Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Friday, May 20, 2016 :::

The census recently released estimates of populations of cities over 50,000 residents, and I've seen (a few different places) lists of the ten cities over 50,000 or over 100,000 with the largest year-over-year growth. They all use percent growth, and the leaders are naturally all close to the inclusion threshold; conversely, if you use absolute growth, your leaders are NYC, Houston, and Los Angeles, which are also the three largest cities that showed positive growth. Below is a list of the top 25 cities ranked by absolute change divided by latest population to the power of 5/8, a number whose selection was based on my own aesthetic sense that it gave a good mix of cities at different ends of the population range.[1]
One of the reasons I've seen this pop up is that the town in which my brother and I lived from 6–12 grade is near the top of the percentage lists; it shows up as 11th here.
Frisco, Texas15440714518992185.27
Georgetown, Texas637165910546114.58
Houston, Texas22962242256192400324.23
Denver, Colorado682545663963185824.2
San Antonio, Texas14698451440309295364.13
New Braunfels, Texas705436620443394.05
Fort Worth, Texas833319813425198943.96
Pearland, Texas10882110334854733.89
Ankeny, Iowa567645329934653.7
South Jordan, Utah666486285137973.67
Austin, Texas931830912713191173.55
Irvine, California25692724840185263.54
Charlotte, North Carolina827097809402176953.54
Gilbert, Arizona24754223941581273.46
Seattle, Washington684451669112153393.46
Murfreesboro, Tennessee12611812084952693.42
Milpitas, California776047373338713.4
McKinney, Texas16289815689860003.32
Phoenix, Arizona15630251538411246143.31
Henderson, Nevada28566727730283653.26
Dublin, California577215473029913.16
Orlando, Florida27093426307478603.16
Broomfield, Colorado650656187531903.13
Raleigh, North Carolina451066440399106673.12
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina813177766736503.11

[1] 1/2 seems natural, but still seemed to have too many large cities at the top. At that point a power of 5/8 pretty well fit the distribution of the top cities, i.e. their absolute changes tended to go as city size to the 5/8. So it was driven by my own aesthetic sense, but justified after the fact by Science.

::: posted by dWj at 11:34 AM

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016 :::
Bernie Sanders seems at this point to have sewn up second place in the Democratic race, but let's ponder the least implausible path for him to still win the nomination.  He would have to win the remaining primaries by close to 20 percent of the vote to catch up with her total of elected delegates, and a big chunk of those remaining delegates are elected next week, when he'll have "momentum" (insofar as that's a thing) working against him.

It seems to me one of his least unlikely paths to the nomination hinges on a dramatic development in May, perhaps related to deepening legal troubles or demonstrations of Clinton's casual assumption that she's above the law, followed by a large shift toward Sanders that lets him win California (where he currently looks likely to lose by about 20 percent of the vote) by a sizeable margin, and lets him narrow Clinton's lead in bound delegates to perhaps under 100.

At that point, the pitch to the superdelegates is obvious: I may be senile and out of touch with reality, but[1] I'm the current choice of the Democratic voters, and you owe it to them to outvote the delegates they elected — some of them when they were misinformed — and let me bear their standard in the general election.

It's quite possible I underestimate how much the superdelegates fear or respect the Clintons or fear or, you know, really fear Sanders, but it seems at least arguable that, as of today, the presence of unbound superdelegates marginally improves his chances from what they would otherwise be.

[1]"But"? Let's go with "but".

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::: posted by dWj at 8:35 AM

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016 :::

Bernie Sanders has released his tax returns, which show him taking deductions that he wants to eliminate and Jim Geraghty is calling him a hypocrite. For the reasons I laid out four months ago, I disagree. As I noted on Facebook:

I don't see hypocrisy here, or when libertarian politicians accept money from programs they would scale back, or when the Koch brothers decry corporate subsidies yet fail to calculate how much they benefit and send it back to the feds. It would be more troubling if he were calling for higher taxes on income above an amount that just happens to approximate his own income, or the elimination of all tax deductions except those that benefit him. He says that rich people should pay more; his tax returns indicate that he doesn't mean to exempt himself. Good for him.

Note that if Sanders has criticized his fellow rich people for taking the deductions - if he has said that, until the law is changed to eliminate the deductions, taking them is morally wrong - the hypocrisy charge sticks. The assertion you are making when you charge someone with hypocrisy is that their actions suggest that their purported beliefs are insincere, or at least that they don't believe they should be held to those same standards, and there is no reason to believe that someone who supports higher taxes to pay for more government programs but doesn't pay higher taxes than required is either insincere or looking for a loophole for himself.

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::: posted by Steven at 11:41 PM

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Monday, March 14, 2016 :::
Warning: sports post.

The NCAA announced last night which 68 teams get to compete in a tournament for the men's college basketball championship, and will announce tonight which 64 teams compete for the women's championship.  One sometimes hears from casual sports fans that a team's wins in the tournament justify their inclusion and validate the decision of the committee, while a good performance in one of the consolation tournaments by a team that might have been included in the big one refutes the decision.  One sometimes hears from the experts that this is wrong, that selection is on the basis of "the merits", and that it is not a prediction.  Oddly enough, I side to a significant extent with the populists on this one.

The committee claims to have as its goal the selection of the "best" teams in the country.  I'm not sure they really do, even by their own assessment; I think, in particular, that South Carolina is among the 34 best teams that didn't get in automatically, and was left out because they scheduled all of their out-of-conference games against weak opponents,[1] so while it's quite possible the committee simply disagrees with me, I can easily tell a story wherein they are at least creating small incentives rather than going strictly with the best teams.  If they are trying to pick the "best" teams, I can't imagine an argument that says that a team's performance in games in the next week or two isn't evidence as to how good a team is.  In 2011, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth (which were both, to the committee's credit, included in the tournament) were both better than we thought — though not, most likely, among the four best teams in the country.

Perhaps the argument the experts are trying to make is that there is a degree of unpredictability, that the race isn't always to the swift or the battle to the strong, and that is certainly true.  There is also an argument as to what is reasonably knowable by the committee and what isn't; the committee cannot be expected to know exactly which the best teams are, even if that's more reasonable than knowing which teams are going to win which games in the future.  In a tournament that is so large that it easily accommodates any team with a reasonable claim to be the best in the country, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to use some of the extra slots to reward teams for testing themselves so that it is easier to tell in the future which teams are better than which; a team[2] that regularly builds a schedule that makes it hard for outsiders to be confident that this is one of the best teams in the country doesn't need the benefits of any doubt.

[1]The best team they played before the conference schedule was selected by the committee, but is required to play a play-in game on Wednesday.

[2]Institutionally, of course; some of the actions of the "team" are taken by the school's athletic director, some by the coach, and others by the players.

::: posted by dWj at 10:36 AM

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Thursday, March 03, 2016 :::
Okay, here's a beaut from the New York Times; apparently the state law of New Hampshire specifies that
The secretary of state shall apportion delegates to the national party conventions among the candidates voted for at the presidential primary by determining the proportion of the number of votes cast for each presidential candidate to the total votes cast for all presidential candidates of the same political party, rounded to the nearest whole number.
It seems to me that the obvious extremely literal way to read this is that, well, the proportion of the number of votes cast for each Republican candidate to the total votes cast for Republican candidates was less than one half, and therefore rounds to 0.  This would therefore allocate no delegates; later clauses would essentially make New Hampshire a winner-takes-all state in all circumstances.  This would be a convoluted way of writing that; it looks like they were trying instead to write the rule that I thought a month ago that they were using, in which what is being rounded to the nearest whole number is the number of delegates apportioned, rather than the fraction of the vote received.  (This is what the Secretary of State actually did at this election.)  Apparently, though, the media and its experts had (as far as I can tell) substituted the word "percentage" for "number" in the above passage to make it read differently from a convoluted "winner-take-all" rule but an even stranger rule in which candidates were awarded fractional delegates based on rounded percentages — which they then presumed would be rounded off again, even though the law makes no provision for this. (Presumably rounding off the number of delegates at the end seems more natural than some other means of getting an integer.)

::: posted by dWj at 9:55 AM

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Wednesday, March 02, 2016 :::
SEC: Qualcomm Hired Relatives of Chinese Officials to Obtain Business
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that Qualcomm Incorporated has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle charges that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by hiring relatives of Chinese government officials deciding whether to select the company’s mobile technology products amid increasing competition in the international telecommunications market.
This is obviously a post about affirmative action.

Given two aspiring police officers, one white and one black, with approximately equal metrics (test scores, credentials, etc.), which do you hire?  There's a strong fairness appeal to disallowing my "approximately" to weasel out of an obvious decision, and let's go ahead and suppose that the white is slightly more qualified, and that this is a city in which the police force has more whites and fewer blacks than anything you might want to compare it to: the city population, the population of victims, the population of perpetrators, or some population average weighted by neighborhoods in which crime takes place.  It seems likely to me in that case that the black police officer will do better in terms of actually preventing crime than the white police officer, simply because of the reaction of people to the color of his skin.[1] Supposing all of this is true, I would hire the black police officer — and maybe this doesn't actually count as "affirmative action" at all. After all, I'm hiring him because I expect that he would do the best job.

When Henry Ford hires Edsel and Henry II to run the family business, this looks like nepotism,[2] and likely contains an element of that, but in each case the person being hired (1) had grown up around the firm, and had a lot of firm-specific knowledge, and (2) was well-known to Henry I, who might otherwise have expended more energy than it was worth vetting other candidates well enough to be nearly as confident in them. When a new President brings along long-time associates into positions of power, there is likely to be an element of cronyism and patronage, but, given information constraints, it may well also be the most reasonable way for the President to fill those roles with people who are suspected to be competent and to administer his program.

The Qualcomm case still feels a bit different from these situations, not least because the employees in question didn't work on this deal (I think); if they had, I can draw up a similar story in which Qualcomm is hiring an agent who is trusted by the Chinese partner and has detailed knowledge and is uniquely situated to solve an information problem through no particular merit.  While this actual case seems to me to fall clearly on the untoward side of the line, the line isn't especially distinct. Quoting again from the press release,
“I know this is a pain, but I think we’re operating under a different paradigm here than a normal ‘hire’/‘no hire’ decision tree. We’re telling this kid … we don’t want to waste time or extend any extra effort in this favor [the telecom company] has asked of Qualcomm, and then turn around and ask the same person we just rejected to do us a special favor.”
The term "bribery" is sometimes used loosely and colloquially, but in its true sense it seems to me that a characterizing element of it is the subornation of the violation of a fiduciary duty, and it seems pretty clear here that this is a favor being done for the Chinese individual and not for the Chinese telecom company itself, it which case it would strike me as simply part of the consideration one side of the contract was providing the other party.  This is the concern with cronyism and nepotism[3], and my arguments above amount to "here are reasons why it might not be violating a fiduciary duty to the owners of the company or the citizens of the country".  In any case, though, hiring an individual who would in fact be less effective at the job but seems more "qualified" is a sign that the job is being treated as a plum to be awarded and not as a real job — if people start steering the conversation away from effectiveness toward some other conception of "merit", that's a decent sign that fiduciary duties may be being violated.[4]

[1]And of course this "isn't fair" to the white police officer, and I just profoundly don't care; jobs with the police department among those I'm least inclined to make into prizes to be awarded to the most "deserving", and most strongly prefer to award to the most effective.

[2]It was a private company at the time, but I can still imagine this might have rankled someone.

[3]Again, the complaint loses its strength when the owner of a privately held company is  making the hiring decision.

[4]Note, though, the "tournament" models of executive compensation, in which a potential chance at the CEO's job is intended as part of the compensation of lower-level employees.

::: posted by dWj at 11:40 AM

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Monday, February 01, 2016 :::

Bernie Sanders said something I really liked the other day (don't get used to reading that string of words on this blog). A journalist noted that he was in a good position to win more delegates than Clinton tonight and that this would boost his chances of winning the nomination, and she asked whether it would be a big problem if he didn't.  He scoffed — the following quote is from memory, so is actually a close paraphrase — "you mean if I get two delegates fewer than she does, is it a disaster?  No."

Some of the reporting around the Iowa caucuses seems to suggest that it is a winner-take-all race or at least as though rank is of utmost importance.  Four years ago, the Iowa GOP reported that — this is from memory, too, so is also a close paraphrase — Romney had won about a dozen votes more than Santorum.  It turned out that some precinct organizer had misreported his totals, and that Santorum had actually won by about a dozen more than Romney, and some political commentators lost their minds over the fact that the Iowa GOP hadn't produced the correct result.  All that had happened was that someone, most likely a volunteer, had misreported a precinct-level number and had corrected it quickly enough that even if he had misreported something important, like who had been elected to be delegates at the county convention, no harm would have been done.  But because it changed the rankings in the state-wide straw poll results, people flipped out.

On the other hand, Iowa is not a huge, delegate-rich state for either party, and what matters, ultimately, is what people decide matters.  Candidates who campaigned hard in Iowa and didn't go anywhere are generally going to figure out that they aren't going to be getting the nomination; if they don't figure it out, the voters and donors and volunteers in later states will figure that out and decide among the more successful candidates.  The fact that a Senator from Iowa won the 1992 Democratic caucuses in a landslide didn't matter because everyone knew that this didn't indicate that he was the only viable candidate, it just meant that he was from Iowa.  Generally, though, I think it's most important not to end up on the bottom in Iowa than to end up in first, and the margin matters — any interpretation that puts much weight on a rounding error ought to be ruled out.

As I write this, it looks like Cruz came out on top, with Trump and Rubio a bit below him, with a substantial drop to Carson, then Paul around 5%, and then the rest.  I have read the argument that Trump needed an outright win because being a winner is a fair part of his brand, and maybe there's something to that, but what this really means is that those top three keep going and anyone below Paul will have to make an argument that Iowa wasn't a fair indicator for them and that voters in the rest of the country should give them a close look anyway.  I assume it is clear to everyone including Rand Paul that Rand Paul will not get the nomination, but he might well keep making his arguments and winning a vote here or there (possibly including mine).

On the Democratic side, Clinton and Sanders seems to have tied; whoever ends up on the better side of the tie gets a nice headline tomorrow and not much more.

::: posted by Steven at 11:24 PM

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As Steven alluded to in the last post, there are a lot of spurious accusations of hypocrisy in politics. I'm generally more opposed to some hypocrisy (that is often not called out as such) than to other hypocrisy, and am fairly tolerant of non-hypocrisy that is (hypocritically) called hypocrisy.  One of the contexts in which people seem very confused about hypocrisy is in the context of voting.

Suppose you think Bernie Sanders is the best choice for President,[1] but you think he has no chance of winning the general election and that Hillary is the closest feasible alternative.[2]  In my mind, the principled thing to do is to vote for Hillary.[3]  In fact, I might go so far as to call it hypocritical not to — to instead claim to support what Sanders stands for while failing to act in the way that best promotes that position.  There is a simple interpretation of a vote for candidate X as signifying "This is my favorite candidate," and people who insist that this is the "correct" interpretation sometimes call voting correctly "strategic voting".  In the context of voting, I think the term "sincerity" is adequate; perhaps my term and not theirs comprises those situations in which voting for one's favorite candidate happens to best promote one's ideals.

It is also in the context of the simplistic "interpretation" of votes that one sometimes hears complaints about the voting system that it is not "strategy proof" or (in the economists' lingo) "incentive compatible".  To emphasize, it is not incentive compatible if one's lodestar is that there is a special connection between voting for a candidate and believing that voting for that candidate is one's best available option; most economic epistemology is built on what economists call the principle of revealed preference, which everyone else calls "actions speak louder than words".  If you are inferring someone's preferences or beliefs according to a scheme in which they're supposed to be intentionally failing to best serve their ideals, you're either supposing or inferring that that person is a hypocrite, or you yourself are privileging fantasy over reality.  The conflict here is created by the interpretation, not the voting system, and a fortiori not the voter.[4]

Indeed, in that simplistic interpretation, especially in the absence of a secret ballot — for example, in the caucuses tonight — voting for a candidate is a public claim to support that candidate and the candidate's ideals; if the very same action is in fact undermining those ideals, that would seem to be about as clean an example of hypocrisy as one could hope for.[5]

[1]I don't.

[2]To be clear, I am very emphatically assuming away, for these purposes, that vote totals will affect political capital, and that Hillary is so corrupt as to override one's attractions to her similarities to Bernie.  The hypothetical which this post is examining is the one in which the voter prefers BS but holds beliefs on the basis of which a vote for Hillary would best serve the voter's ideals.

[3]Quoting this sentence out of context might not be hypocritical, but it would definitely not be fair play.

[4]There are, I should add, reasonable critiques of the voting system that do not depend on hypocritical interpretations of votes; indeed, the potential strategic complexity of the voting system is one that is probably closely related to the "incentive compatibility" complaint that assumes the problem.

[5]I might note, here, that at the Democratic caucuses in particular, it is fairly straightforward to publicly start off in support of one candidate and then change one's vote.  Especially for those BS voters who hold out some hope that their candidate will win, it might make sense to start off publicly supporting him, see how the other people in your precinct feel, update your beliefs about the rest of the world accordingly, and change if you're pretty sure at that point that that's optimal.


::: posted by dWj at 9:47 AM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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