Archive for the ‘observations’ Category

Confederate History Month

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been doing a really interesting series of posts on the civil war for “Confederate History Month”.  He’s been pushing back against the notion that slavery was not the primary cause of the civil war, and uses the secession resolutions adopted by the states as evidence.  Reading through them is interesting, Texas’ and Mississippi’s resolutions are particularly shocking:

Texas this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states..


Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.

His post “One Drop” is worth a read as well.

Probability and the law

A Dutch nurse, who was convicted of murder in 2003 following a string of suspicious deaths at the hospitals where she worked, has been set free.  It turns out that the jury who convicted her fell prey to something called “the prosecutor’s fallacy”, an error in the application of probability theory.  Andrew Gelman blogged about it a while back, and here’s his explanation:

The big number reported to the court was an estimate (possibly greatly inflated) of the chance that so many suspicious events could have occured with Lucia present if she was in fact innocent. Mathematically speaking, however, this just isn’t at all the same as the chance that Lucia is innocent, given the evidence, which is what the court really wants to know.

To see why, suppose that police pick up a suspect and match his or her DNA to evidence collected at a crime scene. Suppose that the likelihood of a match, purely by chance, is only 1 in 10,000. Is this also the chance that they are innocent? It’s easy to make this leap, but you shouldn’t.

Here’s why. Suppose the city in which the person lives has 500,000 adult inhabitants. Given the 1 in 10,000 likelihood of a random DNA match, you’d expect that about 50 people in the city would have DNA that also matches the sample. So the suspect is only 1 of 50 people who could have been at the crime scene. Based on the DNA evidence only, the person is almost certainly innocent, not certainly guilty.

Snoop Dogg and imperfect competition

Snoop Dogg will get you where you need go.  TomTom, the GPS makers, have recruited Snoop to lend his voice to their Dash board GPS devices.  A preview here. Yes, it is as awesome as I hoped. To me this is a perfect example of imperfect competition.  While TomTom faces competition from other GPS devices, it also has to fight off competition from Google maps and smart phones.   TomTom likely realizes it cannot compete with Google by price, but it can significantly differentiate its product by introducing a little G-funk.  TomTom gets to retain some price making capability and we all get to here Snoop tell us when to bare right.  Horray for innovation.