Posted by: bkivey | 27 February 2015

“It Is Time”

“”Leonard Nimoy passed today at 83, and for more than half his life, he was indelibly identified as Mr. Spock. The logical, emotionless, efficient Vulcan-Human First Officer of the USS Enterprise formed the analytical half of Kirk’s Greek chorus, with DeForest Kelly’s emotional Dr. McCoy representing Kirk’s conscience. Spock was one of Star Trek’s most popular characters, and surprisingly interesting to female fans, perhaps because

“You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. This is not logical, but it is often true.”

The outsider nature of Spock’s character allowed the writers to examine human nature, and Spock often got the best lines:

“Quite simply, Captain. I examined the problem from all angles, and it was plainly hopeless. Logic informed me that, under the circumstances, the only possible action would have to be one of desperation. Logical decision, logically arrived at.”

” I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.”

“Insufficient facts always invite danger.”

“Superior ability breeds superior ambition.”

“It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”

Even providing the title for one of my posts:

” I am endeavoring, Madam, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bear skins.”

Given a character as ostensibly two-dimensional as Spock, Mr. Nimoy managed to expand the character’s range through voice tone and inflection, and showed the world how much meaning can be conveyed with a raised eyebrow.

DeForest Kelly, who played Dr. McCoy and Spock’s frequent verbal sparring partner, passed in 1999, so as Mr. Nimoy makes his final voyage, perhaps one more quote is appropriate:

“Daniel, as I recall, had only his faith, but I welcome your company, Doctor.”

Posted by: bkivey | 12 February 2015

The Shape of Thinks to Come

You don’t have to look far these days to find examples of philosophical systems at variance, sometimes wildly so, with the observed universe. Ideas and worldviews that mere decades ago would have been labeled irrational are now presented as mainstream. The wonderment at which a rational person views this development is two-fold: first, how does societal thought keep moving further from reality, and why do intelligent people embrace irrational thoughts?

My thinking on the first can be illustrated by the progression of classical liberalism. Prior to The Enlightenment period of Western culture during the 17th and 18th centuries, the human condition was pretty much as it had always been: the strong established monarchies and tyrannies to virtually (or actually) enslave the weak. Even so, everyone was strongly connected to the natural world, as the cycles of seasons and climate determined the success of a given society. There is little discussion of ‘animal rights’ in a world where work and sustenance depend on the exploitation of animals. Accordingly, there’s equally little discussion of human rights in societies where the vast majority are kept ignorant and fearful by a very small minority.

For approximately a century starting in mid-17th century Western Europe, the prevailing order was challenged by the intelligentsia. The prevailing order didn’t take kindly to radical concepts like equality before the law, individual rights, and freedom of expression, and persecution among the proselytizers was common. As information technology and literacy developed, the dissemination of these concepts spread, reaching an apotheosis in the American Revolution. The result was a society founded on liberal ideology while still very much connected to the natural world.

But without specialized training, humans have a real problem recognizing when a system has reached maximum utility. As founded, the US was far from perfect, but a damn sight better than any other political system. A few tweaks, like abolishing slavery and universal suffrage, were needed, but no wholesale overhaul. Human nature being what it is, the original radicals found their ideas had become mainstream, so to maintain their self-identity as radicals, they had to espouse ideas more extreme than those considered normal. As society adopts the more radical tenants, the radicals have to move further away. And so it goes until the society bears almost no resemblance to it’s original form. So it is that the modern Liberal has much more in common with the tyrant than the egalitarian.

As to why intelligent people can embrace irrational concepts, let’s look at whence philosophical system spring.

The natural world is governed by well-understood physical laws. There are situations where our intuitive understanding fails us, but in the low-gravity, low-speed world we inhabit, Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry work very well. The universe would follow the same laws whether humans were around or not, and it’s important to remember that humans are part of the natural universe, and are governed by the same laws.

It’s also useful to note that economic laws are as inviolate as any physical law, and if one substitutes ‘resources’ for ‘money’, economics models natural process well. In fact, economics bears such a close resemblance to thermodynamics, it seems reasonable to suppose they are two facets of the same thing.

So any philosophical system will attempt to reconcile human consciousness with the observed universe. This is a bit of a problem, as the human consciousness far exceeds the limits of the physical world. People will manufacture ideologies invariant with the observed universe because there are other factors in play. Compassion, altruism, the need to serve a higher power are all part and parcel of the human experience. But when governing human behavior, these extra-(natural law) legal behaviors engender complications.

In mathematics, a manifold is, to grossly oversimplify, the universe in which certain calculations can take place. If we take the observable universe to be the manifold in which natural law is defined, we can come to grips with where certain philosophies fail. Remember that natural law is the observable universe and all its interactions. It is the basis.

My contention is that the further thought gets from the basis, the more error-prone the philosophical modeling. The rational person will develop philosophies based on the observable world, and in so doing create social systems that take advantage of human nature and natural law. Such systems allow the greatest possible individual freedom consistent with the common good.

The irrational person will develop axioms independent of observation, and develop social and philosophical systems that may be self-consistent, but bear little resemblance to natural law. Forcing people into these idealized constructs requires severe restrictions on individual freedom, and the refutation of human nature. The adherents of these philosophies argue that their systems are ‘better’ because they are more ‘fair’, when in fact they are neither.  A good way to judge the worth of a society is to examine how closely it comports with the observable world and human nature.

My New Favorite Website

The folks over at climatechangepredictions.org have collected every bit of climate fearmongering they can find and put them all in one place. Especially good is the category ‘Having It Both Ways’.

h/t Robert Zimmerman from ‘Behind the Black’.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 2 February 2015

WTF!?

The Seattle Seahawks contested Superbowl XLIX with the New England Patriots, and came up on the short side. It wasn’t that the Patriots won so much as the Seahawks lost. There are many appellations for extraordinary events in the NFL: The Drive, The Catch, The Immaculate Reception, but this event may go down as The Call, and not in a good way.

This Superbowl lived up to it’s hype for 59:40; hell, even the halftime show was worth watching. Two tough teams battling. The first quarter was the feeling-out period, then the Seattle defense and New England offense showcased. Seattle was committed to taking away yards-after-catch, and New England brought back the West Coast offense with short passes underneath the coverage. Seattle went with man coverage the entire game, but New England QB Tom Brady will pick that apart if there is any whiff of a mismatch. The fact is that the Seattle defense couldn’t match the New England receiving corps. New England got some mileage out of the running game in the first half, but Seattle’s ‘Legion of Boom’ shut that down in the second half.

Seattle QB Russell Wilson made plays with his legs, and showed his ability to loft a ball accurately downfield, while Tom Brady flicked balls quickly out of the pocket. The game was the Seattle hare of opportunity versus the New England tortoise of possession offense.

Cue the final two minutes.

After the Patriots had gone up 28 -24, Seattle found itself on the New England five yard line following an improbable catch by Jermaine Kearse. One play later, Seattle was 2nd and goal at the 1-yard line with 20 seconds left.

Let’s stop for a moment.

You are down by four points, and have to score a touchdown. You are on the opponent’s 1 yard line.There are 20 seconds of game clock.  You have three tries to punch the ball in, and the best running back on the field that day to do it. You have one timeout in hand.

What would you call?

If you said ‘passing play’, congratulations! You could get a job with the Seahawks coaching staff! Play resumed, and “Wilson fires into the end zone. . . intercepted!” Game over. There was an unseemly brawl the next play, but the game was over.

What in the name of all that is holy was head coach Pete Carrol and his coaching staff thinking?

Give the ball to  Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch, and you stand a fair chance of winning. Your offensive line has been doing the job all day, why doubt them now? Why in the HELL would you call a pass play when a running play would very likely win the game?

Worst-case scenario: you run a play, it doesn’t work, you’ve burned maybe 6 -7  seconds, Call a timeout. Run another running play. Maybe now you’re down to 5 – 6 seconds with the clock running. Run or pass, if you fail, you’ve failed trying. No shame in that. But to throw a ball when the rushing game was working . . . WTF!?

I’m not one for armchair quarterbacking, but the events in this game were . . . unusual.

TBI

TBI, or Traumatic Brain Injury is something I know far more about than is literally healthy. My first experience came when I was 6, falling out of a car onto a curb, and I’ve had a total of four Grade III concussions, with a host of minor ones. And heck, I’m not being paid big money to sustain them.

I experienced another head injury a couple months ago when a piece of furniture I was lifting took the opportunity to let go and smack me in the head. The 150 lb piece hit me on the upper left side of my skull at 32 ft/sec/sec from a distance of  1.5 feet. It knocked me on my ass and temporarily stunned me. One minute later, the exact same thing occurred. I had to take a few minutes to recuperate.

As I mentioned, I’ve sustained severe head injury, but the most recent was in a league by itself. For a nearly a month I had severe headaches centered on the point of impact, and noticeable degradations in motor, speech, and cognitive functions. I didn’t seek medical attention. Not because I couldn’t afford it, or because I have some irrational fear of medical treatment, but because there wasn’t much that could be done.

I knew how the drill would play out if I went to the hospital. I’d be seen by a nurse, and recommended for an MRI. No matter what the scan showed (in this case, probably a skull fracture), there wasn’t anything that could be done. My biggest fear was a subdural hematoma, and when I failed to exhibit those symptoms, it was a matter of letting nature take it’s course. If I’d gone to hospital, I’d be in the exact same place I am now, minus thousands of dollars.

It’s only been the last couple of weeks that I’ve felt ‘normal'; no headaches and more-or-less normal cognitive function. But for a couple of months I was very concerned that I’d permanently lost cognitive capacity; everything was in sort of a haze. And in truth, I probably have, but not to the extent that it appeared on first blush.

I have gained understanding into why professional fighters at the highest levels only fight once or twice a year: the body just can’t take any more.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 30 January 2015

Letter to the Editor II

It’s been some 30 months since I wrote a post based on the Letters page of the local paper, but the 18 January edition was too good to pass up.

Blaming the Victim

Press and ‘moral responsibility': Let’s not call those who publish provocative cartoons deriding the religious beliefs of others — not just Muslims — “heroes.” By kindling hatred among the few French Muslims likely to respond violently, the cartoons led to many deaths, including those of innocent bystanders. No government interfered. Thus the issue is not freedom of the press; it is the moral responsibility of the press.

Ironically, morality is the cornerstone of all religions. Buddha taught that hurtful speech has consequences. Saint Paul agreed, saying you reap what you sow.

John Folawn

Northwest Portland

Mr. Folawn appears to be under the misconception that only government can repress free expression. Any entity willing to use deadly force can repress freedom, and multiple examples are apparently not enough teach the writer that lesson. In a civilized society, murderous rage is not an appropriate or acceptable response to a slight. Those who worry about offending the ‘violent’ Muslims, how ever few they may be, are already in the oppressor’s thrall.

Missing the Point

U of O’s academic bona fides: I am dismayed about the hoopla over the University of Oregon and its football team. I went to U of O in the 1950s and 1960s, and I chose that school because of academic excellence in its liberal arts program — in particular, mathematics. Nowhere did the university’s record in football influence my choice, and I doubt that members of its outstanding faculty were enticed to the school by a winning football team.

Today, I would almost certainly not choose U of O as a place for my education. Football is fun, but it isn’t the purpose of an institution of higher learning.

Jack Gjovaag

Southwest Portland

Assuming that Mr. Gjovaag majored in Mathematics, or some other technical field, the intervening years haven’t been kind to his grasp of logic. The majority of football powerhouse schools are often in the top academic tier as well: UCLA, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, USC, Georgia Tech, and yes, Oregon. Major sports programs in universities are funded primarily by alumni donors and various fund-raising activities. Oregon has a very good football team, and one very large alumni donor in Nike founder Phil Knight. It may be that some students select Oregon because they want to cheer on a winning program Saturday afternoons, but I suspect most students select their school based on some combination of academics and proximity. I would suggest that perhaps Mr. Gjovaag isn’t enamored of success in general.

Self-Hatred

‘Growth is not the answer': The Oregonian editorial board would be far more worthy of respect if it occasionally departed from its monolithic support of any project that produces “jobs” to treating the bigger-picture issue — namely, where is our current business model leading us?

An export-driven economy like Oregon’s sits on a double conundrum: It supports growth at home and growth on the receiving end. It doesn’t matter what the exported product is — but surely fossil fuels are the worst of the lot. Let’s have some talk about where this leads. The Earth already suffers from the effects of too much humanity. We need to be working out how to lessen our impact, not make it greater.

Growth is not the answer — it is the problem.

Steve Iversen

McMinnville

The biological imperative is ‘Grow or Die’. Every organism seeks to expand it’s niche and secure resources to ensure the survivability of the species. Humans are biological organisms, meaning we follow the same natural laws as any other living thing. Even though we’re little better than slightly more intelligent monkeys, our biological niche is at the apex. To say that humans should voluntarily reduce their ‘impact’ (niche) is not rational. We’d do far better to harness our biological impulses for the collective good than try to suppress them. And there’s an app for that: capitalism.

Bonus!

A Lisa Crnich wrote on 19 January that she was appalled at the increase in rates for the use of a public natatorium. And indeed, the rate increase isn’t trivial. Apparently the fee for a single class went from $4.50 to $10 at the start of the year, or a 120% increase. Not even college increases that much. Fortunately, Ms. Crnich clears up the mystery.

She relates that she consulted her tax bill, and found that two bond measures increased her tax bill by nearly 25%. The key quote from her letter:

“I have always been a supporter and voted for the bond levies. I’m not sure I can do that in the future.”

Where does she think bond repayment money comes from? It’s true that the voter information pamphlet provides an estimate of the additional tax burden for bonds, but it seems most people don’t bother to read it or ignore it because it’s ‘for the children’ or some such drivel. Magical thinking, meet economic reality.

Posted by: bkivey | 27 January 2015

A Bug, Not a Feature

Almost exactly one year ago I wrote a post on the stifling effect government largesse has on social mobility. My premise was that as more government money is given to people in lower income brackets to ‘help’ them, the more difficult it is to move out of poverty. The usual economic progression is one of incremental steps rather than sizable jumps, so low-income workers often find that any increase in their paycheck is more than offset by the decrease in benefits. Thus it takes a person with fortitude to suck up the negative differential and ride it out for a few years.

Lo and behold, the 23 January edition of the local fishwrap of record led with a story on how a $15/hr minimum wage would affect a single parent with two children. There’s a graph illustrating how a putative $3100/month would break down in wages and benefits given hourly wages from the state minimum $9.10/hr to $18.10/hr. As surmised, the net income is negative from $11.10/hr to $14.10 hr. To politicians and social workers, this is known as the ‘benefits cliff’.

I was pleased that the paper ran the analysis on a single-income family household, because that’s the demographic most often cited by the Social Justice Warriors (SJW) when agitating for a higher minimum wage. A single person with no dependents, aka most of the minimum wage workforce, would likely see a net increase as their marginal wage rate rose. In fact, most estimates put the single income family on minimum wage at less than 0.5% of the workforce.

The article interviews bureaucrats, politicians, and social workers, and none of them see the ‘benefits cliff’ for what it is: the walls around the reservation. Gearing public social policy to the lowest common denominator has created a negative feedback loop: the greater the dole, the harder it is to escape it, the more people are on the dole. This is likely one of the reasons public assistance success stories are so uncommon. Even stipulating that intelligence and ambition are normally distributed among a given population, the combination of spirit-crushing benefits and ever-higher barriers to mobility require an exceptional individual to overcome them.

This isn’t to say that people aren’t generally thrust into these situations unwillingly. If you’re a single parent trying to raise a family on a minimum-wage job, you’ve very likely made some bad life decisions. I’m not blaming the victim, just going with the high-probability event. But youthful indiscretion shouldn’t be punished by those who profess to ‘help’ you.

The folks interviewed in the article were generally of the same mindset: rather than lower benefits to encourage work and social mobility, they were of the opinion that benefit triggers should be raised. They see generous welfare benefits as a feature of the social system, rather than a flaw of paying people not to be productive. They certainly don’t recognize the toxic effect on society of limiting access to a more financially rewarding life.

I’ve noted in other posts that income inequality is a necessary part of a productive society. Just as in thermodynamics, there has to be an energy differential to make the engine work. The key, and the one thing that has made America the pre-eminent economy for two centuries, is the promise that someone on the lower end of the economic ladder has access to the upper end. As the political class seeks to consolidate power by limiting access to the upper reaches through programs to ‘help’ those less fortunate, the poor will continue to vote for those that promise to give them stuff, not realizing they are little more than serfs.

So if you are in the position of trying to raise a family in a one-earner minimum wage household, you’re pretty much trapped in a life of, if not outright poverty, low income and lower probability to escape your situation. That may not be servitude, but it sure as hell isn’t freedom.

Mutiny on the Bounty

One of my goals this year is to read more. My primary motivation was the number of unread books in my library, most of which I picked up last year. I recently finished William Bligh’s account of the mutiny on board HMAV Bounty.

The Bounty mutiny is probably the most infamous in the English language. The bald facts are: Lieutenant (Leftenant) Bligh was commissioned in 1788 to take the Bounty to the South Seas, procure a number of breadfruit plants, and convey them to the West Indies to be used as cheap food for slaves.

Other than having to quit the attempt to enter the Pacific by way of Cape Horn and sail by way of the Cape of Good Hope, the outward voyage was uneventful. After five months in Tahiti taking on breadfruit trees, the Bounty sailed for the Caribbean. A month into that voyage, the crew, led by master’s mate Fletcher Christian, wrested control of the ship and put Bligh and 18 loyalists in an open boat in the middle of the Pacific. Four other loyalists were retained by the mutineers for their skills.

In a stunning display of seamanship and command, Bligh sailed that open boat 3,600 miles to the Dutch settlement on Timor without charts or compass, losing only one man to native action. As an exercise in competence and leadership, it compares favorably with Shackleton.

After finishing the book, I watched the 1935 movie version of the story. Featuring Charles Laughton as Bligh, and a y0ung Clark Gable as Christian, the movie has much to do with the popular perception of Bligh as a tyrant the crew was only too eager to get rid of.

But the logs tell another story. A captain must record everything of note in the ships log, and Bligh says the first punishment wasn’t ordered until some three months into the voyage, while the movie implies that the Bounty was a Hell ship pretty much from the get-go. The movie also depicts some events, notably a keel-hauling and forcing Christian to sign a stores manifest against his will, that aren’t evident in the history.

The movie does allude to the likelihood that after five months in Tahiti, some sailors didn’t want to give up Paradise on Earth. I think this the likely motivation for the mutiny, because a choice between life on the islands and the harsh discipline of British naval service at the time would be an easy one for many men to make. The fact that over half the ship’s company was loyal to Bligh, although some may have wanted to avoid the noose, says his reputation as a martinet may be overblown. And even the mutineers respected Bligh as a mariner. When the carpenter was allowed his tools, some sailors expressed the opinion that Bligh would see England for sure.

The Bounty story is a good one, all the more so as the mutineers fared on the whole worse than those they set adrift.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 25 January 2015

Community College Conundrum

Dear Leader’s  approval ratings haven’t been what he would like; polling as low as 40% the first week of November 2014, so he and his puppetmasters advisors have been casting about for a way to appease the electorate. Knowing that dissatisfaction with Obamacare is going to increase as more people ‘find out what’s in it’, and finding it increasingly difficult to hide the fact that an economy can’t grow when you’re actively destroying it,  they’ve hit upon the idea of reducing the community college tuition to $0. Hey! The Republic is in shambles; let’s hand out free stuff!

This is such a bad idea it’s difficult to know where to start, but I’ll take a stab.

I’ll start with a disclaimer. I’m a community college product. I found high school to be boring beyond words, and figured college would be more of the same. They were both school, right? So despite scoring the highest SAT in my high school, and actively recruited by the military to go to college (I killed the ASVAB), I didn’t go. When I was 25 I realized that I wasn’t any better off than at 17, and figured that school might help. I enrolled at the local junior college, and went back to school.

I liked it. A lot. Tuition was very reasonable, and through careful course selection I was able to transfer nearly all my credits to a four-year institution. Community college was a big factor in my ability to graduate with my first undergrad devoid of student debt. Well, that, and qualifying for company scholarships and pretty much living on the Dean’s List. The point is that community college is a viable road to a bachelor’s, and students going that route can save big money.

But making community college ‘free’ is a terrible idea.

There Ain’t No Free Lunch

‘Free’ community college is expected to cost the Federal government (you) tens of billions of dollars per year. Considering the Feds are broke, how ever will they pay for this? Part of the answer is by raising taxes on the middle class. Yes, the same-same middle class President Obama is so fond of praising and trying to ‘help’.

For years there have been college saving plans known as ‘529’ plans under the tax code. People can put after-tax earnings in these plans, and when they withdraw funds for their child’s education, the withdrawals are not taxed. Under the free community college proposal, those same withdrawals will be taxed as ordinary income. So you earn a dollar, it’s taxed at Federal, state, and perhaps local levels, you put part of it aside for your children’s future, and when you withdraw it, it’s taxed again. Does this seem fair to you?

Community College Tuition will Skyrocket

Part of the appeal of community college is the relative affordability compared to four-year institutions. As with any other economic system (see: healthcare); when you flood the market with resources, demand increases, and prices rise. The availability of money is the primary motivating factor in the increase in college tuition. When I went for my second undergrad, the market was so saturated with money that even with a well-paying professional job, I had to take out student loans to afford tuition. OK, there was a mortgage and some other expenses, but still. In a sane world college tuition shouldn’t rise much faster than the rate of inflation. Like healthcare, in higher education there is little connection between services rendered and price of service.

College is Too ‘Affordable’ Now

The whole cache’ of college is that a degree signifies that one has some basic skill training in a professional area and that one has been exposed to a broader world. The implication is that the graduate is a cut above those who didn’t attend. With the ‘everyone must go to college’ push in secondary education arena, vast sums of taxpayer money have been made available to anyone who can cast a shadow. The reality is that only people > 1 SD can truly reap the benefits of a college education.

There are really no economic barriers to attending college in the US. If you’re smart enough, you’ll get scholarships and other financial assistance.  If you are athletic enough, you’ll make the team, and reap the benefits thereof. If you can’t do either, you can go into hock for the majority of your adult life. There just isn’t a big hurdle from the mundane working life to going to school. Yes, if you’re a single parent it’s  hard, but you have to look at your decisions prior before condemning society.

My experience in school is that there were far too many people who were there because they didn’t know what else to do. Going to school was easy, money was there, so there they were, taking up space that a more motivated individual would have better occupied.

Getting into college should be hard. College isn’t merely, or shouldn’t be, Extended High School. The barriers for entry at most American colleges are so low, they may as well be non-existent. But even if someone were to fail entrance on a more rigorous exam, it’s not one-and-done. You could always try again. And if you don’t make it, maybe it’s time to re-examine your life choices.

‘Free’ community college is only going to encourage those without direction to hang out in a State-subsidized classroom while they still don’t know what they want to do.It is, in fact, State-funded babysitting for grown children.

People Are Set Up for Failure

The pernicious aspect of free college, or, let’s get real, race-based admission, is that people who aren’t suited for the task are led believe they are. If you can make the grade, great. Welcome to the expanded universe. But some folks, irregardless of background or skin color or ethnicity, just aren’t up to the task. That’s the reality.  There’s no shame here. People have different abilities, and a society grounded in the reality of natural selection would recognize this. But to tell someone who skated through 12 years of public education that they are somehow ready for rigorous academic trials is to do a great disservice to the institution, the individual, and society.

So what we’re seeing are large numbers of people taking on massive debt, not graduating, and becoming disaffected as they realize they’re stuck with the debt, don’t have job skills, and no degree. This is not a recipe for a happy citizen, or a successful society. There is a saying “Water finds it’s own level’. If the do-gooders in government would stay out of the way, water would have a much easier time.

‘Free’ College Dilutes the Product

One of the axioms of economics is that if a product is in demand, scarcity increases the demand and thus the price (value). De Beers knows this, and if you’ve bought a diamond, you do, too. It’s also axiomatic that if a market is flooded with a commodity, and there are a limited number of buyers, the price (value) of the commodity will decrease.

My first awareness of the US education glut was in the 80’s. I hadn’t yet gone to college, but I had work skills. I noticed that many jobs for which I was skill-wise qualified required a college degree. This was very frustrating. Almost none of the positions I sought required a college education to perform, but it was evident that employers were using a college diploma as a screening tool. This is still evident today, though not to the same degree.

The more people with post-secondary education, the less valuable that credential becomes. Some will say that post-secondary education is necessary, and I wouldn’t disagree. But that education doesn’t have to be spent sitting in a classroom. Nearly everyone requires job training post-high school, but options other than college should be given equal weight.

People are Selling Their Future

I’ve got a proposition for you. I’ll give you money, you go to school, and depending on what your major in, you may be able to pay back in a reasonable time. Understand, you have to pay back the  money whether you get a ‘good’ job or not. And if you don’t graduate, you still owe the money. Deal?

In literary circles, that’s known as a Faustian bargain. In game theory, it’s a low-probability win scenario. Sure, if you major in a technical field, or have extraordinary talent in some other field, you can come out ahead, but for most students, they’ll be on the hook for the majority of their working careers. The  deal in American education is this: 18 year-olds mortgage their future on an uncertain outcome. The Federal government and Big Education encourage this. To give people a ‘free’ two years of college, and make no mistake, this is just the precursor for a full ride to a Bachelor’s, is to exacerbate the problem.

So you get your degree. Hooray! Assuming you didn’t pay then, you’re sure going to pay now. For the rest of your life, you’ll be paying increased taxes so others can get their increasingly meaningless college degree. Feel better?

Posted by: bkivey | 18 January 2015

Glitches in the Matrix

There is a school of thought that we are living in a computer simulation. Enough people take the idea seriously that some researchers are looking for clues in the structure of the universe to test the viability of the hypothesis. If we are living in a simulation, it would answer some questions about the need for humans to believe in and serve a higher power. And if we are ever able to construct simulations with self-aware beings, the probability that our universe is a simulation developed by others becomes a near-certainty.

Ever since a certain 1999 movie became popular, wildly improbable events have been termed ‘glitches in the matrix’. I’m aware of three events in the past week that might qualify for that appellation.

US diplomacy completely drops the ball

On 7 January Islamic terrorists killed 17 people and injured 22 others in France. We live in a world where terrorism is Islam’s modus operandi: regrettably the attacks themselves aren’t unusual. A few days later massive marches occurred throughout France in support of freedom of expression. Among the millions of attendees were government leaders or high-ranking officials from some 40 nations. The US, where freedom of expression is a founding principle, sent the US Ambassador to France. Attorney General Eric Holder, who may have been sufficiently senior to quell criticism, was in France, but didn’t attend. The no-show at an event held to denounce terrorism was bad enough; what the US did next was far worse.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Paris on 15 January to, in his words, ‘share a hug with all Paris’. His speech was followed by folk singer James Taylor performing ‘You’ve Got a Friend’.

I still have bruises on my lower jaw. France is a proud, independent nation that, except for a latent militaristic streak, has contributed greatly to world culture. They helped us get our start as a nation, and with the exception of a certain event in 1986, have mostly stood by us when we needed them. The French Republic sustained a grievous injury, and the Obama Administration treated them like a six-year-old with a skinned knee. Serious people and nations simply don’t act this way. The Administration stepped in the merde, then kicked it in the French face. The US government could not have done a better job of reducing the US to a foolish, contemptible, laughingstock if they’d planned it.

US Attorney General Strikes a Blow for Freedom

The US Attorney General is charged with upholding the US Constitution and the law of the land. The current office holder has done approximately none of that. Like most (or perhaps all) of this Administration’s senior officials, he has shown himself to be a small, petty, corrupt individual who has used his office to persecute political opponents. On Friday 16 January, he actually did something to promote American values.

‘Equitable Sharing’ (DOJ page here) is a Federal program under which local and state law enforcement can seize private assets and use them in their own departments. The seizures don’t even require a warrant. All local law enforcement has to do is say they ‘believe’ criminal activity is occurring, bring in a Federal agency, and private property becomes State property. Local law enforcement is heavily incentivized to manufacture criminal activity out of whole cloth in order to boost their assets. It’s institutionalized corruption.

US Attorney General Eric Holder has forbidden the use of Federal law to enable asset seizure unless criminal activity is actually occurring. There are exceptions, but they cover such a small percentage of seizures that property confiscation under Federal law by local law enforcement is effectively eliminated. Given this Administration’s assault on freedom and founding American values, it’s a fairly big deal. Fair dues, this is a positive act by the Attorney General.

Seahawks Win

A more frivolous example, but the Seattle Seahawks NFC Championship win was a very low-probability event.

I couldn’t watch the game due to work, but picked the game up in the third quarter on the way home. Seattle wasn’t heavily favored, but they were playing at home in front of some of the loudest and most passionate fans in the country, and they had the best defense in the NFL.

Green Bay was handing them their ass.

The unheralded Packer defense stymied the Seattle offense, and forced four turnovers. The Aaron Rodgers helmed Green Bay offense couldn’t quite close the deal, but their kicker was good every time, leading to a 19 – 7 Packer lead with 2:50 left in the fourth quarter and Green Bay with the ball.

That’s where the game stood when I pulled into the grocery store parking lot. In a rational world, no team turns the ball over four times in a championship game and wins. The universe doesn’t allow it. So I went in to buy groceries.

Then, the matrix glitched.

4th Qtr. 2:09 Seattle QB Russell Wilson runs in a 1-yard touchdown. GB 19 SEA 14

4th Qtr. Just over 2 min Seattle recovers onside kick.

4th Qtr. 1:25 Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch scores on a 24 yard run. 2 point conversion is good: QB Wilson throws up a prayer which somehow lands in Jermaine Kearse’s hands at the goal line. GB 19 SEA 22

4th Qtr. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers gets the Packers into field goal range, and they convert to tie. GB 22 SEA 22

OT 3:12 Seahawks win the toss. Wilson throws a rainbow from the 43 to Jermaine Kearse at the 3. Momentum carries him over the goal line to win the game. GB 22 SEA 28

I was unaware that any of this had transpired until halfway through the first quarter of the AFC game when it was announced the winner would face Seattle in the Super Bowl. Say what?! On to the internet!

There’s a Packers fan at a bar I frequent who is, um, colorful, when he watches football. I would have paid real money to be there during the last three minutes of that game. I admit I gave up on the game, but all I have to say now, in homage to radio play-by-play man Steve Raibel, is

Touchdooooown! SEAHAWKS!

Posted by: bkivey | 15 January 2015

Drill, Baby, Drill

Where I live gas prices are hovering around $2 gallon, where they’ve been for over a month, and show no sign of rising. I can fill my tank for less than $25, compared to nearly $40 a year ago. The primary motivators for this happy circumstance are increased transportation unit efficiency, Saudi refusal to decrease production, and the tremendous increase in US and Canadian oil production, primarily from oil shale deposits.

Efficiency

Since the passage of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy  (CAFE) law in 1975, every automaker selling in the US must meet escalating government-mandated fleet fuel efficiency targets. The fleet average has increased by 60% over the last 40 years, and manufacturers of everything from tractors to heavy trucks to locomotives to commercial aircraft have followed suit. Businesses don’t like burning money any more than the average person, so the market is always looking for ways to move people and goods more efficiently. The result is that even as populations increase, in much of the Western world oil demand is decreasing.

Domestic Oil Production

The more expensive a commodity becomes, the more attractive previously unprofitable extraction methods become. $100 a barrel oil has made the oil shales of the north central plains and Canadian prairie economically viable. So much so, that the US is on the verge of becoming energy independent. This has led directly to

Saudi Oil Production

The Saudis understand the threat developing large oil deposits represents to their economy, and have refused to cut production in the face of declining oil prices, despite urging from their OPEC partners. In fact, the Saudis are looking to increase production to the extent possible in order to put North American oil fields out of business. Short term this may work, but the long term problem is that after 60 years of pumping oil out of the ground, the industry consensus is that the Saudis may not have a lot of oil left, whereas the oil shale deposits are relatively untouched.

It’s axiomatic that lower energy prices lead to economic growth, and in fact the US quarterly GDP has increased as oil prices have fallen. But it appears that economic law is something only applicable to the classical liberal, oppressive patriarchy, because in February 2012, noted Progressive Liberal economist Barack Obama noted that the Republican plan for $2 gas was

“Step one is to drill, and step two is to drill, and then step three is to keep drilling,”

Then displaying the brilliance the press frequently notes, he added

“Anybody who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or just isn’t telling you the truth,”

Let’s recap:

Average US gas price February 2012: $3.72/gallon

Average US gas price January 2015: $2.10/gallon

That’s a whopping 56% decline. How ever can that be? Is there a price connection between increased production and declining demand? Perhaps Dear Leader had Jevon’s Paradox in mind. But if the infrastructure and culture are oriented toward resource conservation, increasing a resource isn’t necessarily going to increase demand. I’m not going to take the $15 – $30 weekly I’m saving on gas and buy a Hummer. I’m also not going to drive an additional 200 miles a week to burn up the tank of gas that money would buy. The real net result for me and others is that our standard of living has slightly increased. But that’s a problem for Progressives. People are doing better in spite of, not because of, their policies.

Word Watch

I was casting about for a word to describe a five year interval, and came up with ‘quineal’ from the Latin word for five, quinque (who says a liberal education isn’t useful?) But, as with so many things, the Romans beat me to it. The Latin word for a five year interval is ‘lustrum‘ (pl. lustra) from the Greek ‘luo’. I’m partial to my neologism, if only because it bears some resemblance to the word for five in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. Lustrum sounds too much like ‘luster’, or some obscure alloy. My term also lends itself to the American practice of shortening words:

“He was in school for a quin.”

Compare to

“He was in school for a lust.”

So if you’re playing Scrabble and find yourself with a bunch of vowels and a ‘q’, play ‘quineal’. If you’re challenged, refer to this post.

Posted by: bkivey | 11 January 2015

Failure Is Now An Option

A couple of months ago I bought a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, and recently finished it. Lost Moon (Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger, Houghton Mifflin, 1994) is the story of Apollo 13, and the basis for the 1995 movie. Shannon Lucid took the movie to the Mir space station as part of her personal effects, which may seem like watching a plane crash movie on a flight, but is in fact anything but. Apollo 13 is one of the most inspiring events in modern history, and stands tall in the pantheon of human achievement. Shit got real, real fast. A veritable army of the best engineers and technicians on the planet worked around the clock to ensure that three men riding barely – capable machinery didn’t die a cold, lonely death.

Watching the movie, you might notice (beyond the incredible Oscar-winning sound) that all of the NASA personnel are white guys. The only minorities are press, and women are either press or wives. True, the movie is set in 1970, and as Walter Cronkite might say ‘That’s the way it was”. But America in 1970 was also a place that hadn’t yet succumbed to the tyranny of the mediocrity.

Uniformly white and male NASA personnel may have been at the time, but they also knew that they had been selected on the merits. If you were manning a console in Mission Control, it was because you were really good at your job. There was no toxic doubt that you were a social promotion. My experience is that knowing that you have a job based on your performance makes you want to work harder, as any slacking may well lead to the next person up getting the call. If you’re not a member of a protected class, there’s no protection in skin color or gender.

America doesn’t currently have a manned space program, so the question is hypothetical, but could the success of 1970 be replicated today?

I’m not sure.

I am reasonably sure that the tech staff at NASA is just as capable as their counterparts some 45 years ago, but would they have the same attitude; that nothing short of success was acceptable? I have real doubts about that. In modern Western society, failure is not only an option, but almost a badge of honor. People have been brainwashed into believing that failure comes not from personal shortcomings, but as a result of outside forces beyond their control.

Let’s imagine Mission Control in 2015. Tragedy befalls the International Space Station and the crew is in mortal danger. Maybe the crew is saved, maybe not. But if the crew is lost, questions that were unthinkable in 1970 would have to be asked:

  • Were the folks manning the consoles chosen on the merits, or were political factors in play?
  • Is NASA truly success oriented, or is trying really (or even fairly) hard good enough?
  • If equipment had to be fabricated, or machinery used in ways for which it wasn’t designed, would people care more about mission success, or the political and legal consequences?
  • Were success achieved, would the chattering classes care more about the achievement, or whether Mission Control was ‘diverse’ enough?

The success of any enterprise, whether nation or business or individual achievement requires the acknowledgement that failure can occur. But for the successful, it’s not an option. Fear of, or at least aversion to, failure drives people to accomplish great things. When people are shielded from failure, they become complacent and lose the will to succeed, becoming a civilization little different than the Eloi.

A New Computer

A couple of months ago I moved, and my new place has Wi-Fi, so I could ditch the cable modem. However, my old laptop isn’t wireless capable, so it was choice of buying a Wi-Fi card, or a new computer. All things considered, the new machine was the better choice, and the fact that the company would buy the computer helped.

Early last year I bought a new desktop. The small shop I bought the machine from migrated my files, loaded Windows XP, tested it, and sent me out the door. After customizing the machine, I was able to operate in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed the last several years.

For just under $400 I got a laptop that has all the power and memory I need, but there were a few surprises.

  • No DVD drive. What?! Another $40.
  • No mouse. Ring up another $30 for a decent wireless mouse.
  • Windows 8. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, and I knew that most people (read: don’t work for Microsoft) don’t like it. It’s maybe not as bad as some make it out to be, but it’s far from intuitive, and some operations that are easily accomplished with XP are a chore to figure out. But the biggest surprise was
  • No application suite. Every single computer I’ve ever bought since the Commodore 64 has come with some version of MS Office. The application suite is what makes a computer useful. One doesn’t buy a car and then pay extra for the transmission.

I was, and am, really unhappy about this. The business model now is apparently to sell a machine for a little cheaper than otherwise, and then have the consumer pay $100 for a MS Office personal license. If you want a business or professional license, it will have to be renewed on a regular basis. I call bullshit.

A tech person told me this has been going on the last five or six years. So now you get a decent machine, but no way to use it. As bought, I could use the computer to access the internet, and use the bloatware apps with which Windows 8 is filled. Actually using the machine productively requires shelling out nearly half again the purchase price in I/O devices and software, or using open source software (my choice).

This business model has opened up a cottage industry for folks who will install an XP emulator and remove the bloatware, usually for around $50. Good for them, but for folks like me who just want to use the machine, not so great.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 25 December 2014

In Hoc Anno Domini

Written in 1949 by Vernon Royster and published in The Wall Street Journal annually since.

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so. But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression – for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the le­gions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impresser to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, yehave done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a cur­tain so that man would still believe sal­vation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of dark­ness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter’s star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

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