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Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Kerry's concession was as unexpected, at least by me, as it was graceful and correct. Thank you, Senator, very much. You are doing a real service for your country.

I had a nice gloat post all ready to go, too. Photos of all the losers, with some very sharp comments thrown in. I've tossed it.

We're at war, and we are all in this together. We've settled our biggest difference, and now we have a lot of work to do.

You're an American? That's all I need to know. You're on my side.


In Defense Of Tradesports
Wednesday, November 3, 2004

In my opinion, Tradesports performed splendidly this election. Many others will disagree; after all, Tradesports was responsible for that morose dinner I had last night with my patient wife. At 5:30, I was certain Bush had lost.

How could that wild swing - Bush down to 29%! - be anything other than a sign that this market is wild and unreliable? My answer is that the market showed us what was really happening. The election really was a nailbiter, and Bush really was likely to lose early on. I can make a damn good case, too.

A prediction market is not a crystal ball; nothing this side of Fairyland can predict anything which is not already predetermined. It is an information collection device, one that gives you the big picture and the overall odds, moment by moment. Think of it as an incident command center. You have a huge, complex incident to manage, data coming in from all over, and you need to collect this data, analyze it, and see how the big picture changes. It provides you with the best available knowledge for making a prediction about what is likely to happen, and for telling you what you ought to do about it.

And what do you do? In the case of a prediction market, when your position goes to shit, you sell. That's not cowardice or irrational volatility, that's the smart play. It's not like we are talking about a long-term investment here, like stocks or bonds - this something that goes up and down, but usually trends upwards over time. It's winner-take-all, and it gets called within hours.

If I have a lottery ticket that represents a one-in-three chance of winning a dollar, it's worth about 33 cents. If I have something that is worth 33 cents, and somebody wants to buy it for forty cents, I'll sell it instantly. Yes, the odds on that ticket might change later, and maybe they won't. I consider everything, and if my best-guess price is still 33 cents, I'll sell it.

And no, it doesn't matter what I originally paid for it, either. Once the best-guess price falls below what somebody is willing to pay, the only correct response is an instant sale. If you think another strategy makes any sense, it's probably because you don't understand what "best-guess price" really means.

At 5:30 last night, the best-guess price on Bush was 29 cents. The market predicted - correctly - that Bush needed both Florida and Ohio, and early returns from both states looked bad. Knowing only what we knew then, 29 cents was about right. I didn't snap up these shares. In all likelihood, neither did you.

By 9:00 pm, new data was in, and the world was a different place. The market instantly reflected this, and told me that the race was being decided in Ohio. I knew the odds in Ohio, too. I knew everything, and I knew it many hours before the folks on the TV could say a thing.

Critics may say - correctly - that I am full of shit with this defense. Predictions are predictions. Tradesports could have predicted anything, and I could justify it after the fact by saying, "but that's what really happened". My "damn good defense" is pointless.

That's right. If my only defense of Tradesports were the wild fluctuations on display last night, there's be no case at all.

But have a look at this, from back in July:

Tradesport Election Prediction 7/21/04

Have a good, close look.

All along, this market was right. The toss-up states really were toss ups, and the minute-by-minute race exactly reflected it. This was undecided until the end, and the market predicted exactly what states would be decisive. We knew everything that was knowable just by glancing at the page.

The final proof of the predictive power of election markets will not come until many more elections have passed; if I remember my freshman statistics correctly, it's going to take quite a few rounds before we have a definitive answer. Since major elections are years apart, we will all be long dead before that time.

Personally, I have an awful lot of faith in this method. The trick is just to understand the difference between what is predictable, and what is not.


Last Minute Election News
Tuesday, November 2, 2004

11:20pm EST: Tradesports now 71:28, in favor of Bush, and I'm going to bed.

Expect the mother of all lawsuits tomorrow...

10:08pm EST: Tradesports now 64:34, in favor of Bush.

9:52pm EST: Tradesports now 54:46, in favor of Bush! I think I'm having a stroke.

Update: Latest Ohio numbers here.

Fucking Ohio.


I did the math. It's Ohio. Whoever takes Ohio wins the race.

9:40pm EST, Tradesports has Ohio at 50:50! The overall race is 48:52!

BUSH IS CURRENTLY AHEAD IN OHIO, 52% to 47%, with 11% of the precincts counted!

Somebody get me a drink...

9:10pm EST: Tradesports now 47:56! It's still in play, boys and girls!

9:00pm EST: Tradesports now 40:60, in favor of Kerry. This might still be a race.

5:38pm EST: Tradesports now 29:73, in favor of Kerry. Sorry, guys.

Here's the Tradesports by-state data expressed as an electoral vote map. It looks rather grim at the moment.

5:26 pm EST

4:38pm EST: Tradesports now 36:63, in favor of Kerry. Freefall.

3:38pm EST: Tradesports now 48:52, in favor of Kerry. The site is overloaded and the graphs don't work...

Here's a nice listing of tonight's unoffical election results.

Chief Justice Rehnquist is gravely ill - probably dying - and is not going to return to the bench. We'll soon need to appoint a new Justice, and promote another to be the new Chief Justice.

Not like this wasn't already an important election...

It looks like the weather won't be much of a factor:

Nice day for an election

That green stuff is just light rain.

The full translation of the Bin Ladin tape is now available, and it's remarkable. Bin Ladin talks about what a crappy president Bush is... how he's lost jobs, increased the deficit, spilled blood for oil, and - I shit you not - he even mentions Halliburton!

It's incredible. Check it out for yourself.

I'm happy that my party is not the one being quoted by this guy.

Cox and Forkum are in good form today...

Cox And Forkum, Used with permission.

More updates to be posted as they come...


Fascinating, If True
Sunday, October 31, 2004

Powerline uncovers an intriguing possibility:

[According to MEMRI, the media mistranslated Bin Laden's phrase] "ay wilaya" (which means "each U.S. state") to mean a "country" or "nation" other than the U.S., while in fact the threat was directed specifically at each individual U.S. state... In a section of his speech in which he harshly criticized George W. Bush, bin Laden stated: "Any U.S. state that does not toy with our security automatically guarantees its own security."

The Islamist website Al-Qal'a explained what this sentence meant: "This message was a warning to every U.S. state separately. When he [Osama Bin Laden] said, 'Every state will be determining its own security, and will be responsible for its choice,' it means that any U.S. state that will choose to vote for the white thug Bush as president has chosen to fight us, and we will consider it our enemy, and any state that will vote against Bush has chosen to make peace with us, and we will not characterize it as an enemy.

This has a couple of very interesting implications.

Al Queda has a history of returning to the same targets. To my knowledge, the known Al Queda targets in the US are NY City, Los Angles, Seattle, and Washington DC. Maybe Boston, too.

Every one of these cities are in states that will vote democrat this year.

If MEMRI's analysis is correct, does this suggest Bin Laden will change his target list?

Here's the Tradesports estimate of the states likely to go to Bush:

     50.1  OHIO
     51.0  IOWA
     59.0  FLORIDA
     66.0  NEWMEXICO
     75.0  NEVADA
     80.0  COLORADO
     84.1  ARKANSAS
     86.3  MISSOURI
     87.1  VIRGINIA
     89.0  ARIZONA
     92.5  TENNESSEE
     95.0  MISSISSIPPI
     96.0  GEORGIA
     96.5  NEBRASKA
     96.5  NORTHDAKOTA
     96.5  SOUTHDAKOTA
     96.8  ALABAMA
     97.0  ALASKA
     97.0  KENTUCKY
     97.4  INDIANA
     97.4  KANSAS
     97.4  UTAH
     97.4  WYOMING
     97.5  LOUISIANA
     97.5  MONTANA
     98.0  TEXAS
     98.9  IDAHO
     98.9  OKLAHOMA

Al Queda likes symbolic targets - symbols of American power, symbols that are known throughout the world - the Towers, the Pentagon, the White House, LAX, the Space Needle...

Any cites or landmarks in this list leap out at you?

Nevada, maybe - good old sin city, Las Vegas would be a good one. Maybe in Texas, Bush's home state, they could target an oil refinery or a port.

Anything else?

The second implication - so obvious is hardly bears mentioning - is that Bin Laden may have seen fit to personally threaten us not to vote for Bush.

If you believe that, you know what to do...


Three Sure Things
Thursday, October 28, 2004

I wish I could tell you who was going to win this election, but I can't. The best I can tell, it's going to be fucking close, almost a toss-up. Anything could happen.

One thing that certainly won't happen is that we hold any sort of a national election for president here in the US. We don't hold national elections, and never have; instead, we'll hold fifty different state elections, all at the same time. Each state makes up its own rules, administers its own election process, tabulates its own results, and resolves internal disputes by itself, using their own procedures as interpreted by their own lawyers. Each of them are different; each is imperfect; each is uncomfortably open to widespread fraud, and each is likely to be staffed with several well-meaning but shockingly incompetent people, with a handful of honest-to-god scam artists thrown in.

There is simply no way for us to hold a close presidential election which is going to be clean enough for the current electorate to accept; unless one of the candidates can surprise us all with a decisive margin of victory, we will be entering election-dispute hell, and that we will be staying there for several months.

Once that happens, here are three things you can absolutely count on:

1) Bush stole the election. If he wins - or even if he just claims a win - there is zero chance, none, that charges of fraud will not loudly be raised. It's as good as pre-stolen. Furthermore, blacks will be disenfranchised by the millions, quite possibly even the billions. This story is already written and carefully rehearsed; whatever actually occurs is irrelevant. Every mainstream media outfit will trumpet this like it's news, and many people will believe it, too.

2) The final call is going to be made by Federal judges, probably under the Equal Protection doctrine. Equal Protection, like the Commerce Clause, is sort of an all-purpose method for the feds to assume authority for everything, even those things which are, constitutionally, explicitly under the control of the states. We will pay dearly for this down the road, because every fucking election for the rest of our lives is likely to be settled this way. After all, once an unelected, unaccountable branch of government assumes final authority over the election process itself, what could possibly go wrong?

Oh, yeah, and there might be only eight justices this time, instead of nine. Think about that one for a minute.

In the Supreme Court, ties default to the status quo - they means they uphold whatever the lower court decided. So, if this election gets decided by some harebrained district judge in the middle of butt-nowhere, he's likely to set precedent for the entire nation. I'll bet you the entire contents of my checking account that both sides have already considered this, and have already pre-selected which judges they will appeal to in each contested district. (After all, what could possibly go wrong)?

3) No matter who wins, the Democratic party is going to enter into a major crisis.

A Kerry loss will smell a lot like 1968. I honestly expect to see something of a return to the small-scale domestic terrorism we saw during that time; the Weather Underground, the SLA, the Black Panthers and other disaffected leftists wreaked a surprising amount of havoc for a while. It's quite possible they may have a few contemporaries, people who feel they had been excluded from the political process and who are ready to bomb and shoot their way back to the table. (Undoubtably, these folks will revert to the old 1968 playbook. They will be quickly realize that law enforcement is using the newer 2004 playbook, and they can discuss it amongst themselves while they are rotting in jail).

A Kerry win might be little better. Even if Kerry is a good guy - hardworking, honest, capable, and doing the best he can - his only real mandate now is simply to remove Bush, and it will be gone the moment he is sworn into office. He will be compelled to lead a nation of mostly hawks, and to do it with a Republican house and senate. The anti-war wing of his party has a serious disappointment waiting for them in 2005.

Kerry is not going to deliver huge tax hikes, or heath care for everyone, or a quick way out of Iraq; the legislature is simply not going to go along. He is not going to bring you Osama Bin Laden or reduce terrorism to a nuisance, either; he's just going to be a freshman president, facing a hostile legislature and a deeply divided, mostly pro-war electorate. The Republicans are going to pound the crap out of him at every opportunity, and he will have very little to use against them.

What's he going to do, threaten the Republicans with the seething, untapped power of the dovish middle?

Pro-war Democrats don't concern me; they are mostly sane, and they seem willing to put their nation first. The antiwar left is going to implode, and it's just a matter of how much damage they do on their way to history's dustbin.


Many thanks to BarcePundit for providing links to this chilling video of the Madrid bombings (windows media and quicktime). If you haven't seen it yet, you should.

BarcePundit also made a comment that I feel compelled to address:

And that's precisely the most unsettling moment, at least the one that impressed me most: seeing all those doctors and policemen leaving the wounded and running away to shield themselves from what they thought was going to be another explosion, leaving the wounded unattended. I just can't imagine what would have been in my mind if I had been one of the people on the floor, with serious injuries, or how helpless I would've felt seeing all these guys running away. On the other hand, of course, I can't judge; fortunately I haven't found myself in such a situation, and it's impossible to know what would be my, or anyone else's, reaction in a moment like that. But as far as I know, the NYFD guys kept going up on the second WTC tower after the first one had already fallen, knowing that it meant they would probably die too: they simply were trying to save as many lives as possible and as long as they could.

I don't know what to think; it's undeniable that the police and medical services did a tremendous job on that fateful day, and I don't want to seem like I'm unfairly criticizing them. It's just that altogether this is so, so unsettling; it was really difficult, almost impossible, to contain the feelings while watching the footage.

I am currently working towards my EMT-basic recertification. We have a specific policy on this sort of thing, and it's a good one:

"You're of no fucking use if you're a victim."

There is a reason why the bad guys like to place secondary devices, timed to kill the rescuers who respond; if you kill or disable the rescuers, there won't be anyone around who can quickly replace them. If there is no one left to do the important work of saving the victims, more of them will die.

Yes, this can look a lot like cowardice, and yes, it requires tremendous professional discipline to back away from a hazardous situation when there are helpless people in your care. Most medical folks will instinctively defend their patients to their last dying breath, and would not abandon them for anything. It's a fine and noble thing, but it is not always the right thing to do. In a mass casualty incident, that handful of doctors, EMTs and First Responders available to you are like gold. You need to protect them, or else everyone loses.

A not-infrequent and terrible example can be found in any low-oxygen confined space. A rescuer looks in, and sees a person down. He enters so that he might help, finds that he is inexplicably dizzy, and falls to the ground himself. His partner, disregarding his own safety, comes in to help...

Sometimes you'll have five or six dying people piled one atop the other until somebody figures out what's going on; then cooler heads prevail and you decide to do the right thing, and wait until the scene is made safe. Then you hope there are enough of your team left alive to provide the assistance that is now so desperately needed.

If you must endure a ten minute delay to stabilize the scene of a bombing, most of your recoverable victims will still survive. If you sacrifice most of your team in a well-intentioned but futile act of courage, theirs will not be the only additional lives that are lost.

This is the sort of grim math that matters, and the sort of discipline that separates the professionals from the amateurs.

Having said all that, the actions of the FDNY on 9/11 were not only genuinely heroic, they were probably, in the final analysis, correct. The looming collapse of the World Trade Center in the midst of a full evacuation was a remarkably unusual event. These firefighters were herding people out by the dozen, saving lives every second they were there. Unlike a medical tech at a trauma scene, who might spend several minutes attempting to recover a single victim, these folks were saving many lives per minute. I am confident they knew exactly the danger they were in, and that they knew their worth as they held their posts. They traded away their lives that day, but got good value for their sacrifice. It was more than you could reasonably ask of anyone.

They saw their duty and rose to it as one, and quite frankly, I am in awe of them. Knowing that, I would also be the first, if necessary, to physically drag my team away from a suspected bomb. I do not feel that there is any conflict here at all.

The grim math is ugly, but it matters.


I'm An Idiot
Tuesday, October 5, 2004

I made a big, fat, stupid mistake in an earlier post. I'd like to thank my brother in law, Karl, for bugging me about this until I finally figured out what I did wrong.

I have been insisting for the last several months that the number of jobs in this country is at an all-time high. This is incorrect; the high point was January, 2001, and there have been job lost since that time which have not been regained.

The latest firm numbers are for June, 2004, where we have 131,258,000 jobs. On January 2001, there were 132,388,000 jobs, a difference of 1,130,000 jobs, representing about a 0.85 percent loss.

All Employees, Thousands, Total Non-farm

My mistake? I misunderstood the term "Civilian Labor Force" - it means the number of people who either have jobs or are available for work, not the number of people who are currently working. The Civilian Labor Force is at an all-time high, and I misunderstood this to mean that the number of jobs was at an all-time high.


I do stand by the rest of my assertions, however; the jobs we do have are better-paying jobs, certainly much better than they were when Clinton ran for reelection at the end of his first term in '96:

Average Hourly Earnings, 1982 Dollars, Total Private
[Note this these are 'real dollars', already adjusted for inflation]

And the unemployment rate - which represents how many people are actually looking for work - is virtually identical to that during Clinton's 1996 reelection bid:

Pink bars are recessions

So, I was, like, 66% right. If anybody wants to nominate me for the Dan Rather Accuracy In Reporting Award, I think I've earned it...


Feces Flinging Monkey

Quote Of The Day

It's become something of a tradition for me to post something like this before every election. Here's a great quote from The Armchair Economist:

I have no idea why people vote. One hundred million Americans cast votes for president in 1992. I wager that not one of those hundred million was naive enough to believe that he was casting the decisive vote in an otherwise tied election. It is fashionable to cite John F. Kennedy's razor-thin 300,000 vote margin over Richard M. Nixon in 1960, but 300,000 is not the same as one - even by the standards of precision that are conventional in economics. It is equally fashionable to cite the observation that "if everyone else thought that way and stayed home, then my vote would be important", which is as true and as irrelevant as the observation that if voting booths were spaceships, voters could travel to the moon. Everyone else does not stay home. The only choice that an individual voter faces is whether or not to vote, given that tens of millions of others are voting. At the risk of shocking your ninth-grade civics teacher, I am prepared to offer you an absolute guarantee that if you stay home in 1996, you indolence will not affect the outcome. So why do people vote? I don't know.

He is, of course, absolutely correct. Despite a lifetime of voting, I have never decided a single national election - and neither have you. Yet I vote, every time.

The triumph of optimisim over experience? Simple irrationality? Stubbornness? I honestly don't know.

See you at the polls...


Interesting Look At The Bin Ladin Tape

This commenter at Roger Simon's place (who seems to be quoting someone else) offers a damned interesting analysis:

Copyright John with apologies to DTP:

I doubt there is collusion but damn this eerie:

Democratic talking point 1: Bush lies.

"Bush is still practicing distortion and misleading on you, and obscuring the main reasons and therefore the reasons are still existing to repeat what happened before."

Democratic talking point 2: Bush family/Saudi connection.

"Both parties are arrogant and stubborn and the greediness and taking money without right and that similarity appeared during the visits of Bush to the region while people from our side were impressed by the US and hoped that these visits would influence our countries. Here he is being influenced by these regimes, Royal and military."

Democratic talking point 3: Patriot law takes away our freedoms.

"So he transferred the oppression of freedom and tyranny to his son and they call it the Patriot Law to fight terrorism."

Democratic talking point 4: Bush stole the 2000 election.

"He was bright in putting his sons as governors in states and he didn't forget to transfer his experience from the rulers of our region to Florida to falsify elections to benefit from it in critical times."

Democratic talking point 5: 9/11 and My pet goat story

"Before Bush and his administration would pay attention and we never thought that the high commander of the US armies would leave 50 thousand of his citizens in both towers to face the horrors by themselves when they most needed him because it seemed to distract his attention from listening to the girl telling him about her goat butting was more important than paying attention to airplanes butting the towers which gave us three times the time to execute the operation thank god."

So was it really Bin Laden, or just Terry McAuliffe in drag?

This Is Too Funny

It's possible this was just a weird computer glitch, but it sure looks as if someone with more money than sense tried to influence the Tradesports prediction market.

They tried to depress the price of the Bush-wins-the-election market by dumping all their shares at rock-bottom prices. The market, of course, instantly recovered, and they ended up blowing ten grand for nothing.

Lefties never seem to understand basic econ...

Ten grand! Incredible.

Why They Call Them 'Damnbies'

Impressive video of motorcycle/deer collision.

I rode a bike for a long time - right up to the point when my ruined right wrist wouldn't go back far enough to twist the throttle anymore. (Note to self - next time, let go of the handlebars before vaulting over the back of the car).

That's the problem with objective hazards; it's not if, lads, but when.

Link Of The Day

Nice bit of research here.

Too bad you can't find this sort of context in the papers...

Odds And Ends

Here's a credit-card sized shotgun. Worthless, but kind of interesting.

Here's a technical evaluation of kittens as computer accessories.

Here's some damn horrifying photos.

Here's a creepy ghost story.

And here's some Humvees with fricken' lasers mounted on their heads.

Word Of The Day


Yes, it does mean what you think it means, and yes, I expect that this sort of thing will consume over 80% of available internet resources by 2008.

None Shall Provoke Me With Impunity


Day By Day, by Chris Muir. Used with permission.

Day By Day, by Chris Muir

Cox And Forkum, Used with permission.

Achewood, by Chris Onstad. Used with permission.

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