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  • Archive for March, 2012

    Magic Condo

    Posted by Jonathan on 22nd March 2012 (All posts by )

    A rainbow appears in the sky behind a Miami condo building. (© 2012 Jonathan Gewirtz /


    Posted in Photos | Comments Off on Magic Condo

    Estimating Odds

    Posted by Jonathan on 22nd March 2012 (All posts by )

    From a comment by “Eggplant” at Belmont Club:

    Supposedly the US has war gamed this thing and the prospects look poor. A war game is only as good as the assumptions programmed into it. Can the war game be programmed to consider the possibility that a single Iranian leader has access to an ex-Soviet nuke and is crazed enough to use it?
    Of course the answer is “No Way”.
    A valid war game would be a Monte Carlo simulation that considered a range of possible scenarios. However the tails of that Gaussian distribution would offer extremely frightening scenarios. The Israelis are in the situation where truly catastrophic scenarios have tiny probability but the expectation value [consequence times probability] is still horrific. However “fortune favors the brave”. Also being the driver of events is almost always better than passively waiting and hoping for a miracle. That last argument means the Israelis will launch an attack and probably before the American election.

    These are important points. The outcomes of simulations, including the results of focus groups used in business and political marketing, may be path-dependent. If they are the results of any one simulation may be misleading and it may be tempting to game the starting assumptions in order to nudge the output in the direction you want. It is much better if you can run many simulations using a wide range of inputs. Then you can say something like: We ran 100 simulations using the parameter ranges specified below and found that the results converged on X in 83 percent of the cases. Or: We ran 100 simulations and found no clear pattern in the results as long as Parameter Y was in the range 20-80. And by the way, here are the data. We don’t know the structure of the leaked US simulation of an Israeli attack on Iran and its aftermath.

    It’s also true, as Eggplant points out, that the Israelis have to consider outlier possibilities that may be highly unlikely but would be catastrophic if they came to pass. These are possibilities that might show up only a few times or not at all in the output of a hypothetical 100-run Monte Carlo simulation. But such possibilities must still be taken into account because 1) they are theoretically possible and sufficiently bad that they cannot be allowed to happen under any circumstances and 2) the simulation-based probabilities may be inaccurate due to errors in assumptions.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Iran, Israel, National Security, Predictions, Quotations, Statistics, Systems Analysis, War and Peace | 16 Comments »

    Circulating in my kids’ school

    Posted by TM Lutas on 22nd March 2012 (All posts by )

    Popular joke in the halls

    Q: What do you call Call of Duty in Pakistan?

    A: Sims.

    I think this generation hasn’t quite internalized multi-culti.

    Posted in Humor, Personal Narrative | 4 Comments »

    The Press Lords and the Memory Hole

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st March 2012 (All posts by )

    So it was interesting – in a slow down and get a good look at the media wreck by the side of the highway kind of way – watching the Malia-Obama-Goes-to-Mexico story getting scrubbed off newspaper sites the other day. My daughter was actually surfing the intertubules that afternoon, noticed how the story was there and gone again, in the blink of an eye: ‘Hey, there’s another Obama vay-cay, how many weeks since the last one? Whoops!’ Quite honestly, we had never seen the like; a news story appearing and disappearing like that, and I thought at first that maybe a couple of newspapers had fallen for a fake story and then withdrawn it almost at once. But no … it was was a genuine story, and massively-withdrawn almost as soon as it was posted here, there and almost everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Holidays, Latin America, Media, Obama | 12 Comments »

    Hairdressers and Dentists

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st March 2012 (All posts by )

    A long time ago I decided to make an effort to look my best. Conventional wisdom said guys get better haircuts at female hair shops because the standards are higher. (Actually the prices are higher because getting your man-hair cut at a chick place is like taking your Camry to the Rolls Royce dealer for an oil change. Also some female barbers hairdressers give high-maintenance haircuts that look good when you are all teased and pouffed up as you leave the shop but require gels and blow-dryers to maintain the look. But I digress.) Anyway I started getting my haircuts at places that called themselves salons.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Humor, Personal Narrative | 7 Comments »

    “Statistical Quality Control Meets the NYPD”

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th March 2012 (All posts by )

    An excellent post by Mark Draughn that reminds how we get the behavior we incentivize. In this case the NYC govt incentivized its police to ignore violent crimes and to make bogus arrests to boost their cleared-case stats:

    This is a standard recipe for disaster in quality control — and CompStat is at heart a statistical quality control program. Take a bunch of people doing a job, make them report quality control data, and put pressure on them to produce good numbers. If there is little oversight and lots of pressure, then good numbers is exactly what they’ll give you. Even if they’re not true.

    Worth reading in full.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Law Enforcement, Management, Systems Analysis | 15 Comments »

    Considering Marriage?

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th March 2012 (All posts by )

    A Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) chases away an American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) on the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida. (Jonathan Gewirtz,

    Let’s not be too hasty here…


    Posted in Humor, Photos | 3 Comments »

    Early and Often

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on 20th March 2012 (All posts by )

    I Voted

    Posted in Elections, Photos | Comments Off on Early and Often

    The Coleto Creek Fight

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th March 2012 (All posts by )

    … was finished on this day, 176 years ago:

    Fannin and his men moved out of Goliad on March 19th, temporarily shielded by fog, but they were caught in the open, a little short of Coleto Creek. They fought in a classic hollow square, three ranks deep for a day and a night, tormented by lack of water, and the cries of the wounded. By daylight the next morning, Urrea had brought up field guns, and raked the square with grapeshot. Fannin signaled for a parley, and surrendered; he and his men believing they would be permitted honorable terms. Links to what happened next, and pictures I took at last year’s reenactment event are below the fold. Somehow WP is not letting me post pictures this morning Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, History, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Interesting Acquisition

    Posted by David Foster on 20th March 2012 (All posts by )

    Amazon is acquiring Kiva Systems for $775 million in cash. Kiva makes robotic systems for picking, packing, and shipping products in fulfillment centers for distribution operations. It seems clear that Kiva is intended to play a dual role at Amazon: supporting Amazon’s own distribution centers, and generating expanded revenues through the sale of Kiva systems to other companies.

    There is a parallel with what Amazon has been doing in cloud services: Amazon developed an extensive set of capabilities for data center operations, which it needed to support its massive e-commerce business, and several years ago began selling these capabilities to other companies as well as using them internally. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud has now become a leading provider, perhaps the dominant provider, in the cloud services marketplace.

    Use of a technology investment both to support internal operations of a company and as the base for an externally-saleable product or service has a strong appeal; however, it can be fraught with problems. Priority decisions in product development are likely to become highly politicized due to the conflicts between internal needs and the demands of the external marketplace, and potential external customers can be scared off by fear of being put in the position of competing with their supplier. Amazon’s success with Cloud, however, builds confidence in their ability to navigate these tricky waters successfully.

    Interestingly, Kiva is backed by Bain Capital Ventures.

    Posted in Business, Tech | 7 Comments »

    A Sunday by Salado Creek

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th March 2012 (All posts by )

    It rained a week ago, here in South Texas, so that Salado Creek actually had running water in it. Behold the proof…

    There were waterbirds in the marshy places, too.

    Posted in Photos | 3 Comments »

    What We Read

    Posted by Ginny on 18th March 2012 (All posts by )

    Americans in the nineteenth century mapped the wilderness without – from 1803’s Louisiana Purchase to 1848, the continental United States was filled in. But they were as interested in the voice within, defining the self. The most requested lecture by Frederick Douglass was “Self Made Men”. In his Making the American Self, David Walker Howe contends that “Frederick Douglass was arguably the most thoroughly self-constructed person in the whole nineteenth century. He not only made his own identity, he made his own legend. . . Self-definition was a life-long process” (149). That process is the subject of his Narrative (Monadnock version), which is structured both in style and content by his early reading.

    I’ve long wondered how welcome his vision would be in some school rooms – a sturdy self-reliance that has more echoes of Victoria than of Emerson. I love teaching its round sentences, noting its tight arguments, its specific details of slave life. Most of all, though, I teach it as an explicit and powerful “coming to consciousness.” He traces a path many autobiographers take but few as introspectively. And I find his values attractive – consciousness reached through reading, culture as aid. His growth is classic – a youth finds himself (and his relation to certain traditional values) in the city; he has much more in common with Franklin than Rousseau.

    Well, Kevin Williamson describes what happened in one school: Jada Williams, an eighth grader at a public school in Rochester, New York read Douglass. He apparently had some of the same effect on her that Sheridan’s speeches had well over a century before on the young Douglass:

    Coming across the famous passage in which Douglass quotes the slavemaster Auld, Miss Williams was startled by the words: “If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.” The situation seemed to her familiar, and[she then wrote] her essay . . . a blistering indictment of the failures of the largely white faculty of her school: ‘When I find myself sitting in a crowded classroom where no real instruction is taking place I can say history does repeat itself.’

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Personal Narrative, Speeches | 9 Comments »

    Sony Blu-ray Disc Review BDP-BX58… and the future of Sony

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 18th March 2012 (All posts by )

    On the masthead of our blog at “Life in the Great Midwest” it used to read “We Shill for Nobody”. And that is still true. But if we find something that may be interesting to others we like to share it.

    Recently I bought a Sony Blu-Ray Disc Player BDP-BX58. This replaces my existing Samsung DVD player (which worked fine). I bought it, after rebate, for about $100 at Costco.

    I bought it to try out the internet through my television. It also allows you to stream other media (pictures from your PC, songs from your PC, etc…) through your TV which I wasn’t as interested in.

    Although it is a DVD player, I only put a DVD in to make sure it worked and all the wires, sound, etc… were working correctly through my surround sound system. I remember reading an article about a focus group that tested a smart phone with a bunch of high school students – the researcher said in all the time he watched them text, stream, and run apps, he never saw them use the smart phone to MAKE A PHONE CALL. Like them, I was basically using this DVD player as a gateway to the internet not as a DVD playing device.

    I went to You Tube and immediately started having fun. Recently I was at a friends’ condo and we were discussing music (for hours, since I know a lot of obscure stuff, but he dwarfs my knowledge on the topic). It was cool to just type in a band like “Mastodon” and all their videos come up, including all their appearances on late night shows like Letterman. Obviously there is a lot of stuff on You Tube and it is fun to watch it through your TV.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Internet, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Name That Breed – The Answer!

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 18th March 2012 (All posts by )

    Back on November 21 of last year we played our first game of Name That Breed. There were a lot of good guesses in the comments. Below is the subject, our dog Jameson.

    Well, we had his DNA run at the vet and below the fold I will put the results.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, Jameson, Photos | 10 Comments »

    Drunk Ecosystem

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th March 2012 (All posts by )

    I am an ethnologist embedded within Chicago for St Patrick’s day. I am building the ecosystem for drunks that are the “pillars” of the St Patrick’s day experience.

    You need crowds of drunks in green and the ubiquitous taxi drivers. I talked to a cab driver recently and he said that St Patrick’s day is the biggest day of the year for cabbies – bigger even than New Year’s eve. This is probably due to the fact that it starts earlier – he said he is generally picking up smashed patrons at 10am – and it goes all day and all night long.

    Other pillars are porta-johns and bagpipers. While bagpipers are needed for police and fire funerals this is likely the only day of the year when playing the bagpipe gets you action with the ladies.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Chicagoania, Humor, Photos | 12 Comments »

    BS Detector

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 17th March 2012 (All posts by )

    I am an avid user of Facebook, for better or worse. The last few weeks many of my friends have been engaging in a large amount of slacktivism by linking a video called Kony 2012.

    Some of the scenes in this video may be disturbing, as the topic is general violence and exploitation of children in Africa.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Film, International Affairs, Internet, Media, Music, Video | 15 Comments »

    Dick Boggs

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 16th March 2012 (All posts by )

    When I was a medical school junior, we had a rotation on the Neurology service at LA County Hospital. One of my classmates was planning a career in neurology but the reason it was so popular with the students like me who were interested in surgery was that we got to do tracheostomies. A number of patients with severe neurological lesions would require respirators or had trouble with airway secretions requiring a tracheostomy. This was our one chance to do surgery, even a minor procedure as things go. It was good practice and I later did a lot of tracheostomies, some quite difficult and rushed.

    Our resident was a very interesting guy named Dick Boggs. He was tall and looked a lot like Orson Welles did when he was young and making “The Third Man.” Boggs was quiet and aloof but let us do trachs and work up any patient we wanted to. I had some very interesting cases. One was a woman who showed all the signs of alcoholic neuropathy, which is very similar to diabetic neuropathey. It was a popular rotation for juniors. Boggs was popular among the residents and was elected the president of the Interns’ and Residents’ Association, which under his leadership took on some of the characteristics of a union.

    At the time, intern and resident pay was very low and, aside from a new dormitory that was built for single house staff, we were on our own. I was married with one child, born in March 1965, so I was really on my own. My wife quit her job as a teacher in January 1965 and I was working after hours doing histories and physicals at private hospitals for $7 per hour. Fortunately, my tuition was covered by scholarship but living expenses were tight. We lived on $200/month contributed by our parents, $100 from my father and the same from Irene’s parents. Half of that went for the rent of our two bedroom house in Eagle Rock, near Pasadena. I’m spending some time on details to emphasize what Boggs accomplished for us all.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Health Care, Human Behavior, Medicine | 6 Comments »

    Sunrise With Cypress Trees, Florida Everglades

    Posted by Jonathan on 15th March 2012 (All posts by )

    The rising sun backlights dwarf cypress trees in a wetland near Pa-hay-okee Overlook in Everglades National Park, Florida. (©2012 Jonathan Gewirtz /


    Posted in Photos | 6 Comments »

    Further Fannyisms

    Posted by David Foster on 15th March 2012 (All posts by )

    …a selection of the passages I bookmarked in the Kemble journals.

    On American women

    The dignified and graceful influence which married women, among us, exercise over the tone of manners, uniting the duties of home to the charms of social life, and bearing, at once, like the orange-tree, the fair fruits of maturity with the blossoms of their spring, is utterly unknown here. Married women are either house-drudges and nursery-maids, or, if they appear in society, comparative ciphers ; and the retiring, modest, youthful bearing, which among us distinguishes girls of fifteen or sixteen, is equally unknown. Society is entirely led by chits, who in England would be sitting behind a pinafore ; the consequence is, that it has neither the elegance, refinement, nor the propriety which belongs to ours ; but is a noisy, rackety, vulgar congregation of flirting boys and girls, alike without style or decorum.

    On the absence of desperate poverty in America

    This country is in (one) respect blessed above all others, and above all others deserving of blessing. There are no poor I say there are none, there need be none ; none here need lift up the despairing voice of hopeless and help less want towards that Heaven which hears when men will not. No father here need work away his body s health, and his spirit s strength, in unavailing labour, from day to day, and from year to year, bowed down by the cruel curse his fellows lay upon him. ..Oh, it makes the heart sick to think of all the horrible anguish that has been suffered by thousands and thousands of those wretched creatures, whose want begets a host of moral evils fearful to contemplate; whose existence begins in poverty, struggles on through care and toil, and heart-grinding burdens, and ends in destitution, in sickness, alas! too often in crime and infamy. Thrice blessed is this country, for no such crying evil exists in its bosom; no such moral reproach, no such political rottenness. Not only is the eye never offended with those piteous sights of human suffering, which make one s heart bleed, and whose number appals one s imagination in the thronged thoroughfares of the European cities ; but the mind reposes with delight in he certainty that not one human creature is here doomed to suffer and to weep through life ;not one immortal soul is thrown into jeopardy by the combined temptations of its own misery, and the heartless self ishness of those who pass it by without holding out so much as a finger to save it. If we have any faith in the excellence of mercy and benevolence, we must believe that this alone will secure the blessing of Providence on this country,

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Transportation, USA | 13 Comments »

    Wall Street and its Clients

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 14th March 2012 (All posts by )

    Ann Althouse has a good post today. I can’t get through her Captcha system so I thought I would post a few comments here. This NY Times op-ed piece is the source for her observations. It is behind the Times’ idiotic payment wall so go to her blog for the link.

    TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

    To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

    That certainly states the issue clearly. What does he complain about ?

    I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.

    But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.

    I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

    What specifically is the problem ?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Business, Conservatism, Economics & Finance, Management, Markets and Trading, Politics, Public Finance | 19 Comments »


    Posted by Jonathan on 13th March 2012 (All posts by )

    Turner River Kayak Trip


    Many people canoe and kayak in the Florida Everglades’ extensive inland waterways, which are beautiful, full of interesting plants and animals and easily accessible. I couldn’t refuse an invitation to join friends for a day trip down the Turner River in the Big Cypress area. My friends arranged for me to borrow a kayak but its owner backed out of the trip at the last minute. Fortunately, the guy who organized the trip offered me the use of a kayak that he owns.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior, Personal Narrative, Systems Analysis | 20 Comments »

    The Innkeeper And the Archives War – Or Why Is That Woman Firing a Cannon?

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 12th March 2012 (All posts by )

    A lady of certain years by the time she became moderately famous, Angelina Belle Peyton was born in the last years of the 18th century in Sumner County, Tennessee. For a decade or so Tennessee would be the far western frontier, but by the time she was twenty and newly married to her first cousin, John Peyton, the frontier had moved west. Texas beckoned like a siren – and eventually, the Peytons settled in San Felipe-on-the-Brazos, the de facto capitol of the American settlements in Texas. They would open an inn, and raise three children, before John died in 1834. She would continue running the inn in San Felipe on her own for another two years, until history intervened.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Entrepreneurship, History, USA | 5 Comments »

    Money, Power, Sex versus Subsistence

    Posted by Ginny on 12th March 2012 (All posts by )

    Brief Note: So, I’m grading intro to lit papers. I don’t mind so much because the class is unusually good this semester and the books they chose are ones that interest me – as well as interest them. One of my students has been, in my opinion, led astray by the famous Achebe essay that simplifies Conrad. He is eating it up – in fact, his conclusion is that the Bible’s message (and I guess Achebe’s and what Conrad’s should have been) is that we should never judge anyone else. But in the midst of the paper is this interesting observation: “As most people would agree, he who has the gold makes the rules, and so wealthier nations are looking at having the correct ideas of culture because they are thriving more than other cultures. I think the line is drawn between people that are in pursuit of money, power, and sex versus people in pursuit of survival.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Christianity, Civil Society, Education, Personal Narrative | 10 Comments »

    Guess the Profanity

    Posted by TM Lutas on 12th March 2012 (All posts by )

    I tried to submit the following post to FT on a climate change story, GE rejects Republicans’ climate change doubts. My comment was rejected due to “suspected profanity”. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the problem is.

    There is no doubt that climate is changing. The question under doubt is whether the changes are man-made and require trillions in expenditures to address. This last one is not as well established as they are economic and political questions, not scientific ones. The scientific fact is that we are undergoing a pause in warming that is, at best, at the far end of the lower error bar bounds of the current models. Once the error bars are exceeded, you toss that model out and get something better.
    If you’re depending on these models to justify trillions in expenditures over the next decades, you take a step back and you are a bit humble. A cold year or two and the problem isn’t even arguable anymore. It means that the science wasn’t right and we’re driving the world economy blind, without working models. We might as well call in a shaman. He would have equal scientific validity as models whose error bars are exceeded by stubborn, plain, empirically observed reality.
    We are currently undoing major scientific damage that the climate modelers have inflicted on science by hiding their data and stonewalling independent inquiry. The Berkley BEST effort at least will be open and the skeptics can take their best shot at working out the problems. And there are problems, from Briffa’s magic tree in the Yamal data set (the one tree whose inclusion or exclusion reverses the entire conclusion of a highly influential tree ring data set) to the reversal of sign in the Tiljander sediment data (you don’t get to just reverse signs on measurements when they are inconvenient to your conclusions). Time after time data that has been stonewalled turns out to have problems when it is finally pried out into the light of public scrutiny.
    There is nothing wrong with GE betting on efficiency and reducing pollution. That isn’t what this is about. It is about public monies and massive changes in the world economy based on science that is tough to check because the original data is often kept out of the hands of skeptics.

    Posted in Science | 19 Comments »

    Chicago Send-Off, with Guinness, for Neptunus Lex

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on 10th March 2012 (All posts by )

    Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
    and the hunter home from he hill.

    Lex was a sailor, and F-18 pilots are hunters, so it fits.

    Rest in peace.

    Posted in Blogging, Chicagoania, Military Affairs, Obits, USA | 12 Comments »