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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Medicare drug benefit costs

Remember the controversy over the true cost of the Medicare drug benefit? Now we have a first-hand report from one of the central figures of the controversy, Medicare chief actuary Richard S. Foster. The article discusses the issue of being ordered not to respond to Congressional requests, and how that fits with the actuarial profession's code of professional conduct.

One key point is that while the media reports that President Bush or Republicans were part of some sinister conspiracy to conceal the true cost of the drug benefit, Foster reports:

In February 2004, the administration publicly acknowledged our estimates of the cost of the Medicare modernization act as part of the president's fiscal year 2005 budget. This action prompted a new round of news articles, mostly focusing on the significantly higher level of our cost estimate ($534 billion through 2013) compared with the Congressional Budget Office's estimate ($395 billion). Many of these articles also incorrectly characterized our estimates as "new" and "correct," versus the "old" and "incorrect" CBO figures.

In reality, we had been estimating the cost of the legislation as far back as June 2003, as it was being developed. In addition, there is no way to conclude that our estimates are right and CBO's are wrong; the uncertainty is so great that either set could prove more accurate than the other, and, for that matter, both sets of estimates could prove to be well wide of the mark.

Cynical and decidedly non-actuarial conclusion: It's a government program; it is going to cost much more than both estimates.

After reading the article, I'm willing to state two conclusions that I hope everyone can agree with. First, it is best for all involved for information to be exchanged freely; ordering one not to provide information isn't a good thing. Second, if one cherry-picks information to score political points, as these politicians seemed likely to do, no one benefits. Consider all the evidence, and weigh the costs and benefits with a fair and open mind.

Thus, why I'm not a politician.

A word of advice for the NBA

Some standard advice in the world of marketing, so basic that it's not newsworthy: Tailor your product to the target market. Your network sitcom isn't likely to get laughs from jokes that require a detailed knowledge of the Franco-Prussian War to understand.

But the article here states this basic marketing principle and makes it controversial, by saying that the style of inner city street ball is going to turn off the largely white NBA fans.

If the author of the column were white, he would likely have already been hounded out of his job with cries of racism. But since he is not, he is able to bring this issue up for discussion. It's certainly a unique perspective on the subject.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Further thoughts on the Pistons-Pacers brawl

Despite the clear flaw in security at the Palace, in allowing fans to throw objects on the court and storm onto the court, there hasn't even been an apology from the facility.

To me, the most regrettable thing is the horrible incentive that David Stern offered, by not punishing the Detroit Pistons as an organization. Are you a super fan, willing to do anything to support your local team? Wait until your hated rival comes to play. Attempt to start a brawl. If the players bite, you can expect penalties that will cripple your rival. I would not be surprised to see this happen in the NBA later this year.

What I would like to see is the commissioner able to ban a team from the post-season, much like the NCAA bans teams who commit violations. Had the Pistons been told that they would stay home this postseason, you can be sure every team would increase security.

There goes the season

Oh, look. The Indiana Pacers' season is now over. If these three suspensions hold, then it is to the Pacers' advantage to tank this season, and get a high draft pick. (Now, signing a high draft pick with the salary cap might not be possible, but maybe Artest will be gone.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Another curse

Although the Redskins performance indicated a Republican loss, there's another curse that would have a hard time coming true if Kerry had been elected. The Curse of Tecumseh is the alleged reason why every president elected in a year divisible by 20 has died or suffered an assassination attempt while in office.

Back in 1980, the Curse could have just said "died in office," but President Reagan didn't die in office. But since he did suffer an assassination attempt, there was a little "mission creep" of the curse, to expand to include this assassination attempt.

In 2009, the Curse of Tecumseh could join the Curse of the Bambino and the predictive powers of the Washington Redskins in the dustbin of coincidences.


My biggest pet peeve is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy and double standards are an ubiquitous presence in politics, on all sides.

But also troublesome is condescension. And in politics, it all seems to come from the left. It's normally subtle. "You can't succeed without our government policies." "You can't be trusted with your own retirement investment."

But in the aftermath of the 2004 election, some condescension is rather overt. "You have to be stupid to re-elect President Bush."

Yeah, that's a way to win friends and influence voters.

I for one can come up with multiple reasons why some people support Republicans, and others support Democrats. Very few of them support one or the other because they're stupid, and I would never suggest to any given Democrat that they support their candidate because they're stupid. People have different views, and I'd suggest focusing on bringing people around to your point of view with evidence, reason, and a willingness to fairly debate the issues.

Election recap

Looks like my prediction was pretty close. I only got Wisconsin and New Mexico wrong!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Wrong target audience

Back in 2000, I received an e-mail from an independent musician; I'm on his mailing list because I'm interested in his genre of music. Normally, these advertise his CDs, or talk about the work on his latest project. This time, however, he sent me a list of Bush misspeaks, with a comment along the lines of "You can guess who I'm voting for."

Note: he's not advertising a political weblog. He's not sending a joke to a bunch of friends. He's sending out this political comment to current and potential customers! Many of these customers don't share his views.

Now, recently, a web comic artist posts this comment, not to a personal weblog, not to friends, but on the web site hosting the comic.

...the story of a family that overcomes their differences and triumphs over those who would seek to tear it apart. Those ideals have taken a blow, but the fight goes on against the powers of fear and divisiveness.

I disagree.

I read lots of political weblogs for political discussions and debates. I read lots of web comics to laugh. I appreciate the occasional political topic in this comic, because translating a topic to the unique world of the comic is amusing and clever. But this comic isn't a clone of Boondocks, Doonesbury, or Mallard Fillmore.

Did I mention this comic artist uses donations, sponsorships, and product sales both to pay for the web comic's expenses, as well as to supplement his income?

I've donated to web comic artists before, because I appreciate their work. I've bought their published material. Funny, now I don't want to support this artist.

Wrong target audience. Again.

Politics and Cthulhu

Unless you've seen a Chaosium booth at a convention, you probably haven't seen Cthulhu for President. Slogan: "Why settle for the lesser evil?"

Despite this obvious joke, I'm actually surprised to see a political commentator refer to Cthulhu in an opinion column. Cthulhu and statistics... a very humorous combination, for someone of my background.

"If you are standing in the main election night studio when your network's polling experts start discussing the significance of a particular state poll, you the reporter will hear about three words out of one hundred that you will understand."

Admittedly, polling experts use hard words. Hard, long, multi-syllabic, vaguely Lovecraftian words, like "statistics" and "averages" and "variance." If you say "sampling size" repeatedly, an Elder God might smite you dead. No, the opinion of polling experts is best listed among Things Man Was Not Meant to Know.

"These polls occur in the realm of statistics and probability."

Shhh! Not so loud, lest dread Cthulhu be wakened from the briny deep!


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Why give up on Ohio?

Watching the results waaaaay late last night, Kerry/Edwards didn't look willing to give up on Ohio. But just the next day, they conceded the election. Why did that happen? I can think of two reasons.

1. They conceded because they know the provisional vote was legitimate.

It was a tough campaign, hard-fought, and after being so close, Senators Kerry and Edwards weren't inclined to give up. But after sleeping on it, they saw there really wasn't a chance. Even if there were a large number of valid provisional ballots (250 thousand) and Kerry won a remarkable number of them (winning with a 60-40 margin), they wouldn't even eliminate half of President Bush's lead. Defeat is inevitable, so conceding is the right thing to do.

2. They conceded because they knew the provisional vote was illegitimate.

They knew a large number of those provisional ballots were cast by these fake voters recently added to the rolls. The margin in the provisional ballots could shift the election in Ohio. However, it would create a media frenzy to rival Florida 2000. News crews, competing for stories, would investigate the provisional ballots. Bloggers would take their digital cameras and snap pictures of parks, empty lots, and abandoned buildings which were the alleged residences of provisional voters. Camera crews would visit the addresses of provisional voters, only to have perplexed families say "No one named John Smith lives here."

A variant of the above: The campaign had an idea of how many "extra" votes they had, but knew it wouldn't be enough to swing the state. Pressing the issue seriously risked exposing the crime.

I truly wish to say I believe the reason for the quick concession is reason number one. I fear it is actually reason number two.
Voter fraud is widely considered to be practiced by both sides, but it isn't in such an obvious and blatant form so as to encourage massive crackdowns. If identifiable voter fraud was discovered in a contested election like the previous election, whichever side perpetrated the fraud would suffer a tremendous backlash. The mere charge of voter intimidation lingers from the 2000 Florida election, even though no one can find an allegedly disenfranchised voter. Just imagine what would happen if real, identifiable, and significant voter fraud were discovered and discussed over a month-long media frenzy.

Narrow margins of victory

As of now, three states that have supported President Bush are still not listed as wins for him: New Mexico, Iowa, and Ohio. Yet five other states that closely supported Senator Kerry are listed as "blue." Why is Ohio's 51-49 victory not official, while Wisconsin's narrower 50-49 Kerry victory official? Aren't there enough uncounted votes in Wisconsin that we shouldn't be making this call? According to the AP map at this moment, some of these close Kerry states don't even have all the precincts reported!

At the very least, there's probably the same chance that Bush could overcome his gap in Wisconsin that Kerry has of overcoming his gap in Ohio.

It's time for Kerry to publicly acknowledge that he is not likely to be the next President of the United States, and to pledge not to litigate a 5 or 6 figure vote loss.

Here is a quick summary of the results. All close Kerry states are listed as Kerry pickups. All close Bush states are listed as undecided. Bias? Different rules for absentee and provisional ballots?

Close Kerry states:
Michigan: 51-48, 135K margin of 4589K (2.9%)
Pennsylvania: 51-49, 122K margin of 5615K (2.2%)
Minnesota: 51-48, 98K margin of 2741K (3.6%)
Wisconsin: 50-49, 13K margin of 2963K (0.4%)
New Hampshire: 50-49, 10K margin of 641K (1.6%)

Close Bush states:
Ohio: 51-49, 136K margin of 5452K (2.5%)
Iowa: 50-49, 16K margin of 1473K (1.1%)
New Mexico: 50-49, 12K margin of 663K (1.8%)

UPDATE: Thanks, Ann, for the Instapundit link and subsequent Instalanche. I look at the Sitemeter couinter, and see visions of Clark Griswold's meter after turning on the Christmas lights in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

A reader to Instapundit suggests the main issue is that Wisconsin doesn't have provisional ballots. While I suspected that, I would have to guess that in both Wisconsin and Ohio, uncounted votes from open precincts, absentee ballots, and (in Ohio) provisional ballots would still be large enough that you couldn't mathematically eliminate either candidate. (Realistically, it is clear Kerry won Wisconsin, and Bush won Ohio.)

UPDATE 2: Here is a scan of a printout of the map I was referring to.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Something to watch as election results come in

The early results in a particular race aren't likely to be the final results. While they may first be reported as 53/47, they could end up 51/49 or 56/44. Some margins will increase in favor of one candidate, and some will increase in favor of the other candidate. These should happen in roughly equal levels.

If one candidate is repeatedly losing ground as time goes on, that could mean one of two things. First, the early precincts reporting are in one part of the state, and so the early results are not a representative sample of the ultimate statewide results. This could be a problem, as it opens up questions as to why a particular candidate's stronghold is delaying results. The other explanation is fraud.

It's also possible for the results to be purely the results of chance. But consider how often you expect to see 60% heads on the repeated flip of a fair coin.

This bodes well

It took an hour and a half to vote, with a double line of people curving through multiple hallways. Turnout in this town might be higher because of a local issue (a vote on whether to change from a town to a city), but there should be a consistent advantage of Republican voters for the presidential, governor, and Senate races.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Please Vote November 2!

If you are legally able to vote, I encourage you to vote November 2. I highly prefer that you have educated yourself on the candidates, issues, and platforms first. But if everyone who voted did that, there would be a lot fewer Democrats elected. :-)