June 2013 Archives

One of the biggest criticisms of sequestration was that the cuts were "dumb", like a "meat-cleaver" rather than a "scalpel". However, I always thought this bluntness was a feature not a bug; based on initial results it appears that I was right as usual! Sequestration is squeezing everything and eliminating a lot of waste. Read for details of wasteful spending eliminated, but here's an example:

The Justice Department, for instance, cut more than $300 million in what it called "expired balances." In essence, this was money that had been allocated to the department in past years but wasn't spent. When those years ended, the money expired; without Congress's permission, it generally couldn't be spent on anything new.

But, with Congress's permission, it could still be "cut."

So, instead of saving money by furloughing FBI agents and prison guards, the department lost only what it wasn't free to spend anyway.

Well great, now the "expired balances" are gone. Success! Here's another:

The [Department of Homeland Security], for example, cut $7.8 million for a grant program that helped prepare for disasters. But it told Congress that this program had $36 million waiting in the bank, "neither dedicated to a project nor an activity." And it said the program was duplicative, anyway. Other federal programs were already doing the same thing. "There is no impact from this reduction because of the duplication," the department told Congress.

Do you think that duplicate program would ever have died without sequestration? Nope!

Uniform, "dumb" cuts force people to scrutinize everything rather than letting Congress make politically-motivated horse-trades that are usually designed to benefit rent-seeking insiders.

The results of this poll show just how... bizarre President Obama's supporters are. Here's the question:

Which is a bigger terrorist threat to the United States today - radical Muslims, the Tea Party, local militia groups, the Occupy Wall Street movement, or other religious or political extremists?

Note that the question specifically asks about "terrorist threat", not merely "whom do you like least" or what-have-you. The results?

However, among those who approve of the president's job performance, just 29% see radical Muslims as the bigger threat. Twenty-six percent (26%) say it's the Tea Party that concerns them most. Among those who Strongly Approve of the president, more fear the Tea Party than radical Muslims.

Even if you don't like the Tea Party people, even if you feel threatened by the Tea Party in some fashion... how in the world can you construe them as a "terrorist threat"? I'm not aware of a single instance of Tea Party instigated violence. Twenty-six percent of Obama's supporters are either paranoid, ignorant, or insane.

It's hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they always take things literally.

I'd tell you a UDP joke, but you may not get it.

A physicist, an engineer, and a statistician out hunting. The physicist calculates the trajectory using ballistic equations, but assumes no air resistance, so his shot falls 5 meters short. The engineer adds a fudge factor for air resistance, and his shot lands 5 meters long. The statistician yells "We got 'em!"

Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, "I'd like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream." The waitress replies, "I'm sorry, Monsieur, but we're out of cream. How about with no milk?"

Werner Heisenberg, Kurt Gödel, and Noam Chomsky walk into a bar. Heisenberg turns to the other two and says, "Clearly this is a joke, but how can we figure out if it's funny or not?" Gödel replies, "We can't know that because we're inside the joke." Chomsky says, "Of course it's funny. You're just telling it wrong."

Pavlov is sitting at a pub enjoying a pint, the phone rings and he jumps up shouting "oh no, I forgot to feed the dog!"

"I'm a linguist, so I like ambiguity more than most people."

Entropy isn't what it used to be.

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors.

There are two types of people in the world: Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data sets.

There are two types of people in the world: Those who crave closure.

Two kittens on a sloped roof. Which one slides off first? The one with the lowest mew.

Did you hear about the man who got cooled to absolute zero? He's 0K now.

To understand what recursion is, you must first understand recursion.

The programmer's wife tells him: "Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen." The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.

A recent finding by statisticians shows the average human has one breast and one testicle.

What if, instead of periods, women had apostrophes? They'd be more possessive and have more frequent contractions.

A German walks into Passport Control at Paris airport. "Nationality?" asks the immigration officer. "German," she replies. "Occupation?" "No, just here for a few days."

They used to laugh when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well they're not laughing now!

Q: What do you get when you put root beer in a square glass? A: Beer

This sentence contains exactly threee erors.

An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar.
The bar tender: "What'll it be, boys?"
The first mathematician: "I'll have one half of a beer."
The second mathematician: "I'll have one quarter of a beer."
The third mathematician: "I'll have one eight of a beer."
The forth mathematician: "I'll have one sixteenth of a ..."
The bartender interrupts and says "Know your limits, boys" as he pours our a single beer.

Why do engineers confuse Halloween and Christmas? Because Oct 31 = Dec 25.

Three logicians walk into a bar. The bartender asks "Do all of you want a drink?"
The first logician says "I don't know."
The second logician says "I don't know."
The third logician says "Yes!"

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

"We don't serve faster-than-light particles here", says the barman. A tachyon enters a bar.

A mathematician finishes a large meal and says: √(-1/64)

A Buddhist monk approaches a hotdog stand and says "make me one with everything".

A man in a hot air balloon realised he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted,
"Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."
The woman below replied,
"You're in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You're between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude."
"You must be an engineer," said the balloonist.
"I am," replied the woman, "How did you know?"
"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I've no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help at all. If anything, you've delayed my trip."
The woman below responded, "You must be in Management."
"I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?"
"Well," said the woman, "you don't know where you are or where you're going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you've no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."

(HT: Marginal Revolution and Reddit.)

The Texas legislature has failed to pass a law banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy due to a Democrat filibuster featuring a legislator who had a baby as a teenager.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, spent most of the day staging an old-fashioned filibuster, attracting wide support, including a mention from President Barack Obama's campaign Twitter account. Her Twitter following went from 1,200 in the morning to more than 20,000 by Tuesday night.

"My back hurts. I don't have a lot of words left," Davis said when it was over, and she was showered with cheers by activists who stayed at the Capitol to see her. "It shows the determination and spirit of Texas women."

Determination to kill babies, I guess.

Democrats chose Davis, of Fort Worth, to lead the effort because of her background as a woman who had her first child as a teenager and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School.

How awful would it be to be Davis' child, knowing that she would have preferred to abort you? Ugh.

Climate change is opening the Arctic's bounty to exploration and development. Civilization is a continual process of co-adaptation with the natural world. All changes have both positive and negative effects, and we need to learn to roll with the punches.

No matter what one thinks should be done about global warming, the fact is, it's happening. And it's not all bad. In the Arctic, it is turning what has traditionally been an impassible body of water ringed by remote wilderness into something dramatically different: an emerging epicenter of industry and trade akin to the Mediterranean Sea. The region's melting ice and thawing frontier are yielding access to troves of natural resources, including nearly a quarter of the world's estimated undiscovered oil and gas and massive deposits of valuable minerals. Since summertime Arctic sea routes save thousands of miles during a journey between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic also stands to become a central passageway for global maritime transportation, just as it already is for aviation.

Part of the reason the Arctic holds so much promise has to do with the governments surrounding it. Most have relatively healthy fiscal balance sheets and, with the exception of Russia, predictable laws that make it easy to do business and democratic values that promote peaceful relations. The Arctic countries have also begun making remarkably concerted efforts to cooperate, rather than fight, as the region opens up, settling old boundary disputes peacefully and letting international law guide their behavior. Thanks to good governance and good geography, such cities as Anchorage and Reykjavik could someday become major shipping centers and financial capitals -- the high-latitude equivalents of Singapore and Dubai.

I've been following a low-carb non-ketogenic diet for about a month now and I'm going to write a few posts on the effects I've observed. This post is about the effect I've seen on my ability to exercise.

My exercise regimen has two primary components.

  • Daily running 3-5 miles, 4-5 days per week.
  • Weight training every-other day, which usually comes out to 3 sessions per week.

Unfortunately I've been traveling a lot over the past month and my weight training has suffered. However I have been able to keep up with my running, and this is where I've noticed that my diet has had a significant effect.

Even though I'm overweight by BMI, up until I started my low-carb diet I could easily run 5 miles every day without straining. However, once I started eating low-carb I noticed quickly that my energy level was dropping. Running even 3 miles became an onerous trial, and my body felt weak and tired when I ran. It wasn't fun, and it was discouraging because I love to run.

I stuck with it for a while, but it became clear that the low-carb diet wasn't letting my body generate energy quickly enough when I needed it to run. So over the past weekend I started eating carbs before my run, and I noticed an immediate improvement. On Sunday morning I ate 45g of bread (180 calories) about 10 minutes before my run, and I felt fantastic. My run went great, and I had no trouble even pushing my daughter up and down the hills in my neighborhood -- hills that I had struggled to run up solo the day before.

I had heard of "carbo-loading" before, but it was only yesterday that I realized that before my low-carb diet I was living a life perpetually loaded with carbs. No wonder I had so much energy to run! However, I want to diet to be healthy, not just to follow some formula, and so I'm going to start eating carbs before I exercise. 180 calories of bread was enough to rocket me through a 4.5-mile run, and I'm going to experiment a bit to see how my body reacts to lesser amounts.

Low-Carb Diet Series:
Low-Carb Diet: What I Eat
Low-Carb Diet and Exerciseww.mwilliams.info/archive/2013/06/low-carb-diet-and-exercise.php">Low-Carb Diet and Exercise

A statistical analysis shows that the IRS suppression of the various Tea Party groups may have been sufficient to win the 2012 election for Obama. The corruption of the IRS is an embarrassment to the country. I believe that only the institutional death penalty will be capable of restoring Americans' faith in our tax collection system.

In a new research paper, Andreas Madestam (from Stockholm University), Daniel Shoag and David Yanagizawa-Drott (both from the Harvard Kennedy School), and I set out to find out how much impact the Tea Party had on voter turnout in the 2010 election. We compared areas with high levels of Tea Party activity to otherwise similar areas with low levels of Tea Party activity, using data from the Census Bureau, the FEC, news reports, and a variety of other sources. We found that the effect was huge: the movement brought the Republican Party some 3 million-6 million additional votes in House races. That is an astonishing boost, given that all Republican House candidates combined received fewer than 45 million votes. It demonstrates conclusively how important the party's newly energized base was to its landslide victory in those elections, and how worried Democratic strategists must have been about the conservative movement's momentum.

The Tea Party movement's huge success was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise.

The bottom line is that the Tea Party movement, when properly activated, can generate a huge number of votes-more votes in 2010, in fact, than the vote advantage Obama held over Romney in 2012. The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5 - 8.5 million votes compared to Obama's victory margin of 5 million.

I've been following a low-carb non-ketogenic diet for about a month now and I'm going to write a few posts about what I've learned. This first post is about what I'm eating.

First off, I'm not attempting an Atkins-style ketogenic diet. My goal is to drastically reduce my intake of carbohydrates while maintaining a varied and interesting diet. Here are the kinds of things I'm eating:

  • Lots of vegetables, including carrots even though they are considered "starchy" by many low-carb diets. I also eat a ton of spinach in salads and omelettes. I'll eat pretty much any vegetable except potatoes.
  • Fruit. Fruit has sugar, but I still eat it. I'll eat an apple a day, and I enjoy unsweetened berry smoothies. I've stopped eating bananas. I eat avocados, but without chips to eat with them I sometimes struggle to enjoy them as much as I used to.
  • Meat: more red meat than I have in the past. Lots of chicken. I have also been enjoying salami, ham, and bacon. My wife just bought a bunch of turkey bacon, which I don't care for.
  • I've also been eating a lot more dairy than I have in the past. Cheese in many forms, some butter. Low-ish-carb unsweetened Greek yogurt.
  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes, even though these are not acceptable in many low-carb diets. I eat peanuts and almonds, and lots of peanut butter. I eat beans when I eat Mexican food and substitute it for rice.

The things I've eliminated:

  • Crackers, chips, cookies. I miss them!
  • Bread. Don't miss it much.
  • Rice, potatoes, all the filler starches that go with meals. I don't miss these much either.
  • Almost all sweets. I'll still use chocolate chips when I make almond flour cookies. The only sweets I eat are home-made to be low-carb. There's practically nothing sweet that's suitable to eat at any restaurant or store.

I've lost about six pounds in the first month of eating this way. I'll tell you more about how I feel in my next post.

Low-Carb Diet Series:
Low-Carb Diet: What I Eat
Low-Carb Diet and Exercise

Many people enjoy being victims and evading responsibility for their lives, but I've found it to be very empowering to take the opposite approach: everything is my fault.

Derek Sivers writes about his experience with the philosophy of responsibility:

But to decide it's your fault feels amazing! Now you weren't wronged. They were just playing their part in the situation you created. They're just delivering the punch-line to the joke you set up.

What power! Now you're like a new super-hero, just discovering your strength. Now you're the powerful person that made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it. Now you're in control and there's nothing to complain about.

This philosophy feels so good that I've playfully decided to apply this "EVERYTHING IS MY FAULT" rule to the rest of my life.

It's one of those base rules like "people mean well" that's more fun to believe, and have a few exceptions, than to not believe at all.

  • The guy that stole $9000 from me? My fault. I should have verified his claims.
  • The love of my life that dumped me out of the blue (by email!) after 6 years? My fault. I let our relationship plateau.
  • Someone was rude to me today? My fault. I could have lightened their mood beforehand.
  • Don't like my government? My fault. I could get involved and change the world.

Of course, the flip side to this philosophy is arrogance, because you aren't really responsible for everything. Still, I'd rather start with the assumption that I am responsible than to immediately look for someone else to blame. Being responsible means that you can change the situation, you're an active player, you're a wolf among sheep, you're alive.

Cities love to borrow and spend, and they can borrow at low interest rates because bondholders are first in line to get paid when there's a shortage of money. But what happens if the "bond" is severed and unions cut to the front of the line?

Unions seem determined to fight municipal bond market investors over who should shoulder the burden for Detroit's debts, setting up a lose-lose situation for blue politics.

If the unions win, it could lead to an implosion in the municipal bond market across the country as lenders realize that money lent to struggling cities may never be paid back. As Walsh notes, this outcome would upend standards that "such bonds are among the safest investments and that for 'general obligation' bonds cities could even be compelled to raise taxes, if that's what it took to make good." This would be disastrous for other cities, which would find it much harder to borrow money, and would likely need to pay exorbitant interest rates to do so.

If the unions lose, however, it would deal a major blow to support from their own members. Detroit's pensioners would begin to wonder why they pay dues to a union that can't guarantee the pensions or benefits they were promised. A similar dynamic all but destroyed unions in the private sector as striking union members saw their jobs shipped away to China.

Thieves fighting over the last scrap of loot.

Ted Cruz is right: it's time to abolish the IRS and institute a simple Flat Tax. Get rid of the corruption by simplifying the system.

"I think we ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax where the average American can fill out taxes on postcard," he explained in a Fox News interview over the weekend. "Put down how much you earn, put down a deduction for charitable contributions, home mortgage and how much you owe. It ought to be a simple one-page postcard, and take the agents, the bureaucracy out of Washington and limit the power of government."

Cruz proposed a flat tax during the 2012 election, but he said he would keep a standard deduction for lower-income earners, as well as deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations.

Married couples in Japan are required to have the same surname, but the law may be changing soon. I'm in favor of people being able to name themselves whatever they want, but I think it's a mistake to mock the arguments being made in Japan for the status quo.

But some lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party voiced opposition to the proposal, arguing the new system would cause the collapse of the family and undermine the sense of unity among family members.

"Collapse" might be a little strong, but there's no doubt in my mind that having different names can undermine family unity. You may believe that the effect is minor or that the matter shouldn't be of concern to the government, but I don't believe that the argument for family unity is worthy of mockery. People should have the freedom to change their names, but children in families with multiple last names will certainly be affected to some non-zero degree.

Surnames are an important part of identity, which is why people should be free to change them but is also why a person should weigh any decision about his name very carefully. Children especially build a sense of themselves and their family from the name they share, and a child with a different name will certainly feel like an outsider rather than an integrated part of a greater whole.

(HT: Paul Hsieh.)

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