Monday, September 29, 2008

Old Joke

FDR used to tell a joke about a Wall Street plutocrat. Everyday, this fellow would go up to a newsstand, buy a copy of the paper, look at the front page, then throw it away in disgust. Finally, the newsboy gets up the courage and says, "Hey mister, what are you lookin' for?"
The plutocrat says, "an obituary."
"But the obituaries are in the back" the newsboy says.
And the plutocrat says, "Not the obituary that I'm looking for!"

Unless we can update this joke to be about Bush or Paulson, or Henry Reid or Nancy Pelosi, they're not doing their jobs.

Bailout with me oh yeah

It seems that from a practical standpoint, the two people that most need to approve of the bailout are Barack Obama and John McCain because one of them will end up implementing most of it. Of course that makes it hard to dodge responsibility. Perhaps it's best to just hope the Bushies don't spend all the 'blank check' money before you get your mits on it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If I overpay you for the box, then that makes the sawdust inside taste better!

In the most truthful and honest and non-snide way, I don't understand how buying assets backed by mortgages makes the mortgages less likely to foreclose. I can't get my head wrapped around it.

This came up in the comments I last posted about. One of the other commenters posted this link to a Jim Cramer column. Cramer says,
It doesn’t address the real problems of people losing their homes.
Wrong. Declining home prices are the reason owners are either walking away or being forced out. Paulson’s plan puts a stop to the root cause of this: foreclosures. Other housing-related problems, from making mortgage money available to shrinking inventories, are being solved. This plan takes care of the last one.
I just don't see the linkage. It seems like the value of the mortgage should be driving the value of the security, not the other way around.

The p.e. bailout:

At heart, the problem is that people can't pay their mortgages, and no one can be found to come in and buy the houses when they foreclose, which means the securities can't get paid off.

One of the problems with buying those securities as a market stablization strategy is that no one knows what they're worth or what the risk involved in them is. Indeed, that's how we got to where we are right now.

My solution: Buy foreclosed or foreclosing houses. Houses are still being sold, so you can calculate a price, and there's a concrete asset that you get. The banks get some of their money, so that should get the securities moving.

The best part: you can remortgage the house to the previous owner on a different set of terms (i.e. the fixed rate, long term, variable payment model I saw and can't find the link to).

Note that my plan is basically ripped-off from the Center for American Progress's plan, except that they call for the financial companies to undo the securitization and put the mortgages back together before the government will buy them. I think that step will be 1. Hard and 2. Invites manipulations because it is hard. Also, houses are easier to price than mortgages (i think).
Paraphrased as a comment at mDubious

The theodicy of the Paulson Bailout

A. You must give us our money by Friday
B. We didn't know before last Friday that we needed the money this Friday.
C. You can trust* us.

One of these premises is false.

*: in the sense of both wise and honest.
theodicy: the philosophy of why G-d is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, yet bad things still happen.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Stop the presses

"Half the teens that died in car crashes in 2005 were killed between 3 p.m. and midnight. Check your local teen driving curfews."

So, half the people were killed in a third of the day, and another third of the day is when everyone is asleep. Wow.

This is from one of those Allstate adds trying to get the driving age raised. Blech.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why I don't read National Review

National Review is one of the key intellectual havens of the right, founded by William F. Buckley. Their group blog, The Corner, is a good place to go if you want to know what The Right is up to (insofar as it is monolithically 'up to' anything).

National Review is the kind of place where you would hear the intriguingly counter-logical, yet somehow plausible facts that can really change how you view things. e.g.:
House Democrats on June 11 blocked Rep. John E. Peterson’s (R., Penn.) legislation to allow oil drilling 50 miles from America’s shores. Obstructionist Democrats could not fathom such activity, even 38 miles past where the horizon gobbles everything. Nor is the Just Say No crowd impressed that Hurricane Katrina slammed Gulf oil platforms with nary a spill.

Of course, then we read things like this, from a Reuters article on Hurricane Ike:
Ike plowed a destructive path through the state after slamming into the Texas coast early on Saturday and moving inland to Houston, the heart of the U.S. oil industry, forcing many refineries to shut down as a precaution.

President George W. Bush, who will visit his home state on Tuesday, said it was too early to determine the damage to U.S. energy infrastructure. The storm also halted crude oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, representing a quarter of U.S. output.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the storm damaged some offshore oil production facilities but did not yet know the extent.

But, just because an oil facility is destroyed, will it necessarily leak? This answer comes from a Guardian (UK) article in the aftermath of Katrina.

Initial aerial reconnaissance by the environmental protection agency suggests no serious chemical damage but has revealed several large oil spills.

About 85,000 barrels of crude is now known to have escaped from a Murphy Oil plant in Chalmette, Louisiana, and a further 68,000 barrels were spilled by a damaged storage tank at the Bass Enterprises site in Venice.

So, why don't I read National Review? I'm too logical. Bad facts have a way of overcoming my innate emotional sympathies and giving me bad, yet persuasive views. See: We should invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein tried to buy some high-speed switches.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I know I should be pointing out that JOHN MCCAIN WANTS TO RAISE YOUR TAXES AND SIMULTANEOUSLY CUT OFF YOUR EMPLOYER HEALTHCARE but I can't stop looking at the shiny distraction.

In her first serious interview, Sarah Palin talked to Charlie Gibson. Someone pointed out that she said his name instead of "um," to some ridicule.

Personally, I couldn't stop thinking of the absolutely awesome "Charlie the Unicorn" series. So, watch the interview, watch Charlie the Unicorn, and then watch the Mashup. Go web go.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Kerry Error

It turns out, the SURGE is not over. If the 8000 troops that Bush promised to pull out of Iraq do leave (an if, considering he won't be Commander in Chief anymore), we will still have more troops in Iraq than we did before the SURGE started.

This despite widespread support for getting the hell out. When Rachel Maddow asked Matthew Continetti which presidential candidate was going to get the troops out and he said, more or less, both of them, then proceeded to equate Obama's reactionl force idea with McCain's slow, milestone based withdrawl. The quote is about 2:30 in.

Coincidentally, Continetti happens to have changed his assesment in the last 12 days.*

More significantly, people understand (by which I mean I'm trying to persuade you, people) that Obama and the Dems very much want to get troops out of Iraq, and that McCain and Bush don't so much want to get troops out of Iraq. What that wanting leads to is that in a case where Iraq is a mixed bag of good and not so good news, Barack Obama is going to be more likely to withdraw troops, and McCain will be more likely to not withdraw troops, or even to add more troops.*2

The reason I call this the Kerry Error is that in 2004, Kerry tried to sound exactly as hawkish as George W. Bush on Iraq. Because Kerry had previously been critical of the war, people didn't believe him.*3

I guess this means character counts, but not in the way that you think.

*: Washington Post, August 31, 2008 Sounds Nice, But Will It Get Votes?
BYLINE: Matthew Continetti

Relevant quote in context, bold italics mine:
The converts whom Obama has attracted to his cause? He has been endorsed by Jim Leach, a former liberal Republican congressman from Iowa; Lincoln Chafee, a former liberal Republican senator from Rhode Island; and Jim Whitaker, the mayor of Fairbanks, Alaska. Not exactly the Rat Pack.

But that doesn't matter. Postpartisanship makes for good headlines. It heightens the self-esteem of goo-goo sophisticates who want to be above disagreement. But the truth is that you can't have democratic politics without disagreement. The sharp differences between the two parties are there for a reason. Folks think differently about how much income you should take home, what sort of judges should sit on the bench, what type of light bulb you ought to use, how and when the troops should come home from Iraq, how great a role religion ought to play in public life, who was the greatest Beatle, etc. In this evenly divided nation, political success depends on motivating the groups that agree with you to go to the polls in greater numbers than the groups that don't.

And that is the postpartisan's dilemma. Partisans will happily pull the lever for one of their own. But how many will turn out for a maverick?

*2: Add more troops? Why not? The Army is constantly cycling brigades in and cycling them out. It would be simple to keep the cycling-out brigades a few weeks longer and bring in the cycling-in brigades a few weeks earlier. After all - that's how they pulled off the surge. And who would notice? When was the last time you checked the number of U.S. troops in Iraq?

*3: And with good reason. Would Kerry have done the SURGE, or would he have followed the Iraq Study Group recommendations? Obviously the latter, which is less hawkish, but arguably would have been better for the country.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Obviously the 'skeletons' being 'dug up' by the media in Alaska were put there by Satan to fool those with weak beliefs.

Bananapoint: Sarah Palin is a young earth creationist who thinks creationism should be taught in schools.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Vogelstein is smarter than I thought

A.K.A. an argument for reading the actual article.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about whole genome studies of human tumours. My post whined about the difficulty of digging anything out of such studies, and used the popular press reports to back that up.
As promised, I went back and read one of the original articles - the one about pancreatic cancer. These articles are significantly more successful than advertised. Methodologically, they didn't just look at the less than 1% of the genome that directly codes genes, they also looked at expression levels of those genes, which gets at mutations in the other 99%.
Aggregating those two pieces of information gave them the ~60 mutations in each of the pancreatic cancers. As expected, few genes came up consistently. At this point, the authors took advantage of what we know about cell biology: few genes act independently, they work in networks, or pathways.
Consider how I'm typing this paragraph now - ideas enter my mind, I pass the signal to my fingers to type, the keyboard converts the mechanical movement of the keys into electricity, the computer reads the signal from the keyboard, the wireless card transmits the data to the internet, a server stores the data, etc. etc. You might simplify it as:
Brain->Fingers->CPU->Network card->Server->Your Network Card->Your CPU->Your Monitor->Your Eye->Your Brain
Two things to notice. 1: A breakdown at any step of the process will cause the same end effect - you perceive nothing. 2: The exact physical thing is not being transmitted. Now, consider a molecular pathway, the Insulin-like Growth Factor pathway:
Pure poetry, I know. It's known that Ras is mutated in about 25% of cancers. Perhaps Ras is particularly succeptible to mutation, but there's little reason why Ras has to be the point of mutation. And, indeed, while Vogelstein's group failed to find specific genes that were universally mutated, they found several pathways that were very frequently or always mutated.

This brings us to why this is good news. 100% of patients with pancreatic cancer had a mutation in this pathway (they refer to it as KRAS). This means A: You don't need to alter specific members of the pathway, you just need to change the output toward normal and B: If you find something that does affect the IGF pathway, you can give it to all your pancreatic cancer patients.

C: Read the actual article before you go off.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

More evidence that Sarah ain't ready

email sent to AndrewSullivan
Sarah Palin (literally) not ready for prime time.
Or Sunday morning, or late night, or the View

Questions and answers

In re: Palin not taking interviews

Isn't not being ready to answer questions on day 7 an admission that you're won't have answers on day 1?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Genetic Map of Cancer Reveals Unexpected Complexity

The Vogelstein group sequenced the coding portions of 20,000 human genes for 22 brain cancer patients and 24 pancreatic cancer patients. Patients had a mutation in, on average, 60 genes. None of them overlapped completely.

How is any of this surprising?

Vogelstein is famous (in science, at least) for identifying the stereotypical steps undergone as a colon polyp becomes larger and more aggressive before finally graduating to full cancer-hood.

Large numbers of polyps and easy access to pre-clinical tumors made that story possible. Also helping were patients with Adenomatous polyposis, who quickly develop large numbers of polyps because every cell of their body already carries the first mutation in Vogelstein's series.

Consider if they had done this classical study not by grabbing polyps, but by looking at full-on cancers. The sequence of mutations would be impossible to determine. By the time that colon cancer is symptomatic, it will have acquired mutations in DNA repair genes, which means mutations will occur much more frequently, not just in areas where they are evolutionarily advantageous, but also in completely random places.

Basically, you would expect to get a mess, which is exactly what Vogelstein found. Now to read the paper and see if we've learned anyting.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

John McCain: The unknown

Nate has a post up, arguing that people aren't going to trust Sarah Palin's take on Barack Obama because 63% already have a strongly entrenched positive or negative perception of him while she is relatively unknown, only 45%. He provides this data:

Percentage viewing as Very Favorable OR Very Unfavorable
Obama 63
B. Clinton 63
Gore 61
H. Clinton 60
Bush 60
Cheney 59
Pelosi 51
T. Kennedy 48
Palin 45
Kerry 45
McCain 43
Romney 38
Biden 33

I think he's burying lede. Look more closely:

Percentage viewing as Very Favorable OR Very Unfavorable
Obama 63
Palin 45
McCain 43

More people have a strong opinion about Palin than McCain! Talk about the man from nowhere.

crossposted as a comment at 538

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sarah Palin is a Petro-Dictator

Let's send Brian Schweitzer after her!

Seriously, Alaska is a frozen emirate / welfare state. Seriously, $243 million for a bridge to be used by 7500 people?

Guiliani just made my least favorite mistake

Guiliani: Barack Obama was a community organizer
RNC: hahahahaahahahahaah!

see my comments below

Following Bin Laden to the gates of Waziristan

William Safire wrote an op-ed about the Obama acceptance speech. Quote:
Then came a strange one: “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell — but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.” What’s that supposed to mean — that McCain is a coward, unwilling to lead a charge into the hills of Pakistan?

Wow, that's so confusing. How can I figure out what that possibly means? Perhaps I'll go to the Barack Obama article on Wikipedia and Ctrl+f 'find' any reference to Pakistan. Serendipity!
Obama said "it was a terrible mistake to fail to act" against a 2005 meeting of al-Qaeda leaders that U.S. intelligence had confirmed to be taking place in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He said that as president he would not miss a similar opportunity, even without the support of the Pakistani government.

Whew, that research was really hard! John McCain opposes strikes without the permission of the Pakistani government. Hmmm... Maybe Safire did do his research, and is just counting on you not knowing? In that case, he wouldn't have to tell you that Barack Obama is to John McCain's RIGHT on going after bin Laden.

Coincidentally, the U.S. struck into Pakistan today without getting permission first. So, once again, we see Barack Obama propose a policy, get laughed at for six months, then Bush finally follows the policy, and John McCain (eventually) praises Bush. Makes you feel sorry for John McCain. Where's he gonna get all 'his' great ideas from once Barack stops running?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The atmospherics of diversity


One way in which McCain and Bush really do seem different is that McCain isn’t committed to the atmospherics of diversity in the way Bush was.

Then what do you call Sarah Palin? It turns out that the window dressers of America aren't finished yet!

Mdubious is, of course a reference to this

Monday, September 01, 2008

The NPR Accent

Listening to Wait Wait... Don't tell me from the NPR site. The voice in the ad for NPR CDs had that strange, stereotypical accent of NPR announcers.

Since I'm reading George Orwell's diaries, it reminded me of his hatred of the BBC accent, which isn't used by any actual English people and just has the virtue of carrying well on the radio. Is there an NPR accent that marks one as a liberal American?


From NYT:

The selection [of Palin] was the culmination of a five-month process, described by Mr. McCain’s inner circle and outside advisers in interviews this past weekend, and offers a glimpse into how Mr. McCain might make high-stakes decisions as president.

At the very least, the process reflects Mr. McCain’s history of making fast, instinctive and sometimes risky decisions. “I make them as quickly as I can, quicker than the other fellow, if I can,” Mr. McCain wrote, with his top adviser Mark Salter, in his 2002 book, “Worth the Fighting For.” “Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint.”

McCain made his decision slower than the other fellow. Much slower if you consider he had 3+ months to do it while the Clinton/Obama show was going on. Note his refusal to make a decision until the very last moment, and when he couldn't get who he wanted (Lieberman) he picked someone out of right field "Oh,you say you want a conservative? Well I'll show you."

If you like a politics based on overreaction to perceived insults, McCain is your guy. If you think chest thumping is leadership...