Monday, October 31, 2011

For Halloween - The Anatomy of Fear, Visualized

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Honestly, this isn't the greatest infographic ever, but hey, it's Halloween, and I couldn't find much in the way to post to the blog about Halloween. And it has some cool phobias to learn - nomophobia and sesquipedalophobia, for example.

From Daily Infographic:
[In honor of Halloween, a] holiday largely associated with fear, today’s infographic The Anatomy of Fear outlines what fear is and some of the things that cause it. The definition of fear according to today’s infographic: a basic survival mechanism in response to pain or threat of danger.
One of the more interesting phobias listed, nomophobia, is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. The joys of our technology reliant society, in opinion this is kind of a ridiculous phobia. Anyway why is it we like being scared? For one the same place of the brain that experiences fear also is associated with pleasure. It is also a method of testing and overcoming our limits as well as realizing we are not always in danger and can enjoy the adrenalin rush.
And the infographic:

BOO!   Yea, I know, I probably didn't get you, but I tried, anyway.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

World War II, Documented in 800+ Amazing Photos

Entering their fourth year of war against Japan, Chinese military forces were strengthening their air force, producing their own armaments, and training their officers in the methods of modern war. Here, Chinese cadets in full battle dress, they favor the German type of steel helmet, on parade somewhere in China, on July 11, 1940. (AP Photo). Source: The Atlantic.

Every week for the past twenty weeks, the Atlantic has been posting a new set of photos that shed light on World War II.

Even as someone who's studied World War II relatively in-depth (mainly by virtue of being a German major in undergrad and spending my junior year abroad in Germany), I had not seen many of the photos in the Atlantic's extremely impressive retrospective.

If you haven't been following this collection as the Atlantic has been putting them out, grab yourself a tea or coffee and head over to check out this amazing collection of photography - it will be an afternoon very well spent, if somewhat emotionally challenging.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Republican Congresses Seem to Find Actually Working Too "Taxing"

Yuk yuk yuk I'm so punny.

Anyway, I became curious today about the working habits of the members of Congress, the people who are ostensibly my bosses. I was inspired by this graphic, which compares how much the members of Congress work for their $175k/year salaries with the working year of the average American:

Looks like it's nice to be a Representative - the Republicans in the House set themselves a pretty ... um ... leisurely work schedule, shall we say.

However, Daily Kos is not exactly an impartial source of information, so I went back in history to see what the numbers were, from the Democrats in the early 90s through twelve years of Republican rule in the house, back to the Dems, and then today:

(A note about the data: the numbers from the 112th Congress from Daily Kos and in my table exclude a number of days in which Congress was technically in session during this past summer but did absolutely nothing - a legislative gimmick designed to prevent Obama from making any recess appointments. There may have been similar gimmicks in previous Congresses, but I don't remember hearing about such things, so that adjustment, if applicable, isn't made for previous years. If you have any details about such things, please let me know.)

First off, we see that, from a # of days perspective, no Congress works terribly hard - I'm sure members would say they have to spend time in their home districts hobnobbing with constituents, fundraising, etc. But still, only 3 congresses (2 of them under the Democrats) worked for 159 days or more; 3 Congresses worked 110 days or fewer (all 3 of them under the Republicans). Indeed, we see that recent Republican Congresses have been quite lazy, even by the standards of past Republican Congresses - the most recent 4 Republican Congresses worked, on average, 24.78 fewer days per year than the Republican Congresses that preceded them (back to 1993, anyway).

The picture for Republican Congresses' work ethic looks even worse when compared to Democratic Congresses. On average over the period of time I looked at (1993-now), Democratic Congresses worked 9.32% more than Republican Congresses, or 11.85 days more per year. Recently, however, Democratic Congresses have been working more than past Democratic Congresses, while Republican Congresses have been working less than past Republican Congresses, greatly increasing the "work ethic gap" between the two parties. Comparing just the last four sessions from each party, recent Democratic Congresses worked 29.32% more than recent Republican Congresses (a HUGE difference), or a whopping 32.25 days per year (i.e. an entire 6 weeks more than Republican Congresses).

Why do recent Republican Congresses seem to be so lazy? Between the fact that they seem to never want to actually, you know, legislate, and the fact that they often seem to want to dismantle most functions of government, one sometimes wonders why Republicans want to get elected to office at all - it doesn't appear to be their bag of "tea."

Well, here's what one Republican had to say on the matter:
Here's what one Republican congressman had to say: "Keeping us up here eats away at families," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer."
Actually, marriages used not to suffer because most Congress(wo)men used to move their entire families to Washington, DC while they served in Congress, so you didn't need to fly home on Thursdays and back on Tuesdays. It's been a big problem for my city, actually - since Congress(wo)men don't feel like they live here anymore, they don't feel a connection to DC; consequently, they don't feel the need to do anything to maintain or improve the city, and they don't care about using the city as a political football. But, that's a rant for another post.

Back to the matter at hand - aside from making Congress(wo)men look lazy, there are real negative consequences to having such a leisurely legislative schedule. From a 2006 article on Congressional laziness:
In a typical week, like last week, the House returns to work Tuesday but does not vote until late afternoon or early evening. Last Tuesday, the first vote was at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday is a heavy day, with hearings and votes and other official functions jammed in from early morning until late at night. Thursday is typically devoted to mopping up, with hearings in the morning and a goal of having the week's final vote by early afternoon, so members can catch flights home.

"When I tell constituents that our workweek is 2 1/2 days at best, they shake their heads," said Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash. "They wonder what we're doing, and I have to wonder, too."

With time short, lawmakers are forced to race from meeting to meeting. Wednesday, for example, Baird's schedule from 10 a.m. until noon called for him to be in three places at once -- a Budget Committee hearing on the pending budget for next year, a subcommittee hearing on pipeline safety and a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency's budget and priorities for next year.

With so many conflicts, Ornstein and others say lawmakers don't have enough time to seriously study the issues before them. Occasionally they don't even have time to read legislation before voting on it. Baird is trying to persuade Republicans to enforce a rule giving lawmakers three days to study a bill before a final vote is scheduled.

And although lawmakers insist time spent away from Washington is necessary to escape the distorted view of the United States that exists on Capitol Hill, experts say the part-time nature of lawmaking today has serious drawbacks.

The absence of oversight has direct effects, Ornstein says. Some of the problems buried in a massive bankruptcy bill that Congress passed last year could have been avoided with more time to review the bill, he said. Ornstein also believes the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina was worsened by the way Congress passed legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security, the sprawling agency responsible for coordinating government's response to natural disasters.

Ornstein and others say Congress should return to the five-day workweek to avoid similar problems in the future.

That isn't likely to happen. "I don't see it changing," Dicks said, noting that Republicans set the schedule.
That was back in 2006. Some things never change.

Personally, I wouldn't be quite so disgusted at Congress for these practices if they also let me work from Tuesday noon until Thursday in the early afternoon. What do you say, Congress - what's good for you is good for the rest of us federal employees, right? Right? Hello, Congress, anyone out there?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

CandyNOMics - The Economics of Halloween, Visualized

Since Halloween is coming up soon, I thought I'd post this little infographic about how Americans spend their cash on Halloween. Personally, I'm surprised that Americans spend more on their costumes than candy, but perhaps 1) people don't make their costumes like we did when I was a kid and, nowadays, people only buy costumes, and/or 2) a relatively small number of people spend huge sums on their costumes, throwing the balance out of whack.

And people buy more candy corn than anything else? Seriously, folks, that stuff is gross - buy some decent chocolate instead.

Anyway, check it out and see what you think:

Via Daily Infographic.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Video Feature - The 9 Craziest Things Herman Cain Has Said, So Far

Apparently, it's "Beat Up On Herman Cain" Week here at the Angry Bureaucrat, but I simply can't help myself. I mean, as I explained before, Herman Cain's signature 9-9-9 plan, the center of his campaign, is such a vile policy proposal that even the other Republican candidates are calling him out on it.

Today's "Beat Up On Herman Cain" feature is a video compilation of the nine craziest things that Herman Cain has said since he entered the public arena, courtesy of ThinkProgress:

My personal favorites from the video:
  1. Cain doesn't believe in the First Amendment's right to freedom of religion.
  2. He's anti-abortion in all circumstances (even in cases of rape and incest) - but he supports a family's decision to break said anti-abortion law if they so choose. I don't pretend to understand, but that's what he said.
  3. He wants to put an electrified fence (complete with alligator-filled moat) on the US's southern border.
  4. He considers all Muslims potential terrorists.
  5. He would literally empower the nation's biggest polluters to write their own environmental regulations (note: this is a correct use of the word "literally" - I wouldn't want to offend The Oatmeal.)
I really don't know what to think about Cain - I mean, he swears that he's not as dumb as he often appears to be (though Gawker has come out and called him straight-up stupid), and he promises that some of his alleged stupidity was merely a product of sleep deprivation. Nonetheless, this guy isn't exactly confidence-inspiring, especially considering that his only economic plan thus far is to rob from the poor to give even more to the rich. And then he goes and releases a campaign ad that features his chief of staff smoking, which some have interpreted as Cain declaring his own candidacy a joke, while others have been left apoplectic by the video. But no matter how you slice it, the video is repulsive, and it was probably a dumb campaign move. Even Fox News seriously struggled to put a positive spin on that campaign ad.

I have no idea what to make of the fact that, in a number of Republican primary states, Herman Cain is currently polling at 30% or higher. Really? One-third of Republicans (or more) REALLY want this guy to lead the country? Are they really THAT unhappy with the rest of the Republican field? Is this a sign of voter desperation? Collective insanity? I'm baffled. Sure - if you read this blog regularly, you know that I disagree with most of the Republican candidates' policy positions, but at least some of the candidates are intelligent, relatively articulate, and non-clueless - Cain has none of those traits.

If I were one of the other Republican candidates, I would be seriously questioning whether I wanted to continue running for the nomination from a party whose membership gives such substantial support to a guy who's so obviously, publicly, and proudly crazy, dumb, or shilling for a talk radio or TV pundit gig (think Sarah Palin).

For the first time in a long time, I actually feel sorry for the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. At least they sort of know what they're talking about - though that doesn't seem to do them much good with the current Republican-voting public, however.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Of All Presidential Candidates, the "Liberal" Media Hates Obama Most

One of the favorite complaints from conservatives is that the "lamestream" media is liberal and biased against conservative ideas and candidates. So, if the "liberal" media has such a strong bias against conservative candidates, which Presidential candidate has received the worst, most negative press coverage in the past several months?

Perhaps Mitt Romney, who's flip-flopping on everything from abortion, gun control, stem cell research, DADT, and carbon emissions leaves one wondering if he really stands for anything?

Or perhaps Ron Paul, who as a libertarian and somewhat anti-establishment candidate, has been the target of what The Atlantic has called a media blackout?

Or maybe Rick Perry, who, similar to his Texas predecessor George W. Bush, occasionally struggles to put together basic sentences on stage?

And the answer is - none of these, nor even a Republican:
One man running for president has suffered the most unrelentingly negativetreatment of all, the study found: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-1. Those assessments of the president have also been substantially more negative than positive every one of the 23 weeks studied. And in no week during these five months was more than 10% of the coverage about the president positive in tone.
In fact, the numbers show that Perry is the "liberal" media's darling golden boy, while Obama is the "liberal" media's whipping boy:

Not that I'm terribly surprised, given the universe that is the "liberal" media:


9-9-9 Actually Criticized by Other Republicans, and Explained in One (Long) Graph

Well, perhaps the Republican Party hasn't been completely taken over by plutocrats hell-bent on completely starving the poor and middle classes in order to shovel all remaining wealth to the mostly hardworking (and very lucky) few who are super-rich.

Herman Cain's crazily bad, ridiculous, and regressive 9-9-9 plan, featured yesterday on this blog, was roundly criticized by the other Republican Presidential hopefuls last night. Honestly, I'm rather amazed to hear the likes of Rick Santorum (I wouldn't Google his last name, if I were you), Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney denounce the plan. Ron Paul even used the "r"-word - regressive!

Of course, Perry then announced today that he wants to implement a flat tax, which, while probably not as bad and regressive as Cain's plan, would likely still be bad and regressive. So, I'm not sure how much of their concern/denunciation was genuine and how much of it was simply attacking the current leader in the primary polls.

Anyway, authentic or not, Tim Murphy has the details:
Since when did Rick Santorum become the champion of the middle class? At Tuesday's GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas (the eighth in four months, if you're scoring at home), the former Pennsylvania senator led the charge against newly crowned front-runner Herman Cain, alleging that Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan was the last thing middle-class Americans need. Prefacing his attack with the obligatory, "Herman, I like you," Santorum stated that the tax plan, which replaces the entire tax code with a 9-percent national sales tax, 9-percent income tax, and 9-percent payroll tax, would significantly raise taxes on all but the highest earners.
From there, the rest of the field piled on. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) called the plan "regressive" because of the impact it has on low-income earners. Texas Gov. Rick Perrry, happy to see someone else become a punching bag for a change, chided Cain for adding a national sales taxon top of existing state sales taxes. And Mitt Romney, pretending not to know the answer to the question, asked Cain if the federal tax would replace all state sales taxes. When Cain told him no (that video clip will come in handy), Romney announced he was against it.
And as a reminder of just how bad Cain's plan is, here's a graph that shows how much taxes would increase on low and middle class families and how much of a tax cut the few richest families would take home. Behold, the most amazing graph I've come across yet about Cain's 9-9-9 plan, courtesy of Jared Bernstein:

Of course, as I pointed out yesterday, Cain's plan isn't actually much worse than the plan that the Republicans proposed back in April. So, if we can all agree that Cain's plan is preposterous, and, by extension, that the Republican plan is preposterous, can we start thinking about real policy solutions to (1) our economic and unemployment problems in the short-term, and (2) our debt and deficit problems in the medium- and long-terms?

Hint: the solution does not include cutting taxes for the richest Americans, destroying the EPA, repealing all government regulations, unlimited pollution of our environment, leaving the poor, sick, and elderly to fend (or die) on their own, or repealing the rights of workers to organize, as none of these would have any meaningful effect on either our short-term or long-term problems (except perhaps letting the poor, sick, and elderly die, which seems to be OK with some Republicans) - other than to significantly decrease most Americans' quality of life in order to, again, further enrich the wealthy few.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cain's 9-9-9 Plan Raises Taxes on Poorest 84% of Americans to Shovel $$$ to the Richest

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center just released their analysis of the consequences of implementing Herman Cain's much-discussed (and, among a number of conservative commentators, much praised) 9-9-9 plan. The results are nothing short of amazing.

If you want to check out the key tables from the report, here are links to them: Table 1 and Table 2. But, people from around the Interwebz have converted the tables into eye-popping charts, which I'll share with you.

Behold, the consequences of Herman Cain's plan to rob the poor to pay the rich:


Not surprisingly, this leads to a big after-tax income increase and lower tax rates for the richest, while most people would see their after-tax income decrease and their tax rates increase:

Note: in the below table, ETR = Effective Tax Rate.


Howard Gleckman summarizes:
A middle income household making between about $64,000 and $110,000 would get hit with an average tax increase of about $4,300, lowering its after-tax income by more than 6 percent and increasing its average federal tax rate (including income, payroll, estate and its share of the corporate income tax) from 18.8 percent to 23.7 percent. By contrast, a taxpayer in the top 0.1% (who makes more than $2.7 million) would enjoy an average tax cut of  nearly$1.4 million, increasing his after-tax income by nearly 27 percent. His average effective tax rate would be cut almost in half to 17.9 percent. In Cain’s world, a typical household making more than $2.7 million would pay a smaller share of its income in federal taxes than one making less than $18,000. This would give Warren Buffet severe heartburn.
This proposal is so bad, ridiculous, and regressive that it should sink Cain's campaign for President immediately, but my guess is that few people will actually be paying attention. Nevertheless, if Cain actually gets relatively far in the nomination process, it would be interesting to see Cain explain why the average American should vote for him, when Cain wants to raise most Americans' taxes in order to give big tax breaks to the wealthy few.

Of course, Paul Ryan and the entire Republican Party proposed to do the exact same thing in the spring (i.e. raise taxes on all non-millionaires in order to give millionaires more massive tax cuts) and most political pundits treated Ryan's proposal like it was something to be seriously considered rather than ridiculed and tossed aside. We'll see if the pundit class is more intelligent about Cain's preposterous proposal. I'm guessing they won't be.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Commuting Costs the Average Metro DC Family $28,670 Per Year!

(Disclaimer: yes, that's a rough estimate, but it's within the realm of reasonableness, as explained below.)

Photo source.

In the previous post, we learned that the average DC driver wastes 68 hours of his/her life in traffic jams each year. CarBuzz priced this loss at $1,555 per driver, though I suspect that this is a low estimate of the cost of traffic jams, for reasons that will be apparently below.

Nevertheless, traffic jams are expensive - but how much does commuting itself cost?

According to the infographic yesterday, the average city commute (one-way) is 12.8 miles, taking 33 minutes. The IRS estimates that the average total cost of ownership of driving a car is about $0.51 cents per mile. Finally, the average hourly wage in DC is $35.31 per hour. Given this data, we can come up with a rough estimate of what commuting costs the average DCer in time and money, if we assume that the average person drives to work 200 days each year. For this estimate, it also matters greatly how much you value your free time, so I'll do the calculation two different ways - valuing one's free time at the full average hourly wage (for people like me who value their free time highly and/or hate driving at all) and at half the average hourly wage (which several economic studies estimate is the value that most people place on their free time - half their hourly wage).

After adding the direct costs of driving, the cost of time wasted, and the extra costs of congestion, commuting costs the average DCer $14,335 in time and money every year (if they value their free time highly), or $9,251 if they value their free time at half their hourly wage. (I would upload my Excel sheet, but it's too ugly to put up on the web, and I don't feel like prettying it up.)

Of course, for a majority of families, both parents commute, so the cost per family of commuting in wasted time and money is $28,670 (or $18,502) per year.

That is a ton of money - $2,389 (or $1,541) per month. That's a big enough monthly payment to add about $375,000 (or $225,000) in principle to a 30 year mortgage! I know lots of people ostensibly live in the suburbs and have long commutes in order to save money on housing, but unless you severely undervalue your free time, you should be willing to spend a lot more in order to purchase a house close to where you work.

Alternatively, you should be willing to take a moderately steep paycut to work closer to where you live.

Yet, almost every morning, I hear on WAMU that it takes an hour to travel from the Beltway to downtown DC on I-395N .... I just don't get it .... If you're one of the people who do that every day, how do you avoid shooting yourself and/or the other drivers? I just couldn't handle it ....

Friday, October 14, 2011

DCers (and Other City Dwellers) Waste Epic Amounts of Time and Money in Traffic

This is the first of a two-post miniseries on the costs of commuting.

First, I want to share an infographic about the amount of time people in the most congested areas of the US waste sitting in traffic congestion each year, with a brief discussion of how much this costs the average person (though the infographic fails to mention that "sitting in traffic triggers more heart attacks than eating, alcohol, cocaine, and sex."). Anyway, here's the infographic:

Traffic Jams


However, this infographic mainly looks at the cost of traffic jams in isolation - it doesn't look at the overall cost of commuting. In my next post, I'll look at just how much living in the suburbs / away from your job costs you (at least on average, in DC) - your mind will be blown!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why Most People Are Furious at Bankers, In One Graph

This graph sheds more than a little light on why Occupy Wall Street (and most other people) are furious at bankers:

This chart comes from a recently released report (.pdf warning) from NY's comptroller's office on the securities industry.

Economix states the obvious:
It shows that the average salary in the industry in 2010 was $361,330 — five and a half times the average salary in the rest of the private sector in the city ($66,120). By contrast, 30 years ago such salaries were only twice as high as in the rest of the private sector.
Sure, the "free" market may say that's what bankers are worth, but it's hard to look at the history of the past 30 years and conclude that, from a societal perspective, bankers have been or are worth their exorbitant salaries, particularly considering all the damage they caused in the most recent financial crisis.

Add to that the fact that the government always has (and always will) bail out the big banks when they get into trouble, and you've got a recipe for a lot of resentment from the 98-99% of Americans who pull in (significantly) less money than Wall Street types.

Krugman thinks that the "plutocrats," as he puts it, are starting to panic:

Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.
Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.
This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven from the stage.
We'll see if they manage to drive Occupy Wall Street from the stage, and on which side the Obama Administration lands. Thus far, one could argue that Obama has been doing his best, given the policies put in place by his predecessor and the messy realities of a slow recovery.

But, now that (some of) the masses are getting seriously pissed, and that it's obvious that the Republicans aren't going to help the Democrats do anything productive about economic growth, jobs, income inequality, or anything else between now and the next election, I'm curious to see whether Obama rediscovers the passion, drive, rhetoric, and ideas that got him elected in the first place. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What's the Greenest Way to Get Where You Want to Go, Visualized

My apologies for the quick post - regular length posting will resume tomorrow.

In the meantime, here's a cool infographic from detailing the carbon footprint of transportation modes according to trip length. I learned this in my grad school studies, but it might be surprising to some that (economy) air travel is actually greener than traveling by car, especially over long distances:

But, as is clear from the above, buses are always the greenest non-human-powered mode of travel.

I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday weekend and used green transportation to get where you wanted to go!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The State of American Food Insecurity, Visualized

For something out of the ordinary, we have a post that is directly connected to the work I do everyday - who is food insecure? Where do they live? Why are they food insecure? Here's the preview:


I know it's too small to make out what's going on - click on the image above for the huge version.

So, this is why I do the work I do everyday - because even in this country, the richest, most prosperous country in the history of mankind, we still have many millions of people who go hungry. Hard to believe sometimes, but that's the case.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why Your Gaydar is Horribly Inaccurate, Your Kids Are Safe with Strangers, and Medical Tests Are Often Wrong

Hmmm, I think it's broken.

Much of why humans get probabilities wrong, make bad decisions, and do dumb things can be illustrated by the situations highlighted in the title of this post - why is your gaydar is horribly inaccurate, why are your kids safe with strangers, and why are medical tests often wrong?

The reason is that, when evaluating situations, estimating probabilities, and the like, people often (actually, almost always) fail to take into account prior probabilities - i.e. they only look at the particular situation they're concerned about, and they fail to take into account the world in which the situation exists.

These insights come from the application of Bayes' theorem - we'll have a short demonstration of how this works in the real world, and how it can help you from making stupid decisions or incorrect assessments.

The gaydar example comes from The Hardest Science:
In a typical study, half of the targets are gay/lesbian and half are straight, so a purely random guesser (i.e., someone with no gaydar) would be around 50%. The reported accuracy rates in the articles . . . say that people guess correctly about 65% of the time. . . . Let’s assume that the 65% accuracy rate is symmetric — that guessers are just as good at correctly identifying gays/lesbians as they are in identifying straight people. Let’s also assume that 5% of people are actually gay/lesbian. From those numbers, a quick calculation tells us that for a randomly-selected member of the population, if your gaydar says “GAY” there is a 9% chance that you are right. Eerily accurate? Not so much. If you rely too much on your gaydar, you are going to make a lot of dumb mistakes. . . .
So, if you're an average person, you have a 9% chance, on average, of actually being right when you think someone is gay. But let's say that you have AMAZINGLY AWESOME gaydar, and that you guess correctly 90% of the time. Even then, when you look across the street at that guy/girl and are SURE that that person is gay, they still only have a 45% chance of being gay.

A more serious example of Bayes' theorem is in the realm of child sexual abuse - this is my own example, inspired by this old blog post of mine. In 2009, there were about 250,000 cases of child sexual abuse reported in the US. As I state in my old post, about 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetuated by people who know the child or are related to the child; only about 10% is perpetuated by strangers.

So, right away, we see that people you know are a much bigger threat to your child than people you don't know - a statement accentuated by the fact that you don't know far more people than you know. But what are the odds that a given stranger is going to sexually abuse your child? There are approximately 84.7 million kids in the US under the age of twenty, so the odds that your kid will be sexually abused by a stranger in a given year is about 0.0295 percent, or 1 in 3388. Given this prior probability, the odds that any one particular random adult in the US is going to sexually abuse your kid is about 1 in 753,152,400,000. So, no, your kids don't really need to be wary of strangers - let them go out, play, and explore on their own!

This final example comes from Dr. Zeckhauser's class over at HKS (one of the best courses I took while at HKS, by the way) - if you get a positive result from a medical test for a particular disease, what is the actual chance that you have that disease?

Let's assume that the disease rate for this particular disease in the general population is in the USA is about 0.3% (this is the actual HIV infection rate in the US). Furthermore, let's assume we have a test that is 99% accurate, which is a high level of accuracy. So, if you're a relatively average US citizen and get a positive result on this highly accurate test, what is the actual probability that you have the disease? It turns out that the probability that you actually have the disease is only about 23%, because the rate of infection in the overall population is so low - that's why many medial tests are performed more than once, especially if the test gives you a result you don't want.

So, go learn a little about Bayesian inference - and drastically improve your evaluation of probabilities and your capability to make good decisions!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Filling the Gap - How Students Pay for College, Visualized

Having completed grad school just over a year ago, I still feel in many ways like someone fresh out of school - and I'm not sure the feeling is much different from being fresh out of undergrad or grad school. So, the following infographic caught my eye. It's kind of bleak out there, with little hope of relief anytime soon:

Via Daily Infographic.

Private student loans are growing in importance as a source of college funding, but these loans can have a raft of negative consequences, such as affecting career choice, delaying marriage or children, and/or decreasing political activism (sorry, I'm feeling lazy today - I promise those are consequences, but you'll have to do your own Google work for links if you want more info).

On the other hand, I'm not sure that having the state pay for (most of) college is a good idea either, for the same reason that forgiving student loans is just about the worst possible idea for providing economic stimulus - if you do either of those things, you're further subsidizing the people who are likely to become the richest members of society anyway (remember that only 30% of Americans get a bachelor's degree, and that lifetime income is highly correlated with education level).

So, what's to be done about this, other than living frugally as a student?

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Venn Diagram That Explains All Problems With All Governments, Everywhere

Krugman posted this little Venn diagram a few days ago:

Krugman posted it in relation to the slow, seemingly inevitable (yet completely avoidable, if Europe would act) collapse of the Euro, but it also describes the political and policy problems in the USA and much of the rest of the world as well - the only things that are politically feasible won't work, and the only things that actually have a chance of working aren't considered politically feasible.

So, instead of a massive fiscal stimulus funded by cheaper-than-free borrowing by the government - a policy that would actually have a chance of putting a dent in the US's ongoing unemployment crisis - we instead have the Republicans proposing ....

I'll give you a second to guess - what policy are the Republicans proposing, which doesn't actually have any chance of working?

You guessed it - more tax cuts! Let's be honest - when, at any time in the past 20 years, have the Republicans proposed anything other than more tax cuts as the cure for what ails America? Economic downturn? Tax cuts! Economic boom? Tax cuts! Terrorist attack? Tax cuts! (That last one was probably my favorite.)

Brilliant, guys, just brilliant. See above Venn diagram for how that's going to work out for everyone.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Is This Why I Can't Find Good Coffee in the South?

I'm sure there are some local exceptions to this, but it has generally been my experience that it's easier to find decent espresso (and espresso drinks) in the Northeast than in the South. Could this be part of the reason why?

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For example, in DC, my current home, the average barista makes $23,350/year, while in my home state of TN, the average is $17,030. Does that extra $6,300 in pay per year translate into better employees and better coffee drinks?

Perhaps. But it could also just be a reflection of the fact that the Northeast is richer than the South in general, and so everyone, on average, gets paid more in the Northeast than in the South - regardless of their particular job.

However, as everyone knows (or should know), good coffee is made by A PARTICULAR barista - if you are local to an area, you know which coffee shop to go to and, at that coffee shop, which barista you want to make your coffee. But, it has been my experience that in both Italy and the Northeastern US, there seems to be a smaller variation in the quality of coffee than there is in the South - which definitely counts for something!