30 September 2012

Confirmation Day, Part the First

If it's Sunday, then it's NYT Sunday Business and Sunday Review. As a young Episcopalian, I had my Confirmation Day; now it's time to look into these two major sections in search of Mainstream Punditry confirming past musings. We'll see if there's a posting here each week. May be yes, may be no. This week is yes.

Let's start with David Leonhardt's "Obamanomics: A Counterhistory". He makes the case, without coming out just saying it (may haps his handlers won't permit it), that Obama's error was not implementing fiscal policy. Obama, well Bernanke by default of course, just continued the monetary policy of Greenspan. The result, of course, is inflation in the sector getting the moolah, abetted by all the existing money chasing "risk free" high returns. Those have evaporated, so the lemming money is chasing the smart money.
Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman, works hard to achieve consensus on the Fed's policy committee, and in 2010 and 2011 the committee was skewed toward officials predicting -- wrongly, we now know -- that inflation was a bigger threat than unemployment.
So, why did The Smartest Guys on the Planet get it wrong? My assessment from the start was that they're Banksters, one and all, even the Obama operatives. This makes them monetarists, which makes them view money as commodity, which makes them view any increase in money as universal throughout the economy. Of course, what they were doing, with TARP and QEx, was narrowcasting the manna. That they concluded that the moolah would "trickle down" to the greater economy was just either blindness or perfidy. "Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all." - Dwight Eisenhower. That formulation and cite isn't familiar, but too cute to pass up, all things considered.

Leonhardt gives these guys wide berth, asserting, covertly, that they're still The Smartest Guys on the Planet, just made a small error in judgment. I don't buy it. Monetarists and Banksters engage in trickle down. It's the only mantra they know.

Leonhardt does get credit for pointing to the evil Right Wingnuts:
By any measure, Mr. Obama and his team faced a tremendously difficult task. They inherited the worst economy in 70 years, as well as an opposition party that was dedicated to limiting the administration to one term and that fought attempts at additional action in 2010 and 2011. And the administration can rightly claim to have performed better than many other governments around the world.

Finally the Times finds someone (Jeff Sommer) to get really close. The title tells it all: "As Money Pours Down, It's No Wonder That Stocks Are Up". One has to wonder; do these editors ever talk to each other?
Robert Rodriguez, managing partner and chief executive of FPA, an asset management firm in Los Angeles, says it's possible that fund managers, seeking to bolster their returns, will "continue to pile into stocks in the remainder of this year and push them to even higher levels." But he says he believes that the market is already overextended, and his firm has begun to reduce its stock exposure.
With both Fed free money and all that (possibly apocryphal) Chinese money seeking high returns, there isn't much choice. Stuffing it in the mattress isn't really an option. While the Apple's of the world continue to do that, pension funds and hedge funds don't have the luxury to flip the bird to their "owners". Their job is to generate returns. It's just these sort of days that prove publicly funded pensions are the only sensible approach. That's been touched on here before. Perhaps again, soon. In a nutshell, Social Security wasn't/isn't/never can be an "investment plan". To do so would undermine governance of the country, and waste oodles of moolah along the way. Serving two masters never works out well.

26 September 2012

Money For Nuthin, The Picture

So, what's the data look like? Among Real Quants, pie charts are viewed as stinky doo, whilst Suits love 'em. Figures. I'm not a big fan of them, not so surprisingly, but these data are simple enough, and the chart stark enough (whilst still being honest) that it can't be passed up.

You'll likely need to expand it to see the labels, although the two that mean something are legible.

Money For Nuthin

With all the moaning about the "fairness" of capital gains taxation, it's about time that this endeavor took a look, don't you think? There's both quant aspects and macro aspects.

On the quant side, is: what numbers matter? From the point of those who assert that capital gains is totally unearned income (as opposed to those who get itchy with the word 'unearned'), the bull stock market since March 2009 is the exemplar. Here's what happens.
- you buy shares of CNO (Conseco Insurance, though the name has been changed) in March, 2009 at $.26.
- you ride the rebound to, at least, March, 2010 and sell.
- you sell the shares, which reached $10.18 last friday.
- you pay, modulo other shenanigans, 15%.

That's a gain of $9.92/share, or a bit more than 38 times gain. For which neither you, nor that money, did ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING. One can say, "but my money was at risk. CNO could have stayed down to $.20 or even gone bankrupt." And that's true. You GAMBLED that the person who sold you the stock was stupid to sell so cheap. S/he, on the other hand, gambled that you were a fool to pay so much. NONE of the money went to CNO to run its business. You did nothing more than a horse plunger. You look at historical information. You assessed where CNO's (or whatever company) prospects were going. You looked at the general market. And you read J.K. Galbraith, "Financial genius is a rising market."

There are other forms of capital gains. After much exploration, here is table of the various asset categories reported by the IRS for 2007 (the latest). More than half is purely financial transactions. Gains on residences is, wait for it, 1% of the total. Read that again, 1%.

On the macro side, we have to assert either that the USofA is based on a progressive tax system, or not. If we are, then capital gains, especially with the likes of Bain shifting "income" into "capital gains" deserve no special treatment, particularly given how little capital gain is due to physical investment. It's just a financial manipulation.

Is that so difficult to figure out?

25 September 2012

Are We There Yet?

(A post on Seeking Alpha, to which I had commented, came up with a stream of new comments. I was moved to add another, which is included here for your amusement. The subject was the future of smartphones, and Apple's place in that future with the 5 as exemplar.)

Given that the US is 5% of the planet's population, eating up 24% of the world's resources, the arithmetic for the ROW becoming like us can't work, and it will cease to work kind of soon, even for the US. As concentration of income/wealth has accelerated, the top 1% will be the only ones who can afford such toys. Note that Apple doesn't make very much, they're an assembler.

Kind of reminds me of Port Au Prince (long before the earthquake): all those big houses with high stone walls with broken glass in the top. With circuit integration continuing, Apple won't have much advantage. Some have noted that what Apple did was morph the cell phone into a portable entertainment device. Having done that, someone, even Apple, needs to morph it again to gain advantage. Good luck with that.

Perhaps a portable "real" gambling machine, so you can squander money on the way to work? Now THAT would put all those Right Wing Christian Capitalists into a real boiling pot of oil: moolah or morals? moolah or morals? Which should it be?

One FLEWWN Over the Cuckoo's Nest

After last nights Packers-Seahawks game, the truth about NFL/Goodell is plain as Palin: they're just the WWE. Probably always was, what with "parity" and government sponsored arenas. Talk about welfare moochers? Sports team owners, and these NFL are the worst, own almost no physical capital bought with their own money. All that "investment" teams make is money dumped into entry fees. It ain't Adam Smith's free market.

23 September 2012

Listen to the Bald Headed Guy

As regular reader must have figured out by now, while I dearly love stats/quant, I've been skeptical of mathy staty economics/business ever since grad school when I was subjected to a bunch of flunked out math and physics Ph.D. re-purposed into assistant professors of economics. This was the mid-1970s, ancient history to most alive today. The Great Recession's seeds were sown that long ago.

In the movie "Taras Bulba", Yul Brynner in the title role tells his son that he must go live with the Poles to understand how they think so that the Cossacks can win back what they've lost. I feel much the same about "financial engineering", an oxymoron ranking with "happily married" as the apotheosis of irony. So, in a desultory way, I've been reading David Ruppert's "Statistics and Data Analysis for Financial Engineering". Today was the chapter on copulas (which, if one uses them, must be termed copulation, yes?). Wait for it: we sure got copulated by Wall Street.

Each chapter has a Bibliographic Notes, which is usually a bunch of reference to papers in the professional literature. However, here is a reference to a piece in Wired, by Felix Salmon. Boy Howdy! It was written in the early days of the Great Recession, Spring 2009, just before or after this endeavor went public. I was unaware of it until now. It is eerie, reading it now. I do disagree that the quant invasion happened in the 80s; it was a decade earlier.

To reiterate: my issue with Wall Street quants is that many (most? all?) have little understanding of either macro or micro economics. The micro folks believe that each actor is independent while the macro folks understand that such a view is naive' at best.

One of my favorite aphorisms (attributed to any Good Mother, and presented a few times already): "what would the world be like if everybody behaved like you?". This was said to misbehaving kids.
...the real danger was created not because any given trader adopted it but because every trader did. In financial markets, everybody doing the same thing is the classic recipe for a bubble and inevitable bust.

Conspiracy nuts would, perhaps did at the time, have fun with the fact that the inventor of this particular copula (there are a host of specific ones; copula is a general definition, so there are many variations) is a Chinese named Li. Was he sent here to crash the American economy? Only the time will tell. As of the date of the piece he had returned to China and was working in banking.

What Salmon doesn't get into is the specifics of why CDOs and CDSs came to be so loved by the Wall Street folks. Here, the answer is Greenspan and Dubya: they had crashed interest rates on Treasuries, leaving all that Chinese money and American pension money and what have you looking for greater "risk free" returns. As I've said more than once here, returns (real world variety) can only come from better production of and sufficient demand for the increased production of goods; there really isn't much point in making physical investment just to produce what you already do (modulo firing most of your employees, see Mother's Advice above). Home mortgages provide no such. Some within the economics profession have talked, for decades, about "psychic utility" and its measure in housing. Here's a piece which skewers it well and truly. If it sounds familiar, just delve into the early musings here and you'll find his arguments and more.

Returning to Salmon's piece.
...because an unlimited number of credit default swaps can be sold against each borrower, the supply of swaps isn't constrained the way the supply of bonds is, so the CDS market managed to grow extremely rapidly.
In other words, while, in my opinion Wall Street investing is really just gambling twixt buyers and sellers of stocks and bonds, this was very much a step further into wagering.

What Li, and any of the quants who bought his story, relied on was the truth of The Efficient Market Hypothesis. That is, those pricing both CDOs and CDSs were always the Smartest Guys in The Room. The problem here is simple: the financial engineering folks rely wholly and explicitly on some amount of historical data, and almost all of that data is some single time series. Imagine your local weather person saying that the day was dry and sunny, because her forecasting model said so, but never bothered to look out at the downpour in the parking lot. Such was the simplicity of the error made by the Wall Street quants. They wanted to, vampire squid style, suck ever more moolah from the saver-to-borrower stream, and there was all that Chinese money just itching for some place to sit. It was not in their individual best interest (see Mother's Advice above) to question the wisdom of the plan. One need look, as early as 2002, no further than the (median house price / median income) metric to know that someone was lying. House prices were soaring, but median income was flat. No amount of utility shifting could account for the divergence.
And Li didn't just radically dumb down the difficulty of working out correlations; he decided not to even bother trying to map and calculate all the nearly infinite relationships between the various loans that made up a pool.

It isn't as if all these mortgage based CDSs and CDOs were built on new and better production. They weren't. All that held them up was the incomes of the home buyers. Nothing else. Said home buyers might derive a whole lot of psychic utility from a McMansion they'd never dreamed they'd ever be living in. Psychic utility doesn't pay the mortgage. Some academic economists, going back at least to when I was in school, have questioned American's perverse "investment" in housing. Europe doesn't waste capital that way. We shouldn't, either.

The numbers are staggering:
The CDS and CDO markets grew together, feeding on each other. At the end of 2001, there was $920 billion in credit default swaps outstanding. By the end of 2007, that number had skyrocketed to more than $62 trillion. The CDO market, which stood at $275 billion in 2000, grew to $4.7 trillion by 2006.
God may not play dice with the world, but Wall Street is more than happy to play dice with other people's money. "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."

So there you have it. Just as I've described, but with some contemporary reportage. The results of TARP and the QEs? A soaring stock market in the face of economic stagnation. How can that be? Now that all that Chinese money and American pension money doesn't have AAA rated bonds (and their derivatives) to buy, where else to go? Yup, the squid. It's deja vu all over again.

20 September 2012

Like a Ton of Bricks

Somewhere in this canon (or the other one; way too lazy to go looking), I mused that the future of eTailing was retailing. The reasoning is straightforward: the cost of fuel, air and ground, will only rise. We either run out of crude or we substantially reduce how much we use so that we have enough air to breath. In the near term, it's unambiguous that rail transport is an order of magnitude cheaper than air, and nearly so for highway ground.

The advantage of brick & mortar retail is inventory; it can be moved in bulk, thus by rail and at substantial savings. At the time I mused, I didn't consider the shift back to brick & mortar to be all that swift. I didn't count on the folks at Amazon to have figured it out already. Here's a recent piece on Amazon's brick & mortar effort. Rather than you taking a short drive to Target, Amazon takes an almost short drive to you. Who said size doesn't matter? The losers? UPS and FedEx and the Post Office. They still do the last mile, so to speak, but not the bulk of the delivery.
Amazon's delivery of everyday objects needs to be fast enough and cheap enough to wean customers from their local stores. Yet it also must be economically feasible for the retailer, which is investing so heavily in the warehouses that it is barely profitable.

Some residents want more. "They want to be able to order something and then drive down the street to the warehouse and pick it up," said Rod Butler, the city manager. Here, just like everywhere else, shoppers dream of same-day delivery.
And what makes this better? The stated impetus was having to collect sales tax, but I just don't buy it. The cost of transport is significant. Just for yucks, one could use Amazon's build out as a test of the infamous Traveling Salesman Problem. For this instance, one need analyze the goods sold by region (cluster analysis sounds about right; one need define both the region and its goods' list concurrently), the size of the warehouse needed to supply those goods by rail (again, a region need have sufficient shipments, by value, to justify its boundaries), which would have to account for volume of goods (rail is effective for large movements). The most significant parameter is meeting demand lead time on the list of goods to be kept in the regional warehouses. The goal would be to meet some percentage, say 99.5%, of value shipped out of a warehouse to the region. Since these buildings, and if you read the links you'll find tax breaks abounding, still don't move much, definition of "region" is critical. Low volume/value would be shipped out of "central" stores, likely three; each coast and the midwest. The regional warehouses would be stocked by rail. I'd bet, but haven't got data, that the warehouses are quite near, if not on sight to, railheads.

Surprise, surprise. A quick search turns up this story.
Given the prime location in the Midwest with 4,700 miles of mainline rail track, three international airports and more than 11,000 total highway miles, it's no surprise that Amazon has already invested heavily in placing fulfillment centers there.
If you follow the Delaware link in that story, and then search for railheads in Middletown, Delaware, there's Norfolk Southern. Brick & mortar wins after all.

19 September 2012

Another Brick in The Wall

We don't need no education...

The Left Wing, and a bit of the Right Wing (sort of), are playing the education tune as the panacea to the "middle class is dead" problem. Alas, it can't work. The flawed assumption is that our (global) economy can absorb millions of folks doing well paid middle class work. The issue is the same as the robot ruminations of late: high value work is high value just because it's highly leveraged. That doesn't necessarily mean guild-like restrictions, but more fundamentally input-output; no matter the price, there just isn't the need for millions of middle class workers. Here's a quote about the iPhone folks:
Apple sent the entire 16-member design team to the award presentation and the entourage followed Ive on stage to receive the award.

So, to be clear, Apple moves 2 million 5s in 24 hours. 16 people created that device. Now, that's LEVERAGE. And it means that education isn't the solution.

It's the Distribution, Stupid!

13 September 2012

A Globe Theatrical

Well, give a rousing USofA welcome to Elizabeth III, queen of all she surveys. Will she raise the USofA out of its doldrums? Not likely. But it will be fun for the Wall Street crowd, being as how they live a Globe sort of life, trodding the boards and giving us a heartfelt, but ultimately fabricated, performance.

The Right Wingnuts keep keening about the Inflation Invasion, but it nevers seems to get here. III won't either for the same reason it didn't with I and II: the moolah doesn't go into the hands of consumers. Where it does end up is in the hands of those vampire squids of Taibbi fame. There's a reason the stock markets are giving a roaring bull performance; all that moolah is chasing shares.

III is on top of all that moolah still floating around looking for that "higher risk free" return that Greenspan/Bernanke have yanked out of their greedy little mouths. Can it work? No better than I or II have, since none of them is a fiscal exercise. I recall some war movie (WWII, the last Good War) where an officer tells a junior officer why an officer has to lead from the front, "you can't push a string." Monetary policy is pushing the string. Or, if you prefer, a horse staring at a bucket of water.

10 September 2012

Dee Feat is in Dee Flation, Part 22

And now for something completely different. Football, not really surprisingly, is a leading indicator.
"We worry about deflation, Ben Bernanke worries about deflation, as it turns out, a lot NFL stadiums and NFL team owners are thinking deflation as well," [Nick Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx] says. With one taking action via lowering rates, while the others take action by lowering prices.

If You Build It, They Will Come

"If you build it, they will come." Thus heard Ray Kinsella in "Field of Dreams". Well, not exactly; it was "he" not "they", although in the movie, it is the Black Sox players who show up, starting with Shoeless Joe Jackson. And the quote with "they" is often used. Not least when discussing capital investment in residential and commercial real estate. A bete noir of this endeavor is real estate investment. Along with purely fiduciary instruments (stocks, bonds), real estate investment doesn't generate real returns in production. As a result, in order to get fiduciary returns to pay the vig, somewhere back up the economic chain, extra moolah has to be extracted. The assumption, both by public officials and private real estate speculators, is that such funds will be found. Aye, matey, thar's the rub. Just as the giant vampire squid sucked cash from the saver to borrower stream, non-productive use of capital has to "steal" its return from real production.

Oddly, the Right Wingnuts, who are happy to practice weaponized Keynesianism, refuse to accept that real growth requires real return on invested funds. Today's patient is China, mentioned before. Here we can read the gory details of public and private decisions in thrall to making buildings. Perhaps China needs a "One Building Policy" to go along with its "One Child Policy". For much the same reason.

The problem with basing an economy on construction can be seen in Florida. I no longer remember the cite, but there was a quote (paraphrasing from memory) along the lines of, "high school dropouts need to find something more productive than pounding nails". China has used building, both public buildings and infrastructure (all that high speed rail, for instance) as well as private housing speculation, as the means of re-distributing wealth. Few, especially the Right Wingnuts, ever admit that Keynesian mechanisms are explicitly distributional, but that's what they are. In the case of weapons systems, of course, the Right Wingnuts are more than eager to squander the nation's wealth on killing. Those Red Staters, mentioned previously, would still be drinking and shitting in the creeks and eating their possums by kerosene lamps were it not for the TVA (courtesy of FDR). Try calculating the return on the investment in those dams, reservoirs, and power houses. Today's Democrats might consider the effort suicidal.

The productive value of public infrastructure is notoriously difficult to quantify. I always chuckle when some new highway or rail line is promoted because it will save X minutes of commuting per day for Y thousands of citizens. And, since a citizen's time is worth at least $Z, then the "return" on the highway or rail line is (X/60 * Y * Z) dollars. Of course not, especially for highways. In that case, they do come and fill up the lanes. As an adjunct to general economic growth in the areas served by the highway, then more transport is worthwhile. But then we get into the whole "public goods" squabble, which sends the Right Wingnuts into apoplexy, since they only admit to weaponry as a public good. Well, and cops to keep the darker folk in their places. And if their pet corporation wants an exit ramp next to this new highway.

What the current Chinese experience tells us is simple: an economy which is inherently inequitable in its distribution (and the Chinese model of exporting poverty is among the worst) of income has to find a method of re-distribution which both works and does so below the radar of its Right Wingnuts. Infrastructure building, especially when carried out by companies with deep ties to government, is always an early choice. The problem for China is that building buildings is inherently temporary. In time, the whole landscape will be covered in concrete (or hurricane fodder in Florida). Then what do you do?
Economic data released on Sunday by the National Bureau of Statistics showed the extent of the problems. Investment in new buildings and other fixed assets is in the doldrums. Manufacturers are retreating from ambitious production goals as they struggle with bloated inventories of unsold goods. Even the service sector, still underdeveloped and widely seen by economists as full of potential, is showing signs of distress.
I wonder whether the Chinese, whom the reporter is paraphrasing, or the reporter himself get the irony: service work is just as non-productive and re-distributional as infrastructure building. The only difference is that service sector employment can be perpetual. "One from the In Box, two to the Out Box. Lunch. Go home." Yes, done with foresight and intelligence, infrastructure building can support macroeconomic growth; the Red Staters know this implicitly even if they won't admit it. The Chinese zeal has, especially recently, been plagued with corruption and shoddy performance.

The moral of the story, being both from Aesop and Confucius the story has to have one, and it is this: "It's the Distribution, Stupid". The Chinese, having chosen to export poverty with its manufacturing, has turned to building as its re-distribution regime. FDR did so, too, but in a completely different macroeconomic environment. FDR faced idle, existing, manufacturing capacity. His goal was to increase capacity utilization, thus putting Americans back to work doing what they'd been doing. The current US problem is that too many of those tossed out of the economy in the Great Recession were doing non-productive work; systems analysts and teachers and such. It turns out, an economy can get along quite nicely without them. Not to mention all those Wall Street worker bees, collateral damage done by those higher up the food chain. We could have, and some pray that a return of a "robust housing market" is needed to fix the economy, put all those nail pounders and Wall Street fast talkers back to work doing what they'd been doing. But, that would only make matters worse.

Physicians learned long ago that leeching a wound doesn't heal the wounded, even if you've cornered the market on medical leeches.

03 September 2012

It's Alive!!

My beloved Triage appears to be alive and well, but in stealth mode. I've not actually had the pleasure of meeting it. But the Times yesterday kind of let the cat out of the bag. If this isn't a description of Triage driven campaign building, I'd be hard pressed to do better. What's galling is that the Democrats happily ignored the issues in 2010, and have set us on the road to permanent minority rule. Just like a South American junta.

Issenberg, a he by the way, is publishing a book, "The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns". Alas, I wasn't a source. No royalties for me.

Over the last decade, almost entirely out of view, campaigns have modernized their techniques in such a way that nearly every member of the political press now lacks the specialized expertise to interpret what's going on. Campaign professionals have developed a new conceptual framework for understanding what moves votes. It's as if restaurant critics remained oblivious to a generation's worth of new chefs' tools and techniques and persisted in describing every dish that came out of the kitchen as either "grilled" or "broiled."

My first serious post college position was in Washington, DC (for the Civil Service Commission, which no longer exists; bet you didn't know that), in a group titled Office of Analytic Methods. I was the economist/econometrician, while one of the other worker bees was AbD in psychometrics. For reasons not yet discussed, I've long viewed any study prefixed psych- with suspicion; a means for the venal to manipulate the naive'. Advertising, "Mad Men" style, is the archetype. Eventually, we got "The Selling of the President 1968". Some 40 years on, and the number crunching has gotten evermore convoluted, possibly more sophisticated.

Oh, did I mention that I wandered into my local Barnes & Noble to see what's newish in the data/stat world? Yes, yes I did. And what to my wondering eyes did appear but "R For Dummies". I suppose that R will become the next Excel: any knucklehead will feel empowered to play math stat in the office, just as Excel empowered cube monkeys to self-identify as financial analysts. And we now know what that produced.

Campaigns have borrowed techniques from the social sciences, including behavioral psychology and statistical modeling. They have access to private collections of data and from their analysis of it have been able to reach empirical, if tentative, conclusions about what works and what doesn't.

And to quote my humble self, from Triage:

There is, available to the apparatchiks, both public data (the FEC here in the States) and data developed by their own organization. This latter data is, amorphously, expenditures (the source data that ends up at the FEC; their own they have, but opposition data must wait for FEC and may well not be sufficiently timely) and outcomes; perhaps simple polling results; perhaps some focus group results; perhaps some name recognition surveys. Social network data mining is also big these days (although I've not done enough research to know for sure that this could be a data source for outcomes).

Issenberg throws in the towel:

Breathless, and often fact-free, stories about "data mining" and "microtargeting" soon became plentiful. But few journalists had access to any of the campaigns' data, or even much understanding of the statistical techniques they used. We found ourselves at the mercy of self-promoting consultants who described how they were changing politics by ignoring stodgy old demographics and instead pinpointing voters according to their lifestyles. We played along, guilelessly imputing new mythic powers to microtargeting. In many retellings, data analysis became the reason George W. Bush was re-elected.

There has been, in the wake of Ryan's perversion, hand wringing from some of the press that fact-checking (which effort draws the ire of the Right Wingnuts, not surprisingly) in the face of such lying will take too much effort to police. The message is that Right Wingnuts will send a tsunami of falsehood, much never exposed as forcefully as the assaults. "Swift Boats" 24/7. Welcome to the new Gulag.

Indeed, the telling numbers wouldn't be polls but the individual probability scores that Mr. Obama's targeters developed (and update weekly) to predict how likely each voter in the country is to support him.

As Triage described, high granularity data, external to the campaigns can be used. One of the not so secret secrets in the quant world is that private databases exist, for a fee, to very fine detail. As you bend the mind, so you bend the finger on the voting lever.

But particularly in a polarized race like this one, where fewer than one-tenth of voters are moving between candidates, the most advanced thinking inside a campaign is just as likely to focus on fine-tuning statistical models to refine vote counts and improve techniques for efficiently identifying and mobilizing existing supporters.

So, we find:

...Mr. Romney deployed statistical models to track Iowa supporters and current vote counts for his rivals. It amounted to a largely invisible 21st-century upgrade to the traditional infrastructure of offices, phone banks and staff that most journalists visualized when they tossed around the term "organization."

Back in the 1980s I applied to, and was accepted into, the American University (the one in Washington, DC) Economic Journalism graduate program. For various reasons, I didn't get to go (you know who you are). I still have, more so recently with the advent of R in particular, much regret that I wasn't able to watch and participate in this evolution.

01 September 2012

Apple for the Teacher

A worthwhile addiction is BookTV, C-SPAN2 for the weekend. There was a repeat of an interview with Diane Ravitch, from 2000, for her then current book, "Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reform" (that's the subtitle today). She went to Wellesley, and sounded sane, so off to Amazon to see what she's been up to since.

"The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education" is the latest. Reading through the comments, this one is of note (from one Andrew Wolfe):
Teacher-bashing, so in vogue among the "reformers" dominating the national discussion, is rejected by Dr. Ravitch. How could the unions be responsible for so much failure when, she asks, traditionally, the highest scores in the nation are posted by strong union states such as Massachusetts (best results in the nation) and the lowest scores in the south, where unions are weak or non-existent?

The whole teacher bashing, especially union bashing, to me has from inception been strictly about Right Wingnuts looking to end the teaching of evolution, and any other reality based knowledge. Since the curricula are created by Management, and the texts largely manipulated by Texas (Google for it; because texts are built to the demands of large customers, and Texas has such clout, Texas frames the content of many texts), blaming the teachers is just propaganda.

The thrust of her discussion during the interview was that education, if we mean it that we're a Democracy, must be egalitarian and public. Massachusetts established public education. They seem to get it right.

One point she makes, but I remain confused about, is whether consolidated schools are better than smaller ones. She is against early "tracking" of students. On the other hand, I went to public schools about eighty miles west of Wellesley, in Springfield. At that time, there were four public high schools: Trade, Commerce, Technical, and Classical; they catered to the sort of students you might expect. I went to Classical, big surprise. The thing is, I don't recall being tested in, either voluntarily or mandatorily. The social sifting was sufficient. It was known as Palestine High, since all the Jewish kids went there; and not just Springfield kids, but some from neighboring towns. I don't recall the details, but there was some agreement that allowed it. Kind of like a public prep school.