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June 25, 2009 | 19 Comments

One reason leftists think conservatives are idiots

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Who do you think Charlie Gibson, newsreader over at ABC, voted for in the last presidential election? Tell the truth, now: be honest. How about Paul Krugman and most of the other reporters over the the New York Times? Katie Couric from CBS? Brian Williams from NBC? Lou Dobbs from CNN? Chris Matthews from MSNBC? Those flat-voiced folks over at NPR who host Morning Edition and their other programs? All those reporters from the Washington Post?

If polls are of any use—always a good question to ask—we know that about 90% of media people vote for Democrat party candidates. Be safe and subtract 10%, even 20%, from that number, and then add to it the evidence contained in the news broadcasts and written reports from the above-named outlets, and we conclude that the majority of media skews left. Which is no surprise to anybody.

Conservatives, having no other outlet, and television being too expensive, turned to radio. Eventually, conservatives got Fox News on cable and one or two newspapers, but only long after radio had become dominant.

Advertising pays for news. Watch a half-hour broadcast news show and build your desire for a new car. Watch one on cable and soon you will crave storm windows. Crease open a big-city paper and lust after polished rocks strung together on a string. Thus, a typical lefty person, setting down his Times and switching on the tube to soak up the sedate offerings of Keith Olbermann, will find nothing unusual when it’s time for “these important messages”.

But suppose our open-minded lefty says to himself, “I wonder what this Mark Levin is all about? I might learn something by exposing myself to a different viewpoint.” So he tunes in the radio and hears the appalling “Kars for Kids” suicide-inducing jingle begging him to “donate” his car, then he hears a man pretending he is the radio host interrupting the show to bring you “a public service announcement” for which he wants to give you the phone number but can’t locate it…wait—shuffle, shuffle—here it is, call today! He hears a boast that you can “make money on the internet” and not have to stock any merchandise, nor will he even have to pay for it! Money will simply stream in!

He will hear about green tea for bursitis, peach pit extract for erectile dysfunction, fish oil for zits, snake oil for splenetic fever outbreaks, homeopathic miracle cures, salves for any wound, just apply your credit card liberally.

Our lefty will quite rationally infer that anybody who responds to any of these ads is an idiot. Or deluded, or troubled in spirit, or willfully stupid. He will guess something has gone wrong, that synapses have misfired.

And who, he asks himself, are listening to these ads? Conservatives! No wonder they are such dim, poor souls. Lefty’s reflexive Desire To Help will kick in, and he will wonder whether the government can impose a fairness doctrine so that radio listeners can be saved from themselves.

Radio, in short, will have frightened him badly, but he will falsely conclude that only conservatives are fools. He will not—he will not need to—tune in Ron Kudy, Rachel Maddow, Charles Binder or other hosts at the leftist Air America, so he will not discover the commercials found there are identical to those aired on Sean Hannity. Barely ethical and shady ads have nothing to do with politics, they are inherent to the medium. NPR understands this, which is why it uses the euphemism “sponsorships” for its advertisements.

Even if you are not a conservative (I am certain I do not qualify) but you enjoy the human voice and want to hear different opinions from those broadcast on TV, then it would behoove you to write to your station’s program manager and ask him to soften his greed and reject the edgiest ads.


Note Before you add your undoubtedly hilarious, “Here’s another reason leftists think conservatives are idiots”, be aware that those folks have a list just as long as yours.

June 23, 2009 | 23 Comments

How to gamble if you must

Our title comes from a famous paper by Lester Dubbins and Leonard Savage which appeared at the beginning of the Bayesian Theoretical Resurgence, a movement which, I am delighted to report, has now largely infiltrated nearly all of academia.

Import as this movement was, it was slight in gambling because analysis of games of chance were always Bayesian. Prove this by picking up any undergraduate text in statistics and find the chapter on probability (always, bizarrely, hidden in the interior whereas it should come first). You will see examples like this: “A die has probability 1/6 of showing a 6, therefore the probability of two die (or one die thrown twice) showing two 6s is 1/6 * 1/6 = 36.”

Valid answer, but an invalid, or at least incomplete, argument. Close enough, however, because of the implicit recognition that (Bayesian) logic allowed us to deduce the probability of the die showing 1/6. Once that deduction is in hand, we can prove theories of what will happen to that die under scenarios, which come in two flavors.

Simple gambles are those where the physics of the game allow us to deduce the probabilities of events of interest. Examples: “two 6s on two throws”, “a pair of jacks showing from a poker deck”, “00 showing on a roulette wheel”, “three cherries showing on a slot machine”, and so on. Casinos provide simple gambles.

Complex gambles are different from simple ones because we cannot deduce the probability of the events of interest. For example, “The person to my left in this poker game holds a hand superior to mine”, “horse A will win the race or at least come in third”, “stock B will increase in price over the next week”, or “the Detroit Tigers will win tomorrow’s game.”

Unless you are the owner of a casino or a bookie, it is impossible to consistently make money with simple gambles. You might, but probably will not, consistently make money with complex gambles. Here’s why.

Any casino game that does not involve the intelligences of other human beings can be analyzed as simple gambles. This means we can, without error, compute the probability of any outcome of any game, which we can call A, for example A = “the roulette wheel shows red”. We will always know, given the properties and setup of the game, the probability A will be true. For ease, call that probability P(A), which I emphasize we know.

It costs you D dollars to bet on A, and you will win with probability P(A) and will be paid W dollars if A happens. The casino sets the required bet D so that it is more than W * P(A) (alternatively, W is set less than 1/P(A) for every dollar bet). They do this on all simple gambles.

For example, if A = “7 shows on an American roulette wheel” then we can deduce that P(A) = 1/38 (the numbers 0-36 and the symbol “00” are on the wheel). It costs (say) 1 Dollar to play. If you win, you receive 35 Dollars. In this case, W * P(A) = 35/38 which is less than the 1 Dollar it costs to play. Roughly, the casino takes in 8 cents for every dollar bet, meaning you lose 8 cents.1

Meaning you will go hungry if you make gambling on these games a career. The only exception to simple gambles is blackjack, where strategies exist so that D < W * P(A)---you can make money. But because casinos have more money than you, and politicians desire to have that money, casinos are able to buy laws that make these strategies illegal. Just as you go to Walmart to purposely part with your cash, you are meant to go to a casino to lose money.

Money can be made with complex gambles, but it isn’t easy. In simple gambles, everybody has the same information about P(A). This isn’t true in complex gambles where to win, you need to have better information about P(A) than the person or persons betting against you. Those cigarette-wielding guys huddled around the OTB entrance aren’t just dosing themselves with nicotine. They’re trying to gain an advantage in information by subtle probes of their compatriots. Brokerages ponder quarterly reports for the same reason.

Problem is, everybody else is trying to gain an edge the same time you are, which usually means your information is not much better than the next person’s. Plus, in betting horse races and the stock market, there are transaction fees. Tracks skim a percent off the top and set the payouts by the amounts bet, making it extremely difficult to win money. Brokers and banks charge transaction fees which cause the same difficulties.

Besides bar bets and cheating, the only gamble with potential is poker (and its business equivalents, negotiating) which depends on bluffing and the ability to detect it. Being able to read tics and tells is a great skill; but it’s a rare talent and expensive to acquire.

The lesson is: stay away from simple gambles and only take bets where you are sure of your information.

1This figure is “on average” and is, therefore, metaphysical. But we can calculate the exact probabilities of winning for the casino given an assumed number of bets and amounts; the probability the casino wins is nearly 1.

June 19, 2009 | 22 Comments

Never too old to learn

I’m at Cornell, teaching my now-annual statistics course to a group who have come up from the city and are there enrolled in a Masters program. Cornell requires students to spend time on campus before it awards degrees, maybe to prop up College Town, which is now half deserted.

My evenings are free, so when I saw the sign announcing, “Advanced Life-Purpose Philosophy Seminar”, I decided to go. It would let me kill time in the evenings and give me the chance to learn something new.

I got to Caldwell Hall at the appointed time, but I was the only one there. I wondered if I’d misread the sign. Finally, as I was about to leave, a man walked in. He had a manila folder stuffed with papers, some making their escape from the edges. He was fifty-ish, running to fat, his glasses pinning a badly realized comb-over to his ears. Jeans, of course, ill fitting, and a knit pullover that had seen better days. He spoke with a soft accent—Belgian, I guessed, but only after he told me his name was Verd Antoine.

We chatted about the always dismal weather and how he usually taught this class in the fall to undergraduates but because he was on sabbatical this year he switched to the summer.

“So, you’re looking for a Life Purpose?” he asked.

“Well, not exactly—”

“There are many ways to engage in a Life That Makes A Difference,” he cut me off, “but I shall teach you the optimal. Now, we can agree that the best life is one that changes the world, so?”

“I’d say that every person just by living changes the world in some way.” Seemed a trivial observation.

“And how can somebody change the world,” he went on, ignoring me, “unless he or she has a purpose?” He lifted his eyebrows in anticipation of my agreement. I shrugged my shoulders.

“The natural question becomes, ‘How does one arrive at a purpose?’ The obvious answer is to think of a problem that needs solving. And what problems need solving? All of them, of course, but does it not follow that the most pressing problems require the most immediate attention? And among those, don’t the most potentially damaging demand first look?”

“I suppose so.”

“Now, it is well known that what disaster is defined to be the most potentially damaging is in part subjective; it depends on the life story of the individual, so? We must carry out an exercise that will allow you to find out what potential disaster is most meaningful to you. Ready?”

“Sure.” I tried to peek at the clock without making it too obvious.

“I want you to use your imagination. Can you do that for me?” I nodded and he went on. “I want you to create a vision of a trifling annoyance. Then slowly let that small itch become a raging infection. Imagine it infecting the largest group of people you can think of. Do you have something?”

“I…almost.” This wasn’t easy; by nature I am too cheerful.

“Any small vexation will do! Find it and let it grow. Work on your fundamental fear and irrationality. Call to the innermost part of your being where you are most primitive. Look to the place where Worry is trapped free it, set it loose! What do you see?”

His words were hypnotic and I felt myself falling away. Suddenly, visions came upon me! “Yes! The CERN facility might create a black hole to suck us all up! Obama wasn’t a natural-born citizen and will take over all private businesses on his path to dictatorship! Global warming will destroy us all by increasing temperatures by almost a whole degree Celsius! Evolution will no longer be taught in schools thus some students won’t appreciate fully the golgi apparatus! Second-hand smoke increases the anxiety in non-smokers that smokers are enjoying themselves more than non-smokers! The horror! The horror!”

I slipped into a black reverie and experienced eschatological fantasies of millions suffering minor inconveniences that could be avoided if only I could do something. I awoke to find my shirt covered with tears but I had no memory of shedding them.

Antoine was silent for a moment; then he said, “You now see that in order for mankind to be happy, you must be able to believe the worst that can happen will happen. You must become miserable. And only when you learn to spread your torment to others, only when all share your agony, only then can the world reach a state of perfection.”

He reached into his folder and withdrew a paper, took out a pen and wrote something on it. “Here,” he said, “Display this proudly.”

It read “Certificate of Activism“, and it had my name on it.

June 14, 2009 | 4 Comments

Derek Jeter’s Tailor in trouble with the law

The story is confusing, but Derek Jeter’s tailor is having legal difficulties.

Derek Jeter suit

Either Ramchandani, who is the tailor, or one of his ex-pupils is having immigration troubles. Judging by the picture, I am not surprised.


I am off to Cornell for two weeks to teach. Postings will be somewhat slow in appearing during this time.