24 Mar
  1. Think of the children! (and, of course, the complete lack of facts…)
  2. I’ll be awaiting the Congressional inquiry into the apparent lack of safety of the x-ray machines currently in use in this country. Kevin Kelly succinctly summarizes the entirety of the situation.
  3. A prescient and insightful summary of many of the issues that will (should?) direct the future of intellectual property law, written in light of the recent Google Books debacle lawsuit settlement.

Let’s do some math.

6 Dec

This morning I came across an article about a proposal by the NHTSA which would require backup cameras in all new cars by 2014.

Beyond the obvious discussion about the role of government involvement in private lives, what really stood out to me is the math relating to the proposal discussed in the article.

To summarize the numbers, according to the article:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which published the proposed rule today, said an average of 292 people die each year from back-over accidents,
  • To equip a new-vehicle fleet of 16.6 million produced in a year would cost from $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion
  • The agency said in the proposal, call[ed] the cost “substantial” and saying it might reduce back-over deaths and injuries by almost half.
  • NHTSA estimated about 18,000 people a year are hurt in back-over accidents, with about 3,000 suffering “incapacitating” injuries.

Now for some math (and we’ll keep it basic)…

  • The NHTSA estimates approximately 18,000 injuries per year. Of these, 3,000 are estimated to be “incapacitating”. Additionally, an average of 292 people die each year from back-over accidents.
  • The NHTSA claims that the new regulations might reduce back-over deaths and injuries by almost half. No guarantees, but let’s be nice and say it works. And to be really nice (and keep out math simple), let’s assume that it reduces deaths and injuries by a full 50%. That would leave us with approximately…
    • 9,000 injuries per year.
    • 1,500 of which would be considered “incapacitating”.
    • And 146 deaths per year.
  • As we’re assuming for a 50% success/reduction rate from the new regulations, savings would be the same.
  • The program would result in an estimated additional cost of $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion per year. For our purposes, let’s assume it will only cost $1.9 billion (things only get worse as this number gets bigger). Remember, $1.9 billion means $1,900,000,000.
  • If we then divide $1,900,000,000 program cost by the 9,000 approximate injuries that the program would prevent, we are left with a cost of $211,111.11 per injury prevented.
  • Remember, these are injuries of ANY type. If we consider only those injuries that would be considered “incapacitating” (1,500 per year), the cost per injury prevented rises to $1,266,666.67.
  • And, of course, if we only consider deaths prevented (an estimated 146, according to the numbers), we are left with an average cost of $13,013,698.63 per death prevented.

Yes, that’s right, $13 million. I’m not at all attempting to place a value on individual human life, nor am I saying that we should not be concerned about those involved in these types of accidents. But let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. This is an incredibly irresponsible way to spend money. If for no other reason than the return on investment of this money would increase substantially in almost any other application.

If our goal is to save additional lives, decrease injuries (incapacitating or not), or generally increase the safety of the population, then this is, empirically, a horrible method. The money could be much better directed towards literally dozens, if not hundreds, of other areas which would better achieve those goals.

There are 26 countries in the world with a GDP (PPP) below $1.9 billion. According to their published figures, in 2008, the UN’s World Food Programme reached 22.6 million beneficiaries with an estimated $500 million in direct expenditures on school-feeding and food-for-education activities. That’s approximately 1/4 of the budget. I’m not saying this is the right place to put the money, or that there even is a “right” place to put the money. What I AM saying, is that these new regulations put the money in the wrong place.

Hell, even by the EPA’s estimates, the statistical value of a life is only $7.4 million (in 2006 dollars), meaning the cost of this program exceeds the benefits by an absurd margin.

Of course, none of this is truly surprising. In fact, it has become rather standard practice amongst government agencies and elected representatives to support and even champion this, and other equally absurdist bullshit causes in complete defiance of logic. One is only left to wonder at what point, if any, is the line where someone will truly be called out and appropriately chastised for something like this.

The Search For a Regular Hole

10 Aug

All men are inherently horny. A guy’s horniness is the source of his default motivation, his inherent mindset, and the most basic instincts that he has. This leaves him driven by a desire to achieve a combination of three simple things:

  1. Sex on demand.
  2. With a marginally attractive partner.
  3. Who is not so unbearable as to make limited social interaction entirely unpleasant.

That’s it. This is not to say that context is irrelevant, but to large extent so long as these three elements are satisfied, a man is happy.

While ideally, a man would like to be with an incredibly attractive partner whom he enjoys spending time around, the reality is that once these desires have been reasonably satisficed, the marginal risk associated with searching out higher-quality partners increases substantially. On the average, acquiring a new partner isn’t worth the potential sacrifice of a current satisfactory partner, not to mention the additional costs of searching for and developing the new relationship, especially due to the unlikelihood of acquiring a new partner of a significantly higher caliber as to offset the costs.

The fact is men just want a hole that they believe they can reasonably obtain and maintain for the long-term. There is no super-secret mystery behind what men want, the simple issue is that it is rarely provided. The supply of reasonable attractive, tolerable mates is incredibly low. As a result, two things happen.

First, due to the limited availability of mates that reasonably satisfice all 3 considerations, those who fall into that category are able to demand significantly higher prices from the market than are normally affordable. This prices the vast majority of men out of the market. With this shortage in obtainable, satisfactory mates, men begin to sacrifice in some area in order to satiate their need, leading them to consider mates well below what is normally desired.

Second, the resultant upswing in competition to acquire what are effectively sub-par mates, due to the undersupply of quality mates, allows otherwise low-value mates to extract prices disproportionate to their value, albeit in an exponentially more temporary nature as total value decreases.

This shifts the entire equilibrium point in the mating market down substantially, resulting in under- and un-satisfied men, who are considerably more likely to end up with incentive structures that encourage both lower levels of commitment, and a higher incidence of attempted mate level-jumping. Both of which contribute to lower levels of satisfaction amongst sought-out mates.

Status Signaling Bell Curve

4 Aug

The importance of status-signaling directly correlates with an individual’s placement on the bell curve. At both the ultra-high and ultra-low end extremes, the majority of status-signaling behavior becomes largely muted – though this is due to polarly different reasons.

For the high-status individual, standard status-signaling behavior becomes unnecessary due to the evidentiary nature of their status. At certain levels, high-status individuals can even engage in what would normally be considered “status-lowering” activities due to the fact that their inherent high-status allows them to more easily disregard societally imposed inhibitions without fear of significant retribution – a self-reinforcing high-status signal itself.

On the other side of the divide, exists the ultra low-status individuals. The relatively low importance of signaling behavior to extremely low-status individuals spurs from a lack of ability to effectively mediate their low-status in the general social marketplace, even with the aid of proper signaling and status markers. Unable to compete in the overall market, the natural survival strategy then becomes to carve out a niche market which one can remain viable in.

As the vast majority of low-class individuals realize their inability to rise to the upper echelons of society, they then begin to focus not on achieving high-status, but rather attempt to gain a sense of relative high-status carved out of a differentiated group. The prettiest Denny’s waitress might have gained high-status amongst Denny’s waitresses, but in the general population Denny’s waitresses as a group are still low-status, and unless Denny’s waitresses as a group can manage to increase their overall market status (a highly-unlikely proposal), the highest-return social strategy for the majority of Denny’s waitresses is to develop and refine their own subculture, as differentiated from standard culture as possible. Achieving status, and the associated social power, amongst a low-status peer group is, after all, still better than having no status, and therefore no power, at all.

Strong signaling tends to occur with individuals and groups near the apex of the bell curve as these individuals, groups, and subcultures tend to have much higher levels of relative mobility. Being both in range to rise to the upper levels of society, and therefore gain significant power, and also to fall to the lower levels and suffer significant loss. Benefits of success and costs of failure for actors at this level are dramatically increased compared to the rest of the market, leading to high levels of competition, rivalry, and as a result, increased (and more dramatic) signaling activities.