Un million de singes...

The Infinite Monkey Theorem is a favorite of many. It was selected by Wired.com as one of the Top Eight Best Thought Experiments ever, and it was attempted in real life once by six monkeys and a £2,000 grant.

The concept is as simple as often repeated: half a dozen, dozens, an army, a million, or infinite monkeys, in front of as many typewriters, given enough time, would type in all the works of Shakespeare, or the books in the British Museum, or the books in all languages in all the finest libraries in the world.

But who came up with the idea in the first place?

Many will assign it to Arthur Eddington, the British astrophysicist mainly famous for his work with relativity. In 1927 he wrote:

… If I let my fingers wander idly over the keys of a typewriter it might happen that my screed made an intelligible sentence. If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters they might write all the books in the British Museum. The chance of their doing so is decidedly more favourable than the chance of the molecules returning to one half of the vessel.
(A. S. Eddington. The Nature of the Physical World: The Gifford Lectures, 1927. New York: Macmillan, 1929, page 72.)

Yet it was Félix Émile Borel, the French mathematician with works in set theory, that, in 1913, first conceived the probabilistic consequence of having a million idle monkeys with typewriters available:

… Concevons qu’on ait dressé un million de singes à frapper au hasard sur les touches d’une machine à écrire et que, sous la surveillance de contremaîtres illettrés, ces singes dactylographes travaillent avec ardeur dix heures par jour avec un million de machines à écrire de types variés. Les contremaîtres illettrés rassembleraient les feuilles noircies et les relieraient en volumes. Et au bout d’un an, ces volumes se trouveraient renfermer la copie exacte des livres de toute nature et de toutes langues conservés dans les plus riches bibliothèques du monde. Telle est la probabilité pour qu’il se produise pendant un instant très court, dans un espace de quelque étendue, un écart notable de ce que la mécanique statistique considère comme la phénomène le plus probable…
(Émile Borel, “Mécanique Statistique et Irréversibilité,” J. Phys. 5e série, vol. 3, 1913, pp.189-196.)

Allez singes!

In just 30 days, more done than ever.

In just 30 days, more done than ever.

A senior White House official said in a background briefing:

“President Obama has accomplished more in 30 days than any president in modern history.”

Bill Clinton, at this point in his presidency, was dealing with the “gays in the military” controversy. But Obama, he continued, “has a set of wins under his belt”.

Those “wins” refer to legislation on children’s health insurance, the “Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” and the famous stimulus bill. VP Joe Biden couldn’t remember, but the website is www.Recovery.gov. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the website is getting 3,000 hits per second.

There, you will find an interesting break-down of the stimulus package:

"Where is money going?"(from recovery.gov)

"Where is your money going?"(from recovery.gov)

If you think “$288 B” seems too inflated when classified as “tax relief”, compared to everything else that has been circulating on the media since the House approved a first version of the bill, you are not the only one. It’s all in the semantics.

According to US Budget Watch Project‘s analysis, the stimulus breakdown is slightly different:

Another point of view

Another point of view

Those $288B of tax relief can then be separated into 5 groups: $116.2 + $69.8 + $46.5 + $6.2 + $47.9.

The largest of all, $116.2, is the “Making Work Pay Credit”, a handout payable to everyone that works regardless of tax liability; if you can get it without paying taxes, it’s hardly a new tax cut.

The second largest, $69.8, is the AMT Patch, which has become an annual tradition in Congress: it passed in 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004… It would likely be approved again in 2009. If you can get it every year, it’s hardly a new tax cut.

That leaves the rest, 35% of the “tax relief”, as real new tax provisions. The tax relief part gets to be advertised as 2.8 times larger than what it really is. More than any, ever.

Another great “Non Sequitur“:

Your stimulus package has arrived...

The stimulus packaged arrived...

Mark Steyn points out some big numbers about GM’s retirement house:

The UAW is the AARP in an Edsel: It has three times as many retirees and widows as workers. GM has 96,000 employees but provides health benefits to a million people.

Made in USA

Made in USA

That number seemed too big. But according to the USA Today, GM retirees outnumber workers by more than 2-to-1. So 96,000 becomes 290,000. Even assuming all of them have benefits (employees and retirees have been getting decreased benefits over recent years), and all of them have spouses and two kids, it still doesn’t match up.

Yet however you cut, the numbers are staggering.

FYI seemed confused with these two news pieces:

Why stock market doesn’t reflect the economy“, and “Stocks hit by recession fears” appear to be contradicting each other. One detaches the market from reality, while the other re-attaches both together.

But they aren’t contradicting.

Truth is, the stock market doesn’t really reflect the economy: it reflects the expectations on near-future economy, and that embeds emotions like fear, hope and even some level of Messianism.

It’s a massive, complex, chaotic system, where multiple players make decisions on reward-and-punishment basis. While projecting their hopes, fears and prejudices in an attempt to predict the near future, they are actually making irrational choices.

So it’s perfectly normal that “recession fears” might trigger downturns. Both news links are right on the spot.