Nate Silver on Fox News
His comment was specifically about the show Fox and Friends: "Wow. I've never met people more terrified of what might happen if they actually tried to engage in a rational discussion." The substance of his post on fivethirtyeight.com had very little to do with Fox at all (it was about the insignificance of Obama's favorability ratings being above or below 50%). His statement was pretty much just a throwaway comment at the end. Nonetheless, he's a very impressive and rational blogger and that's a pretty strong statement.
I forget where I found this surprisingly interesting article from Fortune about "new" (a very relative term in this case) logos. Consumers found Tropicana's new logo revolutionary? Who woulda thunk it?
Why Neoconservative Pundits Love Jon Stewart
Franco Harris for U.S. Senate?
This speculation comes from today's fivethirtyeight.com (in the last paragraph of the post), and yes, this is the same African-American-Italian who was a key player in the Pittsburgh Steelers' "Immaculate Reception" in the 1972 NFL play-offs!
Two cyclones feeding on each other
Cyclonic Clouds over the South Atlantic Ocean
World's largest garbage dump?
Great Pacific Garbage Patch - Mapped
Gitmo detainees to be tried by military tribunals?
Thursday, the New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested that "[a]s many as 100 detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, could end up held without trial on American soil." The article went on to note:
The Obama administration is debating how to establish a legal basis for incarcerating detainees deemed too dangerous to be released but not appropriate to be tried because of potential problems posed by their harsh interrogations, the evidence against them or other issues.
Then yesterday, the New York Times reported that "The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself." This article went on to say:
Last night's Presidential news conference
First, with regard to torture, President Obama said:
I generally liked this repudiation of torture. But I was disappointed in the rationale he used (the italicized bit). I wish he had said instead that we do not torture because it is morally wrong. That's why it's illegal. At first I was thinking that he had missed an opportunity to make the moral case, but then I realized I was presuming that he really agreed with me. Maybe he doesn't.
Second, I was surprised that President Obama seemed to tip the government's hand on their approach to the danger of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. His initial response to the relevant question was:
The first half of his response to the follow-up—that he was not going to engage in hypotheticals—was what I expected. The second half, giving reassurance as to what was not going to happen, only seemed to emphasize the existence of contingency plans.
I have no doubt that such contingency plans exist. I am not surprised that they do. I am surprised that the President was willing to talk about them.
Order return rip-off, not!
Last month I posted about my expectation of being ripped off by TigerDirect for the cost of shipping me the wrong product, which I returned to them. While it was true that they only credited me with the cost of the part—$14.99—rather than that plus the shipping and handling—an additional $6.99—I'm happy to report that after I wrote them a letter of complaint they credited my account for the additional $6.99 and sent me a letter:
When does GM count its cars as being "sold"?
In recent discussions of General Motors' plan to shut down factories for up to nine weeks this summer, I heard that GM recognizes revenue when vehicles are manufactured, not when they're sold. If I heard correctly, this practice is in accord with reporting standards set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), who proclaim—apparently on every page of their website—that they are "serving the investing public through transparent information resulting from high-quality financial reporting standards, developed in an independent, private-sector, open due process."
I just have a couple of questions. The ability to report revenue in this way serves the investing public how? Do we need any more evidence that big business is vastly under-regulated?
More on AIG bonuses
Just think about some of the implications of this [the 90% tax on bonuses passed by the House].
If it weren't for bad luck...
Quote without comment: responding to increased sexual assaults in combat zones
The military recently reported a 25% increase such assaults in the last year. The director of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office commented in an interview (quoted in the article on the report cited above):
If you see one of your buddies serve drinks to somebody to get them drunk, maybe what you do is step in and say "Why don't you wait until she's sober?"
Dear A.I.G., I Quit!
This is not a joke. The New York Times published a letter of resignation from AIG's executive vice president of their financial products unit as an op-ed article today. It's worth a read [via today's Daily Beast Cheat Sheet].
Just for the record, from the first news of them, I've understood but never liked the big deal being made about the bonuses paid to some AIG executives. If we're going to nail the guilty, let's be sure we've got the right folks. I'm quite sure there's not a one-to-one relationship between those responsible for the mess we're in and those receiving AIG bonuses. In fact, I'm pretty sure that those who are most responsible are most of the people who have been in Congress or been President since about 1980 (i.e., I blame deregulation). Furthermore, each U.S. taxpayer has provided AIG on average with $580-1,2901 to bail them out (i.e., exluding the trillions spent for other companies' bailouts), while the total of all these bonuses comes to $1.20 per taxpayer. I've especially disliked the proposed legislation, which can't be much more than a thinly veiled ex post facto bill of attainder (both ex post facto laws—a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of acts committed—and bills of attainder—declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without benefit of a trial—are forbidden by the U.S. Constitution—Article I, section 9).
1The amount depends on what figure you use: I've heard amounts ranging from $80 billion to $173 billion. This the the next calculation are also based on 2007's estimated 138 million taxpayers.
Help name the anti-Pluto's moon
The anti-Pluto—the large Kuiper Belt object named Orcus—is similar to Pluto in many ways: similar sizes; each with a single known moon; possibly similar origins; and, most strikingly, similar orbits in size, apsides (i.e., perihelion and aphelion) and [rather large] inclination. They are different in one glaring respect: Pluto and Orchus have, and will always have, exactly opposite positions in their respective orbits. As I understand it, this is due to their orbits being regulated by Neptune, with both orbs "circling" (ellipsing?) the sun twice for every three orbits of Neptune (making each a plutino).
Orcus was discovered in 2004 and its moon in 2005. The latter has only just recently come to need naming (presumably the former will also become the sixth official dwarf planet before too long). Mike Brown, of Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, has an extremely interesting entry in his Mike Brown's Planets blog that talks about this need to name Orcus's moon and that invites submission of names, with rationales. Be sure to read at least some of the comments, which are full of suggestions (there are 249 as of this writing). I was hoping to have a stab at it myself, but I'm far too ignorant of mythology [via today's Astronomy Picture of the Day].
Proposed political talk show rule
As part of the introduction to his discussion of Republican's use of the term "Democrat Party", Sean Quinn of FiveThirtyEight.com included a video clip of Ari Fleischer being interviewed by MSNBC's David Shuster. I commented on Mr Quinn's post as follows:
I respectfully suggest that David Shuster, and all other political talk show hosts, institute a rule that guests not be invited back to the show if they do not answer a single question they were asked by the interviewer. I understand that politicians appear on these shows because they believe they have something to gain by doing so. Quite often, what they hope to gain may be at odds with what the interviewer is hoping to gain (which, hopefully, is truthful answers to certain questions). Therefore you can't expect such guests to always answer every question without ever changing the topic. But in this video clip, I believe Ari Fleischer changed the subject of every single question that Shuster asked him. Why allow Fleischer back on this show ever again?I also propose that such a rule be called the Fleischer Rule, in honor of this abysmal performance.
Republican's pejorative use of "Democrat Party"
Here's an excerpt from Mr Quinn's post:
[I]t is striking that a huge number of Republicans continue to go out of their way to use the epithet “Democrat Party” rather than the party’s actual name, the Democratic Party....
Order return rip-off
The CPU fan on my desktop computer began failing intermittently last month. So I ordered a replacement fan from TigerDirect.com, where I had originally bought the computer in September 2004. The sales guy on the phone had my order on file, so he figured out which fan I needed and shipped it to me. After it arrived, I tried to replace the part only to find that he had sent me the wrong fan.
So I called the toll-free phone number on the packing slip. The first thing I heard was a warning that they were experiencing heavy call volume and suggesting I'd do better by going to their website if I was calling for a number of possible reasons that the voice listed. Since it was Monday morning—when I'd expect call volume to be heaviest—and one of these reasons was obtaining return authorization, I decided to visit the website. Here's what I found (click on the image for a more readable view):
The $14.99 they were offering to refund did not include the $6.99 I'd paid for shipping. Since they were responsible for the error, I certainly felt I should get a full refund, including for the shipping. So on Tuesday afternoon, thinking call volume would be lower then, I called their toll-free number again. I heard the same message warning me about heavy call volume and suggesting I go to their website. This time I stayed on the line. And—surprise, surprise!—got a representative immediately. It took him a while to process my request, presumably because their computers were slow, but there was no problem with the return. Shortly thereafter I received an e-mail with a link to a UPS shipping label. The question of whether or not my shipping would be included in the refund did not come up. So I'm assuming I'll receive a refund for the full $21.98. If not, I'll call and complain.
I printed the label, repacked the fan, and taped the label to the box. It was pre-paid, so return shipping didn't cost me anything.
Clearly it behooves a company to encourage customers to use their website. It's cheaper and should be more reliable than using a person. But I can't help wondering if, in the case of return authorizations at least, it's also an attempt on their part to avoid refunding shipping costs and to shift the cost of return shipping onto the customer. I should know about the shipping cost refund in a few days.
See my follow-up post.
Happy Square Root Day
As should be obvious to anyone with even a little bit of mathematical ability, there are only nine such days (ten if you cheat and count 10 October '00) every century. Frankly I had never of this "holiday" till I heard it mentioned on the news this morning.
Betraying the public trustYou know there's got to be more to this story in yesterday's New York Times [found via the Daily Beast Cheat Sheet], right?
At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke.Apparently, the real cause of her detention was a $2.6 million kickback scheme.
The answers became a bit clearer on Thursday as the judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.This is a most despicable betrayal of the public trust by two judges. They deserve what they will get.
Ciavarella and Conahan are pictured above, respectively.
Local Knowledge, by Liza Gyllenhaal
Official Election ResultsMontgomery County, PA just posted official election results from November 4. Who am I to chide them for taking so long? I haven't updated my sidebar to the left in something like four years!
Bryn Athyn, where I live, has been a Republican stronghold since it was founded. I don't know when that was, but it was incorporated in 1916. In 2008, for the first time ever, I believe, a Democratic candidate received the highest number of votes:
Total turnout was 78.12%. I interpret the undervote as "None of the above." The first column of percentages is based on total votes for the office; those in the second column are based on total turnout.Registration & turnout
For all other offices, Bryn Athyn went Republican, with candidates getting from 53.52% (Marina Kats, for Representative in Congress) to 64.06% (Thomas Murt, incumbent Representative in the General Assembly, who even I voted for).
We'll see if I've been sufficiently shamed by Montgomery County to update my sidebar soon.
PayPal's security lapseI received the following e-mail message yesterday.
Genuine? Or phishing attempt? I looked briefly at it and once I saw the link to a supposed login address, I did what I always do with such e-mails—forward them to an appropriate address at the website of the organization they purport to be from (in this case, email@example.com) and to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at firstname.lastname@example.org.Subject: Notice of Policy Updates
Normally I get a reply from the organization confirming that it was indeed a phishing attempt. But this time I got one back that said, in part,
To which I responded,Thanks for taking an active role by reporting suspicious-looking emails. Although we've determined that the email you forwarded to us is not a phishing attempt, our security team is grateful for your concern....
I can't tell you how appalled I am by what PayPal has done.
Who's up to no good in the financial markets?Cecil Adams's The Straight Dope is almost always an interesting and fun read. He also tackles topics that you might have a hard time finding out about elsewhere, like today's article titled How would I go about laundering money? I was drawn up short by two statements in the last paragraph:
In short, money laundering has become a species of high finance. Some claim it's the third largest business in the world, behind legitimate currency transactions and the auto industry. It conceals some nasty enterprises — criminal-finance experts estimate that more than two thirds of U.S. money-laundering prosecutions involve illegal drug dealing, and terrorists shuffle their share of cash as well. Then again, knowing what we do about many legal global transactions of late, you'd have to say it's not just the criminals in the financial marketplace who are up to no good.Currency transactions constitute a business? Hmm, I wouldn't have thought so. Currency trading might be a business, but I doubt this is what Cecil is referring to as the largest or second largest business in the world.
But what really caught my eye was the implication that many of the world's current financial woes are caused by non-criminals who are up to no good. I'll grant that some of them may not be criminals. But many certainly are. Bernard Madoff comes immediately to mind. Many others are not only in the sense that they haven't been charged, prosecuted and convicted. Many of these won't be (charged or prosecuted, I mean). Senior corporate managers who cooked the books, thereby obtaining large incentive payments for themselves and simultaneously hoodwinking investors, come immediately to mind. So do those at much lower levels who encouraged people to lie about their income on mortgage applications, as well as those who lied to obtain these mortgages. I find the idea that such behaviors are not criminal to be abhorrent!
The problem with Gitmo
How can we have allowed this to happen?
When Muhammad Saad Iqbal arrived home here in August after more than six years in American custody, including five at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he had difficulty walking, his left ear was severely infected, and he was dependent on a cocktail of antibiotics and antidepressants.I too am ashamed, Mr Iqbal [from an article titled "An Ex-Detainee of the U.S. Describes a 6-Year Ordeal" in the 6 January edition of The New York Times].
The problem with SMS (Short Message Service)For those who don't know, SMS is the service that underlies most text messaging on mobile phones. There are others SMS messages can be sent from the Web. I've been using it more and more, particularly internationally. Around the holidays, presumably due largely to network congestion, I discovered what seem to me to be some appalling features of SMS. These go way beyond the well-known limitation that messages cannot exceed 160 characters.
1There's a similar monthly option to start the weekday no-charge calling period at 7pm rather than 9pm. It costs $5/month.