Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Preparing for life in the twenty-first century. Uh, and a half.

What It Would Take to Prove Global Warming—Friday, April 17th, 2015

“In fact, I have thought about what it would take to convince me of global warming is real. And it’s pretty clear that Bailey has not thought about it… He’s thought a lot about the various scientific claims made by those who insist global warming is a man-made catastrophe. But he has not thought about how those claims add up or how they would have to add up to be convincing. All Bailey’s piece amounts to is: here is a long list of factual claims that seem to support the global warming scare; how high do I have to pile up these claims before you are convinced?

“There is no sense that the proof of global warming has to proceed according to some systematic method, requiring it to clear specific hurdles at specific stages. Which betrays an unscientific way of thinking.”

(Hat tip to Ace at Ace of Spades HQ.)
How to make life easier for car thieves—Thursday, April 16th, 2015
Reagan For the Little Guy

This is how over-regulation blocks and retards technological advancement: the Code of Federal Regulations Title 49, Subtitle B, Chapter V, Part 541:

The purpose of this standard is to reduce the incidence of motor vehicle thefts by facilitating the tracing and recovery of parts from stolen vehicles.

How does it do this? By requiring that about eighteen parts that are normally interchangeable and thus candidates for stripping be labeled or inscribed with an identifying mark, usually or always the VIN or some subset thereof. Now, as a consumer, you might be thinking, that doesn’t really reduce theft, it just makes tracking the stripped parts easier, which doesn’t really help get your car back in one piece. And as an automotive engineer, you might be thinking, individually stamp that many interchangeable parts? The main purpose of interchangeable parts is to reduce the cost of the vehicle by making them exactly the same and easily reproduced on an assembly line.

Ah, but you would not be thinking like an engineer, not a politician or government regulator. It’s only one change, how much more expensive can it be? To which the engineer rolls their eyes and thinks, sure, it turns standard parts into custom parts. But the politician gets their way, and now the automotive industry has to lobby them with money and support to get exemptions from the new rule.

Thus, the Code of Federal Regulations Title 49, Subtitle B, Chapter V, Part 543, “Exemption from Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard”.

The purpose of this part is to specify the content and format of petitions which may be filed by manufacturers of passenger motor vehicles to obtain an exemption from the parts-marking requirements of the vehicle theft prevention standard for passenger motor vehicle lines which include, as standard equipment, an antitheft device if the agency concludes that the device is likely to be as effective in reducing and deterring motor vehicle theft as compliance with the parts-marking requirements. This part also provides the procedures that the agency will follow in processing those petitions and in terminating or modifying exemptions.

Dr. Kookie, You’re Right!—Monday, April 6th, 2015

Dr. Kookie, You’re Right! includes a smattering of Royko’s Chicago Tribune pieces from 1984 through 1989. This would be immediately following his leaving the Sun-Times because he couldn’t stand working for Rupert Murdoch. In order to avoid working for Murdoch, he went to work for the “conservative” Chicago daily, and I have a suspicion his work here is extra-shrill because he wanted to distance himself from the paper for which he’d once promised he would never work.

But even given that there is a lot in here that makes me realize Royko was part of the Democratic media machine, at least nationally. At one point he takes Reagan to task for praising Truman and FDR on the national campaign trail rather than, say, Lincoln. Nowadays, I recognize that Republicans praising Lincoln for being a Republican is mostly unreported because it is against narrative. The press seems to want to think Lincoln was a Democrat. So it is possible that the same media filter was active in the eighties.

Royko, however, blames this praise for Truman and FDR on a racist Southern strategy; he does this in a passive-aggressive way to make it harder to call Royko on the accusation. But this was more likely a Democrat strategy, to the extent that it was a strategy at all. You don’t get Democrats to vote for you by praising Republicans. You get there by praising Democrats. And while, certainly, in those parts of the South where Democrats still dominated racism still abided, attracting them by praising Truman and FDR hardly seems egregious.

But take Royko at face value that hidden racism was worth mentioning. A few essays later, Royko talks about Senator Byrd. Now, I had no idea Byrd founded his own KKK chapter until long after the eighties, when the Internet ran an end-run around the media. But it wasn’t a secret from the media. Royko doesn’t go against narrative here either; he simply doesn’t mention it. Real racism by Democrats is less important than manufacturing racism by Republicans.

I remember Royko as more independent than this, and checking the previous collection on my shelf, my memory isn’t deceiving me. Of course, in Chicago, if you’re going to criticize politicians you have to criticize Democrats, because that’s who runs Chicago, especially in the era of the Daley machine. But this book was disappointing compared to Sez Who? Sez Me and Like I Was Sayin’. His criticism of national Republicans vs. national Democrats seems much more blatant in this selection.

Omni’s Jobs of the Future from 1985—Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

A few weeks ago I found two Omni magazines from 1985 for a buck each in one our local Half-Price Book stores. The September 1985 issue has an article by Richard Wolkomir called Careers of the Future.

Computer programmers and lumberjacks are on the way out. The new wave includes laser technicians and salmon ranchers.

Now, he may have been right about the new wave, but computer programmers weren’t on the way out. Not that I can really blame his experts for the mistake: I made the same one when I decided not to pursue a degree in computer programming even though I enjoyed it, because I expected computer programming to become a rote, boring job in a few years.

5. Computer Programmers. Ironically, one career to succumb to the computer revolution is apt to be that of the computer programmer. “Artificial-intelligence computers will program themselves,” says Alfred Mathiasen, a careers expert at Clemson University. Sociologist Roberrt Ayres, of Carnegie-Mellon University, agrees: “Although employment for computer programmers hasn’t peaked,” he says, “we may be overstating the need for these people; there’s a wide scope for automating the writing of programs.”

What my younger self didn’t understand, and the experts here also didn’t seem to understand, was that advances in computer technology were going to feed back into themselves to produce near-infinite opportunities for programmers to make great new things. And that the resulting demand for computer programmers was going to be so high that even a young man with no experience and a degree in psychology would be able to build a career in programming.

The Internet changed everything, and the Internet was just one of the ways that computer technology created its own amplifying feedback loop to create more opportunities for computer technology to create more opportunities.

This lack of understanding of the immense power of computerization showed in one of the two “new wave” career paths:

7. Digitechnicians. With digital technology busily transforming everything from banking to microwave ovens, the need for people to maintain all the equipment can only go up. For instance, government projections call for computer service technician jobs to increase 97 percent by 1995. According to the Electronics Industries Association, we’ll require armies of domestic digitechnicians just to maintain all the circuitry in our digital TVs, stereos, and videocassette records. And Cetron envisions the need for some 1.5 million roboticists in a decade.

Bring the House closer to the voters—Monday, March 30th, 2015
Cannon House Office Building hall

“We’re going to need about nine thousand more doors, sir.”

Every once in a while a historically-minded conservative will complain about how the seventeenth amendment, by mandating popular election of senators instead of leaving the decision to state legislators1 upended the senate’s traditional role as defender of local interests over national interests, leaving the states themselves with no representation in congress.

But there was another important change about the same time. Originally, the House of Representatives had about one representative for every 30,000 voters. This began to get unwieldy so congress passed a law restricting the House to 435 members, so that, today, there are over 700,000 voters per representative.

Obviously, this makes the House less local, too. At the time the decision made sense. Without it, the House would currently have slightly over 1,500 members. At the original one representative per 30,000 voters, the House would have over ten thousand members. That would be nearly, if not absolutely, impossibly unwieldy in a single building in Washington DC.

But today having thousands of people meet together is a snap, it’s something we do literally every day. We could reassert local control by returning to the original ratio and requiring representatives to remain in their districts, discussing and voting by Internet, phone, and whatever other collaborative technologies the mind of man devises.

This would help restore the balance of local over national that we lost with the seventeenth amendment, but it would do so in a manner that increases the power of individual voters rather than decreasing it. This makes the change a potentially popular one. The dangers to its passage are that it would reduce the effectiveness of outside lobbyists, because it is at once harder for outsiders to lobby everyone, and easier for constituents to lobby their own representative—who will live and work nearby.

Part of the problem with freezing the size of the House is that technology has made it easier to lobby en masse, and the frozen size means that the cost to lobby the entire House did not rise as our population rose. That is, the cost to lobby the entire House fell while the cost to lobby an individual member rose: each voter became worth less to each representative as the total number of voters increased. So representatives simultaneously grew distant from their growing number of constituents while closer to technology-empowered national interests.

Income tax vs. national sales tax—Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
DC K Street cab

“Taxation without representation”… seen on K Street.

“Politicians love hidden taxes. When they raise the taxes on corporations and those corporations raise their prices as a result, the politicians get to preen about the ‘greedy corporations’ instead of looking in the mirror to see who is truly greedy.”—Larry J (Economics for Dummies or Presidents (But I Repeat Myself))

I prefer the income tax over the sales tax on the federal level because, conceptually, it’s simple.1 If we are going to have a tax, it must be simple. The things that you are given by your employer are taxable; the only issue comes in determining their worth. And it has to be done once.

A sales tax, however, not so much. Do trade-ins count? Bartering? How do sales prices figure? Yard sales? If yard sales are exempt, what is a yard sale? These are decisions that have to be made several times a week, if not several times over the course of every day. And the more complex or vague, the more you discourage new people from selling: from creating new businesses with new jobs producing new products and keeping prices low.

Because sales taxes are heavily regressive without some additional complication—they will affect people who spend most of their income more than people who spend smaller parts of their income—they almost always come with an additional complication. The national sales tax usually comes with some complex scheme to rebate money to the poor to cover their expected taxes. Why not set a simple, low threshold, below which the tax does not apply? If the tax is so onerous that it would break a person’s wallet, they can choose to break their purchases over multiple days. Families could break up their groceries into multiple carts. But the rich didn’t get rich by wasting their time like that—unless of course the sales tax were so onerous that it became worthwhile to hire people to make smaller purchases for them.

Now, I can see that the national sales tax as it’s described is a huge improvement over the national income tax as it’s currently implemented, but that’s because the national sales tax hasn’t met the real world yet. As long as we are overhauling the tax system, making a straight percentage all the way across, no deductions, will mean that everyone pays X% and income taxes will be simple, too.

Othering reduced spending—Friday, March 6th, 2015
Highway Trust Fund fixes (poll)

Is “reduce spending” really worse than “pretend problem doesn’t exist”?

Our local Community Impact recently ran a feature article about the Federal government’s Highway Trust Fund and the loss of revenue due mainly to people not driving as much during the great recession.

On their editorial page, they included a poll:

“What do you think is the best way to fix the Highway Trust Fund revenue problem?”

These are the pre-listed choices on top of “Other”:

  • Increase the gas tax and index it to inflation.
  • Continue to borrow from the general fund.
  • Give back more existing gas tax revenue to states.
  • Implement and increase various registration fees.
  • I do not think there is a problem with HTF revenue

I’m guessing that, as close to Austin as we are, the Impact doesn’t endorse less spending but… even given that bias is “reduce spending to match revenue” really a worse answer than the punctuation-challenged “I do not think there is a problem with HTF revenue”?1

I don’t think it should come as a surprise that “Other” is currently third, and nearly tied with the second-highest choice, “Give back more existing gas tax revenue to states.”

Highway Trust Fund poll results

I take some solace in that “Other” is not normally a high vote-getter.

The federal fuel tax is already 18.3 cents per gallon. That’s a 9.7% tax going by what I last paid for gas (yes, I’m one of those who doesn’t fill up their tank as often as the government would like) and about 8% against current prices. Those are high rates of sales tax,2 but the preferred option in Washington and Austin is to increase that percentage.

I’m almost tempted to support the option to index the gas tax to inflation, just to see how the government both denies that inflation is happening and uses inflation to increase the tax.

Wikipedia has a similarly odd statement, “As of 2015, despite a sharp drop in gas prices, strong resistance remained by both the American public and Congress to raising the gas tax.”

World Chancelleries—Friday, March 6th, 2015
Premier Benito Mussolini

“Mussolini is liberator.”

The plaintive thread of these interviews is probably best summarized in this exchange during Edward Price Bell’s interview with Germany’s Chancellor Wilhelm Marx:

“… Heavy wars disarm peoples in their minds; only the abolition of the teachings of war and of the objective symbols of war can keep peoples disarmed in their minds. If we are to abolish war we must forget war. If we are to abolish war we must fill the minds and souls of our young with the gospel, the emotions and the images of peace.”

“Your feeling is that the world’s supreme need is peace?”

“That certainly is my feeling.”

“Do you know of a better way than through a League of Nations to get peace?”

“No.”

Throughout the book, Bell asks everyone about the efficacy of the League in ways that telegraph what he wants the answer to be. And the opening statement in the above quote, about abolishing the teachings of war, is reproduced as the frontispiece quote to this interview. Similarly, the Italy interview has Mussolini’s quote about creating a new Italian pulled out for emphasis:

Fascismo is the Greatest Experiment in Our History in Making Italians.”

And in the China interview, Dr. Tang Shao-Yi argues that…

“Education is the specific for the disease of war, and education works slowly. We must teach our children that to kill in war is precisely as criminal an act as to kill in civil life. Murder is murder. We loathe murderers. People must understand that war killers are murderers.”

The importance of education by the right people is affirmed in Bell’s introduction:

Not only statesmen, but specialists and thinkers of every calling, have a natural allegiance with the interviewer for the education of mankind. Fame is power. Fame is responsibility. Names with hypnotic properties are obligated to kindle, enlighten, and direct an attentive world.

World Chancelleries was published in 1926, and edited by Edward Price Bell, the “Dean of the Foreign Staff of The Chicago Daily News.”

This is an odd book all around. I first found it at a library book sale. I used to work at the University of San Diego, and saw it at their Copley Library discards sale for seventy-five cents. It appears to have arrived there after having been presented by the Chicago Daily News to a Mr. M.L. Hallett.

Older posts.