## Drowned out

After years of effort, the European Space Agency’s lander Philae landed on a comet 300 million miles away. At first, people were excited. Then some women noticed that one of the space scientists, Matt Taylor, was wearing a shirt, made for him by a female “close pal,” featuring comic-book depictions of semi-naked women.  And suddenly, the triumph of the comet landing was drowned out by shouts of feminist outrage about … what people were wearing.

Drowned out!

Let’s sit with that a minute.  I just searched for “Philae” on Twitter and you know how many tweets I had to scroll through before I found one that mentioned Matt Taylor and his shirt?  32.  That sounds about right — I’d say 3% of the coverage I saw of the comet landing had to do with Matt Taylor’s shirt, and 97% had to do with the fact that we awesomely landed a robot on a comet.

But for Reynolds, the 3% drowns out the 97%.  3% is too much.  1% is too much!  Any little speck of feminist content is like the pea under the mattress for these guys. They can’t rest because the 3% is digging into them, it keeps them up all night, the feminism is still there, I can feel it, make it stop make it stop!

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## Let us now praise Delta Airlines

I flew home from Montreal yesterday via Minneapolis.  MSP was still kind of messy, recovering from a snowstorm, and my Montreal-Minneapolis leg was delayed.  Delta told me I wasn’t going to make the last flight back to Madison, gave me a hotel voucher for Minneapolis, and rebooked me for the first flight the next morning.  But when we landed in Minneapolis, there were still 5 minutes left until the Madison flight was departing.  The gate agent got a guy in a motorized cart to take me all the way from the end of concourse C to the beginning of concourse F.  Those things can go pretty fast when there’s nobody in the airport!  Even so, we got there two minutes after departure time and the gate was shut.  But I could see the plane still parked at the end of the jetway.  So the agent opened the gate back up, took me down, and got the pilot to re-open the main boarding door so I could get on the plane.  The whole thing was awesome, I was extremely happy to sleep at home, and I’m feeling very warm towards the people at Delta for making it happen.

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## Wisconsin is not a blue state

Another Wisconsin election day!  By the polls — and I trust the polls, absent any reason not to — incumbent governor Scott Walker is likely to squeeze by with a narrow win.  If you don’t live in Wisconsin, how much should you care about this?  A lot, says Slate’s Betsy Woodruff, who calls this race “The Most Important Race in America.”

Winning statewide as a conservative Republican in Wisconsin isn’t easy. Even though five of its eight congressmen are Republicans and the GOP controls its statehouse, Wisconsin is a very blue state. It’s historically been a union stronghold, and it hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential race since 1984. For progressives, the Republicans’ fragile hold on state government is an insult, an affront that should be corrected.

Wisconsin is not a very blue state.  In those 30 years since 1984, a Republican has been governor for 19 of them.  In both 2000 and 2004, the Democratic candidate won Wisconsin’s electoral vote by less than half a percentage point.  In 2012, Obama won Wisconsin by 7 points, in a year he won nationally by 4 points.  So Wisconsin, in Obama’s home turf of the Upper Midwest, was slightly bluer than the country that year.

But it’s not California or Maryland.  It’s not even New Jersey.  It’s a state that’s half Republican and half Democratic.  (See also:  “It’s a recall, not an omen.”)  That’s why elections here are close.  Despite what Woodruff writes, neither liberals nor conservatives think they have a right to own the state.  Walker has the advantage of incumbency and he’s probably going to win.  That’s important for his dreams of a Presidential run; but I don’t think it has much to say about national politics.

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## Bumgarner 2014, Ortiz 2013, and the World Series OVP

I was wondering about the question of whether Madison Bumgarner was not only the MVP of the 2014 World Series, but the MVP of all recent World Series.  I mean, here’s something startling:  Bumgarner’s ERA for the series was 0.43, over 21 innings.  The rest of the Giants staff recorded a 5.71 ERA in their 40 innings of work.  Bumgarner wasn’t just the most valuable player — he was, on the pitching side, the only valuable player.

I asked Daniel Erman how far back you had to go to find a comparable performance, and he pointed out that the answer is “One year.”  David Ortiz had an insane 1.948 OPS for the series.  The next-highest mark on the Red Sox?  Jacoby Ellsbury, at 0.599.  That is amazing.  At least the Giants had Affeldt, who was effective in four games of middle relief.  Boston really had no hitter other than Ortiz who was any good at all.  The Red Sox had 62 baserunners in the series.  19 of those were David Ortiz.

Are there any other World Series OVPs?

2014 World Series stats

2013 World Series stats

## Why I’m voting no on the Wisconsin transportation referendum

All attention is focused on Mary Burke and Scott Walker, so I didn’t even realize there’s a state ballot proposition in next week’s election.  And it’s not a trivial one, either.

Question 1: “Creation of a Transportation Fund. Shall section 9 (2) of article IV and section 11 of article VIII of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin’s transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?”

Mary Burke supports this.  So does Governor Walker.  The bill to put the referendum on the ballot was passed by large majorities of both houses.  “Yes on 1″ has an organized campaign and a snappy website; as far as I can tell, there is no such thing as “No on 1.”

But I’m voting no.  I don’t expect every dime of people’s property taxes to support upkeep of residential infrastructure.  I don’t think the sales tax should be restricted to promoting Wisconsin retail.  I think money is money and it’s the job of the legislature, not the constitution, to decide how money can best be raised and where in the state it’s most needed.

The amendment prevents gas taxes and vehicle registration fees from being used to fund schools and hospitals and police, but it doesn’t prevent other revenue sources from being raided to fund our highways and bridges.  And that’s what’s actually happening right now; the current administration takes $133 million from the general fund to fund transportation in the current budget. I’m not sure why transportation, out of all state projects, ought to enjoy a special status: allowed to draw money from the general fund, but constitutionally prohibited from releasing any back. The Yes on 1 FAQ points out that many states around the country have constitutional language enforcing segregation of the the transportation fund. I looked at a few of these, and it’s true! But those provisions are of a rather different nature. California’s constitutional provision requires that 25% of the money go to public transportation. In Minnesota, it’s 40%. Our referendum has no such restriction, requiring only that the money go to things funded by the DoT. The Yes on 1 FAQ points out, correctly, that “Wisconsin’s segregated transportation fund is the sole source of state funding for the entire transportation system – highways, air, rail, transit, harbors, bicycle and pedestrian facilities.” Pretty weak sauce — the fund will not be prohibited from funding other forms of transportation. Unless an enterprising governor splits off transit into a separate department, that is. (Ohio’s Constitution, by the way, already forbids gas taxes and license fees from aiding mass transit.) The amendment establishes one class of spending and taxing as privileged above all the rest. It shouldn’t be part of our state constitution. Links: ## 1. Produce defective cars 2. ? 3. Double profit! General Motors’ quarterly earnings report on Thursday was noteworthy mostly for what it lacked: another big financial charge for safety recalls. After running up special charges of nearly$3 billion in the first half of the year for safety problems, G.M., the nation’s biggest automaker, avoided additional charges for recalls in the third quarter.

While G.M. did incur \$700 million in costs for fixing recalled vehicles during the quarter, the company had already booked those charges in previous periods….

By accounting for the bulk of its recall costs in the first half of the year, G.M. has turned a corner — at least financially — in its struggle to move beyond the worst safety crisis in its history.

So let me make sure I understand this:  GM is still blowing trainloads of cash fixing its mistakes, but they decided to declare that the money they’re spending now was actually spent earlier in the year, so that their official profit in the first half is below the real figure, and their official profit for the third quarter is above the real figure, and then they get a sunny headline in the New York Times saying they “doubled their profit?”

My grandfather the CPA would not approve.

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## Silas Johnson on weighted discriminants with mass formulas

My Ph.D. student Silas Johnson just posted his thesis paper to the arXiv, and it’s cool, and I’m going to blog about it!

How should you count number fields?  The most natural way is by discriminant; you count all degree-n number fields K with a given Galois group G in S_n and discriminant bounded in absolute value by B.  This gives you a value N_G(B) whose asymptotic behavior in B you might want to study.  The classical results and exciting new ones you’ve heard about — Davenport-Heilbron, Bhargava, and all that — generally concern counts of this kind.

But there are reasons to consider other kinds of counts.  I once had a bunch of undergrads investigate the behavior of N_3(X,Y), the number of cubic fields whose discriminant had squarefree part at most X and maximal square divisor at most Y.  This gives a more refined picture of the ramification behavior of the fields.  Asymptotics for this are still unknown!  (I would expect the main term to be on order $X Y^{1/2}$, but I don’t know what the secondary terms should be.)

One nice thing about the discriminant, though, is that it has a mass formula.  In brief:  a map f from Gal(Q_p) to S_n corresponds to a degree-n extension of Q_p, which has a discriminant (a power of p) which we call Disc(f).  Averaging Disc(f)^{-1} over all homomorphisms f gives you a polynomial in p^{-1}, which we call the local mass.  Now here’s the remarkable fact (shown by Bhargava, deriving from a formula of Serre) — there is a universal polynomial P(x) such that the local mass at p is equal to P(p^{-1}) for every P.  This is not hard to show for the tame primes p (you can see this point discussed in Silas’s paper or in the paper by Kedlaya I linked above) but that it holds for the wild primes is rather mysterious and strange.  And it certainly seems to ratify the idea that there’s something especially nice about the discriminant.  What’s more, this polynomial P is not just some random thing; it’s the product over p of P(p^{-1}) that gives the constant in Bhargava’s conjectural asymptotic for the number of number fields for degree n.

But here’s the thing.  If we replace G by a subgroup of S_n, there need not be a universal mass formula anymore.  Kedlaya (and Daniel Gulotta, in the appendix) show lots of examples.  The simplest example is the dihedral group of order 8.

All is not lost, though!  Wood showed in 2008 that you could fix this problem by replacing the discriminant of a D_4-extension with a different invariant.  Namely:  a D_4 quartic field M has a quadratic subextension L.  If you replace Disc(L/Q) with Disc(L/Q) times the norm to Q of Disc(L/M), you get a different invariant of M — an example of what Silas calls a “weighted discriminant” — and when you compute the local mass according to {\em this} invariant, you get a polynomial in p^{-1} again!

So maybe Wood’s modified discriminant, not the usual discriminant, is the “right” way to count dihedral quartics?  Does the product of her local masses give the right asymptotic for the number of D_4 extensions with Woodscriminant at most B?

It’s not at all clear to me how, if at all, you can cook up a modified discriminant for an arbitrary group G that has a universal mass formula.  What Silas shows is that having a mass formula is indeed special; when G is a p-group, there are only finitely many weighted discriminants that have one.  Silas thinks, and so do I, that this is actually true for every finite group G, and that some version of his approach will eventually prove this.  And he classifies all such weighted discriminants for groups of size up to 12; for any individual G, it’s a computation which can be made nicely algorithmic.  Very cool!

## Is the two-Burke ballot the new butterfly ballot?

BURKE:  One other area outside of that that people really should take a look at is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which was a nonprofit, public-private corporation created in 2011 which Governor Walker used to make himself the chair of. What’s most interesting is that Governor Walker’s experience in private business is in selling warranties for IBM and doing blood drives and fund-raising for the American Red Cross. While these are both worthy positions and individuals who do them obviously are working to build a life, that doesn’t give someone the experience necessary to make themselves a chair of a venture capital firm. Because that’s what it is. They’re giving away private taxpayer dollars to public businesses. We would end that practice.

Except that’s not Mary Burke; it’s Robert Burke, a lifelong Republican from Hudson who switched to the Libertarian party to run for governor.  Burke talks in the interview about how he hopes the “name recognition” — misrecognition? — he draws from the Mary Burke campaign will help him get votes.  The question is:  will he get votes from people who like libertarianism, or miscast votes that are actually meant for her?

Are you wondering whether Burke the Libertarian is running precisely in order to siphon votes from Burke the Democrat in this way?  I was, too, but I have to admit that the linked interview really does make him sound like a sincere libertarian dude who just found out Republicans dig market distortions as much as Democrats do.

## Francis Galton could be kind of a jerk

As here (from Hereditary Genius, p. 21)

Every tutor knows how difficult it is to drive abstract conceptions, even of the simplest kind, into the brains of most people—how feeble and hesitating is their mental grasp—how easily their brains are mazed—how incapable they are of precision and soundness of knowledge. It often occurs to persons familiar with some scientific subject to hear men and women of mediocre gifts relate to one another what they have picked up about it from some lecture—say at the Royal Institution, where they have sat for an hour listening with delighted attention to an admirably lucid account, illustrated by experiments of the most perfect and beautiful character, in all of which they expressed themselves intensely gratified and highly instructed. It is positively painful to hear what they say. Their recollections seem to be a mere chaos of mist and misapprehension, to which some sort of shape and organization has been given by the action of their own pure fancy, altogether alien to what the lecturer intended to convey. The average mental grasp even of what is called a well-educated audience, will be found to be ludicrously small when rigorously tested.

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## Poem for the ALDS

These are the names that are freaking me out,
Verlander, Scherzer, and Price,
Plaguing my Oriole fandom with doubt,
Verlander, Scherzer and Price.
A trio of felines, bringing the heat,
Verlander, Scherzer, and Price,
Are these guys that a team writing “Ryan Flaherty” and “Jonathan Schoop” on the lineup card every day actually has a chance to beat??
Verlander, Scherzer, and Price.

Update:  I should make clear that this is meant to be apres “Tinkers to Evers to Chance,” by Franklin Pierce Adams.