Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Daily Kos Caught Lying

Excuse me this moment of schadenfreude, but this is too rich. Apparently the polling firm Daily Kos contracted with for hundreds of polls in its push to help the Democrats contest the 2010 elections has been caught fabricating its results.

To Kos' credit, he has cut ties with the firm, Research 2000, and renounces any blog posts using their results. This is a BFD of Biden-esque proportions, because the difference of just a few percentage points on a poll, especially one that's been finely sliced and diced into subcategories, can have a big effect on perceptions - which can affect elections.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

World Cup Tiebreakers

John J. Miller finds it "lame" that there is (or was: the games are over) a possible outcome in which the U.S. and England, tied for 2nd and 3rd place in Group C, would have their positions determined by lottery.

He may not be aware of this, but the same is true in the American football playoff system. There is a series of tiebreakers, the last of which is "coin toss".

This isn't surprising: at some point in any round-robin system, it's possible that two or more teams may tie on any given number of measures. If that happens, something must be introduced to break the tie. You might say: use a one-game playoff, which works fine if two teams tie. But what if three teams tie? That's certainly a possible outcome, and further playoffs may do nothing to resolve the situation. So a coin toss, or lottery, is necessary just to come to a decision. It may be "lame", but it's unavoidable.

Happily, the U.S. and England each won their games and advanced to the knockout round without the need for any lotteries.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Spill in Perspective

In round figures, let's say 12 million gallons of oil have spilled since the Deepwater Horizon platform sank on April 24 (that assumes 200,000 gallons a day for 60 days).

The Gulf of Mexico contains 660 quadrillion gallons of water.

Imagine that the Gulf were the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool (which contains about 660,000 gallons of water). On that scale, how much oil do you think has been spilled so far? About a bucket? Nope. Maybe a cup? Not even close. Perhaps a thimble? Much less even than that.

The correct figure is a volume equal to 1/14 of a single M&M candy. You can do the math yourself and verify this.

Of course, the effect will be magnified as the oil arrives on the beaches - it will be concentrated from a diffuse cloud in the ocean to the surf line. But we're still talking about an incredibly small amount of oil here. Something to bear in mind.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Gas Taxes and BP

BP could, legally, just pay the $75 million cap on liability due to an oil spill and call it done. They won't do that, of course, because they know there'd be hell to pay in the future. Maybe they could get away with paying only the maximum this time, but the U.S. could just revoke their licenses to drill in U.S. territory, and that would have a serious impact on their bottom line. So for basically political reasons, BP is caving to the White House's escrow demand, even though it isn't technically "legal." (As an aside: I seem to remember some Presidential candidate in the last election who made a big deal about the law being the law, and that we shouldn't make exceptions when it was convenient. Who was that? Hmmm.)

All that aside, what interests me here is the question of who pays for what? We're being urged, from some directions, to create a gas tax that would cover some of the externalities of using oil. One of those externalities is oil spills. OK, then the gas tax should go to paying for them; an economically efficient gas tax would raise an amount exactly equal to the cost of the externalities.

But if we had that, then BP would be off the hook, because the government would be in charge of cleanup. That would only be fair, since after all, we would have prepaid the cleanup costs. This creates a moral hazard, though, doesn't it? If BP, via its shareholders, isn't liable for the cleanup cost, then what incentive does it have to be careful? It still has some, of course: if it's caught violating the rules, then it would owe fines and might lose licenses. But the incentives would be reduced. Certainly in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill, oil company shareholders should be requiring a thorough review of the safety and emergency response measures of the companies they own. The same reviews would not be a matter of fiduciary duty if the government were cleaning up the mess and paying for it instead of BP.

With reduced safety precautions, the expected result of a gas tax, then, would be that there would be more accidents, resulting in more cleanup costs (requiring higher taxes to pay for them), and more environmental damage. It could perversely worsen the situation.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Perfect Means Perfect

John J. Miller calls for Major League Baseball to give Armando Galarraga a perfect game in the record books.

They should not do this. A perfect game has a specific meaning: 27 consecutive outs with no hits, no walks, no hit batsmen, no fielding errors. Perfection. There is no room in the rule for an umpire error, even an admitted one. Nor should there be. Umpire subjectivity is part of the game. Baseball has resisted automation forever: there is no instance-replay (as in football), and there are no laser bounds detectors (as in tennis). Once a call has been made on the field and play has continued, that's it. It's official.

This sort of thing has happened before. Wikipedia relates the following (fairly well-known) story:

On June 23, 1917, Babe Ruth, then a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, walked the Washington Senators' first batter, Ray Morgan, on four straight pitches. Ruth, who had already been shouting at umpire Brick Owens about the quality of his calls, became even angrier and, in short order, was ejected. Enraged, Ruth charged Owens, swung at him, and had to be led off the field by a policeman. Ernie Shore came in to replace Ruth. Morgan was caught stealing by Sox catcher Pinch Thomas on the first pitch by Shore, who proceeded to retire the next 26 batters. All 27 outs were made while Shore was on the mound. Once recognized as a perfect game by Major League Baseball, this still counts as a combined no-hitter.

Shore's feat was no less impressive that Galarraga's. It's not worth cheapening the definition of "perfect game" to include either feat, though. Whether Galarraga pitched a perfect game on June 2, 2010, or not will not affect his career. So it's worth protecting this little corner of baseball lore for true perfection. Galarraga's game will go down in history as a "near-perfect" outing - still worthy of glory.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Scott Brown, Independent

As I've mentioned before in this blog, we (on the Right) should not be too concerned that Scott Brown is willing to team up with Democrats from time to time, as in the financial regulation bill. We may disagree with specific votes - I expect that to happen, in fact. But if, as I also expect, the alternative is a traditional liberal from Massachusetts, then we are coming out ahead in the bargain.

Brown is going to have his hands full in 2012 when he comes up for re-election. If siding with Democrats on a few votes buys him enough independent cred to keep his seat, and if he sides with Republicans on enough key votes to help block the worst of the Democrat legislation, then we should be satisfied. I think I should retract my original, overly-exuberant statement that he's "my ideal politician", but I stand by my claim that he may be the best we can expect from the People's Republic of Massachusetts.

And it's always possible that, over time, he may be able to move to the Right as he secures his incumbency. Of course, there's also the danger that he'll succumb to pressure to move to the Left. But that happens to a lot of politicians (yes, John McCain, I'm looking at you).

Half a loaf is better than none.