[FoRK] Rules of thumb

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Mon Apr 6 13:43:38 PDT 2009

On Apr 6, 2009, at 12:23 PM, Stephen Williams wrote:

> That's not quite what happened,

What's not what happened?

> at least with respect with my "howls":

There were no howls of protestation?

> I agreed that actual is often likely to be a multiple of planned in  
> general.  What I "howled" about is statements that "PersonA's plan  
> is to spend X" when the stated plan is to spend X/3.  The more-true  
> statement would have been "PersonA states their plan is Y, however I  
> think that A) they are lying and are really going to put in place  
> Y*3 or B) to do what I think they mean by goal Z, they would have to  
> spend Y*3, or C) standard inflation of budget items will make the  
> total Y*3."

Really, that's the best "explanation" you've got?

I have no patience for that kind of dissembling.  You are introducing  
arbitrary complexity for no reason.  That's been your MO when  
defending these oh-so-"nuanced" contrary positions.  In a nutshell,  
this is why you went from being one of my favorite people to agree  
with --- because then you didn't have to snow-job everything --- to  
one of the most exasperating people to disagree with --- because you  
*do* snow-job in such cases, at least with me.  I don't have a problem  
with people that disagree;  I merely have a problem with people that  
disagree (a) without a good understanding of why they are disagreeing,  
or (b) who attempt to blanket the weakness of their argument in a  
smokescreen of irrelevant detail, unnecessary complexity, and the  
trappings of pseudo-quantitative reasoning such as the  
"formulae" (cough) you offer above.

It's called a rule of thumb for a reason.  I never presented it as  
anything more than that.

> All kinds of misleading statements were coming out of the right;  
> misleading statements shouldn't be tolerated from anyone by anyone  
> who is willing to think.

And do you, then, put me in that category?

Recall, what I was doing was offering a detailed bottom-up Fermi  
estimation, and cross-checking it with various rules-of-thumb / top- 
down analyses, then pairing it back based on some relatively  
optimistic, yet plausible, factors to make it less objectionable.

I wouldn't describe myself as being particularly part of "the right."   
And I don't think anything I said could be counted as misleading;  the  
analysis itself was entirely transparent, and anyone was free to  
provide a *reasonable* critique or alternative (though none was  

> And this was with respect to health care, not financial industry  
> bailout.

I am asserting the generality of the rule-of-thumb by showing you  
another case where it applies.

> The former seems to be on track, even if the spin is "this is a  
> start", while the latter was always considered to be an unknown  
> quantity by everyone involved.

Unknown, but not unknowable.  They've committed to spending a certain  
amount, the forward-cast of their annual spend estimation over a ten- 
year interval.  This is absolutely meaningless;  there is no  
commitment whatsoever to what this is supposed to actually achieve, or  
any indication.  But at this point they aren't asserting that it's  
anything else;  the campaign's over, after all and for now.  The  
initial estimate, though, was not meaningless;  it was intentionally  
misleading.  (They offered the number with the full understanding that  
there was no way to connect the number to the asserted goals;  there  
was no analysis, the number came straight out of their asses and was  
chosen, like many budgetary initial numbers picked by this  
administration, to be "big enough (maybe)" yet "not too big to be a  

Yet the amount necessary to accomplish the goal of "universal" health  
care (insurance) is not an unknowable quantity;  we can simply back  
into it by applying the kind of Fermi bottoms-up estimation that I  
offered.  You can offer an alternative estimation, but as I recall you  
did not despite repeated attempts to encourage you to do so.  The  
closest thing you got was the kind of sophomoric rhetorical snow-job  
you attempt again, above.

> I think we all groaned when the Bush administration (if you  
> remember) committed to the bailout.

Yes, we did.


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