Archive for February 2019

The Reversal of Left and Right Continues

As the Left works hard to become the new Victorians, the reversal of Left and Right continues.  The most recent story:  Harvard students call on the University to remove a Harvard dean because, as an attorney, he has the temerity to represent an unappealing client.  When I grew up it was Conservatives that would try to shame an attorney for representing an alleged murderer or rapist, and the Left that used to scream that everyone has a right to representation in the legal process.  If I see the ACLU chime in against the dean, I will know the reversal is complete.

Whoever Did this Cereal Story Is A Lot Younger Than I

14 Cereals that Defined Our Childhood.

Hmm.  Quisp and Quake anyone?  I think as a kid I even voted in the national contest of which cereal they were going to kill.  A big bowl of Quisp and a glass of Tang.  Now that was breakfast.

Combatting Stereotypes with Increased Information

This story from Alex Tabarok on a study by Cui, Li and Zhang come to remarkably similar results to a previous study on ban the box laws in hiring

We conduct four randomized field experiments among 1,801 hosts on Airbnb by creating fictitious guest accounts and sending accommodation requests to them. We find that requests from guests with African American-sounding names are 19.2 percentage points less likely to be accepted than those with white-sounding names. However, a positive review posted on a guest’s page significantly reduces discrimination: When guest accounts receive a positive review, the acceptance rates of guest accounts with white-sounding and African American-sounding names are statistically indistinguishable.

This is modest good news.  It means that the original discrimination observed against people using Airbnb with black names had more to do with perceptions or stereotypes of unknown black people (e.g. "maybe they are more likely to be a criminal") than an out-and-out attitude of not wanting to have blacks set foot in their house.  The former is not great but a hell of a lot easier to combat than the latter.  I would argue the breakthrough in attitudes on gay marriage had a lot to do with so many people coming out of the closet over the last decade or two that almost everyone ended up having friends or family who were gay, and who they knew first hand to be good people.  This overcame past attitudes about homosexuality which for many were based wholly on stereotypes within their local circle.

As I linked above, this result in the Airbnb study was similar to a study on how ban the box had the perverse effect of reducing hiring of African-Americans because it reduced information:

Jurisdictions across the United States have adopted “ban the box” (BTB) policies preventing employers from asking about job applicants’ criminal records until late in the hiring process. Their goal is to improve employment outcomes for those with criminal records, with a secondary goal of reducing racial disparities in employment. However, removing criminal history information could increase statistical discrimination against demographic groups that include more ex-offenders. We use variation in the timing of BTB policies to test BTB’s effects on employment. We find that BTB policies decrease the probability of employment by 3.4 percentage points (5.1%) for young, low-skilled black men.

In that case as well, when no information is available, people fall back on stereotypes.  Employers recognized that stereotypes about criminal behavior were weak information and readily overcame them when better information (e.g. background checks) were available.

Social Justice Virtue Signaling Has Become a Form of Tourette's -- It's A Tic People Can't Seem To Stop Themselves From Doing

I was reading the USA Today story about a local guy who reported a local restaurant to the newspaper because it had a picture of guys in blackface they wouldn't take down -- what turns out to be a picture of Welsh coal miners covered in coal dust.  Personally, I am sorry the guy has faced so much vulgar hostility and apparent outright racism in the letters he has received.  But I still can't get past a judgement that his concern was historically ignorant, clueless virtue signalling.  His concern failed even on the level of his own stated principles in that it tried to deny a voice to folks who were a lot more downtrodden and lacking in privilege (including a near certainty of early death from a variety of respiratory diseases) than are modern African-Americans.

The silver lining from all this is that I had forgotten that Phoenix had a Cornish pasty restaurant and I have since eaten there twice (well, one was delivered) and it is awesome.

All this is preface to an event that happened a week or two ago.  My wife and I were at a small, ticketed event watching a preview of an upcoming Ballet Arizona performance of the Firebird.  These take place in a small rehearsal theater and give ballet supporters a chance to see a preview and then hear from our artistic director (and in this case also the costume designer).

I have to give a bit of background on the ballet.  We were previewing the opening scene, in which a prince and a group of his friends are hunting in the forest and discover a secret magical place where they encounter the firebird -- a sort of fantasy non-human creature played by a ballerina.  They try to capture her, she nearly dies, she pleads for her life, and the prince revives her (which then leads to a sort of reward that leads to the rest of the story).

Anyway, in this performance the ballet tried to do something different.  The artistic director Ib Anderson reimagined the scene as a sci fi scene from his childhood -- think of the prince being Captain Kirk on an away mission on a new planet and discovering an alien. All the new costumes are sci fi / alien themed.

OK, so we see this opening scene.  I am only a middling ballet fan but the scene is beautifully done.  Afterwards we had Q&A.  Even I was thinking about asking about the idea, but geek that I am my mind had wandered from the ballet of an away team visiting a planet to imagining the original cast of Star Trek dancing ballet on a new planet to trying to figure out what Star Trek episode had the main characters dancing and playing air instruments ("I Mudd" by the way).

A hand goes up in the first row.  Rather than a question, the guy goes into a monologue about how he really didn't like the fact that all the men attacked a defenseless woman and that the only way she got her powers back was because the man chose to give them to her.  Now, I said that in about 20 seconds but this went one for a minute or two.  It was excruciating.  An enormous WTF moment.

First, it's a freaking alien that is being played by a woman.  Second, to the extent it is a reflection of stereotyped gender roles by the original author, does this person monologuing to us really think the rest of the audience is unaware that writers 100 years ago had different visions of women's roles in society than we have today?  Is his goal to whitewash the past by pretending authors never wrote this kind of thing, or is his goal merely to make sure that we all know that he knows?  Even weirder, to be at this event the guy was presumably a ballet aficionado at some level -- has he never seen, say, any 19th century story ballet?  Or better yet 19th century opera, where the main role of women seems to be to die of some sort of wasting disease in the third act?  And finally, is he really concerned that the community of ballet choreographers and dancers is somehow a secret den of anti-wokeness that needs to be exposed?

I compare this need to publicly virtue signal like this to Tourette's because I don't think the guy could help himself.  Had you carefully explained all of the above to him in advance, he still likely would have had to make his speech (just like the guy with the miner photo above still insists he did the right thing even now that it has been explained that its a freaking photo of downtrodden, soon to be dead of respiratory diseases, miners).  By the way, it was sort of funny to see the reaction of the ballet folks on stage to this -- they tend to be way out there on social justice causes themselves and were clearly unused to being outflanked on these issues.

I got to thinking, what is the solution if this were really a problem?  I suppose we could gender swap the whole thing, with a male in the lead of Swan Lake, say.  But that does not really work, because in general in all these unwoke story ballets the females get all the best roles.  Most of the men are just props.  So gender swapping them would just take all the best roles away from women and hand them to men.  Eek, what is a good SJW to do?

Concert Recommendation -- Lady Gaga Jazz and Piano

I am not a Lady Gaga fan.  I could probably name a few of her songs if you put a gun to my head -- Poker face, uh that one in A Star is Born, uh, something something Romance.  And I was actually a tad resentful of even going -- we were in Las Vegas during the freaking Superbowl and we are skipping the game and going to Lady Gaga?

She had two shows in Vegas at the Park Theater (by the way best large theater I have ever been in for a concert -- WAY better than some hockey rink).  One show was her regular show with her pop music and one was a jazz show with American songbook classics.  We saw the latter.

And it was amazing.  In a world of autotune and pop singers who can't actually sing *cough* Katie Perry *cough*, Lada Gaga can sing her ass off.  It was tremendously impressive.  I don't know if she is doing this show again or in other locations but it is highly recommended.

PS-  The night before we went to a little Italian restaurant that had Pia Zadora singing in the lounge.  Spent the evening sitting at the bar chatting with the Liza Minnelli impersonator who spelled Pia from time to time.  A very old-school Vegas evening.  And did you know Pia Zadora has a freaking Warhol of her? And it's good.  Way more flattering than most paintings Warhol did of women.  Which is likely the product of her billionaire husband turning the screws on the artist.

PPS- Apparently we didn't miss much in the Superbowl.

Megan McArdle on Why We Will Never Have High-Speed Rail in the US

Megan McArdle has a great WaPo article and tweet storm on high-speed rail in the US.  In it she focuses on issues of distance and infrastructure barriers we have.

One thing she left out is that the US rail system is optimized for freight, vs. European and Japanese systems that are optimized for passengers (it is hard to do both well with the same network).  The US situation is actually better, much better, for energy conservation.  I wrote in detail about this before:

First, consider the last time you were on a passenger train.  Add up the weight of all the folks in your car.  Do you think they weighed more or less than the car itself?  Unless you were packed into a subway train with Japanese sumo wrestlers, the answer is that the weight of the car dwarfs that of the passengers it is carrying.    The average Amtrak passenger car apparently weighs about 65 tons (my guess is a high speed rail car weighs more).  The capacity of a coach is 70-80 passengers, which at an average adult weight of 140 pounds yields a maximum passenger weight per car of 5.6 tons.  This means that just 8% of the fuel in a passenger train is being used to move people -- the rest goes into moving the train itself.

Now consider a freight train.  The typical car weight 25-30 tons empty and can carry between 70 and 120 tons of cargo.  This means that 70-80% of the fuel in a freight train is being used to move the cargo.

This is another case of short-sighted analysis that looks only at the seen rather than the unseen.  Coastal elites take trips to Europe and see the beautiful high-speed trains and in turn never spend a moment thinking about freight trains.  So they fixate on beautiful sexy passenger trains rather than thinking about the system holistically.  I titled a Forbes article I wrote on the effect as "Shifting Capital from the Productive to the Sexy."

 

PS-  I am a train buff and have a whole room of my house filled with a model railroad, so I don't knee-jerk hate on rail.  I have ridden European high-speed rail many times so I am familiar with the product.  The London-Paris segment is great, and I have ridden the French TGV from Paris to Marseilles and the Italian line from Milan to Florence.  What's not to love as a tourist -- we don't pay for them and they provide good service between the city centers of tourist destinations.   But if you look at those trains they really have a ton of expensive infrastructure carrying not very many people over relatively (for the US) short distances.

I write this because after I criticized infrastructure triumphalism in Joel Epstein's article at Huffpo, he wrote me a one line retort: "You should get out of the country more often."  LOL, if you had to enshrine a hall of fame of sneering coastal elite dismissive comments of critics, this would have to be on the list.  I tried to follow up with him and ask him if he would have the US adopt China's infrastructure construction practices if the cost was adopting China's environmental and accountability standards, but I did not get a response.

Thanks to Helen Smith @instapundit For Helping To Promote My Company's Labor Model

She highlighted a new Amazon book called Live Camp Work: How to make money while living in an RV & travel full-time, plus 1000+ employers who hire RVers.  I have not read it yet but I just bought it and may post a review.

Our company hires about 350 RVers every year.

California Governor Finally Sees Reason on High-Speed Rail. And Then He Doesn't

Via USA Today:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced that he’s abandoning a plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The project's cost has ballooned to $77 billion.

“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address on Tuesday. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

Hurray!  This is long overdue.  I was writing about how dumb an idea this was back in 2008.  I remember it because I was on Fox and Friends in the worst time slot ever to talk about it.  Not only was the interview at like 4AM Arizona time, but the segment immediately before I discussed economics and public policy *yawn* they had 8 cute maltese puppies frolicking on stage.

Everyone, including I would bet California officials but probably excepting elements of the fawning media, knew the cost estimates were a joke.  In 2010 when CA said $30-$40 billion I said it would take at least $75 billion and when CA belatedly adopted that number I doubled it to $150 billion and I think that is still low for what it would have cost.  This was all at a time when you could fly Burbank to Oakland on Southwest for $90.

But because it seems to be a rule that no CA politician can remain sane for more than 5 minutes straight, here are the next lines of the story:

Newsom, though, said he wants to finish construction already underway on a segment of the high-speed train through the Central Valley. The project would connect a 119-mile stretch from Merced to Bakersfield.

“I know that some critics are going to say, ‘Well, that’s a train to nowhere.’ But I think that’s wrong and I think that’s offensive,” Newsom said. “It’s about economic transformation. It’s about unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley.”

This is absolutely absurd.  If you started with a clean sheet and studied what the Central Valley really needed for "economic transformation," I am willing to bet a high-speed rail line from Merced to Bakersfield would not be in the top 100 items, maybe not the top 1000.  Probably first on the list for the Central Valley economy would be to stop applying minimum wage rates based on San Francisco to poorer rural areas of California.  If you wanted to limit yourself to infrastructure projects, the Central Valley would probably beg for water infrastructure projects, not a silly overpriced train.

I'm Sure This Is Totally Legit

I missed the beginning because this is where voice mail picked up and started transcribing but it's definitely a classic:

...found some issue with your current Social Security number, so we have the started to suspend it and issue a new one to you now in order to get more details on it. I want you to give me a call back on 509-287-7296. I repeat. It's 509-287-7296 now if I do not get any call back from you then unfortunately, we need to proceed further. Thank you and have a blessed day.

I saw that the FCC is finallying rousing itself to maybe do something to fix the outright fraud in the caller ID system.  I hope so, this is long overdue and is exactly the sort of rule-setting to protect basica infrastructure that a limited government should be doing.

PS-  I use Hiya on my android phone but I am open to other solutions.  My main problem is my work phone which rings all day with spam calls, not sure if there is a solution for that.

The Democrat's "Green New Deal" is Mao's Great Leap Forward Brought to America. In Fact I Think I Am Going To Call It the Green Great Leap Forward

Readers have wondered why I have not really jumped on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal plan (which has since been endorsed by most major Democratic presidential candidates).  Well, one-reason is that we had no details, at least until a formal resolution was introduced in Congress and an FAQ went up and then back down on AOC's website.  The Ocasio-Cortez camp claims the FAQ went up by mistake (after previously claiming it was a Republican false flag operation), though I consider it more of a Kinsley Gaffe if it was a mistake at all.

The other reason I have ignored it to this point is the same reason I never enjoyed those American Idol episodes where they show all the people who can't sing but really think they are awesome embarrassing themselves.  It's weird enough seeing people who are incompetent think that they are capable.  It is even weirder seeing that person cheered on by a million other incompetent people on twitter.

But it appears that the entire Democratic Party has rapidly endorsed the plan, and every one of their Presidential candidates have said they are all for it, though site-unseen.  So I guess I have to wallow in a bit.  This may be the first of many posts, or maybe not.  It depends on how much I want to shoot at fish in a barrel.

It's hard to know where to start.  My first overall reaction is that there is no science and no economics in the plan at all.  I find this ironic (though not surprising) given that it comes from the environmental community that has called me "anti-science" for years for doubting global warming forecast rates based on exceptionally high degrees of positive feedback built into computer models.  AOC's entire plan feels like the results of a late-night policy brainstorming by a group of vegan poetry majors who chip in every idea they have seen someone post on Facebook.

Readers know that despite my skepticism that manmade CO2 will cause a climate catastrophe, I have presented a CO2-reduction plan on these pages.  You can read it here, but the three most relevant planks were:

  1. A revenue-neutral carbon tax that increased the price of producing CO2 and then let individuals and markets figure out how to do that most efficiently.  Since the point of the carbon tax is not to raise money for politicians but to send pricing signals to fuel users, the proceeds were netted against reductions in other regressive taxes, such as the payroll tax
  2. Elimination of all the command and control government programs where politicians pretend they know they best solution to technical-industrial problems and then mandate that scarces resources flow to their preferred solutions.  These are counter-productive, and not necessary since the carbon tax does the work for us
  3. Make regulatory changes to unleash a new generation of safe nuclear power, since this is the only high-production, reliable, not time-of-day dependent source of electrical power that we know about.

I did not think it was possible -- I presented the plan above as a transpartisan plan intended to bridge the gaps between Left and Right -- but the Green New Deal is EXACTLY opposite this plan

First, as with many on the Left, AOC does not understand much about economics, so she does not understand the carbon tax.  For the Left, the point of a carbon tax is not to send pricing signals in the marketplace but to raise money for politicians to spend on pet projects.  We saw this back in the Washington State carbon tax proposal, where environmentalists rejected a carbon tax because it was revenue neutral.  In her FAQ, AOC does exactly the opposite of my point 1 and 2.  She wants people just as smart and economically-savvy and scientific and stuff like herself at the top to redesign the US economy and to do this she needs a LOT more money than just a carbon tax:

The Green New Deal is a massive investment in the production of renewable energy industries and infrastructure. We cannot simply tax gas and expect workers to figure out another way to get to work unless we’ve first created a better, more affordable option. So we’re not ruling a carbon tax out, but a carbon tax would be a tiny part of a Green New Deal in the face of the gigantic expansion of our productive economy and would have to be preceded by first creating the solutions necessary so that workers and working class communities are not affected. While a carbon tax may be a part of the Green New Deal, it misses the point and would be off the table unless we create the clean, affordable options first.

Do you start to see the Great Leap Forward analogy?  Just to finish off the thought, AOC also goes the opposite direction of my nuclear point, proposing to ban nuclear power and dismantle  all that carbon-free electricity production.  Ask Germany how well that has worked out for them, as they have been forced into a rush of new coal-fired plants, or New York that is building three new large natural gas plants to replace the nuclear plants it is closing.  I will bet a thousand dollars that AOC has no real knowledge of nuclear safety nor has she spent probably 5 minutes studying the new generation of nuclear technologies.  Frankly, I bet as far as she has thought about it is that it is expected to be anti-nuclear on the Left so she is anti-nuclear like the other cool kids.

Every dumb, unscientific nostrum for energy-use reduction has at one time or another over the last several months been attached to the plan.  One example is the call for dismantling industrial agriculture and promoting local food production.  This is easily one of the silliest ideas (for fuel reduction) I can imagine and have written about it before.  I have no problem if you want to buy locally and don't want to buy from Kraft or Cargill.  Power to you.  But the conclusion that local food production will save energy is exactly the sort of conclusion that people with no experience rigorously analyzing scientific problems come up with.  They jump from the fact that Agriculture uses a lot of energy to "it must all be in transportation" and thus conclude "local agriculture will save lots of fuel."  But this is absurd.  First, fuel use in agriculture is not mostly transport to the end consumer.  The actual growing process consumes most of the fuel, and this fuel use is much more related to land productivity and economies of scale that would be destroyed by a local agriculture mandate.   And even if it did actually improve fuel use, think of the other environmental effects of growing food locally on land less-suited to its production -- you would greatly increase land and water use, just to start, both likely creating more environmental problems.

I am reminded of Mao's idea during the Great Leap Forward that China needed to produce all its steel locally in home-based backyard furnaces (I kid you not).  I think most of us can predict the obvious result - steel production crashed because you can't produce steel in any kind of amount or quality in the backyard.  But there were two less obvious results as well.  One, this contributed to the crash in agricultural output as skilled agricultural labor and resources was diverted to this silly steel-making scheme.  And two, whole forests were denuded as people sought out fuel for these furnaces.  China is still recovering from environmental messes this caused.  India barely avoided the same disaster as Ghandi wanted to eschew industrial production in favor of home spinning and weaving.  THIS is what you get when you let ignorant people command and control the economy.  Heck, this is what you get even when you let really, really smart people command and control the economy.

Update:  Since I have eschewed Twitter, mostly, of late, I missed the fact that #greenleapforward is the term folks are converging on.  Happy to go with that.

Not Quite A One-Star Review, But Worth Sharing

In the spirit of something John Scalzi has done in the past -- he posts some of his 1-star Amazon book reviews online as a sort of therapy -- I like to share some of my favorites.  This one is not quite a one-star review but it made me laugh this morning:

Lol, we are closed for the winter (the TVA, who owns this campground, requires that the campgrounds near its dams be closed in winter).

By the way, this is from my daily report at Reputology.com.  They work well for me managing reviews over multiple locations.