Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Friday, February 27, 2004

Effective Bias

Which approach is more effective at changing your mind?

Approach A:
"We live in fictitious times. We live in a time with fictitious election results that elect fictitious presidents. We live in a time when we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons...we are against this war, Mr Bush. Shame on you. Shame on you!"

Approach B:
"Overall, the policies of the United States are still very unpopular around the world. The Bush Doctrine, a preference for unilateral military action and a disdain for multinational diplomacy, is under scrutiny more than ever."

The first is Michael Moore's spleen exploding out of his mouth during the Oscars. The second is the Oct. 17th, 2003 lead in to Bob Edward's newscast on NPR's Morning Edition, as quoted here.

The stridency in Michael Moore's voice and his intemperate outburst warn you that you are in the presence of a zealot, and that you will have to take his words with a grain of salt the size of Mt. Ranier. But when Bob Edwards delivers the news, it is in the calm, measured tones of a professional news anchor. There is no tell tale hysteria in his voice, no audible clues that we are listening to a man who is nearly as biased as Michael Moore. We have to look at his actual words to get that information. And that makes him much more effective.

Let's look at the above quote. Where's the bias? That's right, the second sentence. Edwards states as fact something that at the very least is highly debateable, if not outright false. To suggest that President Bush disdains multilateralism is to disregard half the facts. Yes, he went forward in Iraq without the UN; yes, he withdrew from Kyoto; and yes, he moved forward on a missile defense system. But were these actions based on a disregard for cooperation, or because he saw what he considered a clear duty, and went forward? I don't think any objective person can deny that Iraqis are much better off now than they were a year ago, and with recent concessions by Syria and Lebanon, a strong argument could be made that the Middle East as a whole is moving towards increased security. Add to this the multiple times President Bush went to the UN, either in person or thorugh Colin Powell or others, laying out his case for going into Iraq. The failure of the UN to go along is not proof that President Bush preferred to go it alone, only that he was left no other choice.

Most observers now admit freely that Kyoto was deeply flawed, trading environmental efficacy for political advantage. In fact, most countries have failed to ratify the treaty, both for that reason, and the huge economic burder it imparted, with negligible results.

Even the withdrawal from the ABM treaty can be seen as necessary, given the probability that terrorist groups or rogue nations may aquire ballistic missile and WMD warheads.

Whether you agree with these arguments or not is really not that important, and strong counter arguments exist for each; what is important is that Bob Edward's characterization of Bush's foreign policy is more opinion than fact, even though it is represented as fact, and it is clear that Edwards may indeed view it as fact. It is this quiet substitution of opinion for fact that makes the bias of many major news outlets, in this case, NPR, so effective.

When Michael Moore rants and raves, we immediately activate our BS detectors. By his presentation, we expect him to be biased; by his history, we expect him to distort the facts to fit his philosophy. But when our friendly, fatherly news anchor does the same thing, in calm, well reasoned tones, we don't have the same reaction. No alarm bells ring, and we may allow that opinion to register as a fact, which in turn can lead us to draw a false conclusion.

The subtle nature of this bias is it's greatest strength. It's hard to point out, and even when you do find a clear example, it's easy for critics to dismiss as "just a little thing." But little things add up, and when the bias is pervasive enough, say, throughout an entire network, the cumulative effect can be astounding.

Try this experiment at home. Watch a news broadcast; it doesn't matter which channel. Listen very closely to the anchors and see how many times you can catch them voicing an opinion or judgment as a fact. Listen closely to hear how many judgments they make while telling you the news. Those judgments may be verbal, or more often non-verbal, the shake of a head, a frown, etc. If you pay attention closely, you'll be amazed at just how much editorializing is going on during a newscast.

Posted by Rich
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Is the Presidential Campaign About to Turn Ugly?

From a comment over at Sgt. Stryker's place:
I'd like to see an ad during this campaign with the camera panning slowly across the names on the Vietnam Memorial with the tape recording of Kerry's testimony telling the Senate how these men were mostly war criminals.

That's gotta hurt! But, is it ugly?

On my way in to work today, I was listening to Morning Edition when I heard a brief interview with Theresa Heinz-Kerry. The interviewer, Renee Montaigne asked the following question: (about 1:00 in)
Now that George W. Bush is poised to pour millions into his re-election effort, I asked her if she expected the campaign to get ugly?

Say Uncle was asking for help in documenting liberal bias on NPR for the folks over at lean left. Well, here's a prime example. The question clearly demonstrates a bias to the left as it automatically links campaign spending by Bush with an "ugly" campaign. This is one case where the audio format of NPR's archives actually comes in handy, as you can hear Montaigne lean all over the phrase "pour millions." Given the connection betwen money and political corruption, Montaigne cannot be unaware that by stressing how much Bush is going to spend, she creates a negative impression about Bush with her listeners, who, to be sure, are already leaning in that direction anyway. But why not mention the "millions" raised and spent by Howard Dean on his unabashedly negative campaign? Or the "millions" raised by Kerry and Edwards? As for the campaign "getting" ugly, isn't it already? Let's not forget the Kerry-trollop trolling by folks from Wes Clark's camp as evidence that this campaign hit the gutter before the primaries were even over. How about the patently false AWOL accusations thrown at the President by Kerry, Dean, and Terry McAuliffe as evidence that the campaign has already gotten ugly?

Yet Renee Montaigne blithely disregards this, intimating that any ugliness in the campaign will be solely due to President Bush spending millions. The bias is egregious, and obvious to anyone who isn't similarly biased.

So the correct answer to her question is that the campaign has already gotten ugly. If the republicans should begin to fire back, it won't mark the beginning of the ugliness.

It'll just make it bi-partisan.

Isn't bi-partisanship wonderful?

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

So This is What a Computer Looks Like!

Hey folks, sorry for the long silence but every now and then real life throws you a curve or two and I've been flat out running from early morning to the dead of night for the last couple of weeks, which is frustrating, because there are so many things I want to talk about. Like:
  • DOMA, or a constitutional amendment- worthless waste of time. Get the gov't out of everybody's bedroom. I don't give a damn who does what with whom or how many are involved as long as any kids resulting from said activities are well provided for. Separate civil and religious unions and let's get on with something really important.
  • Like the election. Kerry's got the dem nomination in his pocket. Edwards is just angling for Veep. Plus, the longer the contest runs, the more Dems get to control the issues being discussed.
  • Nadar will not cost the Dem's the election, just as he didn't cost them the election in 2000. If Al Gore had a message that had resonated with all Democrats, he would have won. In the same way, if Kerry can work out a platform to appeal to all Democrats, he might win. If you can't successfully overcome a third party challenge, you don't deserve the job. Same goes for Republicans who cried about Perot. The pool of people dissatisfied with the current two party system has grown large enough to be a real factor. Big Bush and Al Gore lost because of a fundamental shift in the political alignment of the people. The Big 2 parties will have to reinventthemselves to follow the new alignment, or be supplanted by new parties. There hasn't been a president elected with a majority of the popular vote since Reagan, meaning that for the last 12 years, more people have voted against the sitting president than for him. And yes, for you rabid Clintonophiles, that includes St. BJ.
  • Nader's sudden entry into the scene means only one thing: he's convinced Howard Dean to run as his Veep. There's no other explanation for the timing of his entry, or the cryptic messages Dean gave as he bowed out.
  • Bush may become a victim of his own success. The American people are drifting back to sleep again as we grow less afraid of a repeat of 9-11, which takes the war off the table as a plus for Bush. The economy is growing steadily, jobs are being created, and unemployment is down. Normally, this would be good for a sitting president, but Bush is in a position similar to Gore in 2000. Gore had everything going his way but for one thing; the negative image of Bill Clinton clung to him like an albatross, and eventually doomed him. With the constant sniping at the President, folks may decide they are ready for a change, if only to get the leftist whining to stop.
  • As the Democratic Party splinters, watch for similar divides in the Republican party, as small gov't conservatives bolt for the Libertarian Party. Their reasoning will be that, with the dems falling apart, they can afford to vote their beliefs, instead of pragmatics. Look for third party candidates, Nader and whoever the Libertarians put up to come up with a combined 20%-30% of the vote, meaning that our next president will be elected with only 35%-40% of the popular vote.
    I can't wait to hear the howls of outrage when that happens!
  • The Democrats are planning a "Free Speech Zone" for protestors during their convention in Boston. The Zone will be a couple of miles away, totally out of view of the convention site, and hold only 400 people at a time. I thought it was only the evil Republicans who pulled this kind of censorship?
  • I took my Concealed Carry Class on Valentine's Day and was surprised how little the class had to do with actually carrying a weapon. The vast majority of the curriculum covered gun safety, and all the different ways you could get into trouble carrying a gun. It was almost like the State designed the program to discourage people from arming themselves.
    Imagine that.

Just a few scattered thoughts while I have the time. I'll try to get back here again before too much time passes by, and y'all forget me.

It was kinda cool though. I got an e-mail from another member of the RTB, checking up on me since I'd been quiet for so long. It's nice to know that if I fell and hurt myself, and couldn't call for help, somebody would eventually notice my absence and check on me before I really started to stink up the place.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, February 12, 2004

This is Not News

Drudge is reporting that Kerry had an affair with an intern.

So what? What does this have to do with his ability to govern? Absolutely nothing, that's what!

As I said all along, it wasn't the affair; it was lying under oath that made the Lewinski scandal relevant. I couldn't care less what the President does with his cigars, or who he does it with. What's important to me is that I can trust him not to lie to my face. In this case, if the accusations are true, Kerry has three choices. He can lie, tell the truth, or answer with a loud "None of your damn business!" and then never address the issue again. I prefer the third alternative, but if he feels the need to confess, the second works as well. Only if he chooses the first course will I have a problem with it.

Here's hoping that Kerry's primary opponents will take the high ground, and ignore this story completely.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

Posted by Rich
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Civil Unions vs Marriage:  Didn’t We Settle This One Already?

Separate but Equal is neither separate nor Equal. We figured that one out already. Why are some politicians, like Kerry, trying to go back to it? I'll give Bush some credit here; he does stand up for what he believes in, although I think he's wrong on this one. But Kerry wants to have it both ways. He wants to please his conservative constituents by defending the word marriage, while extending the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same sex couples.

Grow a spine and stand up for what you believe in!

If you think same sex couples should enjoy the legal rights and responsibilities of traditional marriage, then say so. Popular or not, you'd at least stand for something.

I'm already on record as saying the State has no business deciding who can sleep with/live with/marry whom. Let's apply the First Amendment properly here, and keep Church and State issues separate. A civil marriage (yes, use the word marriage) would be a civil contract between two (or more; there's no reason to arbitrarily restrict the makeup of the marriage by sex or number) adults, granting the members of that marriage the same rights and responsibilities of a traditional marriage. A religious marriage would be performed by the church, according to its own rules and restrictions.

Marriage as we know it today is really a two part construction anyway; let's clear up the dividing line between the two parts and get the State out of an area it has no business being in to begin with.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

This Should End the Bush AWOL Flap…

...but it probably won't.

The letter is too long to excerpt, but in essence, it provides a clear rebuttal to all the innuendo and speculation surrounding Bush's service in the National Guard, and utterly dispells any notions of impropriety.

Add to that this report where contemporaries do remember President Bush returning to Montgomery to complete his drills and the last vestiges of the "scandal" should die.

But it won't, for one real reason. The economy is going well, unemployment is down, reconstruction in Iraq is continuing, albeit with setbacks and challenges. Barring some major disaster, the only issue they really have to run on is personality, and Bush is still widely popular. So they have to find something to attack him with, and this is all they could find. The fact that it's completely based on lies and innuendo is irrelevant to them. Listen to this utter nonsense from McAuliffe:
"We also still do not know why the president's superiors filed a report saying they were unable to evaluate his performance for that year because he had not been present to be evaluated," he said. "That report was filed on the very day these documents allege he was reporting for duty."

Think Terry! If he's reporting for duty on the day the fitrep was issued, how could he possibly be evaluated by his new commanding officer for the previous year?

If this is the best the Dems can come up with, they're in deep trouble come November.

Posted by Rich
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With friends like these

This came from an Edwards supporter talking about Edwards:
3/4 bullshit but 1/4 charisma and reality

Now there's a ringing endorsement.

And how about this statement of principle?

But I'll say this about Kerry, and then I'll shut up and move on. In his victory speech last night he said that these wins show that people are voting for change. I don't get that. If the voters wanted real change they'd vote for Dean or Clark or even Kucinich. It appears what voters want is another career politician, another Washington insider, another rich Yale guy, another Skull and Bones guy.


OK, one more thing, and then I'll shut up. Kerry was last elected to the Senate in 2002, meaning he has four more years. I notice he hasn't quit his day job to run for President (although he hasn't shown up much for work judging by his voting record). He's got all the bases covered, nice and safe. But what does this say about his confidence or his commitment? Edwards' term is up this year and he is not running for reelection to the Senate, choosing to run for President instead.

But if Kerry is the nominee, I'll take all that back and get busy explaining why he's the best guy for the job and how our Skull and Bones guy can beat up their Skull and Bones guy.

And this:
John Kerry is the winner in Tennessee.

CNN called it for Kerry at 8:00 and ten seconds, ten seconds after the polls closed in Memphis. It's 8:32 now, and I'm still waiting for some actual vote counts, but I guess Karl Rove already faxed it in to them this morning.


But the big winner tonight is George W. Bush

Wow! Can the reality disconnect grow any deeper? First we have one guy saying he's voting for Edwards because he likes his message, even though he believes the message is "3/4 bullshit." Next, we have another who will vote for a man he despises simply because he's from the right party, and who apparently believes that conservatives are manipulating the process to insure the nomination goes to the one Democratic candidate with the best chance of actually beating Bush!

Here's my question to any liberals, particularly Clark/Dean supporters, who care to respond: If Mr. Dean does in fact run a 3rd party campaign, would you vote idealistically for him, knowing that it virtually guarantees a Bush victory, or do you vote pragmatically for Kerry, even though you feel he is a bad choice?

Posted by Rich
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Blow Ye Winds of Change!

These are exciting times we live in, folks. They really are. After all, look at what's going on in the world.

We're seeing action in the Middle East; after decades of stagnation, violence and decay, somebody has finally decided to take steps to try and make things better rather than just talk about it endlessly over boardroom tables in Switzerland, talks that usually break down as soon as the subject grows any more important than the sahpe of the durn table, or whether lunch should be served before noon, or after noon.

The US is in Iraq, has removed a very nasty dictator, and is in the process of helping Iraqis set up their own government, on the way to becoming a functioning liberal democracy. The risk is huge; failure could plunge the Middle East right back into the nightmare they've been mired in for the last 30 years, but the potential rewards are also great. Everywhere, we see the ripples spreading. Libya has given up its WMD program, opened up the country to inspections, and agreed to pay reparations for terroris acts, and now the US has a diplomatic presence there for the first time in decades. More goverments are moving away from Sharia law, becoming more tolerant and open to western ideas. Even in Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism is being challenged by the man in the street as well as the royal family. And in Israel, despite daily setbacks and the protract4ed efforts of those who want nothing more than to prolong the conflict, both sides are making concessions aimed at establishing a two state solution. Sharon has talked about removing settlements from Gaza and the West Bank unilaterally, while some on the Palestinian side acknowledge that the "right of Return" is an impractical requirement and are willing to accept a compromise.

Again, there are many chances for disaster, but movement, any movement, is worth the risk.

And here in America, things are being shaken up like no time in the last 40 years. Dean's doomed campaign caught the attention of the far left wing of the Democratic party, and attracted new blood to a party mired in bitter recriminations over an election 4 years ago. That his campaign was doomed by the very zealousness that helped it catch fire does not negate the fact that he nearly single handedly dragged the center of the party several steps to the left.

What's really interesting now is to watch what will happen to the party over the next several months, particularly since Dean is making noises about running as an Independent or Green Party candidate if Kerry wins the nomination. Dean's veiled threats to run a third party ticket may just be an attempt to grab the Veep slot on the Kerry ticket by terrifying McAuliffe with the prospect of a repeat of the Nader debacle, but the more intriguing speculation is that Dean is seriouos, and not just playing at political brinksmanship. While I'm sure many Republicans are salivating at the prospect of a deep divide in the Democratic Party, they might want to take a look at their own house before a similar divide bites 'em on the ass.

If Dean splits the Dem vote, that's going to reduce the pressure a lot of conservatives feel to vote for Bush, even though he's betrayed principles they believe in. While Bush has been courting moderate libs with his increased social spending, he's alienated a large portion of his conservative base. The conventional wisdom is that the base will return at election time because the alternative to Bush would be Kerry. However, if Dean runs a third party candidacy, then Kerry will not be seen as a threat, and more conservatives will be comfortable voting idealistically, rather than pragmatically. In that case, a Libertarian candidate could garner significant support. Even more interesting is that the Libertarian Party, with its anti-war platform, could garner some support from the center left as well.

It's possible that we could actually have a 4 way race for the presidency, with Bush getting a large plurality, say, 40%, but the other three candiates all polling respectably, at least in the popular vote.

Even if Dean doesn't split the Dem vote this year, in 2008, Republicans can expect to see the same kind of divide as different factions battle for control of the Party's direction. That, coupled with the increasing support for libertarian ideals, albeit not always reflected in support for Libertarian candidates, and I see a very good chance that neither the Democrat or Republican Party will be around in 20 years, but will be replaced by a new political alignment that recognizes new ideological divides in America.

I've spent a lot of time here bashing those who want to expand the state at the expense of my liberty. While I've heaped more scorn on Democrats than Republicans, that's only a function of how often each seeks to infringe on my freedom. Lately, however, it seems that there's less to distinguish between the parties from this point of view. Both parties are interested in making government bigger, and to me, that is unacceptible. I don't want the State to take care of me; the price is too high. Consider; if I give the State the responsibility for my healthcare, then by necessity, I'm authorizing the State to determine what is best for my health, and to restrict my actions accordingly.

We've seen this happen time and again. Once the State is involved in paying for something, it assumes some regulatory control over that activity. That control never withers away, but always grows stronger and more invasive over time. If we adopt a socialized medical plan, then government restrictions on our activities and lifestyle choices are not far behind. Those who pursue high risk lifestyles will be penalized; those with unhealthy lifestyles will be forced into a healthier one. It'll all be for our own good, and it will be a nightmarish dictatorship. Imagine if OSHA was expanded to cover your entire life, not just your job.

That thought is terrifying, yet it is a very real possibility.

And so, I'm documenting one more change around here. I've been identified as a conservative for so long, that in many cases, I've begun to think of myself as one. God knows, much of my personal ethical code is conservative in nature, but central to that code is the libertarian ideal of maximizing autonomy while maintaining a stable, secure, society. Both major parties are making tremendous strides in the opposite direction, attempting to purchase security and stability taking away personal autonomy. As such, I can't support either of them, and so, as of today, I'm a 'Big L' Libertarian. I will vote for whatever candidate will best advance a libertarian agenda. Failing to find such a candidate, I will vote against whatever candidate would most harm a libertarian agenda.

So now I guess I can get both sides mad at me.

Posted by Rich
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RTB at the Range.

I went shooting with some other armed members of the RTB last night. Unfortunately, since I was running late, I missed most of them, so I wasn't able to really shoot with them, although I did get to meet up with them afterwards at Ruby Tuesday.

This was my third trip to a range, and went fairly smoothly, except for one thing.

I had my first misfire.

Now that alone wouldn't be too troubling, since, as I've been told by knowledgeable folks, .22 ammo is prone to misfires, but the bullet would not come out of the barrel. I pulled the slide back as Uncle had shown me, and shook the gun, but the bullet stayed put. I tried prying it out with my fingernail, but had no luck.

I had a small dilemma on my hands. I didn't want to carry a loaded gun out into the shop area to ask for help, nor did I want to leave it unsecured on the range. So I asked a guy who was waiting to shoot what I should do. He came over to my lane and checked it out.

"First," he said, "you want to let it sit for a bit to make sure it isn't a hang fire."

Then he worked the slide to see if it would come out. Next, he pulled out a small pocket knife and used it to gently pry the bullet out of the chamber.

"Be careful when you do this," he said. "Make sure you get the knife underneath the rim of the bullet and away from the primer are."

Once the bullet was loosened, it dropped right out, and I went back to shooting.

Lessons learned:
  1. Bring a small pocketknife, or something similar, to the range with you to help clear stuck misfires.
  2. .22 ammo is not the highest quality in the world. Expect some bad rounds even from name brand ammo. These were Remington Thunderbolts.
  3. According to the guy behind the desk, it is possible to refire a dud by turning it slightly so the hammer falls on a different area. I didn't try this.
  4. When in doubt, ask somebody. Don't be embarrassed to admit you're ignorance. It;s the only way to learn, and on something as important as shooting, what you don't know can kill you or somebody else.

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Lottery Dreams and Realities

"Players Have More Fun!"

"Some Lucky Dog's Gotta Win!"

The Lottery trades on dreams, but what are the realities?

I started this article as a comment in response to Rev. Sensing's post saying that accepting a Hope Scholarship is immoral if you believe the lottery is immoral. I have no problem with his logic there, but he went on to claim:
If you, gentle reader, are one who thinks lotteries are either benign or neutral, morally speaking, then you need read no farther, for you are uninformed. I urge you to research the true impact of lotteries on your own. My own position on this issue is what ancient philosophers called invincible: I have examined in detail all arguments to the contrary and found them all inadequate, usually hopelessly so.

Now them's fightin' words to me, since I regard playing a lottery as foolish, but not inherently deceptive or immoral.

So, I went to the link provided by the reverend, and examined his "invincible" argument.

Invincible is not the word that first came to mind: "Deeply flawed" was more like it. (OK, that's two words. Live with it.) The Rev. deeply opposes gambling on both a practical and a moral level, and that's fine, and you can build a good argument for that position. Unfortunately, he lets his beliefs get in the way of the facts, leading to several logical and factual errors.

His first error is to claim that since tuition only covers about a third of the cost for a year in school, and the other two thirds are funded through general tax revenues, in effect the lottery is an involuntary tax increase on all Tennesseans, not just those who play. The fact is that, regardless of how they are funded, all tuition assistance programs are subject to the same economic consequences; it isn't a problem specific to the lottery. Is the Reverend in favor of abolishing all educational assistance programs, or just those forms he finds morally questionable?

Next he claims, accurately, that it will require about $900 million in lottery sales to produce the estimated $300 million in Hope Scholarship funds. Then he goes on to characterize that $900 million as lost sales to retailers, resulting in lost tax revenues of $75 million. The flaws in that are many. First, economics is not a zero sum game. In fact, over half of the stores who add lottery tickets see their merchandise sales go up. Additionally, stores receive a 6.5% commission on all tickets sold, introducing a new revenue stream that more than offsets costs to the owner. That, combined with increased traffic and sales, indicates that the lottery does not have anywhere near the negative impact Rev. Sensing accords it, and in about half the cases results in increased sales.

The Reverend compounds his error by suggesting that the loss of $900 million in sales costs the state $75 million in lost sales tax revenue. Since we've already seen that the $900 million figure is bogus, it is obvious that the $75 million figure derived from it is also bogus. But even if the state loses $75 million in one revenue stream, it's picked up $300 million in another for a net gain of $225 million.

Even if the state lost $75 million in sales tax revenue, which as shown above, it doesn't, it gains $300 million in lottery revenue, a net gain of $225 million. Since the state will actually lose far less, the resulting gain is also greater.

His third error is to describe incorrectly how the odds are calculated. He claims that in most Pick 6 type games, you must guess the correct numbers and in the correct order. This is flat out wrong. In some of the pick 3 and 4 games, order does matter, but in every state I've seen a lottery, the pick 6 is number only; position is irrelevant. (Multi-state games are another matter) Strangely, the odds he quotes(about 14,000,000 to 1 against) are calculated correctly; if he were correct in his description, the actual odds would be 10,068,347,520 to 1 against.

These are his principle points, and in each of them, he's in error. But I agree with him that playing the Lottery is essentially a foolish waste of money, even if it is only a dollar or two.

To describe why, I'm going to have to throw a little math at you. Don't worry, there's no test afterwards, and I'll try not to go too fast.

First, you have to understand how the odds are calculated. We'll take a standard 6 number game, with a total of 49 possible numbers. There are 49 balls in the hopper, once chosen, that number is removed from play leaving 48. Extending the series, we end up with


This is the total number of arrangements of six numbers out of 49. But in most games, arrangement doesn't matter, so what we need to know is how many possible combinations of 6 numbers are there? Well, it's not too difficult to get there from here. We just have to divide the total by the number of possible arrangements of any 6 numbers. We can follow a simple process like we just carried out, only this time, there are only 6 balls in the hopper. There are 6 possible balls for the first number, 5 for the second and so on, giving us

6*5*4*3*2*1 or 720 possible combinations of 6 numbers, all of which are winners by the rules of the lottery. So, out of 10068347520 possible arrangements of the numbers, 720 will win, giving odds of

10,068,347,520/720, or 1 in 13,983,816.

Now, on smaller games, like pick 3 or 4, position is important, so you don't get to allow for different combinations, so you only go through the first step. Also, numbers are not taken out of the hat each draw, so numbers can repeat. This makes calculation much simpler.

For example, a 3 digit number from 0 to 9. The number of arrangements is 1000 (10*10*10) so your odds of winning are 1 in 1000.

Multi state games are a little different, as they include one ball where the position in important, which changes the calculation significantly. Take the Mega Millions game as an example. The 6 numbers drawn come from two separate pools of 52 numbers. Taking the five regular numbers first, those that can be in any order gives us


Now, the next ball comes out of a new hat, so there are 52 different chances, only one of which is a winner, so we now have

2,598,960*52=135,145,920 or 1 in 135 million against.

So, now we know how to calculate the odds. Is it worth playing?

Consider the payouts: a typical Pick 3, where the odds against you are 1000 to 1, pays $500. That means for every $1000 you spend on Pick3, you can expect to lose $500. To put this into perspective, most slot machines pay out at around 95%, or for every $1000 you play, you only lose $50. A good blackjack player can expect to lose $20-$30 dollars for every $1000 he wagers. To put it in another perspective, if a stock loses 50% of its value, investors bail and you can count on lawsuits.

It's a sucker bet, folks. You're better off investing in Enron and Imclone than buying a lottery ticket.

But it isn't a tax; it's not unethical, illegal, or (in my opinion) immoral. Nor is it the job of the state to protect us from our own stupidity. The people of Tennessee wanted a lottery; they got it.

UPDATE: In the interests of complete disclosure, I freely admit that I have been known to place a sucker bet or two.

Hey, somebody's gotta win, right?

Posted by Rich
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Friday, February 06, 2004

The Libertarian and Abortion

After reading the piece below, you may wonder how a man with libertarian tendencies such as myself can reconcile that stand with an essentially libertarian outlook. The answer is easy.

With tremendous difficulty.

If I believed that the fetus was not a person until birth, then it would be easy. In that case, the state would have no right to interfere in any way with the pregnancy and/or its termination.

But that's not what I believe, so the answer is not so easy.

Personhood begins at conception. It's the only logical place to pin it down, and as such, that person has a right to protection from harm, and the state not only has a right, it has a duty to offer that protection, with the vital caveat that it provides such protection with minimal impact on the mother's freedoms, in keeping with my central philosophy. Now then, let's take the above statement piece by piece and see where it leads us.

First off, I'm going to skip the mystical mumbo-jumbo about souls and such, and just stick with biology to determine when to assign personhood. When an egg is fertilized by a sperm cell, a new organism is created. It is no longer genetically identical to the mother, so cannot be considered as part of the mother. The zygote has it's own genetic code, unique from the mother, so biologically, it is a separate organism. It is however, a human as far as biology is concerned. Undeveloped to be sure, but still human.

But is it a person?

Here's where it gets tricky because personhood is not a scientific concept, but a legal one. When does the state recognize the individuality of this new human? Based on current law, which allows D&E (partial birth abortion), a baby is not a person until it is fully removed from the mother's body. This defining point has developed almost at random, based on convenience, not any underlying science. As such, it remains amenable to further changes and extensions, and there is some pressure to extend it further in the case of babies born with severe birth defects. However, let's use this boundary for a little speculation, to see if it truly fits our beliefs.

A while back, there was a case that made the news about a family who had a baby just on the hopes that the baby would be a tissue match for one of their other children who needed a transplant. Ethicists and moralists had a field day, condemning the parents for making a baby for spare parts, as it were. With that in mind, let's suppose they went about it a little bit differently. Instead of allowing the baby to be born, suppose they underwent a D&E, but instead of crushing the skull, the infant brain was chemically pithed, leaving the autonomic nervous system intact. The baby would be brain dead, but could be kept on life support while it grows the spare organs.

Given our current definition of personhood, this would be perfectly legal and at least as ethical as the standard D&E. In fact, I could argue that this is more ethical, since the baby being destroyed is at least serving a useful purpose.

Yet most folks would find such a practice an abomination, and would call for legislation to outlaw it as a moral outrage. These same people, however, would be deeply uncomfortable expressing why they feel that way. When I've raised this scenario in the past, people have said that it violates the sanctity of life, or words to that effect, but when pressed for details, specifically concerning the rights of the fetus, they grow defensive or evasive. They do not wish to acknowledge that their reaction to this scenario reveals that they do, in fact, accord some form of personhood to an unborn baby.

So now, given that a new organism is formed at conception, and that personhood is recognized legally at an entirely arbitrary boundary, and that the vast majority of people believe that boundary is way too late, the only non-arbitrary place to assign personhood would be at conception.

Now, the next step is determining how the state may best act to protect the rights of the fetus while minimizing its invasion of the rights of the mother. This is the essential dilemma of libertarianism; how to balance competing rights to achieve the optimum result with the minimum interference.

The extremes are easy; neither the mother nor the baby has the right to kill the other, therefore abortion should be allowed in cases where the life of the mother is in jeopardy. Abortion as retroactive contraception should be ruled out completely. Since this accounts for about 93% of all abortions, that takes care of the majority of cases. The remaining cases are less clear.

What to do in cases of rape or incest? It boils down to this: Which is worse, to impose the ultimate penalty for another's crime on an innocent baby, or to force the victim of the crime to carry the baby? The solution to this case, though tragic, is simple. The state has no remedy here; the rights of the mother and the baby are in such perfect balance that there is no course of action that can be said to give an optimum outcome. Since the state can do no good, it must back out and do no harm. This decision must be left up to the mother and her family.

The last case is the trickiest; abortions where the health of the baby is in question. Who decides what is in the best interests of the child? The parents or the State? Obviously, that responsibility resides with the parents, not just for obvious reasons, but because no government should ever be empowered to decide which ailments, diseases, abnormalities or defects renders a baby subject to abortion and which ones don't. Eugenics is an ugly word, and that's what this type of regulation would lead to.

At the same time, should a mother be able to abort a baby because he has a harelip or a cleft pallet?

I should certainly hope not, but I see no way for the state to intervene without causing more problems than it solves. That being the case, the state should not get involved, and trust instead in the responsibility of the parents in these situations.

In summary, abortion would be legal
  • in cases where the mother's life is at risk
  • in cases of rape or incest
  • in cases where the baby's quality of life is impacted by birth defects or other abnormalities.

That's it.

Posted by Rich
84.5 miles • (7) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

The Ultimate Political Answer

Wes Clark is being attacked for flip flopping his position on abortion.
Democratic presidential contender Wesley Clark on Thursday sought to clarify his comments from a day earlier in which he told a Tennessee voter, "I don't believe in abortion."

"I would hope that it would be done only on rare occasions, but it's a woman's right to choose. It's a private matter and I support the Supreme Court. I support Roe v. Wade. And I support a woman's right to choose," Clark told reporters as he campaigned in the state.

The retired Army general created a stir in New Hampshire with a series of comments on abortion, telling a newspaper's editorial board that he was pro-choice and "life begins with a mother's decision."

So, on the one hand, he is personally against abortion, but he supports the Roe V Wade decision. Sound familiar? It's a very common American attitude. I can't count the number of times I've heard a woman say something similar.

"I'd never get an abortion myself because it's wrong, but it's not my place to make that decision for some other woman."


And to prove it, simply ask any woman who says the above why it would be the wrong decision for her. I've done this several times, and invariably, the answer boils down to something along the lines of,

"I couldn't kill my baby."

So why on earth would you allow other women to kill their babies? That is the simple hypocrisy inherent in the pro-cjoice movement. Individually, women accept that the fetus is a baby; it is only collectively that they can deny that baby it's essential humanity.

We've taken our natural tendency to respect other's privacy and warped it into tacitly acepting behavior we know is wrong.

Now, let me back up and clarify for a moment. If you truly believe that a fetus is not a person, until it's brain passes intact out of the mother's body, and you support abortion rights, then you are not a hypocrit. I disagree with your belief vehemently, but respect your consistency. If, on the other hand, you believe in your heart that a fetus is a baby, a human person, and find that abortion would be wrong for you, yet still support the right to choose, then you are either a coward or a hypocrit, who refuses to accept the conclusions of your beliefs, because they are unpopular. You are condoning what in your heart you consider the murder of infant humans because it is unpopular to oppose it, and that, folks, is reprehensible.

You can't have it both ways on this one. Either a fetus is a person, and therefor protected, or it's a lump of tissue, and there should be no more guilt or remorce at excising it than removing a wart.

Which brings us back to Clark.

He makes very clear in his comments that he believes abortion is the wrong choice, yet he supports abortion rights. Most telling is the final quote of the story.

" begins with a mother's decision."

Oh really? So now, according to this would-be President, a baby is not a baby until its mother decides it is.

How ignorant! How arrogant!

How typical. Once again, Clark is spouting political puffery, fed to him by his campaign, while he obviously hs only limited understanding of the issues involved.

"Umm, Mr. Clark, does the father have any say in this process? After all, this decision has a profound effect on his future as well. How about, you know, doctors? Do they get any input? Or is it just at the mother's sole discretion? Just asking, you know, since you're running for President, and might actually be in a position to appoint justices and stuff."

Fortunately, we really don't have to worry in hs case, since his campaign is over. He's still in the race, but he has as much chance of winning the nomination as Dave Marcis has of winning Daytona 500 this year.

And he's retired.

Posted by Rich
84.5 miles • (6) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Two Years and Counting…

While I was away last month, I hit my 2 year bloggiversary. I knew it was coming up, but other events drove it out of my mind until today.

I started this blog on January 23, 2002. I knew I had something to say, but little did I realize exactly how much, or how long it would take to say it, and here I am, two years later, still blathering on about all kinds of stuff.

I couldn't decide how to mark this occasion. Should I give advice to newer bloggers? Brag about my hits? Recount some of my better pieces? Promise new and exciting developments for the future?

How about all of the above?

My advice is short and simple.
  1. Write what excites you! You'll hear a lot of writing instructers tell you to 'write what you know.' Bull! You never learn anything new that way. If you look at maintaining your blog as a daily grind, as drudgery, then you're writing about the wrong thing.
  2. Don't write for traffic. There's easy ways to bring traffic to your site (like blogging about Janet Jackson's breast) but like a Chinese Dinner, it doesn't stay with you for long unless you pander to it.
  3. Don't just write for yourself. Words are for communication, not masturbation. You have something to say, otherwise you wouldn't be doing this. Say it so that other people hear and understand it. They may not agree with you, but you may give them a new perspective, and that's what it's all about.
  4. Experiment! Try new things. If you write technical stuff, try a humorous piece or two. If you write politics, try a how to column. You've got the greatest gift a writer can have, a free test audience.
  5. Don't censor yourself. Mediocrity is boring. Be opinionated! Tell everyone exactly what you think. Don't provoke controversy, but don't avoid it either.
  6. Don't fight your natural style. The blogosphere is big enough to encompass everyone from linkers like Reynolds to thinkers like Den Beste. You may post once a week or 20 times a day. The key is quality.
  7. Post consistently. Once you develop your natural style, help your audience find you by maintaining a regular schedule.
  8. Spell check. That's the one tool I wish MT had, as I am a horrible speller, made worse by my typing style. (Biblical 101: Seek and ye shall find) Nothing harms your credibility faster than excessive typos.

Hmmm. Looking over the list, I can see quite a few of those principles I've violated. Good thing I'm not getting paid for this.

Now, on to bragging about hits. As y'all may have noticed, some time ago I took down the hit counter I had installed here. I was getting frustrated because it wasn't growing as quickly as I wanted it to. I had a choice to make. Either I changed the way I wrote in order to draw more hits, or I had to ignore the counter.

I compromised. I dropped the counter from the main page, but started tracking traffic through the tools provided by hosting matters, but on a monthly, not daily basis. At the same time, I experimented with different writing styles, and different posting subjects. I've been much happier since then, particularly when I looked at my year end numbers. As of 1-23-04, I had 103,422 unique visitors. That's not huge, but it isn't insignificant either. By comparison, for my first year, I had just under 24,000 unique visitors, so I saw 400% growth in unique visits over the year. And the trend is positive, so I must be doing something right.

As for my better pieces, I'll let y'all decide that, but here's the one that was hardest to write.

There are some new developments for the future of this sight that I am excited about. I do plan on redesigning the site, giving it a facelift, and using more of the capabilities of MT. And, even more exciting, sometime in the near future, blogging will become part of my day job. I can't go into any more details than that, but the next couple of years are going to be very busy and very interesting.

Finally, I'd like to thank all the folks who come here day after day to read and comment on what I've written. I'd write this stuff anyway, but it's a lot more fun carrying on a dialogue than reciting a monolog. I hope the next year is as much fun to read as last year was to write.

Posted by Rich
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Let Me Get This Straight

Robert Mapplethorpe can exhibit pictures of men with unusual objects rammed up their butts, and that's Art, and protected from obscenity/indecency charges, but ending an erotic dance routine performed to a song with sexually explicit lyrics by baring a breast is not.

What's the word I'm looking for here?

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, February 05, 2004

An Argument for Immediate Tort Reform

Now it seems that there's a woman who has filed a class action lawsuit against nearly everybody because of the Super Bowl halftime flashing of Janet's breast.

Via Brian Arner comes this from the Knoxville News Sentinel:
A Knoxville woman filed a proposed class action lawsuit Wednesday against Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, MTV, CBS and Viacom, contending she and other viewers were injured by their lewd actions during the Super Bowl halftime show.

Her lawyer, Wayne Ritchie, had this to say:
"As a direct and proximate result of the broadcast of the acts, (Carlin) and millions of others saw the acts and were caused to suffer outrage, anger, embarrassment and serious injury," the lawsuit filed by Knoxville attorney Wayne A. Ritchie II states.

Because the game is broadcast worldwide, Ritchie also wrote that the actions harmed the "standing and credibility" of Americans throughout the world.

I went to school with Wayne. I thought he had more sense than this. Although it is funny seeing a Democrat file a lawsuit against big media for failing to censor an artistic performance.

Can we please get just a little consistency here, or is that too much to ask for from the left? I mean, come on people! It's OK to display a portrait of the Virgin Mary painted with human excrement, but it's not OK to flash a nipple?

I'd laugh if it weren't so damn sad.

And what serious injury was caused? Carpal tunnel from hitting the replay button on your Tivo? Whiplash from shock? Or maybe eyestrain from getting too close to the TV screen to get a close up look?

Give me a break!

And as for damaging the worldwide "standing and credibility" of Americans, maybe Wayne needs to get out a little more. Much of the world is rather bemused by our sick fetishization of the breast, since in many places, breasts are freely exposed. Grab a tabloid in Britain; check out billboards in france and Italy, walk on most any European beach. Our credibility is threatened more by our insane over-reaction than by Janet's jeweled sun.

So why is a smart, liberal lawyer backing such an obviously ridiculous lawsuit?

Carlin's lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages worth billions.

That's a heckuva payday, isn't it Wayne?

Posted by Rich
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