20."

Obama has already made clear that economic stimulus done in an intelligent way will be job one (see his radio address here). In his words "We'll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels; fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead." In other words, not just economic stimulus, but stimulus that creates real benefits we will all be able to benefit from in the future, and which will enhance future growth.

You know, it's nice to have a leader that, when he announces a bold new plan, you don't have to try and figure out what the nefarious catch is or how his private sector friends will be profiting from the plan.

Robert Reich himself will contribute to our economic recovery by returning to his job at the north pole manufacturing toys.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mukasey Collapses

Mike Mukasey collapsed while giving a speech to the Federalist Society annual dinner in DC tonight. No word on his condition but it seems likely it was a stroke.

I sincerely hope he recovers, but in the interest of full disclosure, my first thought was that God smote him down for lying.

UPDATE: According to Justice, he is "conversant and alert."

UPDATE II: Mukasey checked out of the hospital with a clean bill of health.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Senate Race In Minnesota Even Closer

Wow. The margin in the Minnesota Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken is down to 136 votes. Wow wow wow. That's out of more than 2.4 Million votes cast (between the two candidates, Independence Party candidate Barkley got another 437,000). WOW.

As you can see, Coleman has lost 232 votes so far in the recount, compared to 153 for Franken. Once the recount is complete, each "challenged ballot" is reviewed. Either side can issue a challenge to any ballot that the counter decides is for the other candidate (yes, they actually have 3 people looking at each ballot, one for Franken, one for Coleman, and one guy or gal counting). Most challenges are overturned on review (i.e. the counter is usually right) but they are not counted in the recount totals until they've been separately reviewed after the hand count. This race could be even tighter depending on the challenges.

Either way this winds up, the margin is going to be TINY. Expect potential legal challenges and/or wrangling in the Senate over this for months to come. For the record, the closest ever Senate election (SO FAR!) was the 1974 New Hampshire Senate race between Republican Louis Wyman and Democrat John Durkin. Wyman won by 355 votes, then Durkin won after the recount by 10 votes, THEN Wyman demanded a second recount, after which he won by 2 (yes TWO) votes. Durkin petitioned the Senate, which basically punted. They declared the seat vacant, allowed the governor of New Hampshire to appoint a care taker, and the citizens of New Hampshire voted a second time in 1975, wich Durkin finally won by 27,000 votes. Full details here.

PS: I think that link goes to a site that updates as new results come in, so if you click through, you might not see exactly the results discussed above.

UPDATE: Interestingly, there were 221,850 total votes cast in the 1974 New Hampshire election. A 100 vote margin in this Minnesota race is statistically similar to about a 10 vote margin in the 1974 New Hampshire contest.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rare Sunday Score

Pittsburgh defeated San Diego at Heinz Field yesterday by the score of 11-10. Apparently, in the 12,837 games played in NFL history, no game has ended with the exact final score of 11-10.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


With three successful books and a movie coming out, Forks WA is getting a lot of new tourist attention.

My Aunt lives in the western Olympic peninsula, although I don't know if the vampire-positive nature of the community factored in her decision.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Now Is The Winter Of Our Homemade Gifts

Scary, scary news from calculated risk here. Retail sales are falling off a cliff as we approach the holiday season, dropping 5% year over year, and 8.8% adjusted for inflation.

Expect to see several major retailers go into bankruptcy in late January/early February. Winter is coming to retailers. The weak and sickly of the herd won't live to see spring.

UPDATE: Except, of course if you're in the business of selling guns to gullible conservatives.

Speculation Is ... Speculation

I've seen some speculation about Kerry being Secretary of State, and now via Ezra comes speculation about Hillary Clinton.

The post makes some good points. I can see the logic behind wanting to remove a powerful and potentially rival voice from the Senate. However, it still seems to me that Richardson is the logical choice here. Former secretary of the interior, former UN ambassador, and veteran of several special missions while he was a house member and later governor of New Mexico. It would be good to remember that the wide ranging speculation regarding Obama's VP pick was all over the map. Obama's campaign showed a lot of discipline in keeping the press in the dark until the 11th hour, and eventually Obama made what I think was a very good choice. I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Of course, as Matt Y. points out, much of this speculation is meaningless speculation. Political writers write because that's what they do. And the post election season is the season for "pick the cabinet" parlor games. But on a very basic level, this speculation exists because there are no answers to be had. Picking cabinet level appointees is a pretty involved process and to a great extent the choices simply haven't been made.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Alaska: Maybe Not So Crazy

I admit, when the results for Alaska's Senate race the day after the election I was surprised. Ted Stevens (R-AK) had a lead in the reported vote totals despite the fact that he had just been convicted of 7 felony counts.

Well, it turns out that those totals were not quite complete. There were a number of absentee and provisional ballots that had not been counted. Today about half of the 90,000 outstanding ballots were counted, and Mark Begich is now ahead. Good news for Alaska and the Senate.

UPDATE: Final count today. The Anchorage Daily News reports that the trends favor Begich based on the counties where the uncounted votes come from.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Listen To This Man

Armistice Day

Remember, today we commemorate the peace, not the war.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Anthem for Doomed Youth - Wilfred Owen

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lighter Side

"It's hard to believe that the sight of an armless man walking along with a giant TV clamped to his body did not get anyone's attention," said police.

Also, this real headline:
"Unaware police carry guns, mountain lion charges at officer"

You don't say...

On College Football

In response to this piece by Matt Y, which cites this article in the New York Times Magazine on the Texas Tech Red Raiders' offense, it is true that Collegiate recruiting is fundamentally uneven.

That being said, that inequality is one of the reasons that Michael Lewis was interviewing Mike Leach. It's not just the underdog story, though those are always appealing. It's that the unequal nature of high school and collegiate athletics breeds innovation. If Coach Leach tries to compete against University of Texas with a power running game he's going to lose. Every. Time. He needed to develop a system that was innovative and dynamic enough that it could even the odds against teams stacked with highly recruited high school talent.

A very similar story from high school football can be found in the New York Times' story on the A-11 offense here.

High school and collegiate athletics are fundamentally inequitable. At least that inequality breeds creativity, creativity which affects all levels of play. Look at the Miami Dolphins adoption of the wildcat set. Or lowly Kansas City last week scoring on a wide receiver pass to the quarter back Tyler Thigpen.

UPDATE: I should probably say just a bit more about this. It's natural to think that very tight competition breeds innovation, since every competitor is close even a small edge can reap great benefits. One hit every twelve at bats (about 3-4 games) is the difference between a below average hitter and a very good one. But something happens in a system of close peer competition. If each competitor is closely matched at a particular contest, each seeks SMALL advantages. The risk of trying something very new and different is seen as great next to the rewards of doing so. After all, if you are very close to your peers and you make big new changes, those changes are as likely to make you worse as they are better. Making small changes in an attempt to move from JUST behind to JUST ahead are seen as much lower risk.

In systems with fundamental inequality among competitors, the dynamic is different. The top schools are in a peer competitive dynamic. They see the competition in recruiting as much as in coaching. But the mid-majors and the lower Div. 1-A schools can't compete on that level. The risks of them trying something VERY different are seen as small. They've been losing to the football factory schools for years, if they throw their playbook out and try something totally new, what do they have to lose?

You could make an argument that the same thing happens in business. The US car market comes to mind. When small fuel efficient Japanese imports first entered the US market they simply were seen as curiosities. Who would want one of those little things? The GM and Ford knew how to make cars that people wanted, after all, they were selling way more cars than Toyota. Even after it was clear they were headed down the wrong path, GM and Ford continued to lag Toyota and Honda in producing quality compact vehicles. By contrast, when they first started Japanese manufacturers had to innovate. They HAD to make something new. It would have been impossible for them to compete if they insisted on entering the market by competing in 4 door sedans.

Evolution in business, in coaching, and in nature is not about slow improvement. It's about slow, steady stasis punctuated by dramatic leaps and changes.

Economic Shadenfreude Watch: Circuit City

Looks like Circuit City is declaring bankruptcy. There was a time when I felt pretty sympathetic towards Circuit City. They were a local Virginia chain that built itself into a national retailer by competing on service and price. Their sales people were (relatively) knowledgeable and they had a pretty good low price policy. I remember my family bought several things from them because we felt their service was good and they stood behind their products (including our FIRST MICROWAVE ooooo!1! which lasted for something like 10 years).

However, as time (and management) changed, so did the company. First Best Buy came along with slightly better prices and a "no hassles" policy, which is great if you have a sales force that doesn't know it's products (We won't hassle you! We don't even know how to turn it on!). As people started using the internet for shopping as well as research, competition became even tighter in the electronic retail market.

So how did Circuit City respond? They fired all of their most experienced sales people because they were too expensive. Say, thanks for working for us for 5 years, you're fired because you earned too many raises. It's ok though, you can reapply for your old job making a starting salary again!

Needless to say, I'm not exactly sympathetic to see them going bankrupt a year and a half after this brilliant business move.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Satan Is No Match For Modern Lawyering

Just FYI, EULA is "End User Licensing Agreement." That's what comes with every piece of software you buy. You see, you don't "own" software on your computer. What you "own" is a license to use one copy of that program on the machine of your choice, plus the right to make one back up copy of the software.

Bad Analysis Watch: The God Gap

I just wanted to point out this and this from Kevin Drum.

The take away here is if you see someone in the paper or on TV telling you that Obama did well because he convinced regular church goers to vote for him DON'T BELIEVE IT. It's just lazy reporting. As Kevin shows, Obama did improve over Kerry's numbers among self-reported regular church goers, but by no more than he improved among everyone! Obama got more votes! If you want to say Obama did particularly well among a group, you need to compare it to his improvement among other groups and the electorate as a whole. Obama did improve among regular church goers, and those votes help, but anyone that says Obama's message to/more effective persuasion of church goers was WHY he did so much better than Kerry is selling you a bill of goods.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Franken Creeping Closer

As Kos notes here, Norm Coleman's lead over Al Franken has been slowly narrowing as provisional ballots and local recounts slightly adjust the totals. The difference is now a mere 337 votes out of 2,860,110 total votes cast in the senate race.

Once all counties have certified the vote totals, they will go to a mandatory recount. This seat won't be decided until late November.

Update: Now it's a 221 vote margin according to the star-tribune.

One More Good Thing About That Election

It looks like we won't pick up the 8 seats needed for a filibuster proof majority. However, one good thing about that is the Democrats don't need to placate Joe Lieberman (I-Conn). Harry Reid is meeting with him today. Hopefully Reid will be telling him he's lost all his seniority on his committees. Maybe even that he's no longer welcome in the caucus.

I'd give the odds Lieberman loses his chairmanship around 90%, the chance he's kicked out of the caucus all together around 50%. He's still got some friends in the caucus. Why I don't know but he does.

Rahm Emanuel To Be Chief Of Staff

Rahm Emanuel, the #4 Democrat in the house has agreed to be Barack Obama's Chief of Staff. Rahm is the representative of Illinois 5th, part of Chicago, so he has long known Barack as part of Chicago politics. Rahm has a record of being tough, take-no-prisoners guy. In his role as a Clinton staffer he earned the nick name "Rahm-bo." After election to congress, he was very successful as the head of the DCCC, leading the campaign that lead to the Democratic take over of the house in 2006. That earned him the position of head of the Democratic Caucus, fourth in the house behind Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

So, tough, pragmatic, and a record of success. The cons: he has been cautious, and he's has expressed centrist tendencies both in writing (the book he co-authored "The Plan" warns against universal healthcare as politically impractical) and as a member of the "New Democrat" caucus, which is closely aligned with the DLC.

A good run down of the pros and cons can be found here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oregon Update

Gordon Smith's lead has shrunk to just over 1000 votes. If you mouse over the county by county map of Oregon, you'll see that Multnomah county (Portland) is only 60% reported and Merkley is winning there 67/29, and in Lane county (Eugene) Merkley is winning 58/38 with only 69% of the votes in. Smith carried most of the rural counties, but most of those votes are in. Judging by eyeball, there are more ballots out in Democratic areas than Republican ones, so this seat still has a real chance of flipping.

UPDATE! Merkley has been projected as the winner!

The Onion: Still Excellent.

Black man given nation's worst job.

Post Mortem, Good, Bad And Ugly

The Good: Obama, Obama, Obama. Not just a win, but a mandate. Popular vote was 52-46 (I was spot on!), and while the electoral margins have yet to be fully determined, Obama won not just the electoral college, but a majority of states. That's big. When Obama says "I want to do this" people have to pay attention.

The Bad: The senate results are honestly a bit disappointing. The Democrats were going to take the Senate going into last night. That was never seriously in question. I thought that the groundswell would push the close races towards the Democratic candidates. Really it didn't. There are several elections that are going to recounts, but in each the Republican candidate holds a slight edge. In Georgia, Chambliss has a significant lead, but he is JUST short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff with Democratic challenger Martin (he's short about 5,000 votes). It's likely Chambilss will win a runoff, but Martin will have the advantage of having the full attention and support (and financial support) of President-elect Obama.

Merkley is currently behind Smith in Oregon by about 11,000 votes. All results are not in yet, but with 72% reporting I am honestly surprised that Merkley is that far behind. Obama has a margin over McCain of 150,000! Gordon Smith is far from the most conservative member of the Senate, but it's still kind of surprising that he's been able to pull around 100,000 Obama voters onto his side.

In Alaska, convicted felon Ted Stevens is up by around 3,000 votes over Mark Begich. They're still counting the absentee ballots. The fact that this is still close is kind of strange. Harry Reid has said that Stevens will be subject to ejection by the ethics committee even if he did win.

And in the ultimate heart breaker, Franken is behind by less than a thousand votes to Norm Coleman in Minnesota. Jerk of the day goes to Dean Barkley. Guess who got 15% of the vote? Dean Barkley. Way to go jerkface. By the way, Minnesota, unlike Georgia, does not require an absolute majority for victory. By law Minnesota will have a full recount of all votes. It's so close that they probably won't have certified results for another week or so.

The Ugly: Prop 8 passed in California. That's really disappointing, not just for obvious policy reasons but also because McCain only got about 3.7 million votes in California. 5.3 Million Californians voted to ban gay marriage. So while America is busy patting itself on the back for being so great and inclusive by electing Obama, keep in mind that lots of these open minded folk aren't really interested in equality for everyone just yet.

The Promised Land

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Martin Luther King Jr. April 3, 1968, the eve of his assassination. Full text here.

The Next President Of The United States

What a great day. Wow.

Photo from

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Predictions

I am feeling really optimistic. Probably too optimistic for my own good. I really think this is going to be one of those "wave" years. Sometimes one party has a lot of momentum going into a general election, and it seems all the undecideds break their way across geographic and income lines.

I think that will happen this year. I think Obama is going to crush McCain, winning Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina and some surprise western states (like, maybe Montana or some such), popular vote: 52-46 (rounding, there's probably a few percent drop off from green/libertarian/write in). I think the Dems will pick up 8 seats in the Senate (AK, NH, MN, VA, NM, OR, NC, and one of GA/MS/KY) and probably 40+ in the house. I'd love to say that I thought the dems would get 9 Senators for a veto proof majority, but probably not (note: counting on Lieberman for a "veto proof majority" probably is a dumb idea anyway).

It's kind of too bad that Maine wasn't more competitive, I thought Allen would give Susan Collins a real run in what is presidentially a solidly Democratic state, but there's always a bit more you could do I guess.

Richard Pryor As The First Black President

To be fair, he's only off by 10% in the "40th president of the US." It should be noted that we have made significant progress in having black starting quarterbacks and black head coaches in the NFL. Not so much on the ownership front though.

Voted. Book it. Done.

Now we begin with the waiting...

Poll closing times can be found here. Hopefully the race will be more or less over by about 8/8:30.

Indiana and Kentucky close at 6:00 (some of each state is in Central Time, but significant portions of each are in the Eastern Time Zone. Florida and Virginia close at 7:00, and Ohio closes a half hour later at 7:30. All three lean Obama but are expected to be close, so they may not be called for a few hours, but if one of those three breaks for Obama, that's almost certainly game over. Note that Pennsylvania will be closing at 8:00, and that's McCain's only (slim) hope to pick up a Kerry state.

UPDATE: As for my personal voting experience, it was pretty unremarkable. About a 20 minute wait. Not too bad. There were 8 election districts in my polling station (they divide voters up based on address, because of certain local elections, mostly civil court judges, there actually were different ballots depending where you lived). Only one election district had a line significantly longer than mine. People in the 39th probably had to wait 45 minutes at least.

Try not to get too nervous -


It's election day. GO VOTE!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Public Service Announcement

The following states ban liquor sales on election day:
At Package stores, bars, and restaurants:
South Carolina
At Package stores only:
West Virginia
All sales, local exceptions allowed:

More interesting is the claim that the "restriction is a relic of the Prohibition era when saloons sometimes served as polling stations." Sounds fascinating but I'd like to see more evidence of that.

So Sad

One day before the election, Obama's Grandmother has died. She came so close to seeing her grandson become president.

Obama did the absolutely correct thing by taking time out of his campaign to see her. No matter how much he achieves as president, that is time he couldn't have gotten back.

My thoughts go out to his family.

UPDATE: Check it out! Madelyn Dunham's vote will count! She was able to cast a vote for her grandson for president (well, assuming she didn't vote for McCain).

The New Poll Tax

Great commentary from Rachel Maddow:

Time equals money.