Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Treating all employees the same = Discrimination" - Islam

Next installment in the "religion is retarded" camp: A Muslim is suing because his company made him do his job moving things in their warehouse, including occasions on which those things were alcoholic beverages.

Many things strike me about this:
  1. What kind of supreme being really gives a shit if you move some booze with a forklift? "I am the great and powerful Oz! I can do anything! I will use my supreme powers to watch over you, and keep track of whether you keep all my arbitrary commands, and will punish you if you do not! Behold my commands: Thou shalt not wear plaid! Thou shalt not come into contact with any object reflecting light of a wavelength of 461.23 nm! If thou dost, thou can get a do-over by standing on your head and whistling the happy birthday song backwards. Also, do not touch booze either directly or indirectly. Here, indirectly is taken to be second order indirection. So if you're touching a thing that's touching a thing that's touching booze, that's second order, and you are naughty for touching the booze. FYI, when gangsters in east LA pour booze on the earth to honor their dead homies, and you're wearing shoes which are touching the earth, you're touching booze, so you're naughty. Better get on your head and start whistling."

  2. If a line of work involves doing something you don't agree with, don't take the job. I don't work for tobacco companies. I'm not in the military. If this dude had gotten a job at a sausage factory and then refused to do anything because of the pork, we'd tell him he took the wrong job. No different with the warehouse job. The dude took the job knowing he'd be in contact with Tesco's full inventory. Which makes me wonder: Tesco sells pork. Did he refuse to transport bacon on his porklift forklift?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some important analysis

Having done this kind of work professionally for years, I'd been wondering about this particular problem. Good to know the Pew folks are paying attention to it. The article does a great job of owning up to the vulnerabilities of this kind of research, and once more proves that just having facts based on a large sample doesn't guarantee their accuracy unless the sample is truly representative of the population you wish to model.

And in the age of folks who no longer use landlines, or barely use landlines, phone surveys are starting to miss key groups:

As implied by these results, in each of the three polls, the cell-only respondents were significantly more supportive of Obama (by 10-to-15 percentage points) than respondents in the landline sample. For example, in the September survey Obama led McCain by a 55%-to-36% margin among cell only voters, but the candidates were tied at 45% in the landline sample.

In large part, this reflects the fact that a substantial minority of the cell-only sample is younger than 30 - a demographic group that has consistently backed Obama this year. Traditional landline surveys are typically weighted to compensate for age and other demographic differences, but the process depends on the assumption that the people reached over landlines are similar politically to their cell-only counterparts. These surveys suggest that this assumption is increasingly questionable, particularly among younger people.

So a critical question for any survey these days is: How'd you deal with the problem of young people who are cell only? Younger folks are hard enough to get on the phone, let alone when they don't use land lines. Merely counting the land line folks more heavily doesn't make up for it. If the dimension of bias in your sample is correlated with the outcome you wish to measure, you're pretty screwed. Can't do a land-line survey to ask people about why they gave up land lines. Can't do a web survey asking why people aren't online. Would be similarly bad to do web survey about anything having to do with old people. Or users of Video Professor. "I'm not answerin' yer questions! You'll steal my identity! I just want to see pictures of my grandkids on the email."

What's the solution? Probably working to build a panel of younger people. Probably start by doing random intercepts on the street, in various locations (places of work, common commerce, schools) and do a survey about communication habits preferences. Be sure these results have the right demo balance. Then figure out what proportion of the population is cell only/ etc. Then do some follow up work to figure out differential response rates for the various groups. Contact them in their preferred mode: Text them? Web-survey? Call on cell/ land? Finally, do studies weighting not only for demographics but preferred mode of communication, to be sure you've got the right proportion of folks.

It's my impression that most of the political polling being done and publicized is largely based on old RDD methods with some demo weighting on the back end. These are going to miss the Obama vote in an important way.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spineless bastards

So much for leadership. The Democratic Congress is failing to grow a pair, and tell the misguided American public that expanding drilling in the US will do nothing to oil and gas prices for years. Instead, they choose to pander to popular and wrong opinion.

It's environmentally crappy, economically dumb both tactically and strategically. If the goal is to get us off oil, the strategy of expanding supply does nothing to move us there. If the goal is to alleviate short term price spikes so the transition is more gradual, again, this move won't affect supply for many, many years, so it doesn't impact the short term goal either.

What's worse is the Democrats keep blinking. They won't pull any of the strings they have in order to win. They won't shut of spending, because the Republicans will whine that the Democrats are "stranding our troops" or "shutting down the government". And as long as the Democrats are unwilling to use Congress's power to control money, they have no leverage, and get walked on. The executive has a veto. Congress has the budget. But if Congress won't use it's power to shut off the flow of money, then it has no power.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

One of the many reasons I'm not voting for McCain

Do you like science? Do you like it when people discover things that make you life better? Do you like new drugs for illnesses? Do you like new materials that are better/ cheaper/ stronger/ greener? Did you think it was worth it when we put people on the moon, and the whole planet stopped and united in hope and elation for those few brief, precious moments? Then you like science research.

And the good Senator from AZ thinks that we can do without.

Total Iraq war spend = $580B. Estimated cost of manned mission to Mars = $80B. Annual Federal spend on Cancer research = $1.2B.

I'd trade the whole war for 2 trips to Mars and 4 centuries of cancer research.

I'm perhaps unfair, as the same article mentions McCain at least has sense enough to support some research, but I think it's totally fair to point out the R&D opportunity cost of the Iraq war, and use that to question the Senator's priorities. Looking to save money? End the giant, expensive, useless war. Don't go through the science research budget with a fine toothed comb. Penny wise, pound foolish.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why hippies shouldn't make economic policy

After my men's group meeting last night, I was chatting with a few of the guys. The recent market turmoil came up.

I really haven't got a fully formed decisive opinion on courses of action. I'm rather torn. I'm generally for free markets, and minimal regulation and interference. I think financial industry forrest fires are good, and clean out that which needs burning. But I recognize that the momentum in such events can take out companies that don't really deserve to go under, and that massive failures trigger more fear which triggers behavior that triggers more failures. The vicious cycle of human irrationality needs to be stopped. I accept some government intervention, even though I wish it wouldn't happen: Let firms fold, let credit tighten, let interest rates rocket, let purchasing power drop, let prices drop. Eventually, the prudent people who patiently saved on the sidelines, refusing to participate in the orgy of greed and madness, will step in and buy and fare well. But that'd suck for all the boomers looking to retire who see their home's value cut in half right when they were about to sell and buy a condo in Florida. Of course, that's their fault for not hedging their home's value.

So, yeah, I've not got a firm opinion yet on right action in the crisis. But we were chatting. I said we'd end up with some new rules coming out of all of this.

One of the guys asked "Are you familiar with the 'derivatives' market?"

He said 'derivatives' as if it were a word from an exotic foreign language, and that merely knowing this word implied a special knowledge.

He continued "I feel this is all because of the 'derivatives' and we should get rid of them."

I was rather stunned. This is like someone saying "This forrest fire is all because of 'oxygen', and we should get rid of it." While there's some truth in it, yes, fires do need oxygen, and with no oxygen, there'd be no fires, it'd also be catastrophically harmful, and earnestly voicing the idea requires a profound ignorance of the vitality of oxygen for the functioning of all life on Earth.

I shouldn't have been too surprised, though. This is the guy who (and I'm not making any of this up) is making a go at a career as an 'energy worker' and thinks he has special powers that let him 'manipulate energy' and is trying to sell this new age voodoo bullshit at various hippie conventions full of others who've never had one skeptical, empirical thought in their lives. He also does "breath work" and literally wants to charge money for breathing lessons.

I'm all good on the breathing, thanks. I seem to be doing okay there, as evidenced by the fact that I am not dead.

So Mr. breathing lessons wants to ban all derivatives. Awesome. So no more locking in costs/ revenues through futures. Instead, we all pays our money, and we all spins the wheel, and we all takes our chances. Good times!

Airlines now get exposed to even more fuel price risk and must specialize not only in moving planes around, but buying and selling fuel. Farmers just get what they can for their crops on market day, no agreeing to a price before the date of sale. That'll help those family farms! Banks that lend you money for a home have to wait 30 years to get paid back, which means their limited supply of money gets spread over the same demand for it, so it'll cost more, so interest rates will go up. Good luck buying a home without mortgage-backed securities. But don't worry, tightening of credit will kill purchasing power, crushing home prices, so you'll still be able to afford it, it'll just be worth a lot less.

Have fun when oranges prices are 30 cents a pound, then $10 a pound, then $4 a pound. Or the prices of any food product made from corn, or wheat, for that matter show similar levels of stability. Yes, let's have everyone who owns anything with any risk attached to it have to own and manage all that risk themselves. That way, we get to pay for not only the product, but all the price risks that go along with the product. Because it's fun to pay more, and to take on more risks at the same time. Plus, shopping becomes an adventure. I wonder what bread will cost this week?

Goddam hippies.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What if they used the Iron Maiden to kill Jesus?

Friday, September 12, 2008

I liked this

I'm an ex-theater dork.