Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

Copyright Notice

Everything that appears on this blog is the copyrighted property of somebody. Often, but not always, that somebody is me. For things that are not mine, I either have obtained permission, or claim fair use. Feel free to quote me, but attribute, please. My photos and poetry are dear to my heart, and may not be used without permission. Ditto, my other intellectual property, such as charts and graphs. I'm probably willing to share. Let's talk. Violators will be damned for all eternity to the circle of hell populated by Rosanne Barr, Mrs Miller [look her up], and trombonists who are unable play in tune. You cannot possibly imagine the agony. If you have a question, email me: jazzbumpa@gmail.com. I'll answer when I feel like it. Cheers!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Chronicle of Death

Here it is from the Guardian - 994 mass shootings in 1004 days.

This includes all incidents in which 4 or more people were shot, irrespective of whether there were any fatalities.

The link.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Heard - Detroit

On Saturday, Chicago based sculptor, dancer and performance artist Nick Cave brought his raffia soundsuit creation THE HEARD to Detroit.

The event took place at Milliken State Park in downtown Detroit, right by the river walk.

We captured video of it in 4 segments.  The first is the entrance, the second is just horsing around, the third is the choreographed portion, and the fourth is the exit.

Granddaughter Amanda was the lead part of the lead horse in the entrance, red in front and black and white behind.

Videos follow.

Part 1 - Entrance

Part 2 - Horsing Around

Part 3 - Dancing and Prancing

Part 4 Finale and Exit

An unusual event, to be sure.

Blood Moon

Some pics of last night's event.

Half way to total eclipse.

Within a minute the clouds rolled in.

During the time it was total, the clouds opened up again for a clear view.

Almost there.


Afterward, it clouded up again so I couldn't get any pics on the way out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Household Debt Service vs GDP Growth

In conversation at Art's we wondered about the relationship between household debt service payments as a percentage of disposable personal income and YoY GDP growth.  A scatterplot of the quarterly data from FRED, covering Q1, 1980 to Q1, 2015 looks like this.

Graph 1 - FRED Plot

There's a broad hint of an overall negative slope.  But if you lop off a few points on the right and the left, the remaining central cluster is relatively shapeless.   But, there does seem to be some negative slope to at least certain line segments, so that might mean something.

My first cut at figuring this out was to download the FRED data and make a new plot - Graph 2 - with line segments separated in what I hope is a coherent fashion.  I did this by eyeball, then labeled the segments according to the dates they include.   In the process I inadvertently reversed the axes, but this shouldn't change whatever conclusions might be drawn.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tigers and the Slough of Despond - 2015 Edition

Latest rumor I've heard is the Tigers dumping Brad at the end of the season, and hiring Ron Gardenhire, an over the hill manager with a mediocre track record.   Early in his managing career at Minnesota, Gardenhire did well with a low payroll team.  But from 2011 through '14, his best record was 70-92 (.432)

I suppose a disappointing season might generate a knee jerk reaction. If it were to be this, I see very little merit in the action.

Let's take a look at the Tigers season and see if we can identify problems.

Tigers have given up 5.06 runs per game. That's a run differential of -102, as of today. Only Colorado and Philadelphia are worse. They've actually exceeded their Pythagorean win expectation by 5 games. By the BaseRuns metric, they're exactly where they should be.

It comes down to pitching, not Brad.

One criticism is he leaves his pitchers in too long.

Brad's dilemma is - if you take a starter out, who are you going to replace him with? Hardy (57 Innings Pitched, 1.26 WHIP) and Wilson (65.1, 1.06) are the only decent relievers in the stable, and they can't go out every day. Next best is Verhagen (15.1, 1.37) but his sample size is small. League Average WHIP is 1.3 to 1.4. By this metric, everybody else is from below average to Awful. Also, per WHIP, the only decent starters are JV and Norris, but Norris is on the DL.

It's pitching, not Brad.

In games decided by 1 or 2 runs, the Tigers are 31-31. In games decided by 4 runs, they're 8-11. In games decided by 5 or more runs, they're 17-27. I would expect that if managing is gong to make a difference, it would be in close games. They're dead even there. The story of this season is giving up tons of runs, and getting blown out.

It's pitching, not Brad.

Tigers are tied for the highest batting avg in MLB with KC, at .271; 4th in OBP at .326; 4th in slugging at .427; but 11th in runs scored, 159 behind No 1 Toronto. Baseball statisticians do not believe that clutch hitting is a thing. All this hitting with a lower than expected scoring rate actually comes down to bad luck.

I don't see any rational reason for dumping Brad.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Quote of the Day

Jesus was a homeless brown-skinned liberal who gave out free health care and free food and spoke no English. Which is why Donald Trump would have proposed a wall between Judea and Galilee to keep people like Jesus out.
                                          ---  Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Sunday, August 16, 2015

History In a Nutshell

Update, 8/24/15:  Quote of the day, via Robert Reich on Face Book:

"In all civilized as well as barbarous countries, a few rich and intelligent men have built up nobility systems by which, under some name and by some contrivance, a few are enabled to live upon the labor of the many. These ruling classes have had many names -- kings, lords, priests, fund holders, bankers -- but all are founded on deception, and maintained by power."

-- Amos Kendall (1833)

A Brief Summary of Human History

History is the chronicle of human cruelty.   There are two over-riding and inter-related themes:  Oppression and War.


In every place and time there has been a struggle between a small elite group possessing wealth and/or power and the rest of the population.   The elite use their advantage to dominate, oppress and exploit the labor of the majority for their own gain.  Although there have been brief, occasional, exceptional periods when the playing field might have appeared to be more or less equal; by a large margin, the elites have stayed way up on top.   The tools they use to maintain their advantage are execution, incarceration, overt brutality, brainwashing, propaganda and scapegoating minorities.  And there are always willing servitors to do the dirty work of the elite in exchange for some advantage in status or creature comforts. These advantages are large from the perspective of those who come to enjoy them, but insignificant from the perspective of the elites, who grant them with the flick of a finger. Sadists and sociopaths naturally migrate into those rolls. 

[As an aside, I’ll mention the U.S.A in the few decades following WW II as one of those exceptional times.  I can’t pin down a specific date when it ended: historical corners are never turned in such a crisp and definitive manner.  But if you peruse the tool list above, it’s clear that the exceptional period is over and the oligarchs are once again in the driver’s seat.]


War is armed conflict between or among differing groups. There are three types of war: conquest, civil war, and revolution.


One group, usually a nation, state or tribe, wants something that another group has - material wealth, land, natural resources, a population to be enslaved - and engages in armed conflict in an attempt to take it away from them.  Generally, the aggressor group uses some cover to incite the population and get them ready and willing to die on the next hill.  Nationalism, racism and religion, alone or in combination are usually all that it takes.  

Civil War

One group inside a country or region wants to dominate the other group.  In general, neither group has any particular merit.  Death, rapine and mayhem ensue until one side is either destroyed or gives up.  Regionalism, clannishness, racism and religion, alone or in combination are usually all that it takes.


This one is different.  The oppressed minority somehow manages to acquire enough man power and weaponry to challenge the ruling elite and their servitors.  Usually, by the time is’s all over, there are no good guys left.

So there you have it: all of human history in a nutshell.  Did I nail it or slam the hammer down on my thumb?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In Which Trump Proves My Fallibility

A few months back I predicted that by September Donald Trump would be the Herman Cain of the current Rethug presidential field - a quirky, mildly offensive, moderately amusing performance artist whose star quickly rises, then goes poof in the middle of the night. Well, we’re only 1/3 of the way through August and I have to admit I got this wrong. And not by a near miss, either. My prediction was the the very antithesis, the exact polar opposite of correct.

Draft dodger Trump broke St Ronnie’s 11th commandment by speaking ill of a fellow Rethug, and in the process dissed the military service and PoW status of one who in conservatard circles is considered to be a war hero. And his poll numbers went up.

Trump has made a series of blatantly stupid and gratuitously hateful statements that are either racist or misogynist. And each time his pole numbers went up.

Now, he has taken on Fox news - that bastion of right wing punditry and thought control - and Fox backed down.

Let me make this crystal clear: Trump feuded with the official propaganda arm of the Rethug party, and won!

Presumably it was H. L. Menken who said, ”"No one in this world, so far as I know - and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me - has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

Well it wasn’t my money on the line, but I certainly failed to underestimate the intelligence - or perhaps gullibility, or maybe the amorphous bitterness and self-defeating, wrong-headed bigotry and hatred of America’s plain citizens, those simple people of the earth, the common clay of the right wing - you know: morons.

"Now that Donald Trump and Roger Ailes have reconciled after a brutal 96-hour-long estrangement in which both sides said many things they lack the moral capacity to regret, the GOP presidential hopeful was free to appear on 'Fox & Friends' this morning to complain about, among other things, ISIS’s superior Internet connections."


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Religion in the Modern World

This morning I had a tiny epiphany regarding the IOKIYAR [It’s OK if you're a Republican] cliche.  Of course, this is just tribalism - that much has always been obvious.  What struck me today is the connection of Tea Party Rethuglianism to Christian religious fundamentalism.

The basic concept of Christian fundamentalism is that once you accept Jesus as your personal savior, you’re in - you’re saved, you’re going to heaven: end of story.  They way in which you live your life - your sins vis-vis your good works - becomes irrelevant.

Implicit in this concept is the notion that Jesus will inform your life in such a way that you will then live it according to the ideals that Jesus preached constantly and exemplified continuously in his own life: love one another, take care of those in need, forgive, and don’t judge.

But we all know how that works out.  

Of course, the antitheses of all of these is greed and hatred. What I see among self-righteous, self-professing Christians in the pubic sphere is boundless greed, hatred on steroids, utter contempt for those in need, and harsh - indeed merciless - judgement for those who do not meet their approval, for whatever reason.

Then what I see among the Christian community at large [with the notable exception of the current Pope and his minions - but the fundamentalists don’t believe Catholics are real Christians anyway, so that doesn’t count for much] and most notably the Christian right, is agreement with and approval for every bit of this. But since they’re saved, it’s all good.  

So here’s the connection: when you’re in the tribe, whether it be the Christian or the Rethug Tea Party variety, anything you do is OK, because - well, just because.  And, to a large extent, these two tribes are really just one.

So now you see Donald Trump making stupidly outrageous comments on a wide variety of topics, and surging in the polls.  Because he is not only a Rethug, but playing to the ignorance and prejudice of a base which is largely the religious right.

The hypocrisy - it burns.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Effort and Reward

Jim Kwack cites Milton Friedman with the idea that inherited wealth should be taxed at the same rate as regular income.   Given a modest exemption - say a few million dollars, to avoid destroying family businesses - I concur.

I'm not sure I believe Friedman when he says this, though.
The man who is hard working and thrifty is to be regarded as ‘deserving’; yet these qualities owe much to the genes he was fortunate (or fortunate?) enough to inherit.”

This deterministic idea gives the individual no credit at all for his own hard work and dedication, and implies that twins should be equally hard working and "deserving."  Even more insidiously, though, it enables thinking about the unsuccessful in terms of a stereotyped notion of hereditary laziness for those inheriting less fortunate genes.  Down that road lies eugenics.

The lucky sperm club notion does have merit, though.  Not in terms of abilities but in terms of financial stability and backing, educational opportunities, network connections, access to health care and numerous other intangibles.

I have a different take from Friedman, more along the lines of the ideas expressed in comments to Kwack's article by Charles Broming.   Luck - and not of the genetics dice-roll type - plays a huge and generally unrecognized roll in the success or failure of any endeavor.  Two identically talented and ambitious entrepreneurs can set up identical businesses on the same day and one might succeed while the other fails due to either completely random factors like the weather, a change in traffic patterns or gentrification, or some other uncontrollable external factor; or due to unequal opportunities like available financing, suitability of location or a variety of other luck-related circumstances.

Two identical baseball pitchers can have widely different results due to the park they play in, the quality of the defense behind them, and the run support given by their own offense.   This barely hints at the notion of unequal opportunities.

Beyond that, there is the fact that rewards are not distributed linearly with respect to outcomes.  In fact, reward levels can often be quantized.  This, from the world of pro golf, is illustrative.
The difference between making it back onto the tour and being demoted to the Nationwide might only be a couple of dozen golf shots over the course of a season, but the financial repercussions are huge. Prize money on the Nationwide is only about 10% of the tour’s. Last year’s top moneymaker on the PGA Tour, Luke Donald, made $6.7 million on the golf course; the top player on the Nationwide Tour made $414,000. Most Nationwide events are not televised, and endorsement deals are one-third as big, if not smaller. If playing on the PGA Tour is like having your product stocked at Wal-Mart, competing on the Nationwide is like selling through a regional supermarket chain.

I firmly believe that a more equal society is, generally speaking, better than a society characterized by stark and growing inequality.  Whether this notion is supported by brute economics or not; a humane consideration of quality-of-life issues for the have-nots influences the equitability and stability of society in numerous non-trivial ways.

All of this lends support to my belief in high inheritance taxes and a steeply progressive income tax.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How Mythical is Reagan's Debt?

J. W. Mason makes the excellent - and largely unrecognized - point that the great majority of the federal debt increase during Reagan's term was due to high interest rates rather than a combination of reduced taxes and high spending.  Fair enough, but I think he takes this observation too far when he says:
 If something everyone thinks they know -- Reagan's budgets blew up the federal debt in the 1980s -- turns out not be true, it's worth pointing out. Especially if you thought you knew it too.

However, it's also worth pointing out that Reagan's budgets really did blow up the federal debt - high interest rates at the time just made this a whole lot worse.  J.W.M. is looking at surplus or deficit as a % of GDP.  Conclusions based on ratios always make me want to take a different look.   There may not be much distortion from a denominator effect in this specific case, but a close look at the primary budget [total budget less interest payments] results tells a rather different story.

Graph 1 [click to enlarge] illustrates the total budget Surplus or Deficit [red] along with the primary S or D [blue] for the years 1950 to 2000, in billions of dollars.

Graph 1 - Total and Primary Budget S or D, Billions

For the period in question, this does not look substantially different from JWM's graph, with data as percentage of GDP.

Graph 2 shows only the primary budget surplus or deficit for the same time period.

Graph 2 - Primary Budget S or D, Billions

The years 1981-88, Reagan's term, are highlighted in Red.  For no good reason, the Nixon-Ford and G. H. W. Bush terms are in yellow.  Reagan's primary budget deficit of $118 billion in 1983 was 2.5 times larger than the previous record of $47 billion of 1976.   For the next three years, the primary deficits were $74.3, 82.8 and 85.2 billion, respectively.

Cutting across this a different way, Graph 3 shows the accumulated S or D since 1950, in billions, with Reagan's term highlighted in red.  Reagan is responsible for 86.47% of total primary deficit accumulation from 1950 through the end of his term.

Graph 3 - Accumulated Surplus or Deficit, 1950 to 2000

In fairness, Reagan's last two years added very little to the accumulated deficit.  But there is no denying that his profligacy was dramatically different from that of any previous president.

Despite my perhaps niggling disagreement with JWM, his post is well worth reading, and I recommend it highly.  His point about interest rates is just as relevant to today's situation as it was to circumstances three decades past.  Here is his closing thought.

If high interest rates and disinflation drove the rise in the federal debt ratio in the 1980s, it could happen again. In the current debates about when the Fed will achieve liftoff, one of the arguments for higher rates is the danger that low rates lead to excessive debt growth. It's important to understand that, historically, the relationship is just the opposite. By increasing the debt service burden of existing debt (and perhaps also by decreasing nominal incomes), high interest rates have been among the main drivers of rising debt, both public and private. A concern about rising debt burdens is an argument for hiking later, not sooner. People like Dean Baker and Jamie Galbraith have pointed out -- correctly -- that projections of rising federal debt in the future hinge critically on projections of rising interest rates. But they haven't, as far as I know, said that it's not just hypothetical. There's a precedent.  

Data Source Link


Here is a picture of my mother [standing] and her twin sister last month on their 94th birthday.

On the morning of June 2nd she suffered a stroke.  After a week in the hospital, where she declined severely, it became clear that there would be no recovery.  On the advice of several doctors, we moved her into a hospice facility for comfort care.

As of now, she is still there, totally unaware and unresponsive.   There are supposed to be 7 stages of grief, but I must have leapfrogged a few.  I got to acceptance very quickly.  But this is still sad and very painful.

This is a beautiful location, and that helps a little bit.

The last three pics are of a great blue heron.  I was very lucky to get him in flight.