Friday, August 10, 2007

Send in the yobs!

Boys and girls, your old friend Spot has offended the chief priest at the Saint Cloud Theological Seminary, so of course his loyal vassal "Learned Foot" at the Kool Aid Report (no, Spot is not making this up) has stepped in to protect His Holy Name. You will remember that yesterday Spot had some comments about the epistemological musings of King Banaian about cost-benefit analyses and bridge collapses. In calling the professor's meditations on the subject largely an elaborate parlor trick, Spot said this:

Bingo, grasshopper. Just like our slippery goat owner, the professor has some problems with his arguments. You can't argue that the risk of something is unknowable and then claim that the politicians and the public made a rational cost-benefit analysis. If you don't know the costs or the benefits, you can't possibly do the analysis.

To which Foot, with vise-like logic replies in effect:

Can too.

You can imagine how Spot was staggered by this broadside! Dr. King Banaian, PhD, buoyed by the show of solidarity, leaves a comment for Foot:

I guess the whole idea of sensitivity analysis must have gone over his head. Probably it was down cleaning himself.

On his own site, however, the professor is a little less sanguine:

Yes [you can do a rational cost-benefit analysis without knowing the costs or the benefits], though it's awfully hard. Since I'm writing a course for someone to teach CBA, I have some notes to draw on, but this section is quite hard. This is usually the bailiwick of environmental regulation, where CBA is the most disputed.

Where do you get your data, Professor, the entrails of owls?

The professor has described it for you and described how hard it is! Now, boys and girls, Spot wants you to visualize Carol Molnau, hunched over her desk, pencil in hand, wearing a puzzled expression, and looking over pages of scribbling while thinking to herself: this sensitivity stuff is awfully hard! Get it right Carol, and be sure to show you work! Spot hears that the professor is a tough grader!

Professor Banaian gives us an account of an abstract and elusive process that had nothing to do with the way MnDOT went about its business here. The professor and Foot are just engaging in a craven effort to provide some intellectual cover for the inaction and malfeasance of the Pepsodent administration. The professor has glazed a fancy decorative frosting on a piece of cornbread. It's pretty to look at—at least he thinks it is—but it's still just cornbread.

The professor also writes this, which really takes the cake, so to speak:

. . . Aaron Wildavsky noted "large proportions of people care more about avoiding loss than they do about making gains. Therefore, they will go to considerable lengths to avoid losses, even in the face of high probabilities of making considerable gains." I think this, in fact, is where ol Spot is coming from.

But that doesn't justify using other people's money to avoid those losses, and it doesn't justify the use of poor decisions, and those societies that rely on learning from mistakes, as a strategy to reduce uncertainty, will fare better.  . . .

Well, we're certainly learning from this mistake, aren't we boy and girls?

And the professor's plaintive wail about "using other people's money" is, well, just a stitch!  The Iraq war is costing 12 billion dollars a month. A month. At quarter billion a crack, how many 35W bridges per month is that, boys and girls?

Forty eight.

Right grasshopper. We're spending billions and billions to blow other people's infrastructure up while neglecting our own and the professor complains about spending maybe a little extra money to keep the bridges from falling down?

Conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh although Spot doesn't have a link for you, are trying to make the bridge collapse a priorities problem. That's what the professor is doing, too. If they want to do that, fine. But the competing priority is the biggest foreign policy disaster in the history of the United States, not light rail.

And finally, mea freakin' culpa. Swiftee and Foot jumped on the fact that Spot misspelled res ipsa loquitur in earlier posts. Charge it up to the fact that Spot was not educated by the Sisters of the Order of Penance, or to the fact that Spot's law Latin is rusty. But let them have their little fun; it's the best they've got.

[update] As Spot was saying before he got caught up yesterday in the ankle-biting comments that the professor left at the Cucking Stool, the entire effort here is to shield Republican decision-making. Spot, for one, is tired of talking about it. [/update]

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