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

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

literature · November 22, 2011 · comments

Book recommendations: Recent finds, 2011 edition

by Chris Adolph


The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox by Barry Hughart (Subterranean Press, 2nd edition, 2011) · Fantasy · Subterranean prints gorgeous editions that tend to sell out on publication, so get this omnibus while you can. Fast-paced, hilarious, tender, and ribald. The Princess Bride for adults? Almost.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (Faber & Faber, 2010) · Fiction · An authentic, funny, sympathetic view on growing up today, and the only Bildungsroman I’ve read that feels like it could be about the sort of childhood I had. Long-listed for the Booker last year; I still say it should have won.

Quarantine in the Grand Hotel by Jenő ejtő (Corvina, 2009) · Light Fiction · A happy find in Budapest, city of beautiful bookstores. If you’re lucky enough to run across it, get the 2009 edition from Corvina; the older translation lacks ejtő's Wodehousian rythmn.

The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz (Dalkey Archive, 2010) · Surreal Travel · Borges comparisons are ubiquitous and thus meaningless, yet this is the only novel I can imagine Borges actually writing.

Professor Moriarty: Hound of the D’urbervilles by Kim Newman (Titan Books, 2011) · Parody · Evil shouldn’t be this much fun. If you like Sherlock but think Conan Doyle should have relaxed a bit, give this inverted-perspective anthology a try.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press, 2011) · Mystery · The best Flavia de Luce mystery to date. If you haven’t discovered Flavia de Luce yet, what are you doing reading the Waste Book? Get moving!

The Last Book by Zoran Zivkovic (PS Publishing, 2008) · I’m Not Telling · Like Ajvaz, critics often compare Zivkovic to Borges, but he’s channeling an older Spanish-language author here. The Last Book is only the second novel ever written in the world’s tiniest genre – and revealing it would ruin all the fun. Out of print, but available as an ebook.



The Art of R Programming by Norman S. Matloff (No Starch Press, 2011) · Statistical Computing · Finally, a reference on the R language that’s well-written and goes beyond the basics. (Ever wondered how to speed up programs by effective use of apply() and its relatives? Whether you need to learn about S4 classes? How to use R to call C++? Or how to make your R program run on multiple cores?) Like reading an O’eilly text on one of the more established languages.

Just My Type by Simon Garfield (Gotham, 2011) · Typography · If you only read one book on typography this year – But really, who can read just one?

tags: books

vox · November 19, 2011 · comments

Dialogs & Observations: Episode 1

by Chris Adolph

With apologies to the interlocutors...


I don’t think he has a sophisticated enough causal story to qualify as “functionalist”, honestly.

You got me: I’m not being fair to functionalism, for lack of a term that encompasses arguments that aspire to functionalist fallacies but fail to, well, function.

So let’s call it magical functionalism! I’m reading Murakami’s latest novel, and this really helps identify the realism in magical realism.


...you know, there’s no guarantee this is the Early Anthropocene.

With a raise like that, I think I’ll fold in our 7-card depression game.

What do I win? … Oh.


Of course Newt is next. The 2012 epublican primary season is the Fred Thompson experience accelerated and iterated: because no intelligent or skilled politician would adopt its suicidal purity pledges, the party base lurches from one warmed-over loser to the next, dropping them when the rest of the world checks in to expose the incompetence.

tags: dialogs

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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