Category Archives: Politics vs. math

Probability in 1000 words

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Iowa storm

There are some words that I use a lot in this blog. This is the first in a series of attempts to “get pithy” with my explanations of these words. It’s probably going to rain today. Long before there was math, the human brain figured out a “gut level” understanding of when rain was more likely than not. One way… Read more »

John Roberts and the myth of balls and strikes

Little League

The details of the role Chief Justice John Roberts must play in the upcoming Senate trial of President Trump is a matter of some debate, even among Constitutional scholars. One commentator has said that he is to be a “potted plant,” in other words that his role is completely ceremonial. In this view, this proceeding is completely under the control… Read more »

Stupid stuff and the probability of tragedy

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Italian Hall

Drunk drivers will almost always get home safely each night. And if that happens enough successive times, the human brain “learns” a very bad thing, that it is okay to be driving drunk. Until tragedy strikes and it’s not. The Barack Obama foreign policy had been famously summarized as “Don’t do stupid s**t,” which is opposite of drunk driving, but… Read more »

The bad Medicare Advantage bet

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Life Expectancy

In a prior post on Medicare Part B “Medigap” plans I hinted at my dislike for Medicare Advantage. I have found that lots of people really like their Medicare Advantage plans. Almost all, in my experience, are healthy seniors or have retired with a high-end employer-sponsored Advantage plan. On the other hand, there are many horror stories of seniors who… Read more »

The first layers of hidden healthcare costs

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In a recent debate, Joe Biden said that 160 million people like their private insurance. PolitiFact rated this statement as “half true.” This is the number of people who are insured through their employers, and most of these people generally rate this insurance as satisfactory. They shouldn’t. That benefit is much more shaky than most of them think. Even more… Read more »

William Barr and the binary God

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Binary God

Besides wandering the globe apparently looking for the “real killer” in the O.J. Simpson case, Attorney General William Barr made two recent high-profile speeches that are disturbing on several levels. His November 15 speech was to the right-wing, highly political Federalist Society (from which have come all recent Republican Supreme Court nominees), where he complained about aggressive oversight from Congressional… Read more »

This is disturbing; therefore, it is not true

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Trinity College Library

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”  (T. S. Eliot, The Rock, 1934) The question “What is truth?” has vexed theologians and philosophers for many centuries. According to the Biblical story, even Jesus did not have a spoken answer to… Read more »

Revisiting the “political restaurants”

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Markov Defections

A recent state legislature election in Virginia piqued my interest because it featured a candidate rematch of a contest that I featured in the first post of this blog almost two years ago because of its interesting mathematical implications. That 2017 House of Delegates vote ended in a tie, and it was resolved months later literally by drawing lots. The… Read more »

The probability of “Deep State” and other conspiracies

The recent $450,000 defamation judgement against a conspiracy theorist who targeted the parent of a Sandy Hook massacre victim reminded me that crazy conspiratorial thinking is often not a harmless exercise. Instead, the social media memes that spread unfounded rumors and plots can cause real damage. The grieving Sandy Hook parents, for instance, have received a steady flood of hate… Read more »

Bending the odds with social policy

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Anisela-and-Roberto

I became familiar with the work of two of the most recent winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics about seven years ago when I started volunteering with Outreach International, a non-profit organization that works in ten countries around the world to help communities find sustainable solutions to end extreme poverty. Nobel awardees Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo wrote an… Read more »