Archive for December, 2007

What, actually audit a computerized election?

December 22, 2007

County records release ordered | ®:

Pima County will have to turn over electronic database records from past elections to the Pima County Democratic Party, a judge ruled Tuesday. The county must release records requested a year ago, including copies of the Diebold GEMS databases for the 2006 primary and general elections, because they fall under state public-records law, Pima County Superior Judge Michael Miller said. That means the Democratic Party will have a chance to inspect the records for transparency and security. Without the records, the party cannot fully monitor elections, a job political parties are required by statute to do, Miller wrote in his ruling. That outweighs the risks associated with making the records public, he wrote.

This headline doesn’t mean what they think it does

December 22, 2007

Fraud Seen as a Driver In Wave of Foreclosures –

ATLANTA — Skyrocketing foreclosures are a testament to how easy it was to borrow from mortgage lenders in recent years. It may also have been easy to steal from them, to judge from a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme that federal prosecutors unraveled here in Atlanta. The criminals obtained $6.8 million in mortgages from Bear Stearns Cos., including a $1.8 million mortgage to Calvin Wright, a New Yorker who told the investment bank that he and his wife earned more than $50,000 a month as the top officers of a marketing firm. Mr. Wright submitted statements showing assets of $3 million, a federal indictment alleged.

The article focuses on what is nominally fraud by borrowers, but along the way it turns out that appraisers and mortgage brokers were keu members of this particular scheme, and the bank lending the money thought “due diligence” was a bad word.

I know I’m naive, but the whole idea of big no-verification loans seems to have been screaming out as an adverse-selection issue from the first day it was conceived. Sure, the increased fees and interest rate will, statistically speaking, cover you for the increased risk of default. But anyone who could verify their income would be able to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month by doing so. So the pool you get is way skewed toward fraud. (And as you increase the cost differential to make your expected-value numbers work in the face of increasing defaults, the skew only gets worse.)

Whom not to buy bagpipers from…

December 3, 2007

Scotland on Sunday – Bagpipes a threat to the environment (and we’re not talking noise pollution):

The MCP and FFI are hopeful that by 2009 sustainably certified Blackwood will be on the market. “This will mean that musicians will be in no doubt that the wood in the instrument they are buying has been legally felled and a fair price has been paid to its local custodians,” said Gordon-Maclean. “We would urge concerned pipers to demand their suppliers explain where they source their Blackwood so it is not at the expense of poor African farmers and the global environment.” In the meantime, people have been flocking to help reforest parts of Tanzania. Ethical present firm Good Gifts is urging people to plant bagpipe trees. It is pledging to plant 21 Blackwood saplings for £15, 50 for £35 and 60 for £42.

But pipe major and manufacturer David MacMurchie, who uses Blackwood, was less than impressed by the campaign. “I for one am not going be made to feel guilty by a bunch of misguided environmental do-gooders,” he said. “I am sure that the communities in Africa use a hell of a lot more Blackwood than bagpipe manufacturers.

I guess you shouldn’t use it to store all your porn

December 1, 2007

Not that half a gig would be nearly enough:

Maria_USB Thou shalt not carve graven USBs

The Maria Memory Stick is USB 2.0 compatible and can be used to store all your essential files. However, unlike any other Flash drive, this one also boasts a golden halo above the Virgin’s head which is engraved with the statement, “Oh Maria, keep my data safe.”

Once again. Cosma Shalizi picks out something elegant and scary

December 1, 2007

This Climate Goes to Eleven:

If we knew the value of the feedback f, we could predict the response to perturbations just by multiplying them by 1/(1-f) — call this G for “gain”. What happens, Roe and Baker ask, if we do not know the feedback exactly? Suppose, for example, that our measurements are corrupted by noise — or even, with something like the climate, that f is itself stochastically fluctuating. The distribution of values for f might be symmetric and reasonably well-peaked around a typical value, but what about the distribution for G? Well, it’s nothing of the kind. Increasing f just a little increases G by a lot, so starting with a symmetric, not-too-spread distribution of f gives us a skewed distribution for G with a heavy right tail.

Interesting … but shtupid

December 1, 2007

BBC NEWS | Health | Brain scans ‘may detect OCD risk’:

Individuals with OCD and their close relatives have distinctive patterns in their brain structure, a team at Cambridge University found. The genes responsible remain unknown, but it appears they change the brain’s anatomy, which may aid diagnosis.

Alas, the very fact that close relatives who don’t have OCD have similar patterns of brain microanatomy suggests that this is not entirely a useful way to go. A little like finding out that being short is a risk factor for falling off chairs while changing light bulbs.

And they also believe Saddam was behind 9/11

December 1, 2007

Republicans Report Much Better Mental Health Than Others:

Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent, according to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats.

One of the things I find interesting about this Gallup report is the way the text slides quickly from talking about better self-reported mental health to “better mental health” as if the two had some uncomplicated relationship. It’s almost as if Gallup were –gasp– spinning the living crap out of their poll numbers. (Note also that the regression coefficient for income versus self-reported mental health is much bigger than all the others. But “more money makes people say they’re happier” wouldn’t be a good thing to say when the level of income inequality keeps rising…)