I teach political economy and statistics at a large public university in the US. You can find my academic website here.

The Waste Book very occasionally collects my passing thoughts on politics, economics, statistics, data visualization, life, culture, and everything.

We aim for funny, will settle for intriguing, and, the times and the Internet being what they are, resign ourselves to a certain amount of bemoaning.



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naked promotion

stories · October 21, 2015 · comments

The Zemeckis Prophecy

by Chris Adolph

So the Mets swept the Cubs on Back to the Future Day. I think we all know what this means.

Even now, Cubs fans are gathered around blackboards, trying to work out exactly where the timelines changed, sending them off into this terrible place. Once they figure it out and invent the time machine, they will go back in time to restore the correct history in which the Cubs swept the Miami Gators on this very day to win the World Series. (Hint: The damage to the time line probably occurred sometime before the founding of the Florida Marlins. Oh, you wanted a hint on how to travel back in time. Erm, well...)

If the people of Chicago are as good at temporal engineering as they are at baseball, nothing will change. But if they’ve sucked at baseball all these years because they were distracted by a secret, century-long project to build a working time machine, I think we can expect to wake up tomorrow in the land of flying cars and Mr. Fusion.

tags: satire

stories · August 17, 2014 · comments

58th Variety (for Garrison)

by Chris Adolph

“You know, Bob Oglethorpe’s Jimmy never was quite right, but old man Heinz said he’d take a chance on him ’cause he owed Bob for what he did to the Hunt brothers that one time. Damn near killed the company. When Heinz saw the first bottle, he swore we’d never sell so much as a jar of mayo to McDonald’s if anyone ever found out. So he figured it’d be best if we dressed it up as a dog and found it a quiet home. Next day Frank had this idea for a new-fangled tube you could squeeze to get all the ketchup out, but when he told the old man, Henry Heinz just stared at him for the longest time, and Frank let it go.

“And that, son, is why ketchup still comes in glass jars.”

tags: satire

vox · December 5, 2011 · comments

Dialogs & Observations: Episode 2

by Chris Adolph

With apologies to the interlocutors, real, real, and imagined


Gingrich is accepting the Trump debate—he says when a “unique American character” offers to moderate a debate, the “correct answer is yes”. Has he considered how many “unique American characters” are out there?



Sure the exact numbers and recipients were not announced (arguably for a good reason if you accepted the need for the program at all), but I have my E-mails from 2008-2009 talking about this. TARP was intended a.) for those who couldn’t even swap toxic assets for sweetheart loans through the Fed and b.) to add flexibility to the overall bailout.

I’ve read this story every 12 months since 2008, and every time these loans are called “secret”. It must be a new meaning of "secret" I wasn’t previously unaware of.

secret, adj., appearing in the press at fixed annual intervals. Usage: Major League Baseball opened secret training camps in Florida and Arizona today, and some say the thirty cells of this clandestine organization are developing “designated hitters” to strike out at large public events across the American heartland.

I do have to admit that I am glad that this story gets recycled even if it does appear with the “revelation of amazing secrets!” headline every time (and this time is arguably justified since the FOIA information is actually new). I keep hoping that one of these times the gears will mesh and someone else will be as outraged as I was in 2008…


You should really consider C.S. Lewis’s “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord” argument.

Oh, I love incomplete partition games!* Have you read Si Clews' celebrated blog post, “Mistaken, Misremembered, or Missing-In-Action”?


*A translation which will help quantitative political scientists, and cause everyone else to nod slowly while hoping the pain will go away: “Partition” is the esoteric word mathematicians use to decsribe what any sensible social scientist would call an “exhaustive typology consisting of mutually exclusive categories”. A fun incomplete partition game political scientists like to play is “Bet you can't guess which unobserved covariates are really driving my country fixed effects…”

tags: dialogs, satire

politics · November 11, 2011 · comments

The Real 999 Plan:
A story of confidence intervals and confidence men

by Chris Adolph

“For every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably thousands who will say that none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.”

Source: Evan McMorris-Santoro, “Herman Cain: For Every Person Who Says I Harassed Them, There Are ‘Thousands’ Who Say I Didn’t,” Talking Points Memo, 11/9/2011.

herman cain’s argument is approximately as comforting as Sideshow Bob announcing to the neighborhood: “The following neighborhood residents will not be killed by me: Homer Simpson, Marge Simpson, Lisa Simpson, that-little-baby Simpson… That is all.”

Or to be a bit more scientific, maybe Cain is sending a coy signal of the true number of harassment charges we can expect to eventually hear about – he is a math major, after all. If, for every woman who’s claimed Cain has sexually harassed her, there are “thousands” who haven’t, then we have a confidence interval of sorts.

According to the Census, in 2010 there were about 120 million female residents in the us above the age of 18. So if out of these women there are “thousands” not claiming sexual harassment by Cain for every woman claiming sexual harassment, we can first establish an upper bound. Suppose that there are only two thousand harassment-claim-free women per putative victim – the smallest number that still qualifies as “thousands” – then Cain has received complaints of harassment from more than 60,000 women. This is the upper bound of the Cain confidence interval. But if there are 999,999 women allegedly unharassed for each claimant – the largest possible number qualifying as “thousands”, at least in colloquial speech – there are no more than 120 potential victims. The true number of women claiming Cain sexually harassed them could lie between these bounds.

Surely Herman Cain wouldn't leave us hanging with such a wide confidence interval. Maybe he’s left a clue to the actual number of women he has received complaints from. It might be a number sprinkled throughout his speeches. We should look for a number between 120 and 60,000. A warning, a boast, an aspiration – even a plan. Something he repeats often, to be sure.

Any guesses?

tags: satire

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Chris Adolph

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Erika Steiskal

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