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Sad Decline in Elementary Students’ Test Scores September 25, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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If you were wondering how the pandemic and the recent emphasis on critical race theory/non-binary genders is affecting core academic performance of elementary school students, wonder no further. Chalkbeat has a chart for you:

This data was for 9 year-olds (4th Grade). The assessments are on a scale of 0-500, by the way, indicating that we’re nowhere near peak academic performance.

Personally I haven’t seen the rise in math proficiency that they claim here – kids today seem feeble compared to kids in my youth. But presuming that the improvements are real, it’s sad to see them leveling off in 2008 and then declining from 2012 onward. The latter is presumably due to the pandemic (thanks, Fauci!), but the former is, I suspect, due to the lack of time and energy available for core subjects.

Who Did It Better? September 21, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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747 people trying to break the world record for number of people doing Portuguese folk dancing:

Or

1069 Chinese robots trying to break the dance record in the robot dance category (2017):

We previously compared the robots to a massive assemblage of Shaolin kung fu practioners, and gave the nod to the humans. But in this case, I say robots in a walkaway.

Exoplanet Dad Joke September 19, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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Was amused by this tweet from @latestinspace:

NEWS: NASA has discovered a nearby Earth-like exoplanet using the James Webb Telescope, but it rains lava at night

Many commenters jumped to point out that planets that rain lava don’t fit the lay person’s perception of “Earth-like,” but I was wondering why a nearby exoplanet was using our telescope when it didn’t help pay for it.

Baby’s Second Meme September 4, 2022

Posted by geoff in Memes, News.
5 comments

Thought I’d try my hand at another meme, this one completely original:

Social Contraction August 30, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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Was wondering when people would start complaining about how the Social Contract has been broken by mayors and DAs around the country. The Social Contract, you may recall, answers the question: “Why do free people agree to be governed and taxed?”

As Hobbes and Locke pointed out in the 1600s, they agree to give up some of their freedom and money in exchange for features such as security and infrastructure.

But when governments violate their side of the contract, it’s inevitable that people will start asking if the price they paid is worth the benefits they receive. Enter the businessmen of San Francisco:

Businesses in one of the trendiest sections of San Francisco are threatening to withhold tax payments unless the city takes action in removing homeless people from the area, claiming that their presence has hurt their bottom line.

Yes, when you fail to protect the people who serve as the foundation of the system, the people who play by the rules and fund the system, you can expect that prioritizing the welfare of criminals and problem citizens is not going to be popular. And when it reaches a breaking point, you can expect that those people will stop supporting the governing body and its authority, and will start fending for themselves.

That way lies vigilantism, gang violence, and anarchy.

Who Will Forgive the Forgivers? August 24, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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Seething over the college loan forgiveness nonsense.

When my kids were nearing college age, I told them, “Here’s how much I will give you for college. Now you figure out what you want to do.” My son joined the Navy to pay for college and save me the money (snif – what a guy), so I split the money with him. My daughter graduated in 3 years to avoid paying a 4th year of tuition.

They both made the tough decisions and endured significant hardship to make college affordable for themselves.

Now, in a time of record deficits and debt, we all get to pay for those who weren’t as disciplined as my kids.*

You know, IF I was going to be convinced to forgive any portion of student loans, it would be only for STEM graduates, where social sciences would not be considered eligible. It’s galling enough to have to pay off somebody else’s poor decision making, but even worse when you’re funding some weak sauce major at a party school.

*Full Disclosure: My daughter will, in fact, benefit somewhat from the loan forgiveness, because she hasn’t quite paid off her loans yet. She was paying them off faster than required, and was making payments even during the pandemic, when she didn’t have to. Now she looks like a chump for doing the right thing.

Wondering if the FBI Handled Those Mar-a-Lago Documents Properly August 23, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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Was pondering the Mar-a-Lago raid and was struck by a thought.

If some of the material was actually marked “TS/SCI,” as claimed in the press, that would mean that the FBI agents handling the material would have to have an appropriate clearance. The “TS” part isn’t a problem, but the “SCI” part stands for “Special Compartmentalized Information.” SCI info can only be handled by people who have been read into the specific program that has been classified.

For example, back in the day (more than 35 years ago) there was an SCI program called “Have Fury” (named after my Plymouth Fury II). I had a TS/SBI clearance (Top Secret/Special Background Investigation), so I was eligible to be read into the Have Fury program. But they didn’t read me into it, so I didn’t have access to that information. I couldn’t handle it unless it was double-wrapped in plain brown paper, with the inner wrapping sealed, signed, and marked with the appropriate classification.

The FBI agents shouldn’t have known a priori which SCI programs were included among the Mar-a-Lago documents. So it’s extremely likely that they didn’t have the required clearance to handle those documents.

I’d also like to know about the custody of the boxes, i.e., whether the FBI added appropriate markings before transporting them, how they were sealed and transported, and whether custody was maintained until they were presumably secured in safes in DC. When we transported documents, we had to have a master list to make sure that none of them went missing. Haven’t heard that such a list existed when they left Mar-a-Lago.

If the FBI violated security protocols, they may end up hoping that Trump declassified those documents after all.

Music of Them There Spheres August 22, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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In ancient times:

In ancient Greece, Pythagoras and his followers thought that celestial bodies made music.

NASA finally gets with the program:

Childhood Trauma Revisited August 21, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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We had a kids’ record when I was growing up (yes, well after the invention of the phonograph) that has renewed relevance today. The Story of Slow Joe told the tragic tale of a kid who did everything slowly until the nail-biting climax of the story, when he had to get some ice cream.

For me, ice cream and beer are pretty much what makes life worth living, and that was true as a child. Except for the beer. Probably.

But back to Slow Joe and his ice cream. “How could they entrust such a precious resource to this incompetent?” I wondered as a child. Thankfully it all turns out OK.

In the end, getting ice cream quickly turns out to be his big accomplishment.

I leave you to draw your own parallels with the current administration.

Baby’s First Meme August 20, 2022

Posted by geoff in Memes, News.
7 comments

Thought I’d try my hand at generating an original meme. I hope it’s original; haven’t seen this one around; but it’s a pretty obvious one.

Checking In on COVID Vaccine Efficacy Against the Current Variants August 19, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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Thought I’d check in on the COVID-19 sitch, ‘cuz it’s probably lonely. This time, instead of just looking at cases or deaths, I thought I’d see how the latest COVID variants are doing.

As you may recall, at the beginning of the year the Omicron variant (BA.1) rampaged through the population, though it didn’t seem much worse than a bad flu for most people. By now, though, the BA.1 variant has been supplanted by the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, with the BA.5 variant accounting for about 90% of cases in the US.

BA.5 doesn’t seem particularly dangerous, but I was curious about how the vaccines have been doing against it. So I ran across this article which talks about a South African study conducted to compare resistance to BA.4 and BA.5 for:

  • People who were vaccinated only (no boosters)
  • People who were vaccinated and had previous infection with BA.1
  • People who were not vaccinated and had previous infection with BA.1

Here are the results, where I’ve taken the liberty of simplifying their terminology (“50% focus reduction neutralization test value, the inverse of the plasma dilution required for a 50% reduction in the number of infection foci relative to the no antibody control in a live virus neutralization assay”) to just “relative resistance to virus.” [I plotted the inverse of their values.]

Natural immunity from an infection by the original Omicron virus outperforms the vaccinations, which were formulated for the original virus (Alpha virus?). Surprisingly, prior infection plus the obsolete vaccination does far better than the other two.

A caution is that the sample sizes they used were small, and the data scatter seems large, so these numbers could be wonky. But on the face of it, if vaccination is the foundation of our strategy going forward, they really need to roll out a vaccine that is contemporary with the predominant virus in the wild. Which they’re supposedly doing in a few weeks?

But I’m not very excited about running out to get jabbed with another poorly characterized vaccine.

“0% Inflation” is Actually True August 16, 2022

Posted by geoff in News.
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Was reading Ace’s take on the “0% inflation” business from our illustrious president, and I don’t think he’s right. The easiest way to see what’s going on is to look at the CPI itself, rather than the change in the CPI. I cribbed this graph from the St. Louis Fed:

As you can see, prices flattened out over there on the right, so the month-to-month inflation was 0. So Biden’s victory jig was justified . . . a little. The fact is that the CPI would have been at 270 – 275 right now if we’d kept our old inflation rate. Now it’s at 295, and that’s breaking our backs.

So nothing wrong with what Biden said, but he’s celebrating a bit too much, given the pain consumers are feeling.

Ace was claiming a correspondence to the difference between acceleration and velocity, but it’s really a correspondence of distance and velocity. The CPI isn’t changing, so our velocity is zero, but our distance from where we want to be is still large.