Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thinking about lines

In regards to sequester furloughs, such as at Customs and Border Protection, the White House says:  "At the nation’s busiest airports, like Newark, JFK, LAX, and Chicago O’Hare, peak wait times could grow to over 4 hours or more."

Indeed: if you furlough some people, so you have fewer agents working, the line is going to build up during the day and get longer and longer.

But remember that this first step doesn't guarantee that the government actually saves money. If you still have the same planes coming in, and they're still as full as they were the week before, then the line builds up and gets longer over the course of the day, as the throughput is lower than it used to be, while the input is the same. So, late in the day, the line is still there, unusually long and unusually late into the evening, and doesn't go away altogether until later at night.

The government is still processing the same number of people entering the country; you still need the same total agent-hours. Whether you pay 20 agents to work 10 hours or only pay 10 agents -- but then they have to work 20 hours -- would make no difference spending wise. (I'm simplifying here).

The government starts saving money only if and when you reach the second step: the lines are so long that people find out about it, and cancel their trips to the United States. Then the agent-hours the government has to pay for actually start to decrease.

Lines are weird. We usually don't think about them very well. With "short" lines, the situation is determined mostly by the input, the output, and how much line had already built up. With longer lines, the input starts to get affected (if people have information about the length of the line), making a very different dynamic.

How long the lines will be, and how much money the government will actually save, will depend on how good information people get about those lines and what they decide to do with it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

USAToday/Pew: If You Don't Count Jobs/Economy, Deficit is Totally Public's Top Priority!

USAToday and Pew are out with a poll this morning, and there are two main angles they and others are pushing. First, that on several big issues, the public trusts Obama more than Republicans leaders. Ok, good to know. Second, they asked which of those issues is people's top priority. Well, deficit comes in at #1, beating guns, immigration, and climate change! Thus ABC headlines: "Deficit Tops Public’s Priorities."

This would be notable indeed, since for years the public's top priorities, in poll after poll, have been "jobs" or "the economy." It's true that "deficit" has been going up and up in the polls, quickly, which is troubling, and not surprising given the huge campaign and unbelievable amounts of money and power behind it. But despite that push, the public still cares more about jobs and the state of the economy generally, thankfully.

So why has deficit now suddenly topped jobs/economy in this poll? Only because USAToday/Pew simply didn't offer respondents jobs/economy as one of the four choices (question 7).

If you look at Pew's own most recent poll that lets people give a variety of answers for top priority, from just last month, you'll see that "strengthening economy" and "improving job situation" outrank "reducing budget deficit."

(And now the most giant hat tip to Dan Froomkin, whose twitter feed this morning was the source of basically everything in this post.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Keystone pipeline strategy

There's been a lot of "hey protester people, you shouldn't be trying to stop the keystone pipeline, because it's not actually the single biggest climate change issue, and yadda yadda." David Roberts writes the best big picture response.

Joe Nocera is a doofus, part 526

Column today about the Keystone pipeline gets a key point rather wrong.

Update: more on Nocera's column here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Depressing from HuffPost: Obama's Mortgage Crisis Working Group Falls Short Of Billing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Violence as a chance to promote an issue, as featured on Democracy Now

Democracy Now headlines their lead segment today, "Wanted for Killing 3, Christopher Dorner’s Claims of Racism, Corruption Resonate with LAPD’s Critics."

Ok, well, indeed, yeah. But.

There are competing interests in these situations. On the one hand, reporting some about what the "demands" are of the party, in this case Mr. Dorner, is appropriate. It is relevant. On the other hand, going too far to give the issue a platform, and effectively rewarding the violence, is a mistake.

Where exactly the line is, I'm not sure. But to me, Democracy Now covering this this way seems definitely over the line.

There are effectively infinite opportunities to cover police wrongdoing, and many opportunities to cover police wrongdoing at the big departments. Sometimes there are news hooks, and sometimes there aren't. Democracy Now has covered -- if not broken -- a lot of these stories, and I bet they will continue to. I sure hope they do. But they don't need to, and shouldn't, jump on the publicity of Dorner.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Goofy NYT travel section

We pushed open a door to the promenade deck. The icy wind heartlessly X-rayed us, but it was impossible to pull away from the railing. The North Atlantic in January is no joke; its heaving beauty is mesmerizing. It’s a volcano of sorts, one that seems to demand an offering. Better a Champagne flute than to leap over the railing yourself.
More of this kind of stuff in NYT's article on the Queen Mary 2.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Members of Congress, and how their votes correlate with their constituents

The title of this post and some of the writing is a bit off (gerrymandering is a problem, just for different reasons), but the first graph is incredible. It turns out that within the Democratic or Republican caucuses, the voting identity of a district has very little correlation with how the member votes.

NYT checks in on gluten

NYT checks the latest science on gluten intolerance. And the answer is, still not well understood, and great debate continues.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Being a supreme court reporter

If you're interested in this kind of stuff, I highly recommend Scotusblog's 4-part video interview with Adam Liptak about how he sees his job (1, 2, 3, 4).