The Spectre of Math

August 9, 2014

Numbers again

Filed under: Politics — jlebl @ 4:43 pm

I like to get fake enraged when people get caught up in very silly misunderstanding of numbers. And often this misunderstanding is used by politicians, extremists, and others to manipulate those people.

The most recent and prominent example is the Israel-Gaza conflict. The story is that Hamas rockets are endangering Israeli lives. OK, yes they do, but you have to always look at the scale. Since 2001 (so in the last 13 years), there have been 40 deaths in Israel from Gaza cross border rocket and mortar fire [1]. 13 of those are Soldiers, and one could make the case that those were military targets, but let’s ignore that and count 40. Of those fatalities, 23 happened during one of the operations designed to remove the rocket threat. One could argue (though I won’t, there won’t be a need) that without those operations, only 17 Israelis would have died.

OK, so 40 people in 13 years. That’s approximately 3 deaths per year. When I recently read an article about toxicity of mushrooms [2], the person being interviewed (the toxicologists) made an argument that mushroom picking in Czech is not dangerous, only 2-3 deaths per year (and vast majority of Czechs will go mushroom picking every year, even we do when we’re over there, it’s a Czech thing). Clearly it is not enough to worry the toxicologists. And Czech is about the same size as Israel in terms of population.

When my granddad (a nuclear physicist) with his team computed the number of new cancers due to Chernobyl in Czech after the disaster, they predicted 200 a year. Trouble was they couldn’t verify it, because 200 a year gets hidden in the noise. In a country of 10 million, if we take 80 year lifespan, 125000 people will die every year of various causes, a large proportion of them to cancer (many of them preventable cancer that the state does not try to prevent since it would mean unpopular policies). So 3 deaths a year is completely lost in the noise. So if Israel would spend the money it spends on fighting Hamas, even if we buy into the propaganda that this will defeat Hamas, if it would spend the money on an anti-smoking campaign, it would likely save far more Israeli lives every year.

Another statistic to look at is car accidents: In Israel approximately 263 people died on the road in one year. So your chances of dying in a car accident are almost 100 times larger. In fact, death by lighting in the US average at 51 per year [4]. Rescaling to Israel (I could not find Israel numbers) you get about 1.4 a year. That’s only slightly less than what Hamas kills in a year. In fact it’s about how many civilians they kill. So your chances as an Israeli civilian of being killed by a rocket or mortar are about the same as being killed by lightning. Not being struck by lightning by the way, because only 1 in 5 (approximately) of those struck die. So your chances of being struck by lightning are bigger, let’s say approx 6-7 people in Israel will get struck by lightning every year.

An argument could be made that most Israelis killed were in Sderot (I count 8), so your chances of being killed there are bigger (and correspondingly, your chances of being killed by a Hamas rocket based on current data if you are in say Tel Aviv are zero). Anyway, 8 in 13 years is about 0.6 a year in Sderot. Rescaling (based on population) the car deaths to estimate the number of deaths per year in Sderot we get approximately 0.8 deaths per year in Sderot. So your chances of dying in a car crash are higher, even if you live in Sderot (your chances of dying from cancer are much much higher).

The politicians supporting Israel’s actions often don’t worry about logical contradictions stemming from the above facts. When Bloomberg visited Israel he lambasted the fact that some airlines stopped flying to Tel-Aviv on rocket fears. He said that he never felt safer there. Well, if he never felt safer, why is Gaza being bombed?

None of this in any way is an apology for Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization that aims to kill civilians. But Hamas is almost comically incompetent at doing so. If it weren’t a sad thing, we ought to laugh at Hamas. Anyway, clearly an incompetent murderer is till a murderer if he manages to kill even one person. The question is, what lengths should you go to to apprehend him.

Now the costs. Gaza has 1.8 million people. One should expect about 20-30 thousand natural deaths per year. This year, Israel kills 2000 Gazans. So very approximately about 1 in 10 to 1 in 15 Gazans that dies this year will die at Israel’s hands. Now think what that does to the ability of Hamas, or even far more radical groups to recruit. My grandmother grew up in the post WWII years, so she has not lived through WWII as an adult, yet she harbored deep hatred of all Germans. This was common in Europe. People used to hate each other, and then every once in a while they would attempt to kill each other. If you are on the receiving side of the killing (and only your relatives get killed), you are very likely to have this deep hatred that could very well be used by extremists (think back to the Balkans and especially Bosnia). It takes generations to get rid of it. I don’t resent the Poles or the Ukrainians even though I had Galitian Jewish ancestors that probably had no love for either. But 70 years ago, these three groups managed to literally destroy the whole region by killing each other (well the Germans and Russians helped greatly in the endeavor). There is probably very few people in the region whose family actually comes from there.

The point is, that the cost of the operation, besides the moral outrage of killing thousands of people, is pushing back the date that Israel can live in peace with its neighbors.

Another cost to Israel is the rise of anti-semitism. Just like violent actions by muslim extremists created a wave of anti-muslim sentiment in the West, violent acts by Israel will only strenghten anti-semitic forces. You are giving them perfect recruiting stories. If they had any doubts, they don’t have them now. Maybe as a positive aspect, it will justify Israeli contention that hatred of Israel is based on anti-semitism, since by creating anti-semitic sentiment, yes, more of it will be. The fact that the deputy speaker of parliament in Israel calls for conquest of Gaza are forcefully removing the Gazans into “tent camps” and them out of Israel [5], does not help. Maybe he should have called it “final solution” to the problem. Surely there would be no problem with that phrase.

Another thing about numbers is that Israel depends on America giving it cover (and weapons). Israel does not realize that american opinion is shifting (in part due to its own actions, in part since these things always shift in time). See [6]. Basically once the young of today will be the older folks of tomorrow, Israel won’t be seen the way it is now. It might be that US will also shift towards some other group as being important in american politics. Given the growth in the Latino population, it should be clear that Israel will at some point stop being the priority for many politicians. Given that we will also approach the world oil peak, and that us oil will once again start running out once we’ve fracked out what we could frack out, oil will become again more important. And Israel does not have oil. Israel is religiously important, but recall that Americans are mostly protestant Christians, not Jews, so it’s not clear where that will go (looking at history of that relationship is not very encouraging). A large percentage of Americans thinks the world is only a few thousand years old and the end of times will come within their lifetime and the battle of Armageddon will come, and blah blah blah. Who knows what that does to long term foreign policy.

Remember I am talking about decades not years. One should worry about what happens in 20, 30, 40 years. You know, many of us will still be around then, so even from a very selfish perspective, one should plan 40 years ahead. Let alone if one is not a selfish bastard.

Then finally there is this moral thing about killing others … Let’s not get into morals of the situation, that’s seriously f@#ked up.

[1] http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/rocket-deaths-israel.html
[2] http://www.lidovky.cz/muchomurku-cervenou-fasovali-vojaci-v-bitvach-misto-alkoholu-p63-/media.aspx?c=A140807_154055_ln-media_sho
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate
[4] http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/fatalities.htm
[5] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2715466/Israeli-official-calls-concentration-camps-Gaza-conquest-entire-Gaza-Strip-annihilation-fighting-forces-supporters.html
[6] http://www.mintpressnews.com/latest-gallup-poll-shows-young-americans-overwhelmingly-support-palestine/194856/

July 24, 2014

News …

Filed under: Politics — jlebl @ 4:29 pm

Interesting reading and comparison of news regarding Ukraine and Gaza. So apparently according to Russian media, people in the west have bad opinion of Russia only because the west has had a long lived fascist hatred of Russians. According to Israeli media, the rest of the world (except US) has a low opinion of Israel only because they are all anti-Semite.  It can’t be because anything we do or say, because we are perfect: even our farts do not smell [citation needed].

Rather interestingly [1], fewer (almost by half) Russians view Israel negatively percentagewise than do Americans.  So Americans are almost twice as anti-Semitic as Russians (this might be news to Jews living in Russia).

If negative opinion of a country was purely based on racism, then it means that racists are able to distinguish between for example North and South Koreans. Also South Koreans are really really racist, and they really really irrationally hate the North Koreans. Essentially as much as Egyptians irrationally hate Israelis. By the way notice that the survey asked if the country (not its people) has a positive influence on the world, but we are assuming I guess (at least in Russian and Israeli media) that nobody can tell the difference between the country and its citizens.

Also the French and the Germans seem to really really love each other. I mean … get a room you two. I mean the French and the Germans have always liked each other. Good thing the survey did not ask about Belgians, because those guys are terrible, we all hate the Belgians.

An interesting piece of information from that study is that Nigerians pretty much have a positive view of the world. Most countries they overwhelmingly love. And even Israel and North Korea manage to get over half of Nigerians to like them. They aren’t too crazy about Iranians and Pakistanis, but it’s not too bad either.

It must be wonderful to live in the world of simple explanations that always seem to indicate that the group you belong to is somehow superior to others, and others simply hate you because you are so good. I think we had a word for that …

[1] http://www.globescan.com/images/images/pressreleases/bbc2012_country_ratings/2012_bbc_country%20rating%20final%20080512.pdf

April 16, 2014

Putin vs. Godwin

Filed under: Politics — jlebl @ 5:18 am

I call Godwin’s law on Russia.  So, by the rules of Usenet, Russia has lost the argument.

I think the security council should adopt Godwin’s law.  Any time you call anyone a Nazi during an argument, you lose your veto power for that issue.

February 27, 2014

Numbers

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 12:43 am

When reading news, one should do some quick calculations to test for ridiculousness.  It really makes reading news far funnier.  Let us look at the 19 billion dollar deal where Facebook bought WhatsApp.  It is especially hilarious if we interpret this as how much do we as a society value WhatsApp versus some other things.  These are based on just quick googling, but they are for just eyeballing the thing, not to be taken exactly.

1) Minimum wage hike.  There are about 3.6 million people at or below mimimum wage [1] (2012 data).  If we suppose that they would work 250 days a year for 8 hours a day, the current $2.85 proposed hike ($10.10-$7.25) would amount to 2.85 \times 8 \times 250 \times 3,600,000 = 20,520,000,000.   So about the same.  Facebook could have paid everyone on minimum wage the hike for a year.  But of course I’ve overestimated I doubt everyone on minimum wage works 8 hours a day 5 days a week.

2) NASA budget is about 16 billion in 2013 [2].  So WhatsApp is actually worth more than all that NASA does in a year.

3) Nominal GDP [3].  Czech Republic is about $196 billion.  Ten WhatsApps is the GDP of the whole country of 10 million people (where WhatsApp has 55 employees, so 10 of them have 550 employees).  Jamaica has nominal GDP of $13 billion or so.  WhatsApp is way more than that.  OK, you say, that’s just one year.  Suppose that WhatsApp (what it does) works out to working for 5 years before it becomes obsolete.  That’s 3.8 billion per year.  The GDP of Cayman Islands is $3.3 billion.  And that’s where Facebook is taking its profits to avoid paying taxes [4].

4) The University of California budget for 2013-2014 is $6.2 billion [5].  WhatsApp would fund the UC for 3 years.  WhatsApp apparently produces so much good for our society that it equals about the output of the entire UC system for 3 years.

[1] http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2012.htm

[2] http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/FY_2013NASA_OperatingPlanEnclosure1_13SEP2013.pdf

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/05/facebook-tax-cayman

[5] http://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/regmeet/nov12/f1attach3.pdf

November 8, 2012

Economy and elections

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 6:55 pm

I have a theory as to why did the economy improve over this summer and into the fall, which led to Obama winning the election. I bet a part of this was the money spent on the campaigns. That was 2 billion dollars that went to very targeted places like Ohio. No wonder economy in Ohio is doing quite well. If it weren’t for the election, Sheldon Adelson would not spend 100 million on random stuff over the period, he would sit on the money. This way he spent it to elect Romney improving the economy in battlegound states which led to Obama winning.

Yes it is a bit of a stretch, but it should not be totally dismissed. Apparently the campaigns spent approximately 190 million just in Ohio [1]. That means that GDP of Ohio went up by 0.04 percent just because of the election (the GDP is 477 billion [2]). That’s not much but it’s not negligible. Also note that it wasn’t spread out over the whole year it was rather concentrated. Further note that state spending is 26 billion [2], so this is 0.73 percent of what the state spends in a given year. If the state gets say 5 percent of that money in various taxes (just pulling a number out of a hat; a reasonable estimate in my layman opinion based on state budget versus GDP) that would mean approximately 10 million extra tax revenue for the state. Not at all bad.

So, Sheldon Adelson was really rooting for Obama! Sneaky way to do it too.

[1] http://www.nationaljournal.com/hotline/ad-spending-in-presidential-battleground-states-20120620
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Ohio

April 23, 2012

CS costs too much

Filed under: Economics,Mathematics,Politics — jlebl @ 1:35 pm

Apparently computer science is not too interesting and costs too much.  $1.7 mil at University of Florida apparently.  So obviously we cut it, so that the athletic department (costing $99 mil) can get an extra $2 mil a year.  It’s obvious where our priorities are as a society.  Even if nothing got cut, 1.7 vs 99 is pretty bad.

April 13, 2012

Priorities

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 6:26 pm

Two things I saw recently 1) NASA budget for climate research is 1 billion (for all those satellites and all that), 2) Facebook buys instagram for 1 billion.

Now we can see where our priorities (as a society) lie. What I don’t get is, that instagram has software that a reasonably good programmer could have done in a few weekends of binge hacking. It does nothing really new. You could even take fairly off the shelf things. Perhaps the servers and the online setup might be costlier, but still, nothing all that strange. To think that this is worth to us as much as figuring out where the next hurricane will hit, or when will the ice caps melt is “interesting”.

Though it is not totally out of sync with what else is happening. When the entire UC system which is responsible for several nobel prizes and innumerable new cures for diseases and leaps in terms of understanding the world, not to mention educating a huge number of students, when that system has a budget hole the size of one CEOs bonus, and it’s a huge hit for the university. Something is off in priorities. Actually there is a very good likelyhood that this CEO will die of some cancer that wasn’t cured because we don’t fund science enough.

February 29, 2012

Devil’s in the details

Filed under: Politics — jlebl @ 8:40 pm

It seems that not only did some democrats vote in the Michigan republican primary, satan himself also voted. Check the primary results in Mackinac county (e.g. on http://elections.msnbc.msn.com/ns/politics/2012/Michigan/Republican/primary at least this was the data on wednesday)

The final result in that county was very close. It was by one vote for Romney, but you should check how many votes did Santorum get:

Romney: 667 (41%)
Santorum: 666 (41%)

February 22, 2012

Exponential growth (and CEO pay)

Filed under: Economics,Mathematics,Politics — jlebl @ 11:17 pm

So CEO salary has increased by approximately 9.7% adjusted for inflation every year between 1990-2005 [1] (that is approx 300% increase over that time, so 4 times what they had in 1990). Anyway, that has a doubling time of \frac{\log 2}{\log 1.097} \approx 7.5 years. Now median CEO (among the top 200) made approximately 10 million a year in compensation in 2010 [2]. In 2009 there were about 8.3 trillion dollars in existence [3]. Anyway, approximately a CEO makes a 1 millionth of the money in the world, or in other words, if we had a million CEOs we’d exhaust our money supply. It takes about \log_2 1000000 \approx 20 doublings to get a million. Hence in 20\times 7.5 = 150 years one CEO will make all the money in the world. And this is all inflation adjusted.

But we don’t have to go so far to get into trouble. Now we did talk about the top 200, so when would the top 200 make all the money in the world. Well that requires only \log_2 \frac{1000000}{200} \approx 12.3 doublings so 12.3 \times 7.5 \approx 92 years. OK, so in less than 100 years, the top 200 CEOs will suck out all the money in the universe.

Anyway, the problem is the following: The companies are not rewarding an individual CEO for good performance. They are rewarding all future CEOs. The thing is, that there is no “starting salary.” A CEO that just started is (statistically) making about the same as the one who’s been around for quite a while. If you would start all CEOs at a base salary, then one particular CEOs salary could rise at 10% a year because he’d be with the company only a fixed number of years, the problem would be manageable. Now to whatever extent there is anything like a “starting salary” the increase an individual CEO makes is even higher than 10% a year. Essentially the starting salary is increasing at 10% a year.

Let’s look at even a more realistic example of how quickly do we get into trouble. The CEO salary can easily be even 1% of the revenue for the company [4]. In fact some small private colleges are paying 1% of their budgets to their university president, a group where similar thing has happened. Well, now think about this doubling. If it is 1% now, it will be 2% in 7.5 years, 4% in 15 years, 8% in 22.5 years, 16% in 30 years, 32% in 37.5 years, 64% in 45 years, and we get 100% at less than 50 years. So in less than 50 years the entire revenue would have to support the CEO. Now you say, well but the revenue is also growing. Not so fast, the 10% pay increase is overall, that includes companies that did badly and those that did well. One would think that the growth of revenue on average (including failed companies) is not that much more than inflation. And this is adjusted for inflation. In any case CEO is definitely growing a lot faster than the economy (and hence your average revenue), and hence you hit the wall sooner or later. Even if we lob off another 2% to adjust for growth, the doubling time for CEO pay is still 9 years.

Of course a problem would appear a lot earlier than in 50 years. So it’s not only the “rich get richer” and “things are not fair” argument. This state of affairs is actually unsustainable even in relatively short period of time (within our lifetimes). I think people don’t understand that exponential growth is really really fast. That’s why pyramid schemes never work. It’s why Ponzi schemes usually fail far quicker than the perpetrator hoped. 10% increase a year does not seem like much (just like 10% return on investment doesn’t seem like that terribly much).

[1] http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html (better sources exist, but I am too lazy to search further).

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/07/03/business/20110703-executive-pay-revisited-even-higher-than-it-first-seemed.html

[3] http://money.howstuffworks.com/how-much-money-is-in-the-world.htm

[4] http://yourperspective.org/index.php?action=read&value=16a2b99e-4847-102d-bdde-00065b3be33a

January 21, 2012

When will the beheading start

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 10:40 pm

It is always good to know when will other people want to cut off your head. Let us look at when were most heads cut off: that was probably the French revolution. OK, what made people want to cut off other people’s heads? Extreme inequality. OK, what was the Gini coefficient? Well, one estimate is 59 [1]. OK, so if we look at the US Gini coefficient it seems to be rising approximately linearly since 1980. In particular, US Census Bureau (via Wikipedia [2]) has the following data:

1980 40.3
1990 42.8
2000 46.2
2009 46.8

Let us do linear regression to obtain:

2020 50.0
2030 52.4
2040 54.8
2050 57.1
2058 59.0
2060 59.5
2070 61.9
2080 64.3

So, I guess people will start trying to cut other people’s heads off around 2058. We’re all safe till then.

[1] Christian Morrison, Wayne Snyder The income inequality of France in historical perspective, European Review of Economic History, 4, 59-83.

[2] Wikipedia.org, Gini Coefficient.

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