Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Aces and Spaces

Theory of Aces: High Score by Skill or Luck?

M.V. Simkin & V.P. Roychowdhury
Journal of Mathematical Sociology, April 2008, Pages 129-141

We studied the distribution of World War I fighter pilots by the number of victories they were credited with, along with casualty reports. Using the maximum entropy method we obtained the underlying distribution of pilots by their skill. We find that the variance of this skill distribution is not very large, and that the top aces achieved their victory scores mostly by luck. For example, the ace of aces, Manfred von Richthofen, most likely had a skill in the top quarter of the active WWI German fighter pilots and was no more special than that. When combined with our recent study (Simkin and Roychowdhury, 2006), showing that fame grows exponentially with victory scores, these results (derived from real data) show that both outstanding achievement records and resulting fame are mostly due to chance.

Munger is CHILIPUNKED! Again......

Multiple newspapers have gotten the story bizarrely wrong on my testimony at the ballot access lawsuit in Raleigh on Monday. The Traingle Independent did a story, the Greensboro News and Record, and also the Winston-Salem Journal, all had variations on this story.

They point out the following two things:

1. Munger testifies, under oath, that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a third party to win any elections under current law. The reason is that the new party has to use up all its money to pay petitioners to collect signatures.

2. Munger "admits, under cross-examination" that the Libertarian Party has failed to win any elections.

Given #1, how hard would a cross-examiner have to work to get me to "admit" #2?

True, I also said that, if the law were eased, that at some point a party's viability would have to be judged by winning at least some elections. But that is only if the law were eased. Under the current law, I specifically said, "Impossible." Not difficult, not really hard: IMPOSSIBLE.

Since it is impossible to win, wouldn't you expect that no one has won?

I hate it when I get chilipunked like that!

UPDATE: In fairness, I should note that the News and Observer played it straight, wrote a balanced story, and made no egregious errors of logic. Nicely done, Titan Barksdale.


Paulville, where everybody knows your name.

And they're always glad you came.

(Nod to KL, who should go to Paulville. And get asked the three questions: what is his name? And his quest. And his favorite color.)


Fla. Teacher Accused Of Wizardry
Man Made Toothpick Vanish In Class

Teacher Jim Piculas does a magic trick where a toothpick disappears and then reappears.

Piculas recently did the 30-second trick in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land 'O Lakes. Piculas said he then got a call from the supervisor of teachers, saying he'd been accused of wizardry.

"I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, 'Jim, we have a huge issue, you can't take any more assignments you need to come in right away,'" he said. Piculas said he did not know of any other accusations that would have led to the action.

The teacher said he is concerned that the incident may prevent him from getting future jobs.

Um.....a wizard? Will they use the "wood / duck" test, from Monte Python?

(Nod to JK, a wizard himself)

Ouchie Ouchie Ouchie!

(Nod to SdM)

Better Than Angus

This kid not only sings better than Angus, she plays better gee-tar.

(Nod to MG)

Is Hillary Washed Up?

David Rohde and Mike Munger give their views.....

Turns Out "60 Minutes" is a KEY Scholarly Source

I was on the Joy Cardin show, on Wisconsin Public Radio, this a.m. Quite a few callers. You can listen, if you want.

I claimed that it would be easier to make John McCain look like a war hero than it was to make George Bush look like a war hero. And I claimed that, since the Repubs HAD made John Kerry, who has a Silver Star, look like a coward, Barack HUSSEIN Obama had better look out.

And I said that John McCain could claim that he had had tougher moments, like when he was tortured and wouldn't sign the form denouncing the U.S. the North Vietnamese put in front of him.

A caller, clearly outraged, called in and said that John McCain HAD in fact signed such a form, and that it was on "60 Minutes."

I admit, I brushed this off, because my real claim is simply this: John McCain is MORE of a war hero than George Bush. Barack Obama is LESS of a war hero than John Kerry. So, the Repubs will use ads saying that Michelle Obama has "never been proud of America," and Reverend Wright, and "bitter white foks", and so on. If they could do it to John Kerry, they can clearly do it to a guy whose middle name is "Hussein."

The caller is no doubt correct; my example is no doubt wrong. I won't use it again.
But who cares? I think you have to agree that McCain's military service is more than Bush's, and Obama's is less than Kerry's. If the Repubs could "swiftboat" Kerry, they will "bitter-God Damn America!-Never proud" Obama.

So, I get an email from the caller. He was apparently mad that I didn't take him more seriously. He said:

Dear Mr. Munger,
I was the caller this morning who refuted your assertion that John McCain had not recanted despite years of torture. When I told you that he had called himself a war criminal and signed a confession to that effect you said, "well, we've heard that from one person, Bill, and we'll never hear it again". That you can rise to a position of prominence at a university such as Duke and not know the rudimentary biography of the Republican candidate for President is lamentable at best. Watch the interview McCain gives to Mike Wallace(60 minutes) and see him say it in his own words.
Here's to knowing your subject matter. (Name)

Wow! I shouldn't be a Duke prof because I don't watch "60 Minutes"?

(UPDATE: Last paragraph above edited, after the fact, in acknowledgement of KPC friend "Prison Rodeo"'s comment-remark that I was, in fact, being an ass. Mea culpa; you are right.)

Vote by Mail?

Interesting article from "Campaigns and Elections", on national vote by mail rule.


The bill, called the Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act, was approved by the House Administration Committee, of which Davis is a member, in early April. Davis' office says the next step is to get a full House vote, and Lisa Sherman, Davis' chief of staff, said at least one member of Congress is currently considering sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate.

"We believe it is the constitutional right of every voter to vote by absentee ballot," said Sherman. She added that Davis believes the bill can become law in time for the 2010 elections. Federal election law reforms, however, have been rather rare in recent legislative times...

Leaders with the American Civil Liberties Union have already hailed the bill as a way to eliminate "the unnecessary, burdensome, and often intrusive requirements that some states impose on voters requesting absentee ballots."

"The bill levels the playing field for all voters," said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU policy counsel for civil rights and civil liberties. "We firmly believe that there shouldn't be unnecessary and artificial barriers to vote-and certainly there shouldn't be different standards for voting in the same election just depending on which state that you're in."

Whoa. The ACLU says there shouldn't be different standards for voting in the same election depending on which state you are in?

I have to ask: isn't it a problem for the ACLU that Article I, Section I in the Constitution says:

Section 4. The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.

Debate on this question, from 1788, in VA ratifying convention.

The point is that Congress does have the power to command the states to hold the elections in a certain way. But unless EVERY ASPECT of elections is commanded by the Congress, then the states will ALWAYS have different rules. Vive le difference!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


(Nod to Alex H)

Ban those danglers!

The state of Florida acts to ban those silver metal bull-balls replicas that some people put on their trailer hitch receivers.

Rather unexpectedly, the bill has actually passed the Senate in FL.

As one friend of mine put it, "This is crazy. Most women would LIKE to have a big pair of balls dangling out of their receiver."

I should note that this friend has been married three times, and is currently "between wives," as he puts it. Few women find him as funny as he finds himself. And since he alone finds himself funny, he generally finds himself alone.

(Nod to Mr. Reasonable)

More On Majors and Success

College majors and social mobility

Gregory Wolniak, Tricia Seifert, Eric Reed & Ernest Pascarella
Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, forthcoming

To further our understanding of social mobility in the United States, this study examines the role of major field of study during college, and the relationships between origin characteristics and education attainment. Data, collected in 2001, consisted of information on the college and labor market experiences of 4435 alumni from 30 colleges, as well as matched ACT data on alumni background and pre-college characteristics from three cohorts of college graduates up to 25 years after college. Results indicate that both placement on and movement along the social ladder are affected by college major, and the extent to which status is awarded based on merit relative to inherited economic resources is partially dependent upon major.

Video (Note the short hair....)

Video from News 14 Carolina, on the ballot access trial.

Effectively Impossible, or Impossibly Effective

News and Observer story today on the ballot access lawsuit.

That's where I have been: in court. An interesting process.

Then, there was this story in the Greensboro News and Record.

"Munger admitted"? Let me get this straight:

1. I testified, under oath, that it is "effectively impossible" to run a successful grassroots campaign under the current law.

2. Then, under cross-examination, I "admitted" that no Libertarian candidates had won?

If in fact a Libertarian candidate had won, and I knew it, I think I would have been guilty of perjury, right? Of COURSE no Libertarian candidates have won. That's what it means to be "effectively impossible" to win. The laws are impossibly effective in protecting incumbents.

Still, the reporter here is right: This is the case that the state is trying to make. Wow.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Younger Younger Munger Gets Haircut

Here is Brian, without the uber-fro.

Tom Schaller Column

My boy, Tom Schaller, offers some opinions.

On Hillary.

Oh, sweet fancy Moses

Mr. Card expresses a view of J. K. Rowling.

(nod to Dr. Newmark, who knows things)

Update: Data on NC

John in NC shares some interesting data on the NC primary tomorrow.

Into your heart it will creep...

Wow. My finals remain unwritten, my morning shower un-taken because I am mesmerized by the fascinating case of Priya Venkatesan.

If you've missed all the hubbub, she was a lecturer at Dartmouth (and also an alumna), and currently has a fellowship at Northwestern (and a PhD from UC-San Diego), who is threatening to sue her students and the leadership of her department essentially for being too stupid and racist to understand her erudition.

The WSJ provides a summary of the case here, and Ivygate is a treasure trove of info on the subject.

The Dartmouth Review presents a long interview with Dr. Venkatesan here. I reproduce a long but choice excerpt below where Dr. V decodes the hidden meaning behind one hated student's spelling question:

TDR: There is one specific incident where I heard from one of the girls in your class who was pretty outspoken, and one day she hadn’t spoken for a while and you said, “Could we have a round of applause for this girl, she hasn’t spoken in ten minutes?”

PV: She was probably the most abrasive, the most offensive, the most disruptive student. She ruined that class. She ruined it. She ruined it. That class actually had a lot of potential, there were some really bright kids there, but every time she would do a number of things that were very inappropriate. For instance, I had basically gotten a hold of Blackboard technology, but I was making some mistakes too because I was new to the system, and every time that some link was wrong or some link wasn’t set up right, [girl x] in the beginning of class would point this out to everybody. Then what happened was, I was lecturing on morals and ethics and she just gave me this horrible look, and I was pretty disturbed. I just said what is going on here? The problem with [girl x] is that she can’t take criticism. She can’t take the fact that there is something wrong with her work. Now, some people are like that, a lot of people are like that, unable to take criticism, but the fact of the matter is that I have the PhD in literature, I make the assessment if someone has talent for philosophy, literary theory, and literary criticism. A student might say, well, the hell with you I’m still going to become a literary critic, I had to do that, there were people who criticized me while I was a student, you’re not a good writer or whatever, but I said well I’m still going to go ahead with my goals, but I never made any personal attacks on them or made life difficult for them or was rude to them. I just did the socially acceptable way of dealing with criticism, and [girl x] is the kind of student who does not know the socially acceptable way of dealing with criticism. She thinks the way to go about doing it is to go to my superior or to try to undermine my ability to teach the class. One of the things that she did, this is also really interesting, was that she would always ask me how to spell things. That was her thing. She would say how to do you spell this? How to you spell that? I mean—what am I supposed to do?—so I would tell her. One time Tom Cormen was sitting in the class, and she asked me, how many T’s are in Gattaca. This was the kind of question she was asking, “how many T’s are in Gattaca?,” and I was about to answer her and Tom Cormen pre-empted me, “two t’s.” I’ll leave you to interpret it.

TDR: No. No, I don’t understand that.

PV: I have to tell you: it means tenure track.

TDR: Oh, okay.

PV: Because I wasn’t tenured track.

TDR: Oh, okay, yes.

PV: They were trying to intimate that I wasn’t ready for tenure track.

TDR: Yes, okay, I didn’t realize that’s what that meant.

PV: I’m kind of making this leap because this is the kind of subversiveness that was going on in that environment. That [girl x] would ask how many t’s are in Gattaca and that Tom Cormen would respond, “two T’s” as if I had no grasp on tenure track. ..but with [girl x], something’s going on with her. I’m not a doctor, but she’s not all there.

Wow, now THAT'S paranoia!

Is more regulation always the answer?

As we dig out from the rubble of the housing bubble, calls for more government regulation / involvement abound, including Alan Blinder's piece in Sunday's NYTimes.

But let me just play devil's advocate and suggest that perhaps the problems we encountered didn't arise from insufficient government involvement, but rather that government involvement actually helped cause the problems.

1. There has been and still is a huge government push for people to buy houses. We give a tax deduction for mortgage interest, even on some types of second homes. We have a plethora of policies to make homeowners out of everyone.

2. Our monetary authority, in its infinite wisdom, sometimes pushes interest rates extremely low, encouraging people to borrow a lot and for some investors to take unusual moves to chase returns.

3. Uncle Sam is known to have a soft heart. He is a sucker for a sad story. Put another way, Uncle Sam is a moral hazard creating machine.

While I am sure we will get more regulation, and as suggestions go, some of Blinder's are pretty good, I don't think it's correct to view the housing bubble as an example of the free market going nuts on its own and government having to step in to fix a private sector problem.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Markets in everything: Dromedary Edition

Some things just go together, like roads and serfdom, like Mungowitz and Cheetos, and as KPC readers know, like India and camels!

And now, thanks to soaring oil prices, the bond between Indian and Dromedary is tighter than ever!

Camel demand soars in India

By Jo Johnson in New Delhi

Farmers in the Indian state of Rajasthan are rediscovering the humble camel.

As the cost of running gas-guzzling tractors soars, even-toed ungulates are making a comeback, raising hopes that a fall in the population of the desert state’s signature animal can be reversed.

“It’s excellent for the camel population if the price of oil continues to go up because demand for camels will also go up,” says Ilse Köhler-Rollefson of the League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development. “Two years ago, a camel cost little more than a goat, which is nothing. The price has since trebled.”

Market prices for these “ships of the desert”, which crashed with the growing affordability of motorised transport, are rising again as oil prices soar.

A sturdy male with a life expectancy of 60-80 years now fetches up to Rs40,000 ($973), compared to Rs5,000-Rs10,000 three years ago, according to Hanuwant Singh of the Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan, a non-profit welfare organisation for livestock keepers. Entry-level tractors cost around $4,000.

“It’s very good news,” says Mr Singh, whose organisation aims to dispel the image of backwardness associated with camel ownership and tries to promote higher economic returns for breeders. “We had started to see camels, even female ones, being slaughtered for their meat. Now they are replacing the tractor again.”

Ah yes, Mr. Singh, that is very good news indeed.

"the league for pastoral peoples"? "even-toed ungulates"? "little more than a goat, which is nothing"?

People, India and Camels is comedy gold.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Who are bigger hypocrites than us?

Global warming, oil imported from terror-supporting countries, food shortages and rising food prices. All of which we profess to be against or trying to remedy. Yet we continue to place a $.54 per gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol made from sugar cane to "protect" our corn based ethanol even though (1) Brazil is our friend and (2) sugar based ethanol is way more efficiently produced in Brazil than what we can do with corn here. Yet we continue to cynically and despicably talk on the side of the angels but act on the side of evil. Some of our presidential candidates are also cynically proposing a gas tax holiday to help with high prices (or to help avoid reality in an election year?)

In our government, lying and pandering are in our so commonplace that I don't think anyone in Washington really gives any of this a second thought. The only way I see to change this mess to (1) have national primaries (2) abolish the Senate.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Calling the bottom; or the sky is not falling.

All is not well in the USA. Gas and food prices are high, our presidential candidates are less than scintillating, the Suns are out of the playoffs, and our educational system is failing a significant chunk of our citizens.

But maybe, just maybe, common sense will start to prevail and the hysteria over "financial meldowns" and "deep protracted recessions" will now quiet down at least a few decibels.

Many troubled financial firms have re-capitalized and financial markets seem to have stabilized. A recession of any type has not, to date, been uncovered. Job losses continue but the April numbers are quite a bit less bad than the previous two months. The unemployment rate is 5%.

America has a lot of problems, but a deep extended recession does not appear to be one of them. Somehow we (me included) consistently underestimate the resiliency of our still mainly free market economy.

Of course one big downside to a lessening of the business cycle apocalypse meme is that it will lead directly to an equi-proportionate increase in inequality hysteria.

This is a direct application of Will Self's "quantity theory of insanity" which posits that whenever insanity falls in one dimension, it rises in another.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

WWAD? Would he cheat on an Ethics Test?

Two Southern Illinois University professors have settled a lawsuit they filed after the state said they flunked a mandatory online ethics test because they finished too quickly.
Marvin Zeman and Walter Wallis will both get credit for completing the test they took in 2006. The state Office of Inspector General invalidated their test results, saying the two did not spend enough time on the ethics material.
“I’ve taken this test now three or four times. It was only (in 2006) that there was this nonsense of a time limit,” said Zeman who is president of the faculty association at SIU in Carbondale.
State employees are required to take an annual ethics test that consists of reading
material followed by a series of questions. There are 80-90 computer screen pages of material to review.

Now, what would Angus do, if he were told he had cheated on an ethics test?


(nod to Mr. Overwater)

The Economics of Andrew Bird

there's one guy I'd like to thank
he signs the checks and leaves them blank
he's the one
he says you don't have to walk a plank
the game is rigged, go fig your
slide show tanked
and your flagship sank

so we're taking all our myths to the bank
so just don't forget who to thank
we're taking our myths to the
drinking a fifth to the
we're taking all our myths to the bank

if you could just do him this favor
although it might involve child labor
join his entourage
give him a foot massage
from Star Search to the Philharmonic
he'll get you there with Hooked on Phonics
he's the one to know
doesn't matter if you blow - no no

deals in commodities of the abstract sort
buys them in bulk but sells them short
talent, genius. love even signs of affection
he floods the market there's no price protection
and when his master plan is unfurled
there stands a handsome bid on the weather systems of the world

(from "Banking on a Myth" off "The Mysterious Production of Eggs")