Taxes due? Don’t fret. It’s voluntary.

Posted by Marc Hodak on April 15, 2009 under Collectivist instinct, Irrationality | 7 Comments to Read

According to the head of the U.S. Senate, anyway:

I couldn’t make up “Congressman Lynch”

Posted by Marc Hodak on March 18, 2009 under Irrationality, Politics | Be the First to Comment

You know what kind of party CEO Liddy thinks he was invited to today.

From today’s episode of “WTF?“:

But Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., angrily told the witness the contract read like “the captain and the crew of the ship reserving the lifeboats.”

Liddy replied that he was not at the firm when the contracts were negotiated, and said, as he has before, that he would not have approved them.

Lynch said the terms had been put in place in December, after Liddy arrived at AIG.

But Liddy disputed that. “I take offense, Sir,” he said.

“Well you take it rightly. Offense was intended,” shot back Lynch.

In this case, the offense is so nonsensical that a defense is hardly warranted.  It was like watching Michael Scott going after his nemesis.  What is it about Massachusetts that creates batshit crazy congressmen?

Jobs created or saved

Posted by Marc Hodak on February 26, 2009 under Irrationality | Be the First to Comment

For me, the most surreal aspect of the press’s credulous reporting on the unconstrained orgy of spending they insisted on calling the “stimulus package” was their reporting of “jobs impact.”  The scare quotes and accompanying skepticism arise from the definition of “jobs impact” as “jobs created or saved,” an unverifiable notion specifically designed to eliminate any accountability for the numbers being offered.

Nevertheless, those numbers were dutifully published.  In the Houston Business Journal,  The Tennesean, New Mexico news station KRQE, etc., everyone reported the local number of “jobs created or saved” by the spending bill.  CBS regurgitated these spoon-fed numbers:

California…will see a “jobs impact” of 396,000.  Texas (with 269,000 jobs predicted), New York (with 215,000 jobs predicted) and Florida (with 206,000 jobs predicted) also fare well.

Less populous states see far less impact: Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming are each only predicted to see a “jobs impact” of 8,000.

Hmm, 8,000 each for the smaller states.  What a coincidence.

Read more of this article »

Favorite quotes from the Star Chamber

Posted by Marc Hodak on February 11, 2009 under Collectivist instinct, Irrationality, Politics | 3 Comments to Read

Today was Circus Day, when “Wall Street Titans” were thrown to the lions in Congress.

First, we hear from Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano:  “America doesn’t trust you anymore.”  True enough, but rather a strange critique coming from a Congressman.

Capuano also let go with the following rant:  “You come to us today on your bicycles after buying Girl Scout cookies and helping out Mother Theresa and telling us, ‘We’re sorry, we didn’t mean it, we won’t do it again, trust us.’ Well, I have some people in my constituency that actually robbed some of your banks and they say the same thing.”


Read more of this article »

Our cat gets frisked

Posted by Marc Hodak on December 29, 2008 under Irrationality | Read the First Comment

Our security theater put on a great act for me and my wife this weekend as we traveled back from Missouri.

When we reached the security station, my wife had to take our cat from her travel case, and carry her through the metal detector.  Beep.  The inspector asked my wife to step aside to try to figure out what set it off.  She asked if she was carrying any metal (“No.  Maybe my necklace has some metal.”)  The inspector (a female) wanded my wife, found some metal near her chest and waist, where the cat (and the necklace) happened to be, and asked her to put the cat down.  She patted my wife down cursorily, but found nothing.  She looked at the cat.  “Does she have any tags on her?”

“No,” my wife replied.  “It’s an indoor cat.”

She asked my wife if she could inspect the cat, and my wife assured her that our little beast, frightened as it was in this foreign environment, would probably not take kindly to getting handled by anyone else.

“What are you looking for?” she asked the inspector.

At this point, unsure what to do, and clearly unwilling to take a chance on the shaking cat, the inspector called a supervisor.

The supervisor was one of those imperious types who quickly figured out what needed to be done.  Folding his arms on his chest, he ordered, “Pat down the cat.”

My wife looked at him incredulously.  “Are you sure you want to do that?”

He didn’t offer any instruction to the poor inspector as to how she was supposed to frisk the cat without any harm to herself.  Of course, he offered no explanation to my wife what, exactly, he was looking for.  (Aha, what is this!  A zipper!!!  We unzip this and find…a smaller cat in a fur coat!!!  Hiding…box cutters!)

Needless to say, the frisking didn’t yield any proscribed items.  The cat, in fact, had nothing but her fur.  But you knew that.  So did the inspector who, fortunately, got away without a scratch or bite.  So, very likely, did the supervisor.

I wish I had brought my camcorder with me, but I think filming security is not allowed, which probably deprives us untold hours of YouTube entertainment that might otherwise provide some return on this insanity.

“The government has to bail out its citizens.”

Posted by Marc Hodak on December 5, 2008 under Irrationality | Read the First Comment

In what passes as “economics” writing, a CNN writer discusses the current thinking about a government bailout of its citizens:

One leading economist, founder Mark Zandi — who was an unpaid adviser to the campaign of Republican presidential candidate John McCain — boosted his estimate for needed stimulus to $600 billion from $400 billion in just nine days late last month.

The fact that this is reported with a straight face actually accounts for a lot of what ails this country economically. It means that the writer of this story in our mainstream media actually believes what she is writing, and that many readers actually think Zandi’s estimate is based on something other than augury or tasseography.

Folks, there is not enough ‘science’ in economic science to say that our $13 trillion economy in the shape it’s in now needs a $0.4 trillion or $0.6 trillion stimulus. We’re lucky to get the order of magnitude right, sometimes even the sign. In fact, an economist could argue that the right amount of stimulus is $0.0 trillion, and many do. Taking seriously a number between $400 and $600 billion is first order hogwash. The fact that the credulous reporter was wowed by Zandi’s number growing that large in just nine days is second order hogwash. Could I amaze you, lady, if I grew my estimate from $100 million to $900 billion in nine hours! I would do that for you, because I’m that kind of guy.

Read more of this article »

The political cost of availability bias

Posted by Marc Hodak on September 5, 2008 under Irrationality | Read the First Comment

I don’t have much to say about the Republican convention other than Palin appeared to be the clear highlight. My basic problem with them all is that they propose to protect us from threats of all sorts, and to send me the bill for their protection. I have to count on them spending my money wisely. History shows little promise of that.

I don’t know how to put the graphs up here, but consider that the likelihood of the average American dying from heart disease is about 34%. You have about a 30% chance of dying from cancer. You have an almost 30% chance of dying from any other kind of disease, and about a 6 percent chance of dying in an accident. If the U.S. suffered the equivalent of a World Trade Center attack every single year, you would have a 0.2% chance of ever dying from terrorist activity.

Then consider that our government spends about 15 times as much money fighting terrorism as it does on all other threats to our health and safety put together.

Availability bias is the human tendency to ascribe a higher probability to events that come readily to mind. Over the last 8 years, many of us may have heard about or even witnessed the death of someone from disease or accident. But every one of us have seen or heard, with incessant repetition, about 9/11. The vivid sight of the plane crashing into the Twin Towers is burned into our national consciousness. 9/11 is a highly ‘available’ data point.

Our politicians have used that consciousness to organize a Dept. of Homeland Security and invade Iraq, the costs of which are approaching $500 billion. How many lives have been saved from all that fighting, over-the-top airport security, encroachment on our civil liberties, loss of respect among our allies, etc.?

The obverse of availability is peace of mind. We’ve paid dearly for it. But what would we have gotten by channeling a half a trillion dollars to medical research instead? Personally, I would much rather live with a greatly reduced fear of cancer than whatever solace I now get from having people check in at the security desk when entering my building–one of tens of thousands in Manhattan that have never been attacked.

I don’t blame our politicians. They’re doing what they do–grab money and power based on people’s fears. The media creates the fear, which is regrettable, but they too are doing what they do to sell stories.

Ultimately I blame our schools. Our system turns out analytical morons. We are all much poorer for it.

Daley appears drunk with outrage

Posted by Marc Hodak on August 20, 2008 under Irrationality | Read the First Comment

There may be some rational arguments for not lowering the drinking age below 21, but Mayor Richard Daley goes off on the proposal with none of them. His most coherent argument:

I’m sorry, you have enough time to drink the rest of your life. I believe in that.

Given the incoherence of the rest of his statement, that point is well taken. His other points sounded like this:

You pay an awful lot of money. You look at the salaries that people get at universities. You pay a lot of money. I’m sorry, they have a legal and moral responsibility when your child goes to [get] an education, what type of environment is set on that university…

And this response to maybe lowering the drinking age to 18:

I think that’s a bad message. I think they better really look at that. Because what, are they going to drop it down to 18 or 17 or 16? I mean, think of that.

…before he starts to sound like the stumbling frat rat holding up an empty plastic cup:

We should not be so whimsical that universities can think they drop the drinking age. You think the president of the university is going to open a beer hall in his house?

What I don’t get is the complete lack of irony with which this tirade was reported.

The extreme advantage of incumbency

Posted by Marc Hodak on June 22, 2008 under Irrationality | 2 Comments to Read

A little town in Romania voted to re-elect their dead mayor. One often hears of democracy as a process that fools voters into believing that they can get whatever they want. This election was the ultimate test for these voters. “I know he died, but I don’t want change,” said a supporter of the former mayor. Presumably, keeping the old mayor would prevent any change, if one overlooked the inconvenient difference between life and death.

Talk about the advantage of incumbency!

With whom we share a vote (!)

Posted by Marc Hodak on May 27, 2008 under Irrationality | Be the First to Comment

This gem comes from Henry Stern, New York City’s living institutional memory:

When James Wechsler was editor and Dorothy Schiff was the owner of the New York Post, there was a dispute over whose articles were more popular, Wechsler’s editorials or the paper’s regular columns. At the time the Post had two magnificent columnists, Murray Kempton on public affairs and Jimmy Cannon on sports. These men were great writers and if you can find any of their books in print or articles about them on the web, you should read them.

At any rate, Ms. Schiff was persuaded (which was not easy) to spend some of her money on a survey to find out the most popular column in the Post. The study discovered that it was the daily horoscope that most people read. That is understandable, the rest of the paper tells you what is happening in the present, or what took place in the past. Only the horoscope will tell you the future.

Stern, a stickler for facts, doesn’t assure us this is true (he heard this second-hand). Unfortunately, it sounds plausible. You can’t find this on Snopes.