Sunday, June 25, 2017

Now That Healthcare is "Fixed" (hah!)

As that fiasco plays out this week, the emphasis has turned to "now that we have health care fixed, let's move on to tax reform".  Paul Ryan went so far as to say,
"Transformational tax reform can be done, and we are moving forward,"
Now, personally, I never met a tax cut I didn't like.  The tax system is horribly broken in this country and broad cuts and reductions across the board sound great.   As Ryan also said,
"We are actually unique in the world in the way we discourage capital from coming back to America and how we incentivize off-shoring jobs," ... "This is not the kind of exceptionalism we should aspire to ..." 
There is a genuine problem in America: most people are getting poorer.  Wages have been in stagnation for nearly 50 years while prices have continued to climb.  The statistics the government reports to tell us how wonderful everything is in the country consistently lie about the cost of living.  Their hedonic adjustments tell you that even though the car you want to buy says $33,000 on the sales papers, it really is the same cost as the $19,000 car you bought in 1997.  The new car is technically superior to the 1997 car, so it's really cheaper.  If all you have is the money to pay for the $19,000 car, well then, the government says "sucks to be you".  Not really.  They don't acknowledge your problem at all.

Idiots like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren look at this rampant screwing of the people by the big government and central bankers and think the answer is to make the government bigger and never, ever mention the role of the trillions of dollars of assets the Federal Reserve created.  

The unfortunate reality is that there is no tax reform on the horizon that will make them richer.   Most people aren't poor because the feds take too much of their money; they're poor because the feds have gummed up and distorted the economy so badly.  Hobbled by regulations, fake money from the putrid, execrable central banks, and the crony deals that enrich the few insiders, the can’t deliver the jobs and incomes people need.

Earlier this year, House Stupid Party members said they were going to strive for a tax return you could do in the space of postcard - then they overcomplicated that by keeping popular deductions.  That's not how you do it.

You want "transformational change"?  Throw out every page of the tax code.  Everyone pays a flat percentage.  I don't like throwing around numbers for what it should be because (1) I don't know, and (2) things will change so much, so fast, that any number you start out with will need to be changed.  I've heard 17%.  I've heard 10%.  So let's pretend 15% is the answer.  Maybe three or four questions on a tax return.  

A simple flat tax will never happen.  It would shutter the entire tax preparation industry - there's about a $12 Billion industry there just for the franchises.  No more H&R Block, no more tax lawyers, or accountants.  Everybody pays the same percentage.  The rich will pay the vast lion's share, like they do now, and the poor will pay a pittance, like they do now.   David Stockman, who of course was Reagan's budget chief, said,
The income tax has been slashed so many times since 1981 that it’s no longer a broad based societal tax; it’s a kind of luxury tax on upper income salary earners and the small share of households which garner most of the capital income from dividends, interest payments and capital gains…
Stockman went on to point out that 60% of tax filers accounted for 5% of tax revenue.  In addition, 35% of tax filers – more than 52 million filers at the bottom and middle of the income ladder – didn’t pay a single dime of taxes after deductions, exemptions and credits.

And that kind of reform just ain't gonna happen.  The "Deep State" loves a complex tax code.  The insiders hide little treats for themselves and their friends in it.  They use it to control the "little people".  The stupid politicians who call themselves "voice for the poor" would scream that the rich aren't paying enough.  Perhaps worst of all, there's no public outcry calling for that kind of reform.

If you want to dream of REAL reform, Make the Dollar Great Again.  Or, at least, Make the Dollar Real Again. Tie the dollar to gold again, fire everyone at the Fed and fire all the dictators central economic planners.  Do we legally need to have a Federal Reserve?  Reduce it to one guy running the "gold window" that Nixon closed in 1971: selling gold coins for dollars.  Or maybe that becomes the Treasury office that sells gold coins now.  

Saturday, June 24, 2017

All-Electric Small Airplane

From today's emails, I find that a company called Eviation announced an all-electric powered small plane at this year's Paris Air Show.  The company showed a prototype of the aircraft, rated for a 600 mile range.  I don't know if they're doing it here, but pilots ordinarily like to have about 1/4 to 1/3 of their fuel available for contingencies and I assume 600 does not include contingencies. 
Omer Bar-Yohay, CEO of Eviation Aircraft, made the announcement:
“At a time when we are more connected than ever, our mobility options must adapt to reflect this new, efficient future. Whether it is a zero emissions, low-cost trip from Silicon Valley to San Diego, or Seoul to Beijing, our all-electric aircraft represents a chance for people to move with the speed and impact our global economy now demands.”
I have to point out that "zero emissions" only applies only to the exact moment when the airplane is running and completely ignores how it got to that point.  Before I go into that, though, I think it's reasonable to ask, "what's the big deal?" 
I'm not aware of electric planes on the market because I haven't cared to look.  Solar electric airplanes go back decades.  I don't think the technology is exotic or that this is some sort of technological tour de force.  Anybody who has ever seen a Radio Controlled model of a flying Snoopy on his doghouse, or some of other crazy things seen at RC shows will realize that the golden rule of aviation is that anything can fly if the lift to weight ratio is greater than one.  Stick on a big enough engine or make a big enough wing area and you're done.  Making an electric airplane means enough engine or wing to overcome the horrible inefficiency of the propulsion system compared to gasoline.  As I pointed out weeks ago, "While battery makers desperately try to figure out how to reach a specific energy of 450 Wh/kg (Watt-hours per kilogram), gasoline already offers 12,000 Wh/kg."  I don't think it's a stretch to say they'd get at least twice the range if they used Av gas instead of batteries.  Perhaps three or four times the range. 

Earlier this week, several outlets reported a study from the Swedish Environmental Research Insitute that the "carbon footprint" of producing the batteries for an electric car was equivalent to driving for 8 years.  This ignored recharging the batteries for the life of the car, which is obviously coming from an electric power generating plant somewhere, so more than likely generating CO2 itself.  I'm sure you've seen electric cars referred to as coal powered.
The report shows that the battery manufacturing leads to high emissions. For every kilowatt hour of storage capacity in the battery generated emissions of 150 to 200 kilos of carbon dioxide already in the factory. The researchers did not study individual brand batteries, how these were produced, or the electricity mix they use.
The study looked at two models of electric cars, a Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, containing batteries of about 30 kWh and 100 kWh.
Even before buying the car, emissions occurred corresponding to approximately 5.3 tons and 17.5 tons of Carbon Dioxide. The numbers can be difficult to relate to. As a comparison, a trip for one person round trip from Stockholm to New York by air causes the release of more than 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide, according to the UN organization ICAO calculation.
Unless I miss my conversion (or misunderstand their units) the 17.5 tons of CO2 to manufacture the Tesla's batteries is equal to about 26 round trips flights from Stockholm to New York.  The 5.3 tons for the Leaf corresponds to 8 trips.  The electric airplane will not be immune to this sort of reality.

The way I look at it, wanting to buy an electric vehicle (airborne or road) is virtue signalling.  Wanting to sell an electric vehicle is more like the old quote, "there's a another one born every minute."  You want to spend money to feel good?  We'll be more than happy to take your money!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Self-Driving Cars Get Closer to "Mass Production"

In the manufacturing world, a run of 130 of some products is a month's worth, a year's worth, or even all you'll ever build, but for car manufacturing, it's a pretty small number.  Still, the fact that GM produced a lot of 130 Chevy Bolt Electric Vehicles with self-driving technologies added is a milestone for them.
The mass production technique involved the addition of cameras, Lidar and other sensors in an automated assembly plant in Orion Township, MI. It may or may not be a first for an autonomous car, but either way, industry observers expect the batch of Bolts to be followed by many more such efforts, from GM and its competitors. “This is what we’re going to be seeing during the next few years – finished vehicles coming off assembly lines with all the automated driving hardware built in already,” Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst for Navigant Research , told Design News .
The 130 new Bolts more than doubles the 50 self-driving Bolts released last year.  Industry experts also expect GM to produce as many as 1,000 more autonomous Bolts later this year or early next.  Similarly, Waymo, (formerly Google's self-driving car project) announced it will add 500 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleets.
“We’re going to be seeing the same kinds of numbers – from dozens to hundreds to thousands over the next few years,” Abuelsamid said. 
Despite the doubts many (like blog brother Borepatch and I) have about the technology, the industry seems to be plunging ahead at full speed.  
Most automakers plan to enable their vehicles to reach SAE Level 4 capability in the next five years or so. SAE Level 4 calls for full automation, which means a driver could doze off or even leave the front seat, but only in limited domains. Drivers would have to be able to intervene in certain situations, such heavy snowfall or rain, as specified by the manufacturer.

Last year, Ford Motor Co. stated that it plans to remove the driver controls from some of its cars by 2021. “That means there’s going to be no steering wheel,” former Ford CEO Mark Fields said last August. There’s not going to be a brake pedal and, of course, a driver is not going to be required.”

Abuelsamid predicted this week that other manufacturers may reach the “no controls” point before Ford. “Going forward, as we get to 2019 and 2020, we’re going to see some of the first vehicles built without driver controls,” he told us. Full Level 5 automation – in which the autonomous car can operate in any situation – may not come until 2030, however.
The Design News article concludes with the quoted analyst, Abuelsamid, saying that ultimately the success of the market may depend on people who just don't trust it: both regulators and consumers.  “Studies have shown that there are a lot of people who still don’t trust the technology.” he said. 

Don't trust it?  Yeah.  There's a lot of us who have been over the hype cycle a few times and if we haven't seen it all, we've seen parts of it a lot of times.
Chevy Bolts on GM’s Orion Assembly Plant in Orion Township, Michigan.  GM photo. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The One Factoid About the Illinois Mess You Can't Miss

By now, I assume everyone has heard that Illinois is on the verge of financial collapse - if not over the edge and already collapsing.  There's just one aspect to the story I'm not seeing widely discussed. 

Courts have mandated payments that consume 100 percent of the state's revenue.

The article linked above, on Fox News Politics, comically says, "even the lottery isn't safe", and is completely missing the point.  Yes, the state lotto requires a payment from the legislature each year and there's no funding past June 30.  Yes that means the state is planning to halt Powerball and Mega Millions sales.  And, yes, that means if given a choice between a smaller, lump sum lottery payment or the "guaranteed" monthly payments, take the lump sum.  But talking about the lottery is burying the lede: Illinois is in a really bad situation even for Illinois.
But the problems are years in the making, caused in large in part by the state’s poorly funded pension system— which led Moody’s Investors Services to downgrade the credit rating to the lowest of any state. The state currently has $130 billion in unfunded pension obligations, and a backlog of unpaid bills worth $13 billion.
The state is at junk bond status.  Re-read that sentence a couple of paragraphs above again.  They need to spend 100% of their revenue just on court mandated payments.  The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in May 2015 that pensions for current government workers can’t be modified.  If 100% of the revenue has to go to the pension funds, that leaves no pay for teachers, no maintenance, no repair of municipal systems, no lights for the state buildings, police or anything else at all.  Every state function has to shut down.
Reports have suggested the state could be the first to attempt to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy -- but under the law, that’s impossible unless Congress gets involved.

“Nobody here in Illinois is considering bankruptcy—first of all, it’s not allowed,” said Steve Brown, press secretary for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. “Second of all, it would damage the reputation of the state and it’s just not necessary.”
Confidentially, Mr. Brown, don't worry that the rest of the country would think less of you.  Filing for bankruptcy wouldn't make us think any less of your state than we already do.

CBS Moneywatch reports the reason for the problems is Illinois made promises in pension plans but then didn't keep them.
But critics say some of those pensions carried overly optimistic assumptions, especially given periods of market turmoil like the global financial crisis, which ate into investment returns. The state's general assembly wasn't required to fully fund pensions, which meant tax money was spent on other priorities such as schools or infrastructure.
Note that CBS isn't saying the state spent the money to fund the programs through investment vehicles and it just hasn't worked out.  The statement says the state government "wasn't required to fully fund pensions", so they spent it on other things.  I'm not saying it's related to the fact that as soon as I started to type "Illinois politicians pension promises" into my search bar, before I finished the second word it offered to autocomplete with "Illinois politicians in jail".  As the saying goes, I'm not not saying it either. 

If you're a numbers geek, you will probably find the details on the Illinois pension fund problems in this report from Illinois illuminating.  I'm not familiar with the organization, but the page seems reasonable in the sense of being numbers oriented and not throwing inflammatory language at anyone.  Their website says,
Illinois Policy is an independent organization generating public policy solutions aimed at promoting personal freedom and prosperity in Illinois.
Illinois has real problems with its pension obligations, and the sad story (as others have reported) is that it's likely to happen in  other states.  There have been calls to split Illinois into more states and assign those pieces to their neighboring states.  I have no idea what that would do to the legal obligations, but how would you feel if pension obligations you had no part in creating from another state were suddenly billed to you?   Is it "fair" or remotely reasonable to have Indianapolis taxpayers be put on the hook for the bad deals of Chicago politicians?  Is it any more fair if the gets involved and pays money it doesn't have either to bail out pension plans? 

It might surprise you that I come down quite a bit harder on the politicians than the employee unions on this.  The unions did what anyone expects them to do: demand and pressure for more and more benefits for members.  The politicians who accepted those contracts and then didn't do their part to make sure they were funded bare the blame.  The unions say "pensions are a promise" and are partly right.  Keeping those pension agreements is more than just a promise; it's a fiduciary responsibility of the government that made them.  And I use government and responsibility in the same sentence without a trace of irony.
(Scott Stantis - Chicago Tribune) Don't worry, economically, you're virtually Puerto Rico now.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Now for Something Completely Different

About a year ago, I told the story of a guitar project I was starting on.  To summarize, a friend had given me an odd "junk guitar" with most of one side cut away.  The story is that the manufacturer, Breedlove, had made it as some sort of demo piece that showed how well they were made by showing what the insides of the guitars were like.    
It has a solid Sitka spruce soundboard (top), which isn't uncommon once you get past the very cheapest guitars; the back, though, is solid rosewood and that's something I expect to find only in fairly high end guitars.  The closest equivalent I know of on the market today seems to be the Fender Paramount PM-3 Deluxe at a K-buck.  The sides are rosewood laminate (plywood), but a guitar's sides are largely structural and don't affect sound very much. So while it has an obvious problem, it's basically a good guitar, not one of those cheap, plywood guitars for beginners.  In other words, while it's a junk guitar because of how it was cut up, it's not a "junk guitar".

Last September, I replaced the missing parts (with the exception of the electronics) to make it playable, and I've been playing it at least once a week as my primary acoustic guitar.  It sounds remarkably good.

All the while I've been trying to come up with a way of restoring it.  The problem is that the shape of that cutaway isn't a piece of an oval, a circle, or anything that looks like a conventional guitar's waist.  I'd have to turn the cutout shape into something I could match exactly to make a solid top with the right shape, and I'd have to rebuild the top and back.  I might have to remove the neck.  I'd need to replace many of the braces inside the box; you can see some of the braces on the back; the braces on the top are a more complex pattern and really a science of their own.  Getting the wood to rebuild the top and back would essentially mean buying the wood to make a whole new guitar, and it would probably take more work than making a new guitar from flat pieces of wood.

What about just putting a piece of wood over the hole?  I started looking into that and found it to be harder than you'd think.  The wood used in guitar making is very thin compared to standard lumber, which has lots of advantages, but means you just don't find it at the Orange or Blue Borgs, you have to buy it from a luthier supply place.  After you find it, the wood's typically sold as a separate top and another species sold as the back and sides.  From time to time, during thickness planing or sanding, a side will get broken and the remaining piece set aside and sold as a practice or "orphan" side.  For a few reasons, I had decided I'd like a light wood, preferably figured maple.  The problem with that is the places who sell these orphan sides tend to say, "no selection"; "you'll get what we have the day we get your request".   One of the major online suppliers told me they'd be happy to sell me two sides at full price, if I'd like, which came across as less helpful than they might have though. 

Somewhere along the line, somebody suggested I replace the side with a piece of clear plastic.  The guitar will always be an oddball, one-of-a-kind instrument, so since it was originally intended as  a showpiece of what it's like inside a Breedlove guitar, this will keep it that way.  I finally went down this road, using some clear plastic left over from building my mill's enclosure.

Since holding the plastic to the guitar has to be designed in, I decided to use pieces of wood called kerfing, for the multiple saw kerfs cut in it.  The first step was to cut this into pieces and glue them to the top and bottom of the body, emulating the way the existing kerfing is positioned.  This picture shows the bottom kerfing already glued in place and the top kerfing being held by rubber band clamps. 
With the kerfing glued in place, the next step was to rough form the plastic.  I made a form by tracing the outline of the body's cut onto some scrap 1x pine, cutting that out with a jigsaw and then smoothing with sandpaper.  After that, I clamped the plastic to the high spot on the form and heated it with a hot air gun.  As the plastic softened, I could push it down onto the form with a long-bladed screwdriver and after a few seconds, it won't spring up anymore.  Much.
Then it was time to go through a cycle of test fit, mark overhang on the plastic, cut it off, and repeat.
As you can see, I put a sound port on the side, like so many high-end custom guitars have these days.

Finally, the real purpose of the kerfing.  In a production guitar, the sides are glued to the flat surfaces on the kerfing.  I thought that for this guitar that it might be best to use wood screws on the sides, because wood glue doesn't work on plastic and epoxy is too permanent.

I suppose it's typical for me to say I'm not sure if it's Done done.  Before I smoothed the plastic to make it match the body's top and back,  I put a new set of strings on it and played for a half hour.  Adding the side didn't mess up the sound, that I can hear.  With the sound port where it is (even though it's not perfectly centered - aarrgh!), it still sounds good from where I'm sitting.  The second thoughts that I have about being done center on how butt ugly it is.  I might do something like stain the light colored wood of the kerfing to make it a bit less glaring, and in-your-face.  I need to learn a bit about options and what I can do to make it look a little nicer, if possible.

On the other hand, it's not like I'm playing in clubs and lots of people will see it.  It'll be under my right arm and held up against me while I'm playing.  Then it will live on a stand until the next time I pick it up.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Oh Noes! It's So Hot Airplanes Can't Fly!

This was the headline about life in Phoenix yesterday and into today.  Well, except for the "Oh Noes!" part.  How hot was it?  118, or 47.8 C.  (Standard joke:  Arizona person, "but it's a dry heat".  Me: "so's a Bessemer furnace")  Seems to me that 118 isn't extremely hot - I'd swear I see temps like that all summer long looking at TV weather maps - and it turns out it seems well off the all-time high in Phoenix of 122. Certainly not a record, there.

So what's going on here?

The only flights that were cancelled were flights of a Bombardier regional jet.  The articles didn't mention the specific model; they just called them a CRJ and there are three models in that series: the CRJ700, 900 and 1000 (pdf warning).  The company I retired from, whom I've always protected from my ramblings by simply referring to them as Major Avionics Corporation, was a top tier supplier to Bombardier and they were, in turn, one of our largest customers.  Just as I can tell you that I did the RF design on a handful of radios on those airplanes, I can tell you that no electronics system we ever sold them was rated to less than 75C, and everything I tested was tested at 85C (167 and 185F, respectively).  118 is pretty meager compared to those.

The answer lies in the airframe and power.  Aircraft are rated for a certain maximum takeoff weight and that must be what the wing area can lift given the speed available out of the engines.  The catch is that physics says lift depends on the density of the air the aircraft is operating in and that's rarely the same as it was designed for.  Pilots refer to density altitude; the equivalent altitude of an airport based on temperature (and humidity) compared to the standard conditions the aircraft was designed for.  At higher temperatures, air has a lower density - it's thinner; fewer molecules are going over the wing.  That lower air density reduces how much lift is generated on the aircraft's wings and it reduces engine efficiency; a double whammy.
On a hot and humid day, the aircraft will accelerate more slowly down the runway, will need to move faster to attain the same lift, and will climb more slowly. The less dense the air, the less lift, the more lackluster the climb, and the longer the distance needed for takeoff and landing.
The CRJ aircraft simply aren't capable of 100% operation in their service area.  They'd need more wing area or more power out of the engines to operate every day.  I understand that aircraft design is full of compromises; heck, all engineering is, and that rating the plane to take off when the density altitude is above the current limit may not have been possible without major changes to something they were primarily designing for (probably cost per seat mile).  It's pretty common in engineering that the last couple of percent of improvement in performance cost more than the first 80 or 90%.  I also note that takeoff air temperature isn't specified in the .pdf brochure I linked to above, so it's possible airlines expect their planes to not be available 100% of the time.

You might wonder if this is really unique, and if not, why it's national news.  I'd say it's not unique and yesterday was certainly not the first time.  Conde Nast Traveler reported on the same situation one year ago today, and that article pointed out it's not that unusual.  It seems really hot days in the third week of June aren't unusual in Phoenix.
This is not the first time airplanes have felt the heat in certain parts of the U.S.—last summer, some planes faced similar challenges, and in past decades, we've seen the same story play out: In June of 1990, temperatures hit 120 degrees, so hot that the asphalt on the tarmac softened, aircraft couldn’t move, and they had to ground flights.
Since it's not unique or the first time, then why is it national news?  Could it be the media is trying to tie hot weather to climate change, and tie that to Trump announcing we're getting out of the Paris climate accords?   That's a guess.  I'll report on stories because I find them interesting.  I don't think the media works that way.

Conde Nast Traveler - Getty Images

Monday, June 19, 2017

Searching For Stingrays With Ride-Sharing

That's the provocative idea behind an experiment documented in Wired on June 2ndStingrays, of course, are the boxes law enforcement uses to spoof cellphones into connecting with them (LE) instead of the real, desired tower.  Once connected, the LE agencies can intercept communications, track a suspect's location, and even inject malware onto a target phone.
For two months last year, researchers at the University of Washington paid drivers of an unidentified ridesharing service to keep custom-made sensors in the trunks of their cars, converting those vehicles into mobile cellular data collectors. They used the results to map out practically every cell tower in the cities of Seattle and Milwaukee—along with at least two anomalous transmitters they believe were likely stingrays, located at the Seattle office of the US Customs and Immigration Service, and the Seattle-Tacoma Airport.

Beyond identifying those two potential surveillance operations, the researchers say their ridesharing data-collection technique could represent a relatively cheap new way to shed more light on the use of stingrays in urban settings around the world. "We wondered, how can we scale this up to cover an entire city?" says Peter Ney, one of the University of Washington researchers who will present the study at the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium in July. He says they were inspired in part by the notion of "wardriving," the old hacker trick of driving around with a laptop to sniff out insecure Wi-Fi networks. "Actually, cars are a really good mechanism to distribute our sensors around and cast a wide net."
Police at all levels have been very reluctant to provide information on what they're doing with these devices or the devices called "IMSI Catchers", which use cellular phones' International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) as a way to identify a targeted phone.  They've even dropped charges against suspects rather than discuss what they do in open (non-classified) courtrooms.  Nevertheless, most states still don't require a search warrant to approve use of these tricks.
In the absence of publicly available stingray information, the University of Washington researchers tried a new technique to find out more. Starting in March of 2016, they paid $25 a week to 15 rideshare-service drivers to carry a suitcase-sized device they called SeaGlass. That sensor box contained about $500 worth of gear the team had assembled, including a GPS module, a GSM cellular modem, a Raspberry Pi minicomputer to assemble the data about which cell towers the modem connects to, a cellular hotspot to upload the resulting data to the group's server, and an Android phone running an older program called SnoopSnitch, designed by German researchers to serve as another source of cell-tower data collection. The sensor boxes ... were designed to boot up and start collecting data as soon as the car started.
The UW researchers then collected detailed data about every radio transmitter that connected to the SeaGlass modems and Android phones as they moved through the two cities for two months. This allowed them to identify and map out roughly 1,400 cell towers in Seattle, and 700 in Milwaukee. Then they combed that data for anomalies, like cell towers that seemed to change location, appeared and disappeared, sent localized weaker signals, appeared to impersonate other towers nearby, or broadcast on a wider range of radio frequencies than the typical cellular tower.  For instance:
Around the Seattle office of the US Customs and Immigration Service, the researchers pinpointed an apparent cell tower that frequently changed the channel on which it broadcast, cycling through six different kinds of signal. That's far more than any other tower they tested—96 percent of their data showed towers transmitting on just one channel—and represents a telltale sign of a stingray.
Attempting to correlate their findings with police agencies so they could determine just how well their approach worked was just not gonna happen, and to be honest, limits the utility of this study.   
A Port of Seattle police spokesperson said the airport police "don't have one of those," and a Seattle Police Department spokesperson said "it’s not one of ours." The FBI didn't respond to requests for comment, but an ICE spokesperson wrote that ICE agents "use a broad range of lawful investigative techniques in the apprehension of criminal suspects. ...” A DEA spokesperson refused to confirm or deny any specific operations, but noted that stingrays are a "lawful investigative tool that can be utilized in the dismantlement of criminal organizations."
Despite this, for a relatively modest $500 investment in hardware, and about twice that per month, the researchers were able to get a fairly good map of operations in their areas.  That part is probably where savings can be had, by having students or team members drive their own cars themselves. 
The Stingray finder hardware box.  University of Washington photo.  The study paper at UW is rather interesting if you're into that geeky stuff.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Photo of the Day From Last December

I've had this since getting it in some sort of mailing last December, and it just strikes me funny every time I look at it.
Standing inside the machining center is Tatiana Whitlock, professional shooter, trainer and her own brand.  The photo was taken for an announcement she was becoming an "ambassador" for ATEi Guns.  The guy in front of her goes unnamed, and is holding a rapid change tool holder with an end mill that's more reasonably sized than the drill bit Tatiana is holding.  Compare the size of the drill bit in her left hand to the gun in her right. 

The fact that I find it funny probably makes me a target of SJWs for some reason or other.  Meh.  Isn't everybody? 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Monitoring the Country for Dirty Bombs

I recently received an interesting item from Raytheon about a monitoring system they're developing to aid in the search for dirty bombs and radioactive materials that might be in places it shouldn't be.   It's called RAIN for Radiation Awareness and Interdiction Network.
Together, Raytheon and research firm Physical Sciences Inc. have formed one of three industry teams that will demonstrate advanced technologies for a nationwide project called the Radiation Awareness and Interdiction Network, or RAIN. The vision is to develop a network of sensors, communications systems and analytical tools that will work together to detect, identify and attribute vehicle-borne threats before they reach a protected region or site.
It's not like there are no detectors now; the issue is improving them to reduce the number of false hits, while still finding real problem sources of radiation, and doing it faster.
The issue is normally occurring radioactive material, or NORM, a buzzword in detection circles. NORM shipments might be anything from radioactive isotopes in medical materials to a truckload of bananas, which naturally contain the radioactive isotope potassium-40. Or it could be any number of other, innocuous materials.

“One study found a third of nuisance alarms at some border crossings were caused by shipments of kitty litter,” said Dr. Erik Johnson, a Raytheon nuclear engineer and deputy program manager.
Fast forward to the present, and the government’s advanced technology demonstration program. In a two-mile strip of roadway at the Virginia Tech Smart Highway Facility, cars and trucks maneuver past checkpoints where researchers measure the performance of different RAIN concepts.
(the Virginia Tech test site - Raytheon photo)

The big advance in dealing with NORM was a software fix to implement a proprietary algorithm called Poisson Clutter Split, or PCS, which processes energy spectra and suppresses clutter — reducing noise levels in the radiation it reads. 

If there's a real breakthrough here, it's the speed with which traffic can be monitored.  Currently, trucks have to be slowly driven though a screening area; with this system, the goal is to monitor cars and trucks going at highway speed.  Raytheon decided to take advantage of existing infrastructure to house the monitors.
Second, the team addressed the economics of implementing the overall system. They installed the PERM radiation detectors as an upgrade to the Raytheon-built, all-electronic tolling systems now in use on roadways from Florida to Israel.

The detectors become part of the elevated, drive-through gantries that have replaced toll booths on major highways around the world. The same vehicle timing and identification data that's used for accurate tolling can help with threat detection, discrimination and vehicle attribution.
It's always easier to mount a new box to existing infrastructure than create new trusses all along the highways.  This turns the toll collection system into a multi-spectrum security scan.   Since the toll systems are already linked to other state infrastructure, typically Highway Patrol and the toll collection networks, the radiation detector signals would probably be able to use the same links - wired or wireless.  The obvious down side, though, is that the way someone with a dirty bomb gets around this is simply to stay off those roads.  First steps, I suppose.

Again, radiation detection is nothing particularly new and has been in place in shipping ports since at least the aftermath of 9/11.  I don't believe I've told this story here on the blog, but a few years ago I went through a period where work sent me to Toronto, Ontario several times to help a vendor and our company resolve some  production logjams.  On one return trip, I had lined up to go through customs for entry to the US. Since I had nothing to do other than look around, I was just standing there, when I suddenly found a security agent alongside me with something in his hand about the size of a small ham radio VHF or UHF transceiver - only it wasn't one.  I didn't get a good look, but it was a dark-colored box with some different colored LEDs on the front of it, and I think it had some sort of antenna-looking device on it.  I heard the agent say, "Over here" in a loud voice to no one in particular, and a group descended on a woman in the next line to my left and a couple of places in front of me.  If you were to look at her, you'd probably say "cancer patient" to yourself.  She produced some sort of letter, apparently explaining why she was radioactive, and after perhaps a minute, the agents went back to where they came from, with cheerful-sounding, "have a nice day" greetings all around. 

That impressed me.  Given the size of the room, they had to have been more than 50 feet from her, yet they quickly isolated her and came to investigate without impacting the rest of us waiting in line. 

A quick search for news of a contract for Raytheon and Physical Sciences for RAIN doesn't return a recognizable hit, so it looks like this is still research for a new system.  Aside from governments, there aren't likely to be customers for this. 

I'm waiting for the knock on the door from Federal Agents who think nobody could possibly have enough kitty litter to set off their detectors.  They haven't seen enough multi-cat households.

Headline of the Day

From PJMedia

Psychic Who Got Hit by Car While Eating Breakfast 'Did Not Foresee That Happening'

Mrs. Graybeard and I used to joke about putting up signs reminding readers there was a psychic fair coming, ending with, "you know where and when". 

Reading between the lines, he seems to be saying, "I'm not that kind of psychic.  I talk with dead people".  Well, alrighty then. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Problem With Incitement

I drew a lot of flack from my column on the psychopathic baseball shooter for not addressing incitement.  One commenter in particular kept asking this:
Let's take your claim and apply it to ISIS... Let's say this person watched ISIS propaganda and then followed their suggestions for mass murder. Is the responsibility solely with him? Even if the creators of the propaganda publicly proclaim that it is meant to inspire murder?
As I've said before, the only privilege of owning a blog is that I get to write long, involved answers to this things like this, and this answer turned into a comment too long to post.  So here goes.

First off, let me get this out of the way: Of course it's possible I'm wrong.  It's always possible I'm wrong, even on stuff I spent my life studying.  I never claimed to be the fount of all knowledge in the universe, just to provide you with content that's worth what you pay for it. 

That said, to repeat the commenter here, "if you're going to represent my view point honestly," what I'm saying is that the person ultimately, legally responsible for the shooting is the shooter.  I didn't even address the topic of influence or incitement in the original post because I see it as a morass.  If you want maximum liberty, it's a difficult subject and the exact point where speech becomes incitement is hard to define.  Maybe it's just me.  I do, however, fully acknowledge that incitement is real and unstable persons can be incited more easily than others.  Defining this is where real trouble starts.

My problem is I'm a very practical person and when I see a problem, I want to fix it.  Everything here is based on the question: what do you do to fix the problem?  What do you do with the person or people who incited him?  How do you even find them?  The guy with the gun in his hand is responsible and easy to fix.  You kill him.  Let's say you think it was Kathy Griffin who incited him.  The first question you have to ask is how can you prove, beyond a doubt, it was her and not someone else?  How can you prove it wasn't a belief implanted by a teacher he had forty years ago?  Or by his parents not bringing him up to respect others as real people?  What level of punishment is right for the inciter?  Since incitement makes her part of a capital crime, an attack like this meets the definition of terrorism, do you execute Kathy Griffin?  Imprison her?  What can you do to fix the problem?

Just to be clear, there is a legal incitement test from the Supreme Court, and I don't think anything I've seen out of Griffin or anyone else meets it.  It requires the incitement to "imminent lawlessness", not generally raising the anger level in society.  That test implies something more like urging someone to "go get 'em" in a specific time/place. 

Are you old enough to remember the Son of Sam killer in the '70s?  Do you remember he said he was told to kill by his neighbor's dog?  So who got life in prison, the killer or the dog?  Nobody put the dog down.  The guy, BTW, was declared mentally competent to stand trial even though he said a demon talking through the dog made him kill.  I think that's an indicator of where law places the line for responsibility. 

This is the answer to your question about ISIS.  You say, Let's say this person watched ISIS propaganda and then followed their suggestions for mass murder. Is the responsibility solely with him? Even if the creators of the propaganda publicly proclaim that it is meant to inspire murder?  ISIS is not responsible.  Did they influence him?  It doesn't meet the incitement test, but let's say sure, they influenced him.  So what?  How many thousands of people looked at the ISIS propaganda and didn't get influenced?  Again, what are you going to do about them being responsible?  Go send the military to kill them all off?  Already being done.  Now what? 

Come out and specifically say that you think incitement to violence is protected speech. Or fail to do that or you admit that by your failure to do so, admit that you are wrong, and actually IT IS POSSIBLE in some cases for someone who speaks to also bear responsibility for actions that result.  No, I don't think incitement to violence is protected, I just don't know what it is.  It seems to me that the threshold moves with the person hearing it as well as the situation they hear it in.  The question of what constitutes hate speech and what to do about it is very hard - especially with the forces out there now saying "anything I disagree with is hate speech".  Not just the Antifa a-holes, but the actual Democratic establishment.  In case people forget, in 2014 the Democrat senate voted to "partially" repeal the first amendment.  The move to nullify the Bill of Rights doesn't just apply to the second amendment.

A few minutes after the Republicans voted to "reduce and rename" Obamacare, a dozen Democrats came out saying the Republicans were going to kill people.  Political rhetoric or hate speech designed to incite violence?  What if they intended it to be (A) but it turned out to be (B)?  What do you do about that?  What's the fix?  We're supposed to negotiate outcomes, but how do you negotiate something with a guy like the FN shooter, when top Democrats convinced him you want to kill him when you say Obamacare is terminally AFU?  I personally don't think that gives us the right to go shoot those Democrats.  FN shooter obviously disagreed. 

For your information, I don't live in a "silly libertarian fantasy land".  I'm rather perturbed with the "movement" such as it is and only use the name in the loosest possible way.  Even then quite possibly the wrong way (see the paragraph up top about being wrong). 

If you're going to consider what I said truthfully, you'll see that I never endorsed any prior restraint. I simply advanced the notion that one might actually sometimes bear responsibility for one's actions. For example, perhaps publicly calling for a military coup against the elected president might be something that could possibly merit legal consequences?  I don't see where I said you endorsed prior restraint, but it seems to me that if you start charging people with incitement and imprisoning them that itself will restrain public speech. The act of arresting people for influencing others will be prior restraint.

Again it's all about where you draw the line and what you actually do to fix things.  Let's take the one you mention about calling for a military coup, or like HuffPo yesterday, calling for Trump to be tried for treason and executed.  Are these normal griping or do they need an investigation by Secret Service?  Do you extend that down to Madonna dreaming about blowing up the White House, or that other idiot (Naomi Judd) at the pussy-hat rally?  With the entire left wing media (redundant, I know) doing this crap 24/7, you're going to really overload the investigators. 

Frankly, I don't know where you draw the line.  I do believe the vitriol in all political discourse is way too overheated, but like everything else, it has been on this trajectory for a very long time and the only way it reverses course is for everyone to decide they're going too far and tame their rhetoric and that just ain't gonna happen.  It is literally tearing the country apart. 

Several commentators, Daniel Greenfield (Sultan Knish) and Angelo Codevilla for example, have said that we're in a cold civil war.  I've said the same thing since 2010.  A common interpretation of the "baseball attack" (like here) is that the war has now gone hot.  I think it went hot some time ago, perhaps Berkeley but perhaps earlier with the attempts by the left to start violence at Trump rallies over a year ago.  It's possible it's heating up more, but we'll only know if the tempo of operations goes up. 

I've always criticized lawmakers for never asking, "and then what?" when they propose legislation.  I'm just trying to ask that of myself, as I always do.  

Edit 6/17 1015 EDT:  I accidentally insulted Naomi Watts by using her name in place of Naomi Judd, up above.  Of course, I know neither of them, I just liked Naomi Watts in the only movie I know I saw her in, the 2005 iteration of King Kong.  In the weird world in the intertoobs, there's a greater chance she'll see this than things I'd say to friends.  (Approximately a 1 in 27 trillion chance).

Edit to edit 1200 EDT:  Reader JD(not the one with the picture) points out that the aforementioned moron is actually Ashley Judd, not Naomi.  I'd also like to point out that my previous mention of the odds Naomi Watts would actually see this is an example of the axiom, "47.3% of statistics are made up on the spot". 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Just FN

The shooter who went after the Republican team practicing baseball is just fucking nuts. 

Perhaps the second basic tenet of "small L" libertarianism, right behind that people belong to themselves, is that people are responsible for their own actions.  The FN guy who went to a baseball game practice to kill Republicans is responsible.  Bernie Sanders isn't responsible, although the shooter loved him some Bernie socialist idiocy (that's redundant).  The Democratic establishment isn't responsible.  The disgusting, unfunny, skank "comedienne" with the simulated beheaded Donald Trump mask isn't responsible, nor are the Shakespeare in the Park depiction of assassinating Trump or the "coarsening of the culture" responsible.  The guns are absolutely, unequivocally not responsible.  Only the guy who pulled the trigger is responsible.


We humans are good at stereotyping because it's an effective survival technique.  If one of our tribe is killed by a lion, it's hardwired that we remember that large yellowish-beige cats are dangerous and to be avoided.  Watching things we stereotype can help us see where trouble might be coming from and help us survive.  It doesn't mean that every big yellow-beige cat is going to attack and kill one of us, and paying attention to one while a smaller, spotted cat is stalking us from another direction might be catastrophically bad survival skill.  Likewise, if you got horribly sick and threw up repeatedly after eating something, I bet you're going to be reluctant to have it again, even if you intellectually know it wasn't bad. 

In this case, it pays to be alert to left wing wackos.  If I recall correctly, with the exception of the Palestinian who killed Robert F. Kennedy, every political assassination in the US has been carried out by a leftist.

At the moment, Townhall is reporting that Representative Steve Scalise has had a second surgery and may need a third.  He's in critical condition and in the Intensive Care Unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, a level one trauma center.  Former staffer turned lobbyist Matt Mika is also in critical condition. 

This incident isn't over for them or their families.  It's only over for the shooter.  
The loyal, loving press, in a capture from Twitter, that I got at WRSA.   The answer, Malcolm, is no.  Never.  Not even a remote chance.  That would never stand in a self-defense case. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Movie Time

Now that I'm back from vacation, it's time to get back to the difficult work of being retired and having free time.  It requires concentration to goof off at high enough level, so yesterday Mrs. Graybeard and I went to see Wonder Woman in our usual multi-screen theater. 

Any of you who've read this blog long enough to feel like you know me shouldn't be surprised by that.  Almost without exception, whenever we go to see a movie it's either a sci-fi or comic book-based movie.  We've seen everything in the Marvel Universe except for Dead Pool (and that's on the maybe list); we've seen the DC movies in the various re-boots of Batman, Man of Steel, and so on, as well as sci-fi flicks like the Star Wars series, latest Star Trek series, Rogue One, Passengers, Oblivion and Arrival. 

Warner Brothers has apparently decided to bet a lot of money on the DC comics universe, first and foremost on Wonder Woman.  She was introduced in last year's last years' Batman vs. Superman, a movie the two of us were rather unimpressed with, and various released trailers since then show that they've planned at least two Justice League of America movies.  The first, simply called Justice League, comes out this November.  Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, Superman, Batman and more will be in those.  For what it's worth, IMDB says that WW cost $149 million to make and has so far made $213M as of yesterday, 6/12.  Sounds like a sound bet. 

Let's start with the good:  the action scenes are really well done.  The movie is set in the closing days of WWI, when US spy Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) accidentally crashes into the sea just off the island where Diana (Gal Gadot) is watching.  The fight scenes are a good blend of CGI, slow motion stunts and explosions, along with old-fashioned, "puppets and stew meat" effects.  One of the press blurbs on Gal Gadot is that she was in the Israeli Defense Forces and has a level of training and toughness that allows her to do a lot of her own stunts.  I sure can't tell that, but she was pretty convincing in the fights.  She can act well enough to carry the part. 

The bad?  It was a bit slow paced for the start of the movie.  I didn't sit looking at my watch, but my guess would be the entire first half of the movie.  As Mrs. Graybeard told me, at some time she had started thinking "let's get on with the Wonder Womaning".  This was what movie weenies call "character development"; they felt they needed to tell Wonder Woman's backstory; how did she and the other Amazons get where the movie begins?  How did they remain isolated from the rest of the world?  How did Diana get trained to be a great warrior?  In my mind, they could have edited that part a bit more ruthlessly. 

There wasn't any ugly to mention.  They could have made this annoyingly feminist, but didn't go there.  Thank you, whoever made the call.  There were some scenes where they touched on her adaptation to this strange new world she jumps into, but those are either mildly comical or else over with pretty quickly.  They could have made those more annoying.  They largely let the obvious attraction between Capt. Trevor and Diana just stay near the surface. 

My rating would be a 4 out of 5.  The setup part of the movie drags a bit too much, but the rest is good.  Chances are, though, that if you're into comic book movies, you already want to see this.
(IMDB photo)  Chris Pine, Gal Gadot and the "mercenaries" they find to bring WW to the front lines.

Monday, June 12, 2017


I found the picture of the day, but I have no idea who created it.
From the vast wasteland of Pinterest. 

Pakistan Sentences Man to Death Over Facebook Posts

In overview, it's not surprising, but a Pakistani court has sentenced a man to death over a post on Facebook.  It's believed to be the first such incident involving social media in the world.
The details about Taimoor Raza's posts aren't known, but the Guardian reports that he got into an online debate about Islam last year with a man who was actually an undercover counter-terrorism agent.

"An anti-terrorism court of Bahawalpur has awarded him the death sentence," says a public prosecutor. Raza, who belongs to the nation's Shia minority, will be able to appeal his verdict to the nation's Supreme Court.
A perfect example of why states shouldn't be involved in religion, blasphemy laws are common in Pakistan and other muslim states.  Other men are on death row in Pakistan over blasphemy, but Raza is the first there because of online statements.  The problem, as some human rights organizations have said, is that it opens up the possibility of people being framed. It's easier to fake a post than fake something that requires credible witnesses.
Of course, we've all seen these signs before.  Source.

Something to remember as sharia laws creep into America and the anti sharia law protests last weekend

Saturday, June 10, 2017

What Is This Place?

What is this "blog" thing and what am I supposed to be doing here? 

Hi.  I'm apparently back.  It was a very nice break.  As expected, on the couple of occasions I had fast internet I wasn't prepared with a bag of tricks to try and post things, and the rest of the time I had slow enough connections to prevent that or was busy with the trip. 

So what was the trip? 
South Dakota is somewhat exotic country for an old Florida boy (while not born here, I've lived here since I was 3).  Even the flat country is hillier than here, and the black hills were beautiful. 

The trip was largely planned by dear daughter-in-law (DDL).  Son, DDL  and precious granddaughter (PGD) live in Indianapolis.  We had talked about going there over a year ago, but some things came up and the trip was put off.  Late last year, DDL asked if we were interested in joining them on a trip out there.  We've never joined them on a trip anywhere.  After weighing and pricing lots of options, we eventually decided to fly up and meet them along their way.  We flew into Sioux Falls, SD, on Friday.  One of the things that became apparent once we started planning was that flights from our little town to that little town tended to leave here in the afternoon and arrive in the evening, ours was at 9:30 PM, while flights back tended to leave early in the morning (like 6:15 AM) and arrive here midday.  That would make it inconvenient for them to pick us up and then head directly out of town.   Eventually a plan was hatched and schedule made.  Son and DDL looked at lots of options for things to do, and see, along with places to stay, eventually finding a place outside Rapid City through Airbnb.  None of us have used them before, but we were all up for trying something new. 
View from the back porch.  In the evening, we'd have deer in the backyard, along with visits from wild turkeys and rabbits. 

Son is a freelance writer while DDL is a research biochemist in the pharmaceutical industry, so she's conditioned to wake up early for work while the rest of us aren't.  As a result, we tended to get going around 8 and out of the cabin by 9 or so.   Our first day there was a trip to the Sanford Lab at the Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, northwest of where we were staying.  (The people in town are quick to point out the city name is pronounced with a long "E", not like the dense, metal we make boolits out of).  The mine was founded during the Black Hills gold rush in 1876, but was bought a hundred years later by Barrick, one of the biggest gold mining companies in the world.  The mine is now one of the premier particle physics research facilities in the world.  It was here that one of the first searches for solar neutrinos was carried out, in a tank deep underground filled with dry cleaning fluid.  The experiments revealed that only about a third of the expected number of neutrinos was found, the solar neutrino problem.  Today, they're involved with the study of neutrinos in attempts to better understand the dark matter / dark energy problems with the standard model of cosmology

The only bad part of the tour was that we weren't allowed down into the lab.  Part of it is 1890s technology, and part of it is modern particle physics lab. 

The next day we visited Mt. Rushmore, that's my photo, not stock (obviously - they shoot on bright, blue-sky days).  The day might have been a bit cool (under 80) and gray, but it made for low contrast, well-lit photos.  We also visited the Wind Cave, and Badlands National Parks along with places that just don't exist around here.  For a couple of people interested in rockhounding, the trip was lots of fun.  PGD was generally delightful, but definitely outside her comfort zone at times.  Like most five year olds, (I think) she'd have no interest in something she'd never heard of, like going into a cave, and then love the tour by the time we got out. On the other hand, doing things she had done before, like "gem mining" in water, were on her must-do list from the start. 

The only world news we've caught in the last week was a little in the hotel last night and what other bloggers have posted about.  It will take me a little while to get back to the usual blather.  Once I remember what the usual blather is. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Going Walkabout

Blogging will be light to nonexistent for the next few days. 

I'm supposed to have WiFi connectivity at all times, but have no idea how that will work out in reality.  I've had the experience of it being slower than dial-up or as fast as a real connection. 

Y'all have fun.  Visit the blogs in the sidebar, and see you on the other side.
It'll be just like this.  Or nothing at all like this.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The One Graph Every Discussion About the Paris Climate Treaty Needs to Include

From our friends at Watts Up With That:
What this shows is the projected impact of the Paris Climate agreement out to the year 2100. If the Paris accords are followed until 2030, then the global temperature will be reduced 0.05C (.09F).  If they're followed until 2100, then it goes all the way to 0.17C, (0.3 F).

And that's what all the gloom and doom pronouncements are over.  This writer, from Vox, makes it sound like if we don't agree to the treaty we're summarily executing our children.  And don't forget executing the poor.

Another Vox author tweeted, "it's about whether my kids will inherit a livable world!"  0.3F is the difference in habitable vs. uninhabitable?!?  (There's not enough exclamation points).

The graph is from: Bjorn Lomborg -Impact of Current Climate Proposals DOI: 10.1111/1758-5899.12295  This is Bjorn Lomborg using the warmists' own models to show the ineffectiveness of what they want to do.  Something I've tried to do. 

First off, the current NOAA procedure rounds the high and low temperature to the nearest whole degree Fahrenheit (0.55°C, a value over ten times greater than the .05°C savings Paris offers).  That means a change of that size is undetectable without statistical legerdemain, and even then I'm not sure.

Second, and more to the point, from what I can tell the measurement precision doesn't support knowing if that has really happened or not.  Perhaps by 2100 they'll know whatever their definition of global temperature is to that precision, but they sure won't know ours.

As I've said before, if you do any simple arithmetic with their models, using their numbers, you'll find the US pays Trillions of dollars for something that doesn't matter.  CO2 control isn't about CO2, it's about control.  For the purpose of raping the west and redistributing the wealth.  

EDIT 6/2/2017 @ 10AM EDT 90 Miles links to a 5-1/2 minute video by Bjorn Lomborg explaining this with better detail. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Problems in Complex Systems Don't Always Have Simple Fixes

There's a quote attributed to HL Mencken, which Wikiquote assures us is a misquote, that "For every human problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."  This observation seems to apply in bold italics to the economy.

One of the reasons we have President Trump today is that in his campaign he assured millions of people that the loss of jobs in America was due to bad agreements with other countries.  NAFTA was bad deal, resulting in jobs going to Mexico.  Trade with China is net loss in jobs for the US.  You all know those stories.  If we simply reached better deals those jobs would come back, and as the consummate deal maker, he can fix them.  Is there something to those stories?  A little, but those stories are far from a complete picture or an answer to bringing back jobs.

Let's start with a simple example: there are jobs that simply can't be outsourced.  Virtually every repair on everything you own has to be done locally.  You can't ship your backed up toilet to China for repair any more than you can send your broken central air conditioner to Mexico!  These things have to be done here.

Another example is home construction.  Yes, they're 3D printing concrete homes in a few places experimentally, but they're not making full sized houses and shipping them to the US.  It has to be done here.  According to the Financial Times, US homebuilding has been declining for a quarter century.  According to the article, sourced at Bonner and Partners, builders: 
“started work on the same number of houses in the past year as they did a quarter of a century ago, even though there are 36% more people working as residential builders now than then.”
That loss in productivity can't be caused by Mexican, Chinese or Bangladeshi workers.  The FT puzzled over this epic loss in productivity.  I think I can explain that, as I'm sure many of you can as well.  We'll get to that farther down the column.

Bill Bonner maintains that the 21st century has been an epic flop for America.
Economic growth rates have been trending down for 40 years. The number of people with “breadwinner” jobs – as a percentage of the working-age population – is at a 40-year low. And homeownership is back to where it was half a century ago.

There are pockets of prosperity. But get too far from the good neighborhoods and you find dilapidated houses… minimum wages… and drugs.
Add to these observations the fact that the percentage of people in the workforce is still on a par with the rates it had in the late 1970s, down significantly from its peak in the 1990s, and add that to the study we reported on two weeks ago saying that middle class wages have been in stagnation since the 1960s.  Sounds like Bonner is right about the 21st century being a flop.  At least for America.

I'm aware that I beat on the central banks and phony money all the time, and it's time to do it again.  In a normal, functioning economy, there's a thing called "creative destruction" that simply has to have its time.  The central planners have done their best to prevent this absolutely necessary phase.  Like weeding a garden or pruning back a tree, the economy has to get rid of the underperforming parts.  Just as jobs in the buggy whip industry had to go away to make room for the auto industry, and the vacuum tube industry had to give way to silicon, creative destruction is part of growth.

But big established businesses don't like destruction, if it applies to them, and government likes it least of all.  Businesses, and their insider owners, make campaign contributions and hire lobbyists. But politicians don't get invited to speak to industries that don’t exist yet. Politicians get no votes from people who haven’t been born nor tax revenues from businesses that have not yet been formed.  As a result, to quote Bonner:
The U.S. economy is slowing down. Now it creaks along, walking with a cane and trying to remember where it left the car keys.
The central banks policies have stifled innovation and so distorted the economy that it's simply dysfunctional.  In trying to keep the correction cycle from ruining the numbers for a few quarters, they've ruined it for years and as far into the future as we can see.
In an economy, the future sits at cheap desks in low-rent offices in bad neighborhoods.

Old businesses have yesterday’s methods and technologies; new business startups have tomorrow’s.

But “Americans are less likely to start a business, move to another region of the country, or switch jobs now than at any time in recent memory,” says the EIG paper. And “dynamism is in retreat nationwide in nearly every measurable respect.”

Forty years ago, nearly 6% of the population worked for a new company. Now, only 2% do. The job “turnover rate” was 12% in 1977; now it is barely half that.

Similarly, the startup rate has collapsed to only half of what it was in the 1970s. In 2010, more businesses closed than opened for the first time in history. Between 1983 and 1987, the nation added nearly 500,000 new firms. Between 2010 and 2014, only one-fifth as many saw the light of day.

The new businesses seem to be concentrated in small geographic areas, too – mostly between D.C. and New York, in South Florida, and in Southern California, with a significant block of growth between Houston and Dallas.

Most of the rest of the nation has been in an unrecorded recession – with more businesses closing down than opening up – for decades.

This means the average business is older than ever before… and that more people are more likely to work for one of these dinosaurs than ever before.

Also, as firms age, they tend to discard employees, not add them.

The idea of China or Mexico “stealing” jobs is largely fantasy. Old industries typically shed jobs as they age and die. Practically all net new jobs come from startup businesses.

The EIG study goes on to suggest that, in 2014, 1 million jobs went missing because of the lack of new business startups.

A startup business typically creates six new jobs in its first year. In 2014, there were some 150,000 fewer startups than in the 1980s.
These are profound, structural problems, not something that can be fixed by renegotiating NAFTA or "getting better deals" with the Chinese.  The structure at the root of this, probably the greatest concentration of cronyism in the world, is the Federal Reserve and the  The swamp has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are, at the expense of all of us and ultimately at their expense as well. 

Let's get back to the original issue, about why the productivity for homebuilding is in decline, and I said I thought I know why.  It's the same reason that health care costs grow at twice the rate of cost of living.  It's the same reason no matter what we spend on education, student performance doesn't go up.  It's the same reason tuition grows at three times the cost of living.  Over regulation combined with the effects of a broken, or nonexistent market.  Markets broken by, and over regulation created by, the big, freakin', out-of-control, government.
Just try to build a house.  In most places, zoning, building, administrative, and environmental regulations slow you down and add costs.  Either non-producing people have to be hired to deal with those regulations, or they consume the time of people actually building the house decreasing their productivity.  That's how it feels to start a business. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How Many People Has the TSA Gotten Killed?

Last Friday, those of you who get the newsletters from received a link to a story on the TSA.  That story, combined with the post from ASM286 on Borepatch today, about the Lesson of Manchester got me thinking.

One version of the Law of Unintended Consequences says that no matter how good the intent, or indeed the actual construction of a program, there are always unintended consequences.  They may be hidden or they may be slap-your-face obvious but they are always there.

An undeniable aspect of the TSA's Airport Security Theater of the Mind is that it's annoying; something that people put up with simply because they have to.  That leads to an unintended consequence: people will say "I'm not putting up with that for a trip that's an easy drive" and will drive to their destination instead of flying.  Driving is more dangerous than flying, statistically.  Using that information, some researchers have concluded in a 2005 journal article that
We find that driving fatalities increased significantly following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an event which prompted many travelers to substitute less-safe surface transportation for safer air transportation. After controlling for time trends, weather, road conditions, and other factors, we attribute an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month to additional road travel undertaken in response to 9/11. In total, our results suggest that at least 1,200 additional driving deaths are attributable to the effect of 9/11. We also provide evidence that is consistent with the 9/11 effect on road fatalities weakening over time as drivers return to flying. Our results show that the public response to terrorist threats can create unintended consequences that rival the attacks themselves in severity. [Bold added - SiG]
242 fatalities per month??  Depending on exact model and carrier, a Boeing 737 might carry between 85 and 200 people.  The reaction to the TSA causing 242 fatalities could be the equivalent of two or three fully loaded 737s crashing and killing everyone on board every month.  

Unfortunately, that's a snapshot study so while we can think it has gotten worse in the 12 years since 2005, we don't have real numbers.  They say that drivers were returning to flying, but we also hear air travel is increasing so perhaps those two trends offset each other.  If the number of 242/month has stayed constant, we're talking on the order of 3000 people dying from the TSA itself.  9/11 itself officially claimed 2996 lives, so it's possible that the TSA has killed as many people as the terrorists themselves. 

The TSA would say it's not their fault that those people died.  The fault lies with the people who decided to drive rather than go into the loving care of the TSA and airline reaccommodation.  I'm going to reference IMAO on this, from a completely unrelated topic. 
And that’s how government rolls: burn down your house, then blame you for choosing not to continue dwelling on the ash heap.
But if you do decide to face Uncle Pervy of the TSA, there's another unintended consequence: the TSA is completely, horribly ineffective at what it's supposed to be doing.   It's the worst kind of security kabuki. 
During covert tests conducted by the DHS in 2015, TSA agents failed to detect guns and fake explosives 95 percent of the time. In one test, an undercover DHS agent was stopped and received an "enhanced" pat-down search after setting off a metal detector, but the TSA screener failed to detect the fake bomb taped to the agent’s back.
If the BATF is the "F Troop" of federal law enforcement, they finally have someone to feel superior to.  Clever Hans, the horse that was famous for knowing arithmetic almost 120 years ago, could look down on the rank and file TSA.

A 95% failure to detect bombs and other contraband, of course, means that if someone suffering Sudden Jihadi Syndrome had actually tried to sneak a bomb onto a plane, there's a 95% chance they would have succeeded.  If there had been two trying on the same day at different airports, it's a virtual certainty that one would have succeeded with only 1/4% chance of them both being found.  If a duplicate of Operation Bojinka happened with one suicide bomber at each of 10 different airports on one day... well, you can complete that sentence. 

Still, that all might well pale in comparison to the biggest unintended consequence: the kind of mass murder the TSA could facilitate even if they caught everything they should catch - as ASM286 points out over at Borepatch's.  It doesn't require the TSA to mess up at all, just do what they do with the crowd in the airport. 
The lesson of Manchester is you don't need to get on a plane, into a secure area, or past a search.

Think about that the next time you're standing in the cattle chutes with your shoes in your hand hoping you don't get selected for extra screening. All those people in line with you haven't been screened yet either. That rolling suitcase the next guy has could be his underwear and socks for a week or it could be another nail bomb like the one at Manchester.
 (Source: Click Orlando)
While problems like that remain, private security employed at various airports around the country has been tested and found to be better at their jobs than the TSA. 
Private screeners at SPP airports (Screening Partnership Program) have proven themselves to be more efficient and more effective than the TSA. A report by a House oversight committee in 2013 found that private screeners at San Francisco International Airport were much better at detecting prohibited items than TSA screeners at LAX, and wait times were shorter. As a result of the report, calls are growing in Congress to abolish the TSA and return to private screening companies.
Having flown out of one of those SPP airports, abolishing the TSA and going back to private contractors is a move I could get behind.