Michael Michael Michael Miguel

StatisticsMichael Meier of The Q Filmcast tweeted out, “What are the chances of attending a meeting with 3 guys named Michael and 1 guy named Miguel?… Seriously, WHAT are chances??” This is like the ultimate invitation to me. It combines the things I most love: movies, math, and showing off. So I tweeted back, “Sadly, I can do that calculation for you…” What I actually meant is that I am a superior human being who of course can do that calculation, but I still have memories of grammar school beatings over such matters.

This is actually a trivial statistics problem, but it isn’t all math so stick with me. What’s more, I am fairly drunk, so who knows what’s coming. (I always maintain the right to edit drunk articles after the fact, but they are always posted along with something like, “Edited to conform to non-drunk standards.” Anyway, here we go.

The Math

Start with the assumption that one of the people in the meeting is Michael Meier. There is a 100% chance that any meeting he attends will include someone named “Michael.” So we’re really just dealing with 2 guys named Michael and 1 guy named Miguel. Let’s start slow. What are the odds that Michael is going to have a meeting with just one other guy and he is also going to be named Michael? The odds are whatever the odds are that any random person is going to be named Michael. It turns out that Michael is a really popular name. It has gotten less so over the last 100 years, but it is still really popular. I’ll come back to this. But just understand, the odds of two people named Winnifred meeting up are a hell of a lot less than two Michaels meeting.

So let’s make that percentage—the fraction of people in the United States with the name Michael—the variable M. So if the odds of two Michaels meeting up is M, the odds of three Michaels meeting up would just be M×M. Now let’s make the percentage of people named Miguel be m. In that case, the probability would be M×M×m. Pretty simple, right?

I asked Michael if there were more than four people in the meeting and he said there were not. That was great news! The statistics for 4 Michaels out of a group of 5 people, while higher, requires more math than any of my readers would have put up with. And at this point, I suspect your eyes are glazed over anyway.

The Demographics

When I first made my claim to being able to do the calculation, my only concern was whether I could find statistics on names in the United States. Not only did I find statistics, I found an absolutely fabulous website that uses the last census data to tell you how many people have various names: How Many of Me. It is really cool and you can spend a lot of time on it. Did you know there are ten people in the nation named Bill Clinton? But there are 227 named William Clinton. There are four people named Paul Krugman. There are 387 people named Michael Meier. There are only two people named Frank Moraes and the other is my dad, so suck it!

So I plugged Michael into the database and it turns out there are 4,191,129 people with that name in the US. But Michael is one of those names. I am absolutely sure that at least one of those “Michaels” was really a “Mike.” So I added that: 301,520. But as we all know, any of them could be Mickey (Perhaps a mouse?) or Mitchell (Perhaps Joe Don Baker in disguise?) or something else. But let’s leave it at Michael and Mike. That’s 4,492,649. The current population of the United States is roughly 313.9 million. That means that 1.43% of all Americans are named Michael or Mike.

The great thing about statistics is that it is never that simple, regardless of what you are talking about. You could include the phases of the moon and it is still not that simple. For example, this was a meeting of all guys. There are not a lot of women named Michael. (Note: I named my female chicken Fred, but that’s why people often think I’m “difficult.”) What’s more, people are not evenly distributed. If there were a meeting at a Catholic church, it is likely that there would have been more Michaels and Miguels around. On the other hand, if you were at a Klan meeting, the odds of a Miguel being there are pretty small.

Speaking of Miguel, there are 193,608 of them in the United States. I would have thought there would have been more. There are more Jesuses in America than Miguels. This may explain all the differences of opinions between the different Christian sects. (This is the part of the article where you think, “Yep. He wasn’t lying about being drunk!) Anyway, that means that the chances of you just to run into some person and their name being Miguel is 0.062%. So actually, it’s the Miguel who really makes this an unusual event.

The Result

So let’s put it all together:

0.0143 × 0.0143 × 0.00062 = 0.000013%

That is about a 1 in 8 million chance. So it is not common. But exactly how many meetings does Michael have during a year? And how many Michaels are there who might have such a meeting? (A lot as I’ve already discussed. People like me really take the fun out of coincidences!) And notice, this is not four Michaels, it is four sort of Michaels. Actually, it’s three sort of Michaels, because we’ve already established that Michael is absolutely positively going to be in attendance at all the meetings he is in attendance at.

Let me just end by stressing that we are making grand assumptions here. Michael is located in Nashville, TN. Here in California, I personally know two people named Miguel. So I assume that the percentage of people with the name Miguel in Tennessee is much lower than it is here and thus much lower than it is nationally. But regardless, it isn’t a miracle or anything. It isn’t like he had a meeting with three people named Jesus who seemed to have an unlimited supply of booze.


According to the database, there are less than 1,587 people with the first name of Dweezil. I don’t know what that “less than” means; it doesn’t show up when searching for Michael. And most concerning of all, there are (according to the database) exactly 1,587 people with the first name Moon. Is there perhaps a Zappa family bug in the database? No! It is just that when the database can’t seem to find anyone, it says “less than 1,587.” I’m still not clear about the number for Moon. I would think there would be people named that. There are 11,109 people named Sun and 4,761 people named Sunshine. There appear to be no people named Korrok, which raises an interesting question, “Why has the Q Filmcast not done probably the best film I’ve seen in the last year, John Dies at the End?”

The Cremation of Robert Service

Robert ServiceI am sorry to report that two icons of my youth have died today. The first is a man we all know as simply, “The Professor.” Of course, that’s just the character that he played on Gilligan’s Island. He was, of course, an actual human being named Russell Johnson. And you know what? He was actually a hunka hunka burning love. He was a good looking guy, which I define as, “I’d definitely have rather looked like him!” He could have been a movie star and as it turns out he had a really good career. I’m always seeing old films that he’s in, like This Island Earth. But of course, he will always be “The Professor.” Even to this day, people in my family often refer to me as Gilligan because I have roughly his coloring and have long been painfully skinny. (No more!) But “The Professor” is more my kind of guy. (By the way, his actual name was Roy Hinkley.) He fixes problems, he doesn’t make them. Russell JohnsonHe was a botanist and I am a physicist (although he sure was good at electronics). We both had BS and PhD degrees, but I have an MS and he, for some strange reason, had an MA. So he’s cool with me and I’m sad that he has died, but he was 89. Here is a great bit from a speech he gave in his later years at MIT, “The Professor has all sorts of degrees, including one from this very institution! And that’s why I can make a radio out of a coconut, and not fix a hole in a boat!” We will miss Russell Johnson but we will always have The Professor.

Dave MaddenThe other icon is a man who is less well know, but still an icon of my young, a man I know of simply as, “Reuben Kincaid.” Now if you are old enough to remember The Partridge FamilyBrady Bunch wars, you probably know him as that guy who was on The Partridge Family who you never really understood the purpose of. If you were a little older, or if you still think about the show like some losers I am, you know that he was their agent. Reuben Kincaid was played by Dave Madden. He didn’t have the kind of career that Johnson had. I believe he started as a stand-up comedian and have limited success with that. But eventually he made it to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In which led to The Partridge Family and eventually Alice. He was 82.

On this day in 1908, the musical comedy legend Ethel Merman was born. When I was younger, I thought she was kind of a joke. That’s the problem with being so successful, you can become a cliche. But over time, I came to see that she’s absolutely great. Here she is with another Broadway legend, Mary Martin, doing a medley of many of their hits. It will make you feel better about life, I’m almost certain. (Extra musical geek points for every show you can name, except for Annie Get Your Gun and South Pacific—you are expected to know those!)

The great writer Susan Sontag was born in 1933. I mostly know her for her excellent essays. But she wrote and did so much more than that. That’s not to say that I completely agree with her. She was controversial—explicitly so. But if a public intellectual does not piss off a lot of people, she isn’t doing her job. And if Susan Sontag hadn’t driven Camille Paglia to fits of apoplexy, I don’t know what the point of life would be. One of my great desires in life is just to make Paglia angry by telling her something like, “You’ve spent the second half of your career in one big apologia for very clearly blaming rape victims for the crimes committed against them. Do you miss the days when you were still relevant?” Sontag, now dead over 9 years is still relevant. And just tell me, who ever wrote a better sentence than, “Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Balanchine ballets, et al don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world.” I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it raises the kinds of questions that we should always be asking ourselves so that we can become better than we are.

Other birthdays: composer Niccolo Piccinni (1728); screenwriter Ruth Rose (1896); one of the greatest film editors of all time, Margaret Booth (1898); inventor Frank Zamboni (1901); hamburger tycoon Carl Karcher (1917); singer-songwriter Jim Stafford (70); country music star Ronnie Milsap (68); and the great film director John Carpenter (66).

The day however, belongs to the great Robert Service who was born on this day in 1874. He is known for his poems about the Yukon. But the truth is that he was something of a fraud. He wasn’t a prospector. He worked at a bank before moving to Whitehorse. There he hung out and listened to stories. I’m not saying this invalidates him. I think he always wanted to be a performer and writer. And his work is good. He wrote the kind of poetry that people still enjoy reading to this day. The best example of this is “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” This came about because Service was talking to a prospector who told him about a partner who he had to cremate on the trail. So he turned that story into a really compelling and funny poem. Service had a good sense of humor that he showed on many occasions. This is my favorite. You could just read it, but here is Service himself reciting. Note the very old style of reading it:

Happy birthday Robert Service!

Hollande Fucks Julie Gayet and French Economy

Francois HollandeAs many in America get excited about the French sex reports that are only scandalous in America, there is actual very bad news out of France. But first up, the sex scandal.

French President Francois Hollande was caught having an affair with actor Julie Gayet. And it may indeed be the case as Joshua Keating says that, The French Merely Pretend to be Blase About Sex Scandals. But while he may be right that they are as interested in the sex lives of famous people as anyone else, they are not puritanical about it the way we are here in the United States. Here it is not news that a politician cut food stamps for millions of poor children, but it is news that he had a one-night stand during some conference. What’s more, the French media don’t treat Hollande’s sexual affairs as political matters.

Meanwhile, Hollande has moved over to the dark side politically speaking. The supposed socialist has decided that the best way to get France’s economy going is to do what the conservatives want: cut social spending and cut taxes! Sound familiar? Sound like exactly what the Republican Party in our own county always wants to do? Sound like what every person who ever passed Econ 101 would tell you is exactly the opposite thing to do?

Francesco Saraceno quotes Hollande saying Tuesday, “L’offre cree meme la demande.” This means more or less, “Supply creates its own demand.” That is, the old conservative canard that by making more stuff there will suddenly be people there to buy it. In economics, this is Say’s law. (Actually Say’s law is a bit more complex than this but it is basically the idea that all economic downturns are the result of businesses not producing the right stuff.) I call it the “Field of Dreams” fallacy: if you build it they will buy. It’s pretty simple to disprove. Assume you have an economy like ours: there are 100 people, 99 of them have no money and one has a huge amount of money. If some great low cost innovation comes along, only the one person will be able to afford it. Of course, the real economy is more complex than that but the principle is the same. Here is a great graph from Saraceno’s article:

French Firms' Difficulties

The graph shows year by year what French businesses claim to be their biggest problems. The graph is kind of hard to read (go over to Saraceno’s article for a better copy), but the blue line is “demand” and the yellow line is “supply.” So roughly 50% of firms are suffering from lack of demand and 15% are suffering from supply problems. Roughly 10% (purple) are suffering from both. But as Saraceno points out, “Firms move from demand difficulties to no difficulties and back, but in the past six years they did not substantially change opinion on red tape, regulation, labor costs.” Do you see any evidence there for cutting the taxes of the rich?

This morning, Paul Krugman wrote a great response to Hollande’s new claim, France by the Numbers. He shows that while France is not doing great, they are actually doing fairly well. And much more important, the nonsense that Hollande is now pushing will only make things worse, not better. Currently, France’s GDP is going up. It’s budget deficit is going down. It’s debt-to-GDP ratio is on its way down. And France can borrow money at reasonable rates. So why the sudden turn to the right? Is it just another case of Lord Acton’s observation that power corrupts and that, “Great men are almost always bad men.”

I am especially upset, because I’ve been a big Hollande booster. He was the “moderate socialist” who would do the right things, but incrementally and not upset the nation. Well, I guess this is just more evidence moderates of all stripes are useless because when it comes right down to it, they all come running back to the power elite like a lonely dog desperate for a pleasant pet.

Of course, when Hollande’s new found conservative economics turns out to only make things worse, I doubt very seriously that the people of France will blame it on the fuck-the-poor and give-to-the-rich policies he now favors. They will understandably think that getting fucked for the benefit of the rich is just the socialist way. I think Hollande needs to spend more time hitting the economics books and less time hitting the lovely Ms Gayet.

Economic Inequality and Chemical Spills

4-methylcyclohexylmethanolI haven’t written much if anything about the West Virginia chemical spill. That isn’t because I’m not interested in it. I haven’t been covering much politics for the last couple of weeks. Or much of anything else. But Reed Richardson wrote a great article on the coverage of the spill, or lack thereof, Let Them Drink Coke: The Mainstream Media’s Casual Incuriosity of the West Virginia Chemical Spill. In it, he explains the main reasons that the story hasn’t gotten more attention is the laziness of the national media.

Rather than report the story, they just report the political reactions to the story. But in West Virginia, even the Democrats are afraid of saying anything that might upset the coal industry. If the Democrats and Republicans agree on this spill, it must just be an unfortunate accident like a tornado. Sure, you cover it, but there’s no long term story there. The problem is that there is a story here. And as bad as this is for the people (And environment!) of West Virginia, the story is much bigger than even that.

John Boehner claims that we have enough regulations on the books and then has a temerity to ask, “Why wasn’t this plant inspected since 1991?” Well, I’ve got one reason for you: the government doesn’t spend enough money to pay people to do the necessary inspections. And this is because of people like John Boehner who know it is hard to repeal regulations, but it is easy to deprive agencies of the money they need to perform their mandated duties. In fact, most Republicans would eliminate the entire EPA if they could. And they’ve been gunning for the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. (Note: the Clean Water Act was passed under a Republican; the Clean Air Act was greatly expanded under two different Republican presidents.)

But I can hear the conservative cry foul, “But the government just doesn’t have the money to properly regulate!” And, “The private sector can’t afford to clean up their act when the economy is weak!” Both of these statements are exactly the opposite of the truth. The government can now borrow money at no cost. Thus, it should be borrowing money to clean up the nation and repair and expand infrastructure. And do you know what? That would stimulate the economy. As for the second claim, the economy is bad for workers. Business is doing better than ever. Now is the time they can afford to clean up their acts. And do you know what? That would stimulate the economy, because it would force the rich who are just sitting on piles of cash to actually spend some of it. This is not rocket science, folks; this is Econ 101.

Boehner’s question is an excellent example of conservative double speak. On the one hand, he wants to claim that this wasn’t the fault of Freedom Industries; it was the government’s fault for not doing its job. (You know, the job John Boehner actually thinks the government shouldn’t be doing?) On the other hand, conservatives (not John Boehner specifically) usually think that if left alone, businesses will do the right thing. They say things like, “Why would they pollute half a state? That just costs them money!” (The answer is that not doing any maintenance for 23 years saved them far more than any clean-up or punitive costs this spill will cost.) Well, my conservative friends, you can’t have it both ways. Either Freedom Industries is totally to blame here or we need to properly fund our government’s regulatory systems.

Richardson makes another great point about the spill:

For instance, it’s no accident that Wall Street Journal reporters started poking around the Christie Bridgegate scandal not long after a few Journal editors got stuck in the Fort Lee traffic on their way into work. One wonders what kind of wall-to-wall coverage that same size chemical spill might have enjoyed if it had shut down the water in a tony neighborhood like Georgetown or the Upper East Side.

The only state that has poorer people on average than West Virginia is Mississippi. Richardson complains when the Washington Post compared life in West Virginia to “camping,” writing, “What is happening in West Virginia is not at all like camping, it’s more like a taste of the Third World, where the powerful behave recklessly and leave the poor to suffer the consequences.” And that, in the end, is what it is all about. In the coverage of Hurricane Sandy, there were lots of stories of middle class people (none of truly poor people that I remember), because they were close by to the rich who really matter. West Virginia is not exactly a Mecca for the beau monde.

To me, the West Virginia chemical spill story is yet another story about income inequality. It’s all about economics. As I always point out, although I am a liberal on pretty much all issues, I don’t especially care about anything but the economic issues. If we lived in a reasonably equitable country, we would be doing something about global warming. We wouldn’t be treating coal with 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol to make it “clean.” We would be revitalizing West Virginia so that it’s people could be doing something that is not destroying the planet. Of course, Freedom Industries itself is a fairly small company with about 40 employees and roughly $5 million in profits each year. But it only exists because of far bigger and more profitable coal companies. The huge profits provide great incentives to create externalities. And the huge profits provide great political power to make sure that when tens of thousands of people are harmed by those externalities, nothing costly is ever done to these power elites.

And as Reed Richardson notes: that includes even having the stories properly covered by the national media.


The local press continues to provide good coverage. This morning’s news, Pregnant? Bottled Water Recommended. As of Friday, the concentration of the chemical was at 2 ppm. As of today, it seems to be below 1 ppm, which the CDC claims is safe. But they say if a woman is pregnant, it is best that they wait until the concentration is below detectable levels. Regardless, many people question this 1 ppm level, being as it is based on very little study. The US Navy laboratory at Norfolk Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA says the only safe level is less than 0.057 ppm.