Posts tagged ‘running’

First, and Last, Marathon

About 18 months ago I was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis in both my knees, though of course I had been experiencing some pain before that.  The condition has become increasingly irritating not just because of the knee pain, but because the pain leads to a second condition called a Bakers Cyst (also known as water on the knee) that adds new pains in the back of both my upper and lower legs.

For years my exercise of choice has been running.  I have run in many of the world's cities (except for Bangkok -- only a crazy person would run the streets there) and find the experience synergistic -- the new sights keeps me from being bored in my runs and the running helps me see details of a city I might have missed.  I am not really competitive, but I have run four or five half-marathons and a number of shorter races.

It has become clear I have to give this all up.  So I decided to go out with a bang, and run my first and last marathon, which will be January 7 at Disneyworld (I love the Disney marathons because the vibe is pretty chill, there are lots of fun things to look at as you run through the parks and past characters and bands, and the medals are really nice).  I usually run in costume for the Disney races but I think not for this race -- I will be shedding every pound;  I am considering cutting off the ends of my shoelaces to save weight 😉

The big event comes in the next few weeks when my doctor is going to shoot me up with cortisone in each knee and drain my Bakers cysts.  From past experience, this will help a ton.  Even without the cortisone I have done a couple of 16-18 mile runs in addition to my daily running of 6-ish miles so I am fairly sure I will make it.

The first question I always get is what time am I shooting for.  Timing for my distance race performances is generally by google calendar.   I did my last half in around 2:30 so extrapolating that I will likely be far behind Oprah's time of 4:29, but I think my ego can survive.

Once the race is over, I have already found my new preferred form of excercise.  The eliptical machine feels good with my knees but I hate excercising indoors.  Biking can be fun but my *ss always falls asleep.  So I bought one of these bad boys and am already having a lot of fun with it.  Super expensive, but hopefully prices will come down if they get popular.

Politics, Peer Virtue-Signalling, And the Agency Problem

The other day Megan McArdle wrote an article entitled "The CFPB Fight Is Completely Pointless...Why is either side spending political capital for brief control over this agency?"  In short, the the folks on the Left who mostly populate the Elizabeth Warren / Barrack Obama created agency argue that deputy director Leandra English should become acting director after the current director stepped down.  President Trump argues he should be able to appoint the acting director (as the President would for any other agency) and appointed CFPB critic Mick Mulvaney.

My heart thrills as readily as anyone’s to the sight of a doomed soldier playing Horatius at the Bridge. But at least Horatius Cocles had a purpose: He secured an orderly retreat, allowing the army to live to fight another day. What, exactly, do [Leandra] English and her supporters hope to achieve, other than a spectacle for wonky Washingtonians?

The most they can get is a brief period of business as usual, during which it will be hard to enact binding decisions because the legitimacy of her leadership will be in doubt. At worst, they get a humiliating smackdown from the courts, cementing their place in history as elitists who thought they were above petty restraints like elections or the Constitution.

And in the broader political picture, if you think Mulvaney is a bad, dangerous man who will privilege the interests of rich bankers over those of ordinary Americans, you’d probably rather have him running the CFPB than in his current job -- overseeing the entire federal budget. Even if English wins and sends him back to OMB, this seems like a Pyrrhic victory for the left.

While most everyone else on the Internet seems to be able to automatically intuit everyone else's internal motivations, I don't claim to have that ability.  So I will offer one possible motive why Leandra English might see personal benefit from this otherwise pointless struggle.

It is no news to say that the US has arrayed itself into multiple tribes that hate each other.  The election of President Trump has only accelerated this.  Trump is so disliked by those on the Left that folks on the Left can score major points with their tribe by publicly opposing him, even when their effort is doomed and ultimately pointless.   Wendy Davis is a good example of a politician who greatly increased her status in the Left-tribe with an ultimately doomed filibuster of an abortion bill in Texas (so much so that a hagiographic movie is being made about her).  I have wondered whether several of the judges who have temporarily halted controversial but probably legal executive actions by Trump were not motivated as much by playing to the audience in their tribe as they were by making a thoughtful legal decision.

Which brings me to the agency problem, which Wikipedia defines thus:

The principal–agent problem, in political science and economics, (also known as agency dilemma or the agency problem) occurs when one person or entity (the "agent") is able to make decisions on behalf of, or that impact, another person or entity: the "principal".[1] This dilemma exists in circumstances where agents are motivated to act in their own best interests, which are contrary to those of their principals, and is an example of moral hazard.

Common examples of this relationship include corporate management (agent) and shareholders (principal), politicians (agent) and voters (principal), or brokers (agent) and markets (buyers and sellers, principals).[2] Consider a legal client (the principal) wondering whether their lawyer (the agent) is recommending protracted legal proceedings because it is truly necessary for the client's well being, or because it will generate income for the lawyer. In fact the problem can arise in almost any context where one party is being paid by another to do something where the agent has a small or nonexistent share in the outcome, whether in formal employment or a negotiated deal such as paying for household jobs or car repairs

I think too often people define the agency problem only about economic incentives, e.g. my broker only recommends the stocks that pay him the highest commission.  But most of us are motivated by many things in addition to money.

Consider the example of a media conglomerate with multiple cable channels.  The managers of this media conglomerate are mostly of the Left.  One of their channels is called the shooting channel and focuses on gun reviews and the shooting sports.  The channel needs a new president, and it hires Hannah Progressive, either internally or from another successful media company.  Hannah is a talented media person with a proven track record of building cable channels and a perfect fit in every way except that she is disdainful of the shooting sports and groups like the NRA.  But let's say that Hannah is a true professional and can put that aside.  But what may be harder to put aside is the reaction of her peers.  She is going to get teased, maybe even bullied, by folks in her social circles.  Her peers are going to look down on her, even if she is successful (maybe especially if she is successful).  There is going to be tremendous pressure on her, both from her social circle as well as well as when she thinks about future job prospects an the industry dominated by the Left, to virtue-signal to others on the Left.  She could be tempted to shift content, alliances, advertisers,etc. in ways that signal virtue to her tribe but might alienate her current viewers and actually hurt the financial results of her company.

I frequently think about this in the context of how university presidents respond to protests, or how the NFL does so, or when seeing ESPN programming changes.  I have even seen it with programmers, working harder to impress their peers with the elegance of their code than to try to actually write things that serve the company and the customer.

Elon Musk Made the Kessel Run in Less Than Twelve Parsecs

I had to laugh at the stories the other day on the battery backup system Elon Musk and Tesla made for the Australian Power grid:

Tesla has completed its 100 megawatt Powerpack battery backup system in South Australia within 100 days (easily), as Elon Musk had promised. That means the company essentially won the "bet," and won't be on the hook for the entire cost of the project, estimated at $50 million. More importantly, it means that some 30,000 homes in South Australia will have a power backup in case there's no breeze at the Hornsdale Wind Farm located about two hours from Adelaide.

A megawatt is a measure of energy production or transmission rate.  As such, it is a perfectly appropriate way to size the capacity of a power plant that is assumed to have a continuous supply of fuel.  However, it is an extremely odd way to size a battery.  A battery has a fixed energy storage capacity, which is generally measured in watt-hours (or some conversion thereof). For example a 10 Wh battery would provide 10 watts for an hour before running out, or 5 watts for 2 hours, etc.  It is not clear if this is just a typo, that they really mean 100MWh, or if 100 megawatts is the peak discharge rate and they are being silent on exactly how long this lasts (ie how long can those 30,000 homes be powered?)  I checked the first 10 sources in a Google search and not a single media outlet that routinely chastises climate skeptics for being anti-science seems to have questioned the oddball and nearly meaningless 100MW figure.

I was going to compare the number on energy storage here and show that you could actually generate electricity from gas, not just store it, for well less than this.  But it is sort of hard to make the calculation when they don't get the units right.

By the way, if this is required to make wind power work, will we start seeing wind advocates building in $50 million batteries when they present their economics?  Any bets?

Terrible Symbolism

I know that many of my readers have more skepticism than I about open immigration.  We will leave that for another day.  But I am not sure how any American who prides themselves on American exceptionalism and our leading role in the world promoting freedom wouldn't cringe at seeing these pictures.  What a terrible image they will make running for thousands of unbroken miles.

I am not sure why we are going through all this engineering effort when we could just be borrowing from the experts:

Postscript:  Congrats to our local entrants from the Phoenix area firm that submitted by far t

he ugliest design.

Update:  Just to confirm, based on the comments:  Yes, I do not see an ethical difference between stopping people from coming in and stopping them from going out.    Others of you do see a difference, and we will have to disagree.  I don't think the Berlin Wall would have shifted from evil to OK had it been built by the West Germans instead to keep communists bottled up on their side.  I know folks love to use the home analogy, that it is OK to fence folks out of your home but a federal crime to fence them in.  But I have always thought equating a whole country to private property is a bad analogy.  Basically, such an assumption rests on socialist community property ownership assumptions.   A Mexican man wants to drive a car he owns, using gas he buys along the highway, along a road paid for with the gas taxes he just paid, to take a job at my company I freely offer him and rent an apartment I freely lease to him.  Voting, government benefits, holding office -- we don't necessarily have an obligation to offer any of those things, at least initially.  But I don't think it is ethical to erect this wall in his path to exercising free exchange.

Why Is It So Hard To Get Even Smart People To Think Clearly on Electric Vehicle Efficiency?

A lot of people on Twitter get freaked out when they see football players kneeling for the national anthem, or detect obscure micro-agressions in some online statement.  When I venture onto Twitter, which I am still not sure is good for my mental health, I get freaked out by this:

My initial response on Twitter was "Of course they are if you leave out the efficiency of converting fuel to electricity".  I will explain this response more in this post.

It would be impossible to say that Eric Schmidt is not a smart guy or lacks technical training.  I'd like to think that he would quickly understand his error and say that he would have said it better when he has 280 characters.  But soooo many people make this mistake, including the folks who write the electric vehicle MPGe standards for the government, that it is worth explaining why Mr. Schmidt's statement, as written, is silly.

Let's first look at what the terms here mean.

  • When we say that electric motors are 97% efficient, we mean that the actual physical work produced per unit of time is 97% of the electrical power used by the motor, which equals the current flowing to the motor times its voltage.
  • When we say that the internal combustion engine is 45% efficient, we mean that the physical work we get out of the engine is 45% of the heat liberated from burning its fuel.

By the way, both these efficiency numbers are the top end of current technology running at an ideal speed and percentage load.  In real life, efficiencies of both are going to be much lower.  Of the two numbers, the efficiency number for internal combustion is probably the most generous -- for non-diesel engines in most cars I would be surprised if the actual efficiency was much higher than half this figure.  Even average electric motors will still be in the 80's.

Here is the problem with what he tweeted

The problem with Schmidt's statement on its face is that he is comparing apples and oranges -- he has left out the efficiency in actually producing the electricity.  And for the vast, vast majority of the country, the marginal fuel -- the fuel providing the electricity for the next increment of load -- is going to be natural gas or coal.  His numbers leave out that conversion step, so let's add it in.

Actual power plants, depending on their age and use, have a wide range of efficiency numbers.  For example, a big combined cycle plan is more efficient that a gas turbine, but a gas turbine is useful because it can be started and stopped really quickly to react to changes in load.  Schmidt used leading-edge efficiency numbers so I will do the same.  For a coal plant the best numbers are in the high forties.  For a gas plant, this can reach into the 50's (this site says 60% but that is the highest I have ever seen).  We will take 50% as a reasonable number for a very very efficient power plant.  Power plants, by the way, since they tend to run constantly at ideal speeds and loads can get much closer to their ideal efficiency in real life than can, say, internal combustion engines.

After the electricity is produced, we have to take into account line and transformer losses (and in the case of electric cars the battery charging losses).  This obviously varies a lot but I have always used a figure of 10% losses so a 90% efficiency number.

Taking these numbers, let's convert the 97% efficiency number for electric motors to an efficiency number all the way back to the fuel so it is apples to apples with internal combustion.  We take 97% times 90% transmission efficiency times 50% electricity production efficiency equals 43.6%.  This is actually less than his 45% figure.  By his own numbers, the electric motor is worse, though I think in reality with realistic efficiency numbers rather than best-possible numbers the electric motor would look better.   The hard step where one is really fighting the laws of thermodynamics is the conversion of heat to work or electricity.  So it is amazing that a tiny power plant in your car can even be in the ballpark of giant optimized multi-stage power plants.

Here is why electric motor efficiency is almost irrelevant to getting rid of fossil fuels

Very efficient electric motors are necessary to moving to a non-fossil fuel economy, but not because of small increments in efficiency.  The reason is that large parts of our energy-using technology, mostly vehicles, run on a liquid fuel directly and this distribution for the fuel is already in place.  To replace this liquid fuel distribution system with something else is really expensive.  But there does exist one other energy distribution system that has already been built out -- for electricity.  So having efficient electric motors allows use of non-gasoline energy sources if those sources can be turned into electricity.  For example, there are real advantages to running vehicles on CNG, but there is no distribution system for that and so its use has been limited to large fleets (like city busses) where they can build their own fueling station.  But electric cars can use electricity from natural gas, as well as solar and wind of course that have no other distribution method other than by electricity.

The problem with all this is that most of the barriers to using electricity in more applications are not related to motor efficiency.  For vehicles, the problem is in energy storage density.  Many different approaches to powering automobiles were tried in the early days, including electric and steam powered cars.  The main reason, I think, that gasoline won out was due to energy storage density.  15 gallons of gasoline weighs 90 pounds and takes up 2 cubic feet.  This will carry a 40 mpg car 600 miles.   The Tesla Model S  85kwh battery pack weighs 1200 pounds and will carry the car 265 miles (from this article the cells themselves occupy about 4 cubic feet if packed perfectly but in this video the whole pack looks much larger).  We can see that even with what Musk claims is twice the energy density of other batteries, the Tesla gets  0.22 miles per pound of fuel/battery while the regular car can get 6.7.  More than an order of magnitude, that is simply an enormous difference, and explains the continued existence of internal combustion engines much better than electric motor inefficiencies.

And here is why electric vehicle equivalent MPG standards are still screwed up

I don't really have the energy to write about this again, but because these issues are so closely related I will quote myself from the past.  Suffice it to say that after years of development, the EPA made nearly the exact same mistake as did Mr. Schmidt's tweet.  This Despite the fact that the agency had already developed an accurate methodology and then abandoned it for a flawed methodology that produced inflated numbers for electric vehicles.  There is more than one way for the government to subsidize electric vehicles!

The Fisker Karma electric car, developed mainly with your tax money so that a bunch of rich VC's wouldn't have to risk any real money, has rolled out with an nominal EPA MPGe of 52 in all electric mode (we will ignore the gasoline engine for this analysis).

Not bad?  Unfortunately, it's a sham.  This figure is calculated using the grossly flawed EPA process that substantially underestimates the amount of fossil fuels required to power the electric car, as I showed in great depth in an earlier Forbes.com article.  In short, the EPA methodology leaves out, among other things, the conversion efficiency in generating the electricity from fossil fuels in the first place [by assuming perfect conversion of the potential energy in the fuel to electricity, the EPA is actually breaking the 2nd law of thermodynamics].

In the Clinton administration, the Department of Energy (DOE) created a far superior well to wheels MPGe metric that honestly compares the typical fossil fuel use of an electric vs. gasoline car, using real-world power plant efficiencies and fuel mixes to figure out how much fuel is used to produce the electricity that goes into the electric car.

As I calculated in my earlier Forbes article, one needs to multiply the EPA MPGe by .365 to get a number that truly compares fossil fuel use of an electric car with a traditional gasoline engine car on an apples to apples basis.  In the case of the Fisker Karma, we get a true MPGe of 19.  This makes it worse than even the city rating of a Ford Explorer SUV.

The Teaching Company (Also Known as Great Courses)

A while back I was writing about something -- the Civil War I think -- and I mentioned that I had been lucky enough to have James McPherson as a professor.  I remember a comment on the post that said something like "yes, yes we know, you went to Princeton."  I certainly was lucky, and that school contributed a lot to what I am.  But as far as attributing sh*t I know to a source, Princeton is in at least second place.   By far the greatest source of what I know about history, art, music and even about the sciences comes from the Teaching Company.  And that is available to all of you, no SAT required.

I just checked my account and I have taken 71 courses from them, including 54 history courses**.  I think I have taken, for example, pretty much all the courses on this list in a Tyler Cowen post.  I began my journey taking courses on things that had always interested me but I knew a fair amount about already, such as the history of Ancient Rome or the Civil War or WWII.  But the most fun I have had has been taking courses on periods I knew little about -- such as Daileader's great histories of the Middle Ages or the History of China.  And I have had the most fun taking courses on things I knew NOTHING about, such as the history of India, of pre-Columbian American civilization, and of nomadic civilizations of Asia.

The key thing to remember is:  never pay rack rate.  Everything goes on sale from time to time.  Today until midnight, for example, they are having a 70% off sale on a subset of their stuff.  You can still get cd's and dvd's if you want but I used to get the digital download for my iPod and increasingly just stream the audio from an android app and stream the video from their Roku app.

 

** My family thinks I am weird because I listen to these courses as I run and work out (instead of music).  But it turns out this was not nearly as weird as when I have done Pimmsleur language courses while I am running.  If you want to really take your mind off your running, try to diagram a sentence in your head to figure out which of freaking German article you should be using.  Also, it creates a nice reputation around the neighborhood for eccentricity if you babble in foreign languages as you run.

Model Railroad Update #2

Yes, I know you are excited, because it is time to document progress on my model railroad.  In the last episode I had build most of the benchwork and was starting to lay out the track.  Since then I have made a fair amount of progress.

So as we were saying last time, I printed the track plan full size, and then traced the lines onto the foam below using a pounce wheel, a sewing tool that looks like a spur.  You can see below that the traced lines were a bit wavy so I thin used an 8 foot long straight edge and a sharpie to draw the final centerlines for the track.  Then, I started putting down the sub roadbed, which are pre-milled pieces of homosote.

I wanted to hand lay some track, but I also wanted to get started and have some basic track up and running, so I have decided to use use code 55 flex track for the main lines and to hand lay code 40 track for the spurs, branches, and yards.  You can see below I am starting to lay the mainline flex track.  As mentioned in the last episode, I started from the crossings in the distance and started working outward from them in all four directions.

Below, more progress.  You can also see wires poking through as I start the tedious process of wiring power to all the track.  Also in the foreground you can see a code 40 turnout I built.  I am using it to figure out how to do the transitions from code 55 to code 40 track.

At the same time I am starting to build the turnout controllers.  I will be using the FastTracks bullfrog control, which is basically a manual control using flexible control rods.

At this point I realized I should have really mounted the backdrop before I started laying track so I paused and got the backdrop up.  I have used masonite before but it is really heavy.  This time I used 0.09" thick styrene sheet.  There are lots of vendors on the Internet (people use the large sheets for signs) and I was able to order sheets cut to 24" x 8 feet.  I then had to splice two together.   I used a 6" wide piece of styrene and plastic weld (bought a big can from Amazon).  It was sort of awkward, particularly to butt them exactly square.

Here it is starting to go up.  I screwed thin hardwood shims into the joists, and then glued the styrene to the wood with E6000 (I tested liquid nails but the joint was not very strong).  I put in screws to hold it at the very top and bottom.  The bottom ones will be hidden by the scenery and the top by the upper valence.

 

It turned out that near the corners, the shim spacing was not close enough.  I had to slip some extra shims in from above after it was installed to get the backdrop reasonably flat.  In retrospect, this was a LOT easier than masonite, though masonite is stiffer and would not have needed as much support to be flat.

Why not just paint the walls, you might ask?  Well the styrene sheet is a lot smoother even than drywall, but the payoff is really in the corner.  Here is the corner with and without the sheet.  Sky does not have corners.

     

The next step was to start on the wiring.  I find the wiring to be extremely tedious, but it is easier for this layout than on my past efforts because the benchwork is relatively high so I can sit in a chair and work on the wiring underneath.

Thank god for suitcase connectors, it makes wiring leads to the bus wire way easier.  And here is the growing proliferation of switch machines.

 

And the payoff - the first train!

 

Towards Better, More Reliable Home Wifi -- Ditch the Products Meant for the Home

For years I have been struggling with a variety of commercial home wifi products.  I have been plagued by issues -- either they had poor range or they had to be reset every day or so or they did not play well with various extenders I needed to cover my house.  I have a one story house that sort of sprawls all over the place and is hard to cover, particularly since our internet connection to Cox Cable is all the way at one end of the house and some of the house has a cinderblock core just to make signal transmission even harder.

So my company had a contractor wiring up a customer location we manage and they were using a commercial product from Ubiquiti Networks.  I wondered why a commercial product would not work just as well in my home.  This Ars Technica article discussed how much better he thought the commercial products from Ubiquiti were than most consumer grade products.  I figured maybe the problem would be cost, but perusing the Unifi product line on Amazon, it seemed priced a bit higher than consumer products but not unreasonably so (also compare the Amazon star ratings for the Unifi products to consumer alternatives -- you will not see ratings this high).

I was a little intimidated that the setup would be hard but it was manageable if you know even a little bit about network addresses and how they work. And this video is absolutely fabulous -- I can tell you that if you follow along with this guy your system will work at the end of it.  Once it was running, the software is way easier to navigate than my old consumer products.

So several months ago I installed a Unifi system in my house with 6 access points (including on my patio and in my garage), a security gateway (the router, I think), a main switch, a couple of satellite switches, and the cloudkey which helps manage the whole thing.  I paid extra for the PoE switches (power over ethernet) so I could run the access points without having to plug them into an outlet and so in the future I could add PoE video.

What I like:

  • Reasonable cost
  • Setup not difficult if you follow the video
  • Rock-solid reliability
  • It reaches everywhere, with a single SSID so it acts as one seamless large wifi zone.
  • Ability to access the system remotely to check on status
  • Access points work via PoE so they mount on the wall or ceiling really cleanly and look great
  • Really good information about my network, not only every device and its IP and status, but also its bandwidth use and exactly how it is connected in the network tree (ie via such and such switch).

The only problem I have had so far is a moderately arcane one that took me a while to diagnose.  I use this system with my Sonos music system and I have a number of Sonos boxes around the house.  Most of these are wired, and so do not use the Sonos wired peer-to-peer mesh.  However, the Sonos boxes were trying to create wireless network amongst themselves that essentially created loops in my network where storms of traffic ran in circles.

This is where I had a learning opportunity.  Apparently network equipment has something called Spanning Tree Protocol (STP).  Basically through a priority and cost system, it allows you to specify preferred pathways and prevent data from looping.  But Sonos uses a really old version of this that does not play well with Unifi.  I will say that this is not just a Unifi problem as I had this exact same problem at another location with Sonos and the Google mesh wifi system.  At least with Unifi, there were STP settings I could play with (Google mesh wifi is a nice little plug and play product but forget it if you want to tweak anything at all).   As is usual nowadays for any known problem, the Internet has a bunch of articles on Unifi and Sonos compatibility issues.  Eventually by tweaking the STP priorities of the Unifi switches and simply turning off the wifi in Sonos units where I did not need the mesh wifi capability (a nearly undocumented feature that is revealed here) I got it all playing nice together.   I will add that though Sonos is a product I love (because my wife can actually reliably use it), their tech support never identified this problem -- they said they saw evidence of loops but would not admit that the Sonos peer-to-peer networking was helping to cause them.

[Fill in Name of Government Program] Would Have Worked Had the Right Person Been Running It

I have disputed the meme in the post's title on many occasions.  For example:

  • No person running any government agency has access to the same information that millions of individuals might have in making decisions for themselves
  • No person running any government agency can create an optimal solution, because millions of citizens all have different values and make different tradeoffs, so an optimum for one is not going to be an optimum for many others
  • No person running any government agency has the right incentives to make good decisions.  They will always optimize for increasing the size and scope of their organization and signaling virtue over actually being virtuous.

But researchers have found yet another reason:  power causes brain damage

A spate of recent articles corroborate what I already suspected, that holding elected office is the neurological equivalent of getting kicked in the head by a donkey.

"Subjects under the influence of power," Dacher Keltner, a professor atUniversity of California, Berkeleyfound, "acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people's point of view."

In other words, power turns people into sociopaths.

This isn't a huge surprise to the vast majority of us who rant about power on election day and every day afterward. Republicans and Democrats want power and scramble for it, like a football. Classical liberals see power more like Frodo's ring—a corrupting influence better chucked into a volcano. In light of recent studies we ought to consider it a bit more like a concussion.

Keltner, brought into the public spotlight through a recent piece in The Atlantic, likens the accruing of power to actual brain trauma: "My own research has found that people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain's orbitofrontal lobes (the region of the frontal lobes right behind the eye sockets), a condition that seems to cause overly impulsive and insensitive behavior. Thus the experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior."

Business Ethics Discussion Topic -- Public Accommodation and the Sex Offender Registry

My company operates campgrounds on public lands under contract with various public agencies.  Over the past several years, there has been a lot of discussion about public accommodation (e.g. can a private photographer choose not to serve a gay wedding).  This has never really been a big issue for me in my business, both due to my personal tolerance of just about anyone and the fact that we operate on public lands, which gives us an extra responsibility for broad accommodation.

Yesterday a sheriff's deputy in Arizona comes by one of the campgrounds we operate and gave a flyer to our manager.  It says that so-and-so, we will call him Mr. Smith, is in the area and is registered as a level 3 high-risk sex offender ("level 3 is the highest level and considered the highest risk to reoffense").  The deputy lets my folks know that it would be better not to do business with this guy.

Now personally, I have a lot of skepticism for the sex offender registry.  These lists sweep up a lot of people whose crimes are trivial (e.g. teenagers who had sex together or texted pictures with their girlfriends).  They assume high risk of recidivism without evidence.  Their existence dates back to a variety of molestation panics that were grossly exaggerated, and play on what I think are irrational public fears.  They can act as a substantial extra punishment beyond what they might have been charged with in court.  And they can be harsh, making it nearly impossible for someone to try to live a normal life in any community.

So the dilemma arises because this gentleman was staying in our campground at the time we received the notice.  My female manager wanted him out, as did most of my employees.  My guess is that if I polled the guests, most of them would want this guy out.  Because many people in a campground are in tents without any door or lock, they can feel particularly vulnerable.  I had never really thought about this much until we added cabins with locking doors to a campground and the early customers were disproportionately single women and women on their own with their kids.  They liked the lock.

My most telling problem is one of liability.  The state of Arizona has officially notified me that in the state's opinion this person is high-risk (whatever I might suspect his true risk may be).  If some incident were to happen, this notification would be exhibit one in the trial suing me into bankruptcy, arguing that I callously and knowingly allowed this risk to remain when I had it in my power to remove it.  I suppose one could argue that I probably always have people on the sex offender list in one of our campgrounds almost every day since there is no reasonable way to check on such things.  But in this case I have been notified in writing by an agent of the state that this person is considered high risk -- this knowledge gives me added responsibility.

I made my decision already, because part of the joy of running a 24/7/365 service business with 2.5 million customers a year is that I have many decisions like this and I have to make a choice and move on.  But I am curious what your decision would be.  Discuss.

Update:  wow, the discussion here is just tremendously useful.   The commenter who observed that I could probably be sued either way successfully captured the flavor of my frustrations trying to run a business in the modern legal environment.

It struck me later that I might not even have a decision to make.   The Forest Service which owns the land may not even allow such folks to be excluded from public lands.  If this is the case, I can get that in writing and do what I prefer (ie not participate in the further punishment of this gentleman) but have some coverage against legal liability in the future.

Me In My Actual Day Job

Given that this blog is a net financial loss to me, I do other things to put food on the table.  My actual day job, as some of you know, is running a company that privately operates public recreation areas.  I presented at a conference on new ideas for public recreation a couple weeks back in Washington.  This was my presentation:

All the presentations are grouped here.

Elon Musk, America's #1 Crony Capitalist

This is from a couple of years ago, so the numbers will only be larger:

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he's built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

"He definitely goes where there is government money," said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. "That's a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day."

The figure compiled by The Times comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars.

Creating the Government Monster Truck

A reader sends me this (I never can remember which folks say its OK to use names -- if you want me to credit you, please say its OK in your email).

"The politician creates a powerful, huge, heavy, and unstoppable Monster Truck of a government," P.J. O'Rourke writes in his new book, How the Hell Did This Happen? (Atlantic Monthly Press). "Then supporters of that politician become shocked and weepy when another politician, whom they detest, gets behind the wheel, turns the truck around, and runs them over."

Which sounds like what I have written for years, eg here

Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

Scooped George Will By A Decade

George Will has a good article making the point that you are almost certainly richer today, in terms of the products and services you have access to, than a billionaire was in 1916.  Loyal Coyote Blog readers will have read roughly this same article over a decade ago.  In that nearly ancient post, I compared a middle class home-owner in my neighborhood to the owner of one of the largest mansions in America in the late 19th century:

House1aHouse2b

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning, electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning, a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

I think most of you have guessed by now that the homeowner with all the wonderful products of wealth, from cars to stereo systems, lives on the right (the former home of a friend of mine in the Seattle area).  The home on the left was owned by Mark Hopkins, railroad millionaire and one of the most powerful men of his age in California.  Hopkins had a mansion with zillions of rooms and servants to cook and clean for him, but he never saw a movie, never listened to music except when it was live, never crossed the country in less than a week.  And while he could afford numerous servants around the house, Hopkins (like his business associates) tended to work 6 and 7 day weeks of 70 hours or more, in part due to the total lack of business productivity tools (telephone, computer, air travel, etc.) we take for granted.  Hopkins likely never read after dark by any light other than a flame.

If Mark Hopkins or any of his family contracted cancer, TB, polio, heart disease, or even appendicitis, they would probably die.  All the rage today is to moan about people's access to health care, but Hopkins had less access to health care than the poorest resident of East St. Louis.  Hopkins died at 64, an old man in an era where the average life span was in the early forties.  He saw at least one of his children die young, as most others of his age did.  In fact, Stanford University owes its founding to the early death (at 15) of the son of Leland Stanford, Hopkin's business partner and neighbor.  The richest men of his age had more than a ten times greater chance of seeing at least one of their kids die young than the poorest person in the US does today.

Hopkin's mansion pictured above was eventually consumed in the fires of 1906, in large part because San Francisco's infrastructure and emergency services were more backwards than those of many third world nations today.

Here is a man, Mark Hopkins, who was one of the richest and most envied men of his day.  He owned a mansion that would dwarf many hotels I have stayed in.  He had servants at his beck and call.  And I would not even consider trading lives or houses with him.  What we sometimes forget is that we are all infinitely more wealthy than even the richest of the "robber barons" of the 19th century.  We have longer lives, more leisure time, and more stuff to do in that time.   Not only is the sum of wealth not static, but it is expanding so fast that we can't even measure it.  Charts like those here measure the explosion of income, but still fall short in measuring things like leisure, life expectancy, and the explosion of possibilities we are all able to comprehend and grasp.

I have a similar reaction every time I tour the mansions in Newport, RI.  They are magnificent in their way, but they are also cold, and to my modern eye, unlivable.  Think of it this way -- You are trapped alone on a desert island.  A plane airdrops you a crate of diamonds.  You are rich, right?

 

 

Your Academia, At Work -- See What the March on Science Types Consider Science

The same sorts of folks who are smugly marching to promote their strange, religious version of "science" are producing academic studies like this (abstract):

A Semiotic Landscape analysis, whereby a community or environment’s signage is photographed for linguistic and visual analysis, is a useful means of discovering power relationships within that community’s language use. While Semiotic Landscapes and their predecessor, Linguistic Landscapes, are traditionally used to explore differences between dominant and minority languages in a community, this research extends the concept to analyse hegemonic masculinity at a CrossFit gym. It also shifts the analysis from an outdoor landscape to an indoor, more private setting. Using an autoethnographic approach, the author argues that while many of the CrossFit signs are designed to appear as humorous entertainment or motivation, they simultaneously encourage the subordination of women and certain men, and the naturalizing of a particular view of hegemonic masculinity, as embodied by the ideal CrossFit male.

I wonder if the real point was to get her gym membership paid for through a grant?  By the way, for those not in the know on the words used here, "autoethnographic" means "I didn't do any actual research or study or anything one would traditionally consider scholarship, I just sat around and thought about it and then started writing whatever came into my head."  There is little actual difference between autoethnographic research and posting rants on Facebook, except one has to go to school for years and years to be able to drop grand-sounding but essentially meaningless terms like "linguistic landscapes".

I would love to see a study attempting to count the percentage of academic papers in the humanities nowadays that are autoethnographic.  I am trying to imagine having some of the economics professors I know acting as a thesis adviser and trying to sell them on the idea of writing my thesis as autoethnographic research based on how bummed out I am that I keep running out of money before payday.  Hegemonic masculinity is forcing me to dine on two-year-old cans of Spaghetti-Os I found in the back of the pantry!

If you enjoy this sort of thing in a kind of black humor sort of way, I recommend to you @RealPeerReview on twitter.

What A Disaster Nationalization of the US Oil Industry Would Have Been!

Back in the 1970's, there were serious proposals in Congress to nationalize US oil companies.  My dad, who was an executive at a major oil company, was being constantly dragged to DC to testify in front of Congress to try to explain what a bad idea that would be.  This was a time of incredible economic ignorance in Washington, perhaps even more than average, when a Republican President had recently instituted wage and price controls and Congress was looking for ways to "fix" problems with oil supply that they themselves had caused with price control rules and other restrictions on exploration.

Think about what we know about state-run oil companies in Venezuela, Mexico and even Saudi Arabia:

  • They always under-invest capital in well maintenance, preferring to route cash flow to social spending that helps maintain shaky governments in power.  Many folks don't understand this, but production from a well starts falling off almost from the moment you drill it.  Well's must be expensively reworked and maintained and upgrade to keep flowing over their life.  This has gotten so bad in Venezuela that the country with the world's largest oil reserves is running out of gas.  I worked with Pemex for years and, at least in the 1990's, were about 1 step away from Pemex looking just like Venezuela's state oil company
  • They have missed most of the recent revolutions in technology, and do no technology development of their own.  If not for technology developed by private western oil companies, they would barely be ahead of Edwin Drake.
  • They deal with price downturns by forming cartels and attempting to fix prices and reduce output.

Private oil companies at the same time:

  • Reinvest massively in both new and existing fields, often with 20-30 year time horizons
  • Continue to revolutionize technology - the shale boom is just one example
  • Respond to market price downturns with innovation and efficiency improvements.

The link above is gated so here is an excerpt:

Now, with oil currently trading near $50 a barrel, these producers are trying to unleash fracking 2.0, the next step in the technological transformation of the sector that is aimed at extracting oil even faster and less expensively to eke out profits at that level.

The promise of this new phase is potentially as significant as the original revolution. If more producers can follow EOG’s lead and profitably ramp up output from shale drilling even at lower prices, the sector could become a lasting force that challenges OPEC’s ability to control market prices.

For a sector in which the previous era’s success was tied to the rapid expansion of output, the shift toward finding more cost-effective ways to get to that oil and gas is full of challenges. When oil prices dropped, critics wondered if the shale industry—rife with heavily indebted companies that had never turned a profit—would collapse.

EOG, with its longtime focus on low-cost production, is the producer many hope to emulate, thanks to the iSteer app and dozens of other homegrown innovations. Dubbed the “Apple of oil” by one analyst, EOG made its name as a pioneer in horizontal drilling and in finding ways to get oil out of shale—often dense layers of rock that hold oil and gas in tiny pores—a feat many once believed impossible.

Can you imagine people like Gina McCarthy running our state oil company?  Good god, we would have $10 gas and import 80% of our oil.

Aging and Using Run Walk Run in Marathons

This is a really niche post, but I had a good experience last week running and wanted to share.   First, I have never been a fast runner.  Generally I can get into a steady pace, though, and keep turning miles.  Even when I was much younger, at 40 (about 15 years ago) I tended to run half-marathons (13.1 miles) in about 11 minutes per mile (which for the uninitiated is slllooowww).  Since that time, as I have aged and I have developed mild arthritis in my knees, my times have suffered.

I was always too snooty to try run walk run.  Even if I was slow, I took pride in just being able to keep running for 2-1/2 (or 5 for a marathon) hours continuously.  However, I noticed a while back that even a brief stop, say walking through a water station in a race, really provided a lot of recovery to my sore joints.  So for the last 2 months I have been training with run-walk-run.   After some experimentation, I created a pattern of 2:40 running followed by 1:00 walking.  I don't have to stare at a clock, I have an app (there are zillions of them) on my phone that once programmed with the time just tells me in my ear over my music when to start running and when to start walking.

At first, I did not expect a lot of improvement, probably because I didn't understand how jogging along and then walking could be faster.  But the point is that even a one minute walk is very refreshing and I tend to burst out of each walk with new energy and run the next section much faster than my usual jogging pace.   The theory is then that -- for running pace R > jogging pace J > Walking pace W -- R+W combined will be faster than all J.  And this certainly turned out to be the case for me.  Last weekend I ran in the Disney Princess Half Marathon (this is my favorite race and my daughter and I started running it years ago) and finished at a pace just a hair behind where I was 15 years ago, a full 2 minutes per mile faster than I was running before doing run-walk-run.

The one downside is that this can be tremendously irritating to other runners, particularly on a crowded course.  Races group people into start corrals by time, so that everyone in a certain part of the racecourse should theoretically be running about the same pace and not bumping into each other.  Run-walk-run folks screw this up.  But at this point, so many people are doing run-walk-run that I no longer feel a lot of guilt.

By the way, we generally run the Disney races in costume, so I used my Ironman running costume I did for the Marvel race and added a fetching matching tutu.  Here I am running through the Magic Kingdom.  The tutu is a little worse for wear by mile 6.

When Government Picks Winners, It Mostly Chooses Losers

In an article for Cato mocking the Obama Administration for creating energy technology forecasts that run to the year 2300, Pat Michaels wrote:

Consider the case of domestic natural gas. In 2001, everyone knew that we were running out. A person who opined that we actually would soon be able to exploit hundreds of years’ worth, simply by smashing rocks underlying vast areas of the country, would have been laughed out of polite company.

Energy statists on the Left today are trying to get rid of coal-fired electricity generation in this country (due to climate concerns).  But one thing that few people remember is that a significant reason we have so much coal-fired electricity generation in this country is that energy statists on the Left in the 1970's mandated it.  I kid you not:

The Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act (FUA) was passed in 1978 in response to concerns over national energy security. The 1973 oil crisis and the natural gas curtailments of the mid 1970s contributed to concerns about U.S. supplies of oil and natural gas. The FUA restricted construction of power plants using oil or natural gas as a primary fuel and encouraged the use of coal, nuclear energy and other alternative fuels. It also restricted the industrial use of oil and natural gas in large boilers.

As a further irony, and absolutely typical of government regulation, this regulation banning oil and gas fired plants because oil and gas seemed to be running out was really trying to fix a problem caused by another regulation.   The government had caps on oil and gas prices through the 1970's that artificially reduced supplies.  Once these price regulations were removed, we suddenly had an oil and gas glut in the 1980's and the FUA was eliminated in 1987.  Watching regulators chase their tails in energy policy over the last 40 years would be comical if the effects of their repeated mistakes were not so dire.

Global Temperature Update

I just updated my climate presentation with data through December of 2016, so given "hottest year evah" claims, I thought I would give a brief update with the data that the media seldom ever provides.  This is only a small part of my presentation, which I will reproduce for Youtube soon (though you can see it here at Claremont-McKenna).  In this post I will address four questions:

  • Is the world still warming?
  • Is global warming accelerating?
  • Is global warming "worse than expected"?
  • Coyote, How Is Your Temperature Prediction Model Doing?

Is the world still warming:  Yes

We will use two data sets.  The first is the land surface data set from the Hadley Center in England, the primary data set used by the IPCC.  Rather than average world absolute temperature, all these charts show the variation or "anomaly" of that absolute temperature from some historical average (the zero point of which is arbitrary).  The theory is that it is easier and more accurate to aggregate anomalies across the globe than it is to average the absolute temperature.  In all my temperature charts, unless otherwise noted, the dark blue is the monthly data and the orange is a centered 5-year moving average.

You can see the El Nino / PDO-driven spike last year.  Ocean cycles like El Nino are complicated, but in short, oceans hold an order of magnitude or two more heat than the atmosphere.  There are decadal cycles where oceans will liberate heat from their depths into the atmosphere, creating surface warming, and cycles where oceans bury more heat, cooling the surface.

The other major method for aggregating global temperatures is using satellites.  I use the data from University of Alabama, Huntsville.

On this scale, the el nino peaks in 1999 and 2017 are quite obvious.  Which method, surface or satellites, gets a better result is a matter of debate.  Satellites are able to measure a larger area, but are not actually measuring the surface, they are measuring temperatures in the lower tropospehere (the troposphere's depth varies but ranges from the surface to 5-12 miles above the surface).  However, since most climate models and the IPCC show man-made warming being greatest in the lower troposphere, it seems a good place to measure.  Surface temperature records, on the other hand, are measuring exactly where we live, but can be widely spaced and are subject to a variety of biases, such as the urban heat island effect.  The station below in Tucson, located in a parking lot and surrounded by buildings, was an official part of the global warming record until my picture became widely circulated and embarrassed them in to closing it.

This argument about dueling data sets goes on constantly, and I have not even mentioned the issues of manual adjustments in the surface data set that are nearly the size of the entire global warming signal.  But we will leave these all aside with the observation that all data sources show a global warming trend.

Is Global Warming Accelerating?  No

Go into google and search "global warming accelerating".  Or just click that link.  There are a half-million results about global warming accelerating.  Heck, Google even has one of those "fact" boxes at the top that say it is:

It is interesting by the way that Google is using political advocacy groups for its "facts" nowadays.

Anyway, if global warming is so obviously accelerating that Google can list it as a fact at the top of its search page, it should be obvious from the data, right?  Well let's look.  First, here is the satellite data since I honestly believe it to be of higher quality than the surface records:

This is what I call the cherry-picking chart.  Everyone can find a peak for one end of their time scale and a valley for the other and create whatever story they want.  In economic analysis, to deal with the noise and cyclicality, one will sometimes see economic growth measured peak-to-peak, meaning from cyclical peak to the next cyclical peak, as a simple way to filter out some of the cyclicality.  I have done the same here, taking my time period as about 18 years from the peak of the 1999 El Nino to 2017 and the peak of the recent El Nino.  The exact data used for the trend is show in darker blue.  You can decide if I have been fair.

The result for this time period is a Nino to Nino warming trend of 0.11C.  Now let's look at the years before this

So the trend for 36 years is 1.2C per century but the trend for the last half of this is just 0.11C.  That does not look like acceleration to me.  One might argue that it may again accelerate in the future, but I cannot see how so many people blithely treat it as a fact that global warming has been accelerating when it clearly has not.  But maybe its just because I picked those darn satellites.  Maybe the surface temperatures show acceleration?

Nope.  Though the slow down is less dramatic, the surface temperature data never-the-less shows the same total lack of acceleration.

Is Global Warming "Worse Than Expected"?  No

The other meme one hears a lot is that global warming is "worse than expected".  Again, try the google search I linked.  Even more results, over a million this time.

To tackle this one, we have to figure out what was "expected".  Al Gore had his crazy forecasts in his movie.  One sees all kinds of apocalyptic forecasts in the media.  The IPCC has forecasts, but it tends to change them every five years and seldom goes back and revisits them, so those are hard to use.  But we have one from James Hansen, often called the father of global warming and Al Gore's mentor, from way back in 1988.  His seminal testimony in that year in front of Congress really put man-made global warming on the political map.  Here is the forecast he presented:

Unfortunately, in his scenarios, he was moving two different variables (CO2 levels and volcanoes) so it is hard to tell which one applies best to the actual history since then, but we are almost certainly between his A and B forecasts.  A lot of folks have spent time trying to compare actual temperatures to these lines, but it is very hard.  The historical temperature record Hansen was using has been manually adjusted several times since, so the historical data does not match, and it is hard to get the right zero point.  But we can eliminate the centering issues altogether if we just look at slopes -- that is all we really care about anyway.  So I have reproduced Hanson's data in the chart on the left and calculated the warming slopes in his forecast:

As it turns out, it really does not matter whether we choose the A or B scenario from Hansen, because both have about the same slope -- between 2.8C and 3.1C per century of warming from 1986 (which appears to be the actual zero date of Hansen's forecast) and today.  Compare this to 1.8C of actual warming in the surface temperature record for this same period, and 1.2C in the satellite record.  While we have seen warming, it is well under the rates predicted by Hansen.

This is a consistent result to what the IPCC found in their last assessment when they evaluated past forecasts.  The colored areas are the IPCC forecast ranges from past forecasts, the grey area was the error bar (the IPCC is a bit inconsistent when it shows error bars, including error bands seemingly only when it helps their case).  The IPCC came to the same result as I did above:   that warming had continued but was well under the pace that was "expected" form past forecasts.

By the way, the reason that many people may think that global warming is accelerating is because media mentions of global warming and severe weather events has been accelerating, leaving the impression that things are changing faster than they truly are.  I wrote an article about this effect here at Forbes.  In that I began:

The media has two bad habits that make it virtually impossible for consumers of, say, television news to get a good understanding of trends

  1. They highlight events in the tail ends of the normal distribution and authoritatively declare that these data points represent some sort of trend or shift in the mean
  2. They mistake increases in their own coverage of certain phenomenon for an increase in the frequency of the phenomenon itself.

Coyote, How Is Your Temperature Prediction Model Doing?  Great, thanks for asking

Ten years ago, purely for fun, I attempted to model past temperatures using only three inputs:  A decadal cyclical sin wave, a long-term natural warming trend out of the little ice age (of 0.36 C per century), and a man-made warming trend really kicking in around 1950 (of 0.5C per century).  I used this regression as an attribution model, to see how much of past warming might be due to man (I concluded about half of 20th century warming may be due to manmade effects).  But I keep running it to test its accuracy, again just for fun, as a predictive tool.  Here is where we are as of December of 2016 (in this case the orange line is my forecast line):

Still hanging in there:  Despite the "hottest year evah" news, temperatures in December were exactly on my prediction line.  Here is the same forecast with the 5-year centered moving average added in light blue:

Well, I Was Uninvited to Speak on Climate -- A Post-Modern Story of Ignorance and Narrow-Mindedness

Well, I got dis-invited yet again from giving my climate presentation.  I guess I should be used to it by now, but in this case I had agreed to actually do the presentation at my own personal expense (e.g. no honorarium and I paid my own travel expenses).  Since I was uninvited 2 days prior to the event, I ended up eating, personally, all my travel expenses.  There are perhaps folks out there in the climate debate living high off the hog from Exxon or Koch money, but if so that is definitely not me, so it came out of my own pocket.   I have waited a few days after this happened to cool off to make a point about the state of public discourse without being too emotional about it.

I don't want to get into the details of my presentation (you can see it here at Claremont-McKenna College) but it is called "Understanding the Climate Debate:  The Lost Middle Ground" (given the story that follows, this is deeply ironic).  The point of the presentation is that there is a pretty mainstream skeptic/lukewarmer position that manmade warming via greenhouse gasses is real but greatly exaggerated.  It even suggests a compromise legislative approach implementing a carbon tax offset by reductions in some other regressive tax (like payroll taxes) and accompanied by a reduction in government micro-meddling in green investments (e.g. ethanol subsidies, solyndra, EV subsidies, etc).

I am not going to name the specific group, because the gentleman running the groups' conference was probably just as pissed off as I at the forces that arrayed themselves to have me banned from speaking.  Suffice it to say that this is a sort of trade group that consists of people from both private companies and public agencies in Southern California.

Attentive readers will probably immediately look at the last sentence and guess whence the problem started.  Several public agencies, including the City of Los Angeles, voiced EXTREME displeasure with my being asked to speak.  The opposition, particularly from the LA city representative, called my presentation "the climate denier workshop" [ed note:  I don't deny there is a climate] and the organizer who invited me was sent flat Earth cartoons.

Now, it seems kind of amazing that a presentation that calls for a carbon tax and acknowledges 1-1.5 degrees C of man-made warming per century could be called an extremist denier presentation.  But here is the key to understand -- no one who opposed my presentation had ever bothered to see it.  This despite the fact that I sent them both a copy of the CMC video linked above as well as this very short 4-page summary from Forbes.  But everyone involved was more willing to spend hours and hours arguing that I was a child of Satan than they were willing to spend 5-minutes acquainting themselves with what I actually say.

In fact, I would be willing to bet that the folks who were most vociferous in their opposition to this talk have never actually read anything from a skeptic.  It is a hallmark of modern public discourse that people frequently don't know the other side's argument from the other side itself, but rather from its own side (Bryan Caplan, call your office).   This is roughly equivalent to knowing about Hillary Clinton's policy positions solely from listening to Rush Limbaugh.  It is a terrible way to be an informed adult participating in public discourse, but unfortunately it is a practice being encouraged by most universities.  Nearly every professor is Progressive or at least left of center.  Every speaker who is not left of center is banned or heckled into oblivion.  When a speaker who disagrees with the Progressive consensus on campus is let through the door, the university sponsors rubber rooms with coloring books and stuffed unicorns for delicate students.  There are actually prominent academics who argue against free speech and free exchange of diverse ideas on the theory that some ideas (ie all the ones they disagree with) are too dangerous be allowed a voice in public.   Universities have become cocoons for protecting young people from challenging and uncomfortable ideas.

I will take this all as a spur to do a next generation video or video series for YouTube  -- though YouTube has started banning videos not liked by the Left, there is still room there to have a public voice.  I just bought a nice new microphone so I guess it is time to get to work.  I am presenting in Regina next week (high 22F, yay!) but after that I will start working on a video.

Postscript:  You know what this reminds me of?  Back when I was a kid, forty years ago growing up in Texas, from time to time there would be a book-banning fight in the state.  Perhaps there still are such fights.  Generally some religious group will oppose a certain classic work of literature because it taught some bad moral lesson, or had bad words in it, or something.  But you know what often became totally clear in such events?  That the vast vast majority of the offended people had not actually read the book, or if they had, they could not remember any of it.  They were participating because someone else on their side told them they should be against the book, probably also someone else who had never even read the thing.  But I don't think that was the point.  The objective was one of virtue-signalling, to reinforce ties in their own tribe and make it clear that they did not like some other tribe.  At some point the content of the book became irrelevant to how the book was perceived by both tribes -- which is why I call this "post-modern" in my title.

I Hate to Repeat Myself, But Trump Did Not Win: Clinton Lost

This article by Damon Linker totally mirrors my take on this election -- a competent Democratic candidate without Clinton's many flaws should have wiped the floor with Trump.  Biden would have won, I am absolutely convinced.  Anyway, I liked this bit from Linker:

Most of all, I don't want to hear about how unfairly Clinton was treated by the media. In comparison to whom? All the other candidates who've run for president while under criminal investigation by the FBI? (Maybe that substantial handicap should have overridden the party's presumption that she was owed the nomination because it was "her turn.") Or do you mean, instead, that she was treated badly in comparison to her opponent? Really? You mean the one whose 24/7 media coverage was overwhelmingly, relentlessly negative in tone and content? Either way, a halfway competent campaign should have been able to take advantage of the great good fortune of running against Donald J. Trump and left him bleeding in the ditch.

I am exhausted with folks talking about some fundamental political shift to a white male resurgence, or whatever.  There was no shift.  Trump got about the same number of votes as Romney and McCain.  He won no more white male votes than those guys and if anything performed better than them in traditional Democratic categories like single women and blacks.  The reason Trump won is because Clinton had 10 million fewer votes than Obama had in his first win.  Traditional Democratic supporters were unenthusiastic about Clinton and stayed home.

"How Do I Explain This Election to My Kids" Is Much Easier for a Constitutionalist

Last night, Van Jones (among likely many others on the Progressive Left) lamented, "How am I going to explain the election [Trump's victory] to my kids?"

Well, as someone who has always respected the Constitution, I would tell my kids that the folks who wrote the Constitution spent a lot of time thinking about how to make the system robust against tyrants.  Their solution was a system of checks and balances that prevented a single person in the Presidency acting against the general wishes of the country.  The President is bound both by Congress and the judiciary, but also by law (particularly restrictions in the Bill of Rights).

The last couple of Presidents, with the aid of a sometimes supine Congress and judiciary, have pushed the boundaries of these limitations, expanding Presidential power, and in certain spheres attempted to rule by decree.  Folks like Van Jones were way up in the forefront of folks cheering on this power grab, at least under President Obama, as long as it was their guy grabbing for power.  What should Jones tell his kids?  Perhaps he could say that for well-intentioned reasons, he helped increase the power of the President, but in doing so forgot that folks he disagrees with would likely someday inherit that power.

As I wrote years and years ago:

  • Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

Sarah Baker has some nice thoughts along these lines at the Liberty Papers, but I will leave you with her first one:

This is how libertarians feel after every election. We learn to live with it. So will you.

Asking the Wrong Question

Apparently a chunk of what looks like manufactured aluminum was dug up years ago in Romania and was dated at up to 250,000 years old.  By this dating -- given the technology required to make aluminum -- it would be unlikely to be man-made.

So of course everyone is focusing on the question of whether it is an alien artifact.  Which is the wrong question.  A rational person should be asking, "what is it about this particular metallurgy or the way in which it was buried that is fooling our tests into thinking that a relatively new object is actually hundreds of thousands of years old?"  I would need to see folks struggle unsuccessfully with this question for quite a while before I would ever use the word "alien."  I am particularly suspicious of tests that have an error bar running between 400 years and 250,000 years.  That kind of error range is really close to saying "we have no idea."

Postscript:  The article hypothesizes that it looks like an axe head.  Right.  Aliens find some way to fly across light-years, defying much of what we understand about physics, and then walk out of their unimaginably advanced spacecraft carrying an axe to chop some wood, when the head immediately goes flying off the handle and has to be left behind as trash.

Guide for Politicians: How to Lie in the 21st Century

Lying is an old, old skill among politicians.  What is new in the 21st century is that with the advent of the Internet and alternative media, it is much more likely for a politician to get caught publicly in a lie.  Based on my observations over the last year of the political-media process, here is my brief guide for politicians on how to lie, or more accurately, how to manage affairs when caught lying.

First, there must be a lie, as represented by this chart:

21st century lying

There is some underlying truth out there (shown with the blue dot), and given the squishiness of the English language at times, there are a variety of ways that truth could reasonably be restated, shown by the blue circle around it.  On the left we will assume someone has lied or made an incorrect statement about that truth, and again there is a reasonable range of meanings around that untrue statement, shown by the red circle around it.  Note that the reasonable range of meanings for the original statement do not encompass the truth.

So what happens next?  Well, one possibility is that no one calls you on the untruth.  Congratulations, you are done!  The other possibility, though, is that some crazy dude on the Internet found a cell phone video embedded in a World of Warcraft chat room that reveals you did not tell the truth.  So what now?

The thing to remember at this point is that you have two assets.  First, you presumably have supporters.  Your supporters want to believe you.  They are looking for some explanation or statement from you that is even minimally convincing, and they are ready to trumpet that explanation like it is the Word of God to the rest of the world.

Your second asset is the media.  Your original lie was maybe a week ago.  That is the Jurassic Period for the media.  They don't have the staff to track down what is happening today, much less go back over something from a week ago.

Taking these two assets in mind, you are going to restate your original untrue statement, as so in orange:

slide2

The key for this to work is to make sure the range of meanings from your original statement and the range of possible meanings from your new statement overlap.  By doing so, you haven't admitted to lying or changed your position -- you have clarified.  Cognitive dissonance in your supporters will cause their brains to immediately substitute all instances of your first statement in their memories with your new restatement.

OK, but what happens when that dude in his pajamas does it again, and claims you are still lying with your new restatement.  What do you do?  Same thing as last time: another restatement.  If necessary, you will keep restating until the range of meanings of your restatement overlaps with the truth:

slide3

Yay!  You are done.  If you really want to win the news cycle, take your final restatement to Politifact and get them to rate it as mostly true.   Sure, some crazies on the other side of the aisle are going to be screaming that the ultimate truth does not at all resemble your original statement, but just claim that they are dredging up old news and that it has already been settled.  For extra points, if you are a female and/or the member of an ethnic minority, claim discrimination, saying that the opposition is driven by racism, misogyny, etc.

I think this is all clearer with an example.  So let's take the case of Philander J. Donkeyphant, who is running for reelection.  Phil decides to lie about the vehicle he was driving yesterday.  Why does he lie?  Who knows, but Phil is a successful politician and senior government official and therefore one of our betters and let's not question his tactics.   So let's see how his lie plays out:

Lie:  I drove a red car yesterday

Soon, Philander has a problem.  Some crazy lady finds a traffic camera video and proves no red car drove by that could have been Philander's.  So Phil is forced into his first restatement:

First Restatement:  I was driving a deep-red pickup truck

A bit of a stretch but we can't really call it changing his story, since many folks might refer to the family car and actually be talking about a pickup truck.  And the "deep red" comment seems downright helpful, trying to provide more detail.  But wouldn't you know it, that lady can't find any deep red pickup trucks on camera.  So Phil moves to his second restatement:

Second Restatement:  I was driving a violet truck.

Again, a bit of a stretch, but violet is not far from deep-red.  He has dropped the detail of it being a pickup truck, now it is just a truck, but still arguably consistent with his immediately previous statement.

Finally, our annoying blogger-lady finds Philander and his vehicle on a video.  It turns out:

Truth:  He was driving a purple 18-wheeler.

When shown the video, old Phil says, "Sure, that's what I said.  A violet truck.  Obviously my opposition has nothing better to do than make stupid issues like this out of nothing.  Politifact confirms that "violet truck" is a truthful way to describe a "purple 18-wheeler" so the issue is closed.

Phoenix Light Rail Update: Half Billion Dollars More Spent, Transit Ridership Continues to Fall

Valley Metro, the agency that operates light rail and most bus service in the Phoenix area, has published its 2016 annual ridership numbers, and they are awful (the agency is on a july-june fiscal year).  Over the past year, they have opened two extensions of the current light rail line, spending $o.5 Billion to extend the line 6.2 miles.  So what did we get for this?  Falling transit use.

Valley_Metro_Fiscal_Year_Ri

To begin with, we must again look past Valley Metro's downright bizarre chartsmanship, where differences in bar length bear absolutely no relationship to the values graphed (just try to figure out the bar lengths for the last three years of light rail data).

We see that light rail ridership is up 9%.  This appears low, given that the line and total investment were increased by about 33%, but the new extensions were not available for the whole year.  My guess correcting for opening dates is that on a full year basis this represents about a 20% increase.  For May, June, and July light rail ridership has been running 19%, 26%, and 20% above the same month last year (before either extension was opened).  This is well below the increase in line length (31%) and line total investment (36%)

I have always argued that the first 20 miles of the light rail line cut through the densest part of the city, including the downtown area (such that it is), the two highest visitation sports stadiums, and ASU  -- and as such any future expansions were going to have a much harder time justifying themselves (ie, as in this case, a 31% expansion in length would yield something less than 31% increase in ridership).  Light rail supporters have argued in return that I had things exactly backwards, that network effects would mean that ridership increased faster than route length.  My sense is that this argument will pretty clearly tip in my direction by the time we have 2017 data.

By the way, with total investment up to over $2 billion and average weekday round trip ridership at about 23,500 in fiscal 2016, then the total capital cost (not including annual operating subsidies) of the line sits at about $85,000 per round-trip rider.   Whenever Valley Metro supporters defend the line against my attacks, they will often quote various riders saying how much they love it.  Of course they do!  They damn well should love it -- we taxpayers spent $85,000 for each one of them to open the line AND subsidize every single one of their rides.

But if you really want to see the cost of these subsidies, look at the bus and total transit ridership in the chart above.   Total transit ridership in the area has fallen to the lowest point since before the light rail line was first opened, despite the fact the city it serves is still growing.  This is because bus ridership has fallen off the map.   Just last year, for every 1 rider gained to the light rail line expansions, 3.6 were lost on busses.   To see how far bus ridership has fallen, you have to go back further than the chart above shows.  Here is an older Valley Metro chart I annotated for a previous article:

click to enlarge

You can see from this that bus ridership in Phoenix fell to a level we have not seen since 2003!  This is despite the fact that the Phoenix MSA has added about a million people since that time.

As it does in every city, light rail costs are starving the rest of the transit system.   By shifting transit dollars into a mode that requires 10x  more money to move a single passenger, the numbers of passengers served has to fall.  You can see from the chart that Phoenix transit ridership was rising steadily from 1997 to 2009.  But once light rail was completed, transit ridership absolutely stopped growing, despite population increases and large increases to total transit budgets.  Without light rail, we might very well have seen transit ridership as high as 90 million today, if past ridership growth trends held.