Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

Copyright Notice

Everything that appears on this blog is the copyrighted property of somebody. Often, but not always, that somebody is me. For things that are not mine, I either have obtained permission, or claim fair use. Feel free to quote me, but attribute, please. My photos and poetry are dear to my heart, and may not be used without permission. Ditto, my other intellectual property, such as charts and graphs. I'm probably willing to share. Let's talk. Violators will be damned for all eternity to the circle of hell populated by Rosanne Barr, Mrs Miller [look her up], and trombonists who are unable play in tune. You cannot possibly imagine the agony. If you have a question, email me: jazzbumpa@gmail.com. I'll answer when I feel like it. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Effort and Reward

Jim Kwack cites Milton Friedman with the idea that inherited wealth should be taxed at the same rate as regular income.   Given a modest exemption - say a few million dollars, to avoid destroying family businesses - I concur.

I'm not sure I believe Friedman when he says this, though.
The man who is hard working and thrifty is to be regarded as ‘deserving’; yet these qualities owe much to the genes he was fortunate (or fortunate?) enough to inherit.”

This deterministic idea gives the individual no credit at all for his own hard work and dedication, and implies that twins should be equally hard working and "deserving."  Even more insidiously, though, it enables thinking about the unsuccessful in terms of a stereotyped notion of hereditary laziness for those inheriting less fortunate genes.  Down that road lies eugenics.

The lucky sperm club notion does have merit, though.  Not in terms of abilities but in terms of financial stability and backing, educational opportunities, network connections, access to health care and numerous other intangibles.

I have a different take from Friedman, more along the lines of the ideas expressed in comments to Kwack's article by Charles Broming.   Luck - and not of the genetics dice-roll type - plays a huge and generally unrecognized roll in the success or failure of any endeavor.  Two identically talented and ambitious entrepreneurs can set up identical businesses on the same day and one might succeed while the other fails due to either completely random factors like the weather, a change in traffic patterns or gentrification, or some other uncontrollable external factor; or due to unequal opportunities like available financing, suitability of location or a variety of other luck-related circumstances.

Two identical baseball pitchers can have widely different results due to the park they play in, the quality of the defense behind them, and the run support given by their own offense.   This barely hints at the notion of unequal opportunities.

Beyond that, there is the fact that rewards are not distributed linearly with respect to outcomes.  In fact, reward levels can often be quantized.  This, from the world of pro golf, is illustrative.
The difference between making it back onto the tour and being demoted to the Nationwide might only be a couple of dozen golf shots over the course of a season, but the financial repercussions are huge. Prize money on the Nationwide is only about 10% of the tour’s. Last year’s top moneymaker on the PGA Tour, Luke Donald, made $6.7 million on the golf course; the top player on the Nationwide Tour made $414,000. Most Nationwide events are not televised, and endorsement deals are one-third as big, if not smaller. If playing on the PGA Tour is like having your product stocked at Wal-Mart, competing on the Nationwide is like selling through a regional supermarket chain.

I firmly believe that a more equal society is, generally speaking, better than a society characterized by stark and growing inequality.  Whether this notion is supported by brute economics or not; a humane consideration of quality-of-life issues for the have-nots influences the equitability and stability of society in numerous non-trivial ways.

All of this lends support to my belief in high inheritance taxes and a steeply progressive income tax.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How Mythical is Reagan's Debt?

J. W. Mason makes the excellent - and largely unrecognized - point that the great majority of the federal debt increase during Reagan's term was due to high interest rates rather than a combination of reduced taxes and high spending.  Fair enough, but I think he takes this observation too far when he says:
 If something everyone thinks they know -- Reagan's budgets blew up the federal debt in the 1980s -- turns out not be true, it's worth pointing out. Especially if you thought you knew it too.

However, it's also worth pointing out that Reagan's budgets really did blow up the federal debt - high interest rates at the time just made this a whole lot worse.  J.W.M. is looking at surplus or deficit as a % of GDP.  Conclusions based on ratios always make me want to take a different look.   There may not be much distortion from a denominator effect in this specific case, but a close look at the primary budget [total budget less interest payments] results tells a rather different story.

Graph 1 [click to enlarge] illustrates the total budget Surplus or Deficit [red] along with the primary S or D [blue] for the years 1950 to 2000, in billions of dollars.

Graph 1 - Total and Primary Budget S or D, Billions

For the period in question, this does not look substantially different from JWM's graph, with data as percentage of GDP.

Graph 2 shows only the primary budget surplus or deficit for the same time period.

Graph 2 - Primary Budget S or D, Billions

The years 1981-88, Reagan's term, are highlighted in Red.  For no good reason, the Nixon-Ford and G. H. W. Bush terms are in yellow.  Reagan's primary budget deficit of $118 billion in 1983 was 2.5 times larger than the previous record of $47 billion of 1976.   For the next three years, the primary deficits were $74.3, 82.8 and 85.2 billion, respectively.

Cutting across this a different way, Graph 3 shows the accumulated S or D since 1950, in billions, with Reagan's term highlighted in red.  Reagan is responsible for 86.47% of total primary deficit accumulation from 1950 through the end of his term.

Graph 3 - Accumulated Surplus or Deficit, 1950 to 2000

In fairness, Reagan's last two years added very little to the accumulated deficit.  But there is no denying that his profligacy was dramatically different from that of any previous president.

Despite my perhaps niggling disagreement with JWM, his post is well worth reading, and I recommend it highly.  His point about interest rates is just as relevant to today's situation as it was to circumstances three decades past.  Here is his closing thought.

If high interest rates and disinflation drove the rise in the federal debt ratio in the 1980s, it could happen again. In the current debates about when the Fed will achieve liftoff, one of the arguments for higher rates is the danger that low rates lead to excessive debt growth. It's important to understand that, historically, the relationship is just the opposite. By increasing the debt service burden of existing debt (and perhaps also by decreasing nominal incomes), high interest rates have been among the main drivers of rising debt, both public and private. A concern about rising debt burdens is an argument for hiking later, not sooner. People like Dean Baker and Jamie Galbraith have pointed out -- correctly -- that projections of rising federal debt in the future hinge critically on projections of rising interest rates. But they haven't, as far as I know, said that it's not just hypothetical. There's a precedent.  

Data Source Link


Here is a picture of my mother [standing] and her twin sister last month on their 94th birthday.

On the morning of June 2nd she suffered a stroke.  After a week in the hospital, where she declined severely, it became clear that there would be no recovery.  On the advice of several doctors, we moved her into a hospice facility for comfort care.

As of now, she is still there, totally unaware and unresponsive.   There are supposed to be 7 stages of grief, but I must have leapfrogged a few.  I got to acceptance very quickly.  But this is still sad and very painful.

This is a beautiful location, and that helps a little bit.

The last three pics are of a great blue heron.  I was very lucky to get him in flight.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

That's Why They Get the Big Bucks

I’m quite sure that if I suddenly obtained one million dollars, I’d find some constructive use for it.  Ditto the 2nd million, 3rd, 4th, and maybe even the fifth.  But each successive million provides less marginal utility.  Eventually, unless your goal is to own a small 3rd world country, the largest ranch in Texas, or a stable of Republican politicians, the meaning of that next million is close to zero.

Where is that point?  It will vary from person to person, but, realistically, could it be more than a dozen or two?  Can having $50 million really make one happier, more secure, or able to eat in better restaurants than having $30 million?

Which brings me to Mike Babcock, and belatedly to Max Scherzer.  Each of them went out in search of greener [a word I use advisedly] pastures.  Selling one’s services to the highest bidder is free enterprise in action, I guess.  Clearly, for each of them it was about the money.

Which takes me back to my primary question - how much is enough?  is any amount satisfactory? Can these gentlemen provide sufficient value for the money they are receiving?

In Max’s case, one can construe a non-monetary rationale.  The Nats  have a lot of potential to get him a world series ring.  But, at 24-17, they currently have the same record as the Tigers. Well, you takes yer money and you takes yer chances.

For Babcock, though, it’s nothing but the money.  He’s leaving a highly successful, possibly even over-achieving, organization to join the Maple Leafs - what local Detroit sports writer Pat Caputo calls “a dysfunctional organization with a psychotic fan base.”

I don’t harbor a great deal of animosity toward either of them.  Some, though - just not a lot.  I wish for Max a level of modest success that makes the high premium paid for him look like a massively foolish misallocation of resources.  For Babcock - I wish him several years of frustration and disappointment, and ultimately a great deal of longing and regret.

Because, isn’t that the end game when money is the only thing you care about? 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Roger Ingram and High Notes

I had the distinct pleasure of spending parts of the last two days with Roger Ingram, who was the guest artist at the Schoolcraft Jazz Studies Program’s Up Jumped Spring concert yesterday.  Roger is a high register trumpeter who played on the road for 35 years with Tom Jones, Connie Stevens, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Maynard Ferguson, and was the lead trumpeter for the Woody Herman and Harry Connick big bands.

Roger is a great player, and a really nice, very encouraging person.

Here's one of the songs Roger played with us, as recorded with a different band.

Roger Ingram Live at the College Hideaway with the Jim Stewart Orchestra

At his clinic yesterday, he discussed playing in the high register, and quite a few times mentioned counter-intuitive thinking.  The first requirement for having a high register is having a strong, secure low register.  As Bud Brisbois, Stan Kenton’s lead trumpet player in the late 50’s, told him, you can’t build a skyscraper on a weak foundation.  

So what I take from this is that unless you really own the bottom of your horn - from low concert E to high C, you need to devote your efforts there before embarking on the high road.

Once you have that foundation, you can, as Roger’s friend and past guest artist Wayne Bergeron put it, “discover,” not “develop” the high register.  Wayne’s idea is that when you have this firm foundation, you then have the playing strength to be able to explore and map the new region above.  Counter-intuitive thinking.

Something that was a real eye-opener for me is that playing high requires less air, not more.  Bud Brisbois told Roger that if you use a tablespoon full of air to play high C, use a half tablespoon to play the F above, and a teaspoon full for double high C.  If you fill your lungs to capacity and shove a lot of air through the horn attempting to play high, you’re dooming yourself to failure.  Counter-intuitive thinking.

An exercise he recommended for discovering the upper region is to gliss from C to high C and back [Bb on trombone].  In demonstrating, he took a moderate tempo - about 1 second for each leg of the excursion.  Repeat the glissing exercise each half step higher, as far as you can go.  Recognize and accept that this will sound terrible.  Allow that to happen.  You aren’t going for sound, you’re going for a result.  Tone will come later.  If you have a good foundation, and do this for 15 minutes every day for one month, you should be able to play up to double high C at the end of that time.  This approach builds in muscle memory for the location of the partials, and helps to internalize the control needed to play reliably in the high region.   In his demonstration, he did not work hard, and it actually looked pretty effortless.

I’ve had some success building my upper register over the last year, but still would like to expand the next half octave to double high C [concert Bb,] and certainly need to discover control in my existing high range.  I’m excited to embark on this new adventure.

One last parting counter-intuitive thought.  Roger said he really enjoys playing in the middle register!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tigers Early Season Update

After 9 games the Tigers are 8-1.  The Royals 8-5 loss in Minnesota today puts them at 7-2, giving the Tigers sole possession of first place for the nonce.

In 9 games the Tigers have pitched 4 shutouts.  To date the opponents have totaled 55 hits and 21 runs, or 2.61 hits per run.

David Price and Shane Greene are two of the 3 AL starters with 0.00 ERA's after 2 starts.

Even with the bats cooling off considerably in Pittsburgh, the Tigers offense has amassed 54 runs on 99 hits for a 6.0 run/game average, and only 1.83 hits/run.

Tigers scoring has been remarkably even across the innings with 18 runs coming in the first 3 innings, 17 in the middle 3, and 19 in the last 3.  Last year, the Tigers were very poor at scoring late in tight games.  So far this year, this has not been the case.

Opponent scoring has come relatively late, with 5 runs in the first 3 innings, 6 in the middle three, and 10 in the final three.  Only 1 of those runs has happened in the 9th inning, though, so the closers have been closing.  And, as lopsided as this distribution looks, it's mainly due to excellent starts rather than poor relief.

It's a bit too early in the season to put much stock in batting averages, but Kinsler, Cabrera, Cespedes, and Iglesias are all over .300, some by huge margins.

And most of the the big guns are producing. Iglesias and Cabrera are nos. 1 and 3 in batting average, J.D. Martinez has 4 HR's, and Miggy has 9 RBI's.

If V-Mart and Castellanos can pick it up, the Tigers batting order will be terrifying.

Tigers take on the White Sox at Comerica tomorrow, 1:08 start.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tigers at Pirates, April 14, 2015

Yesterday I sort of live blogged the Tigers game at Pittsburgh on Face Book - Shane Green vs A.J. Burnett.  OK - more along the line of a few random comments.  But it was fun.

It was a great pitching duel, and the Tigers showed how much better they are defensively than - well maybe ever, certainly in a long stretch of recent years.

My musings:

Burnett gets away with a balk picking off Rajai.
More and different umpiring ineptitude.

Plate ump misses a called third on Cespedes, and throws out the Pirate's Mgr.  More umpiring incompetence.

Tigers pitcher Shane Greene has an astounding 81 pitches through 8 innings. He's had 6, 7, and 9 pitch innings. Only three K's along the way.  [Note, the average number of pitches per half inning in MLB is 16.]  Strike out pitchers have to throw a lot more pitches. Tigers are also playing extraordinary defense.  Tigers up 1-0, heading into the 9th.

Iglesias breaks his bat, gets a single to center, and takes second when the Pirates center fielder McCutcheon lolligags. Greene lifted for pinch hitter V-Mart.

V-Mart gets another PH K, Rajai walks.  Kinsler squeaks a single past the SS, Iglesias scores.  Miggy up. Two on, two out.  Ack - called 3rd. Scahill handcuffed him.

Bottom of the ninth, Tigers up 2-0. Soria coming in to finish it off.  Greene's scheduled at-bat in the 9th keeps him from pitching a complete game.

Tigers win 2-0.  Pirates get only 3 hits, and nobody reaches 2nd.  Great outing by Green and Soria.

Tigers can run on the Pirates outfielders.  Watch for that in game 3.

Like yesterday, Tigers scored in the 7th and 9th innings.  I think that is a great sign.  Last year they were awful in the late innings of close games.

Shane Greene has gone 8 innings each in both starts, and given up only 7 hits, 1 walk and no runs in. At this point his WHIP is 0.5, less than half of Scherzer's 1.024.

If Castellanos starts hitting, the Tigers will roll over everybody.  [He’s killed 3 potential rallies in two games.]

Just saw the post game interview with Iglesias. He is either very modest, or very coy.

GoT Season Premier

Yesterday afternoon I watched the Season 5 Premier of Game of Thrones.

Season 1, as I recall it, was remarkably true to the book.

Since then, changes have crept in - some necessary, some that baffled me, but without doing any serious damage.

Now, they've taken turns that are not just different from the books, but totally unreconcilable with major story lines and plot points.

The idea is that B & B are taking a different route to the same destination as Martin.

But the journey's the thing, isn't it?

It's good, I'll give it that.

But from here on out, it's no longer the same story.

And I don't know how I feel about that.

Max Scherzer

Among AL starters in 2014 with more than 59 innings pitched, Max Scherzer had the 21st best ERA at 3.16, way below the average in that group of 3.94 [St Dev = 0.9].

His WHIP was 1.18, also well below the group average of 1.29 [St Dev = 0.2].

By that reckoning, Max was better than average by more than half a standard deviation in each metric.

So far this year, in two starts for the Nationals, he's 0-1, with 13 2/3 innings pitched, an ERA of 0.66 and WHIP at 1.02.  So - despite the W-L total, he's doing very well.

I don't bear him a lot of animosity, but I wish he would have been up front enough to say he left the D for the money, instead of hedging.  Therefore, i don't want his contract with the Nats to be a total bust.  But I would like it to be a historically bad deal.

What I wish for Max is to be a slightly above average pitcher, so that the Nats will have paid a super-premium price for only slightly above average performance.   My track record with this kind of wishful thinking is pretty poor, and this is a long shot, because I think the AL in general has better hitting, so he should mow down the opposition.

But, here's what I'm hoping for:  W-L = 14-12; ERA = 3.87; WHIP = 1.42.

Really though - what are the chances?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014

Industrial Production Index

Mark has a pessimistic look at the Log of the Industrial Production index and sees a curved, and flattening, trend channel.  It's a good fit, but I see it a bit differently.  The Data set goes back to 1946, and the measurements follow a perfect linear trend channel through late 1981. 

You can always divide a curve into a series of straight line segments.  But when the first segment is half the data set, you have to give it some credence as the trend candidate.

Note also that when the trend fails, it fails at the mid line of the channel.  This happens commonly in all sorts of data sets.  

After a decline into early '83 pierces the former lower boundary, a new upward trend with significantly lower slope developed.   This channel was also much narrower than the previous one.  The inability to sustain vigorous growth is yet another anemic manifestation of the Great Stagnation.   This trend failed by starting a decline from the top channel boundary in late 2000, then dribbling along the bottom boundary for about 3 years.  No surprise, since the first decade of the century was marked by the closing of 10's of thousands of factories.

The top in 2000 might have been the start of a new trend, and I've indicated it as such.  It's still slanting up, though at a very weak slope.  Since the bottom in 2009, production has made a comeback, rising with a slope slightly greater than that of the '83 to early naughts trend.  It's approaching the upper bound of the presumed current trend channel on both my graph and on Mark's.

Whether you prefer Mark's vision or mine, a test of the upper limit is coming soon.  But with the economy at the effective demand limit, I see very little chance that the upper channel boundary will be breached.