Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wow, it really has been a chilly summer

Yesterday, I looked at Nate Silver's weather challenge where he would bet prominent bloggers that it wasn't really as cold as they thought it was. Essentially he would have paid $25 for every day two or more degrees below average and the opponent would have to pay Nate $25 for every day where it was two or more degrees warmer than normal. I wrote yesterday that I thought his logic was flawed because he was using actual temperature data from one station to and comparing it to daily averages from another, making it look like it was really warmer in the test city (Minneapolis) than it actually was.

Well, I thought I might take a look to see how this would have worked if I were eligible for the bet and I used the closest weather station (ORH in Worcester) as my basis for actuals and averages.

From June 21 through July 18, the high temperature in Worcester has exceeded the average only twice times--once by two degrees, once by one degree. The actual high has equaled the average high just once. On the other 25 days, the high temperature in Worcester has been lower than the average, and only twice has it been within one degree. So if I were able to make the bet (and the offer had come in June), I would be ahead of Nate by a whopping $550.

If I use my criteria of meteorological summer, Nate would have to pay me out another 8 days (13 additional days two or more degrees below average, as opposed to five days two or more degrees above) putting me up by $750.

(It's amazing to think that the high temp here has been below average on 40 of the last 49 days. The temperature did not even reach 80 degrees between May 22 and July 17. The highest temperature recorded in 2009 was on April 28.)

I knew it had been cool, but I didn't realize it had been that cool.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Nate Silver's Weather Whoopsie

Nate Silver runs the fivethirtyeight.com web site, which provides incredibly interesting and valuable coverage of politics, especially election politics. His statistical models predicting the presidential and senatorial elections were incredibly accurate. Since the election, he has been using statistics to look at policy issues as well as political horse races. It's one of the handful of blogs that I read everyday.

In that vein, he posted a piece Saturday challenging climate change skeptics to a bet. He argues that while it seems like it is a little cooler this summer than normal, it actually is not. He used the example of the Minneapolis-based Powerline blog--which had recently posted an article comparing this summer to a "year without a summer" as the basis for his challenge:
Indeed, it's been pretty cool in Minneapolis for the past couple of days; the temperature hasn't hit 70 since midday Thursday. But has it been an unusually cool summer? No, not really. Since summer began on June 21st, high temperatures there have been above average 15 times and below average 13 times. The average high temperature there since summer began this year has been 82.4 degrees. The average historic high temperature over the same period is ... 82.4 degrees. It's been a completely typical summer in Minneapolis, although with one rather hot period in late June and one rather cool one now. (Note: actual high temperatures can be found here and historical averages can be found here.)
After setting up the premise, he issued the challenge:
  • 1. For each day that the high temperature in your hometown is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit above average, as listed by Weather Underground, you owe me $25. For each day that it is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit below average, I owe you $25.
Sounds like a cool idea. Since next to no one reads my blog I'm not eligible for the bet, but I figured I could at least play along for pretend money. Mind you, I am not a all a climate change skeptic--I'm sure that the earth is gradually warming and it would behoove us to do something about it--but it still seemed like a fun game. But then, I clicked on the two links Nate provided in his post and realized that there was a problem.

When you click the Weather Underground site for the actual high temperatures, it defaults to the University of Minnesota weather station. When you click on the Weather Channel site for the historical averages, it shows the averages for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. In short, he's using different stations for actuals and averages.

That really makes a difference. The average high temperature of 82.4 degrees Nate records for this summer at the University of Minnesota (June 21 through July 18) is significantly higher that the average temperature at the airport, which is just 80.3 degrees during that time. Further using the airport data for June and July, one finds that the temperature has been below average 18 times at the airport, and above average only 8 (with two days right on the number).

On 16 of the 18 times that the temperature was below average, it was below by two or more degrees, which would mean Nate would owe me $400 for those days (had he made the offer in June). On seven of the eight warm days, the temperature was more two or more degrees above normal, so I would owe Nate back $175. As of Saturday night, I would be up $225 for the summer.

(Another little nitpick on the criteria, Nate is using the astronomical Summer, which begins on the Summer Solstice, but the Meteorological summer begins on June 1. If I were to use that criteria, I'd be up $350 since the first half of June was also quite cold in Minneapolis.)

Of course, I'm not going to take the bet. For one, I don't live in Minneapolis. Secondly, my blog isn't large enough to count. Finally, even if one and two were in my favor, chances are that I'd lose out over the next two months because these things tend to even out and a long cool stretch is already behind us.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

H.1728 is not about the bathrooms, it's about everything else

Today, the state House of Representatives heard testimony on H.1728, titled "An Act relative to gender based discrimination and hate crimes." Opponents have called it "the Bathroom Bill," because among the myriad of changes, the bill would prohibit places of public accommodation from barring transgendered individuals from using the bathroom assigned to the gender they associate themselves with.

That's right, opponents of the bill want to keep transgendered people from taking leak in a public bathroom without the fear of intimidation. Or at least, that is the point on which they have chosen to take their stand. An opinion in today's Telegram and Gazette penned by the executive director of he Coalition for Marriage and Family puts it this way:
Who has more rights in our society? Normal 10-year-old girls who want privacy in their elementary school’s girls’ room? Or a gender-confused boy who insists on using that same restroom?

A hearing is scheduled for today before the Judiciary Committee on H.1728, the Transgender Bill, otherwise known as the Bathroom Bill. This legislation would protect the rights of people with Gender Identity Disorder (cross-dressers, those changing their gender surgically, or simply those who “feel” differently-gendered) to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and shelters reserved for the opposite sex.
No one should have more rights than another, which is the point of the legislation in the first place. It isn't an either-or situation. Currently the "normal" 10-year-old girl has more rights, because as she grows up the law says that she cannot be discriminated against because of her "religious sect, creed, class, race, color, denomination, sex, sexual orientation, which shall not include persons whose sexual orientation involves minor children as the sex object, nationality, or because of deafness or blindness, or any physical or mental disability." If she is any or all of those things she is protected, unless she is transgendered.

This "normal 10-year-old" can be placed in a charter school, rent an apartment, get a job, use a full-service gas station, order lunch, go to a museum, and relieve herself in the bathroom with no threat of discrimination based on her identity.

The "gender-confused" boy could technically be refused all of those things under the law as long as the school, landlord, employer, gas-station owner, restaurateur, curator, or bathroom monitor decided that the reason he should be barred is because of his transgendered identity.

If one reads the bill, they would realize that the bill is 15 pages long, and is a comprehensive update of a number of statutes to include "gender identity or expression" to the list of reasons a person cannot be discriminated against. It's not about bathrooms: there is one mention of a "rest room" on page 12 of the bill. Here is the full context of that mention:
A place of public accommodation, resort or amusement within the meaning hereof shall be defined as and shall be deemed to include any place, whether licensed or unlicensed, which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public and, without limiting the generality of this definition, whether or not it be (1) an inn, tavern, hotel, shelter, roadhouse, motel, trailer camp or resort for transient or permanent guests or patrons seeking housing or lodging, food, drink, entertainment, health, recreation or rest; (2) a carrier, conveyance or elevator for the transportation of persons, whether operated on land, water or in the air, and the stations, terminals and facilities appurtenant thereto; (3) a gas station, garage, retail store or establishment, including those dispensing personal services; (4) a restaurant, bar or eating place, where food, beverages, confections or their derivatives are sold for consumption on or off the premises; (5) a rest room, barber shop, beauty parlor, bathhouse, seashore facilities or swimming pool, except such rest room, bathhouse or seashore facility as may be segregated on the basis of sex; (6) a boardwalk or other public highway; (7) an auditorium, theatre, music hall, meeting place or hall, including the common halls of buildings; (8) a place of public amusement, recreation, sport, exercise or entertainment; (9) a public library, museum or planetarium; or (10) a hospital, dispensary or clinic operating for profit;
This text is currently in section 92A of chapter 272 of the general laws of Massachusetts. This is essentially an anti-Jim Crow law: it outlines a host of places and services where discrimination based on class is illegal. In the other 14 pages of the bill, laws are changed to prohibit discrimination against transgendered individuals in schools, lending, housing, and other areas.

As you can see, the law is not about bathrooms. And to be clear, the opposition is not concerned with bathrooms; they don't want to extend protections to transgendered individuals in any arena. Opponents want to get people all riled up about little girls stuck in bathrooms with predators who cross-dress (not because they are transgendered, but because they are pedophiles exploiting the law). They figure that if people are scared enough about that, they'll oppose the bill without focusing on the other 99.9% of it.

Of course what they don't tell you--because they don't want you to know--is that their mythical gender-confused pedophile is already covered by the law. Here is the definition:
persons of any religious sect, creed, class, race, color, denomination, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, which shall not include persons whose sexual orientation involves minor children as the sex object, nationality, or because of deafness or blindness, or any physical or mental disability...
Got that? Anyone who goes into a public bathroom to look at little children may be removed or barred today whether they are attracted to boys or girls, regardless of their gender or orientation. Passing this bill will not change that one bit. It will not make it easier to prey on "normal 10-year-old girls."

What do the opponents really want? They do not want to expand the definition of the protected class. They are the same people who do not believe we should include sexual orientation in the description. Some may not believe we should include gender. Others may not believe we should protect based on race or creed.

While I disagree, this is at least a legitimate point of argument. There is a school of thought that suggests that there should be no protected classes, that folks should be able to choose who they serve and who they do not, and that the government has no stake in those decisions. I strongly disagree with a policy that broad, but at least it is a legitimate point of discussion.

But this stuff about bathrooms is ludicrous. Opponents of the bill should be upfront with their opposition, and get the minds out of the toilet.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Sterling's Gettens to oppose Naughton in 2010. Why, and why now?

At the highest levels of our political culture it’s not unusual for a campaign cycle to begin long before election day. For instance, the first credible candidates for the 2008 presidential election announced in late-2006 and the first primary debates were held early in 2007...almost two years before President Obama was ultimately elected.

For better or for worse, the trend toward extended campaigns has trickled all the way down to the State Legislature’s 12th Worcester District, where Sterling resident James Gettens has announced his intention to run against Rep. Hank Naughton in 2010.

I know Gettens from the fight between Clinton and Sterling (or more accurately, a three-way battle between Clinton, the Sterling selectmen, and the people of Sterling) over the potential sale of water from the Wekepeke Reservoirs. As I have written a number of times I agreed with Gettens’s position that the commercial sale of the water would be illegal. I even posted a number of his opinions and letters on this blog.

More recently, both Gettens and I spoke at town meeting in favor of Sterling taking the first step toward a five-person Board of Selectmen. On the other hand, we have also been on opposite sides of some town issues: at the May town meeting I spoke strongly in favor of spending $52,000 to help develop the Sterling Greenery Park, a proposal that Gettens vigorously opposed.

Having said that, I am a strong supporter of Rep. Naughton and I contributed both time and money to his most recent house campaign. I believe he serves with the district’s best interests in mind, and expect to strongly support him again in 2010.

The announcement of Gettens’s candidacy begs a couple of questions, some which have been answered but many of which haven’t.

1. Why is Gettens running for the house? From the article in the Times and Courier:
Topics Gettens said he hopes to address if elected include limiting salaries to high-ranking state officials, bringing the income tax rate back to 5 percent and working to tighten the expenses of the state’s mandatory health care policy….

Gettens criticized Democrats in state office, stating, “the spending practices of the Democrats in control of the House and Senate are out of control, and I hope to help change this. I intend to speak out for the individual taxpayers in the district. The people who own businesses and the entrepreneurs — the people who have been exploited by entrenched government organizations.”

“It took 200 years of state history for the budget to go from zero dollars to $12.8 billion, a mark which was reached in 1988-89. The Democrats have been in control since 1988-89, and the Democrats, through wasteful government spending, have more than doubled this $12.8 billion budget in this time,” said Gettens.
A couple of things I find interesting here…first, Gettens proclaims his support for rolling back the income tax to 5%, not for repealing it altogether, which was the goal of the recent ballot question. The difference between 5% and 5.3% is largely symbolic. For a worker making $52,000 a year, a reduction of 0.3% would put $3.00 per week back in her paycheck. And Naughton will argue—as he did in a forum we held before the last election—that the current law already has triggers that would reduce the tax rate based on the state’s revenues.

(As an aside…if the legislature had set a scale that would slide up to 5.95% when revenues are down, and down to 5% when revenues are up—instead of just a downward scale—I wonder if sales taxes, alcohol taxes, meals taxes, etc. would have been necessary.)

Secondly, he wants to “tighten the expenses” of the health care plan. Not repeal it, or cut services, or even change the way the plan works, just tighten expenses. I wonder how such a progressive position on universal health care plays with the more conservative Republicans out there.

And the argument that the budget has doubled since 1988 is a straw man. Converting 1988 dollars into 2009 dollars, $12.8 billion in 1988 would be worth $23.14 billion today. According to population estimates, Massachusetts has grown by 7.6% since the 1990 census. Using 2009 dollars, if we increase the budget by 7.6% to keep up with the growth, we end up with a total of $24.9 billion. So of course the budget has doubled, it would take $24.9 billion just to provide the exact same services per capita as we did in 1988.

2. What are Gettens’ positions on social issues? Right now it appears that the election will be fought on economic grounds, but who knows what will happen between now and 2010. Earlier this week, Attorney General Martha Coakley filed suit to have portions of the Defense of Marriage Act stricken as it pertains to same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. Will this still be an issue in 2010? Gay marriage opponents have indicated that they may again try to petition for a constitutional amendment to repeal that part of the law. Would Gettens vote to support or oppose that effort? Both Gettens and Naughton serve in the Army Reserves. What are their positions on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?” Does the Republican support or oppose casino gambling and/or slot parlors in soon-to-be-former dog tracks?

3. Why announce the candidacy so early in the cycle? Was it meant to be a stake out a position to keep other Republicans out of the race? Is it an attempt to get an early jump on raising money (although a check on the Office of Campaign and Political Finance website suggests that Gettens has not yet formed a campaign committee to receive contributions)?

4. Why was the rollout so limited? The only article about Gettens’ candidacy to date is the one on the Times and Courier. There hasn’t been any announcement of it in the other newspapers that serve the region (The Landmark, the Clinton Item, the Telegram and Gazette, the Banner, or the Villager). There has been no posting or discussion on Red Mass Group or the Worcester County Republican Club’s blog. It seems that if a candidate is going to make an announcement he would try to reach as many voters, supporters, and potential donors as possible.

5. What will Lew Evangelidis do? On the one hand, Evangelidis is a Republican and the party is always desperate for fellow Republicans to run for office. On the other hand, I perceive that Lew and Hank are fairly close and work pretty well together on issues that affect the neighboring districts. Will Evangelidis support Gettens enthusiastically and campaign with him? Will he support him in name but not do any heavy lifting? Or will Lew sit it out entirely, effectively telegraphing his support for Naughton by staying on the sidelines?

6. How will Sterling’s town leadership respond? On the surface, having a Sterling resident run for state rep should be a good thing. But Gettens has sparred with the Board of Selectmen on a number of occasions, many times in public forums or at town meeting. Historically, two of the three members of the board have been financial contributors to Republicans running for state office.

Both Dick Sheppard and Paul Suschyk gave money to Republican David Schnaider, the last Sterlingite to run for a seat in the legislature (Nice touch, by the way, for Sushchyk to give $100.00 to David Schnaider before his 2004 senate race against Democrat Bob Antonioni and then give $150.00 to Antonioni a year later). And both have given to Evangelidis and state level Republicans to the tune of over $2,100 combined the last six years. Will they also support Gettens? Or have the disputes between Gettens and the board become too personal for these longtime Selectmen to support him?

(Newly elected selectman Russ Philpot is not listed in the OCPF database as having contributed to any candidates).

7. And finally, will the Republican candidate for Governor have any coattails, or will he follow the Romney-esque path of running for himself, completely disregarding the infrastructure of the sate party as a whole?

A lot of things to ponder. For better or for worse, we have a long 16 months of pondering to go.



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