Wednesday, August 17, 2016

People on the Internets are Horrible

I don't mean to diminish what the author of this piece has gone through.  There are a lot of horrible people on the internet who do things that range from mean but mostly harmless to fear for your life threatening, and that shit really needs to stop, but, I'm sorry, your bad experience with people on the internet is not representative of the bulk of society nor does it mean that the US has not gotten more tolerant.

There is probably a pretty sound defense of the position that we haven't gotten more tolerant (particularly towards Muslims and darker skinned immigrants), but what I think is actually happening is that while the internet has made it possible through anonymity and global reach for like-minded haters to find each other, the Trump campaign (in particular) has made those intolerant among us feel more free to express that intolerance both online and even without the protection of the anonymous internet.

I think that the Black Lives Matter movement is actually being heard in a way that would not have happened 20-30 years ago (yes, the prevalence of video is helping this).  Sexism and related issues are being taken more seriously.  I don't think anyone would argue that gay people are not better off today than in the 80's (or 90's, or even the 00's).  In the past couple years even trans people are getting more respect than they have outside of a John Waters film since...well, ever.  I would not be surprised if Muslims and Latinos are groups that face greater intolerance than they would have in the 90's (probably more so for Muslims).  Even for those cases, however, there doesn't seem to be much evidence that it isn't just a fairly small group that is much louder than they used to be, rather than a larger fraction of the population.

Racism, sexism, xenophobia, et cetera are not gone, but we really do seem to be getting better across the board, especially among the youngs.  That there are horrible people on the internet doesn't really change that and neither does Trump.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Just a fun read

Looking through the states something seemed odd...

Are Republicans from KS aware that the Royals are actually in MO?  Are Republicans in MO aware that the Royals are also in their state (along with the Cardinals)?

I realize that lots of Kansans are big KC Royals fans, and it's perfectly fine to be proud of them, but the team is a Missouri team, not a Kansas one.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Yea, but, No.

There seem to be lots of discussion on how this is the end of the GOP, or the conservative movement or something.  Lots of Dem (leaning, voting or registered) individuals seem to see this and there is an undercurrent of either "Dems will take over" or that lots of disaffected former GOPers will come into the Dem fold or something along those lines, but it won't happen and the GOP will continue for quite a while.  It probably won't even be appreciably diminished.

The thing is that Republicans control lots of state legislatures and governorships, they control the US House and Senate (and thanks to gerrymandering even under the most favorable-for-Dems outcome this election, they will continue to hold the House).  Even if Trump goes down in flames the GOP will keep on keeping on.  Yea, maybe some of their voters will give up but the fact is that the GOP has engineered the system to do well even when they lose badly at the polls.

Remember when they all thought Obama was doomed in 2012, but then he won soundly and the GOP had to go seriously rethink their message (but not their policies)?  Yea, now we have Trump.  It's true that the Repubs would likely be looking at a presidental win against Hillary this fall if they had nominated pretty much anyone other than Trump (or Cruz).  But there won't likely be much rethinking becasue, even if they lose badly, it won't actually hurt them.  They seem to do better when Dems hold the White House than when they do anyway, and Hillary will be a major source of artificial scandal and money for the party for her entire tenure as president.

I think a Trump win would be horrible, but I don't think his loss will do anything to change the Republican party.  The next 8 years are likely to look a lot like the last 8.  Democrats are on a slow roll forward, and 8 years from now--after the next census and redistricting, when we will have an even larger minority fraction of the population and millennials are a bit older--there will be a chance for a meaningful realignment to happen, but Democrats will have to seriously participate in all the elections between then and now, not just this year and 2020.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Things that should be better than they are

"Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut Cashews" from Costco sound awesome and are, I guess, pretty good, but have a major flaw: the cashews are actually first coated in a vanilla creme, then with the namesake dark chocolate and coconut.  That makes it taste like milk chocolate, which they may as well have used, but also, the coating vs. the size of the nut inside is insane.  Way too much outside, not enough cashew.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pokemon Go Economy

I think the writer of this gets one thing wrong about how apps, specifically like Pokemon Go can interact with local economies.  While the "internet destroys local business" is actually correct in a lot of ways, augmented reality apps like Pokemon Go could actually turn that around.  The reason is that, while a normal game leaves me in my living room, this one gets me out into the world around.  I was at my train station last night (walking dog but also hitting pokestops and catching pokemon when their servers allowed) and there were 8 people sitting there and I saw another half a dozen at least walk by.  There isn't anything open there that time of night, but what if there was a bar, or ice cream shop or all night diner--better one with free wifi?

And it doesn't have to be food/drink related (just those are easier things to pop into small spaces), It could be shopping or recreational.  If people are going to walk around a lot more, they are more likely to pop in and out of places they walk by--even if most don't--so being near a gym or pokestop has advantages for businesses that know to take advantage.  Additionally, someone could imagine something like Pokemon Go busses being set up...particularly in areas where the critters are less populous and pokestops are fewer and further between.

But really, augmented reality type games, by their nature, could be a boon to local economies. Local businesses could have stakes in the games, where they need to authenticate something, or where they could, instead of advertising, pay to have their place of business be a stop for something.  Maybe a virtual pet can be trained regularly, but if you get at least 8 oz at a DIY frozen yogurt place you can "feed" your pet some and it gets a special trait, or it levels up faster (a one time bar code prints out on your receipt).  Basically a purchase at a store has an ancillary purchase associated in a game.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Clinton Scandals Explained

More or less anyway.  The only part of this article I consider...odd...is where the 2nd camp is labeled "Obama loyalists" since lots of the people with the secondary views are not necessarily Obama loyalists but are almost certainly more liberal Democrats (e.g. Sanders supporters).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Crappy Comparison in Support of Vegetarianism

I have no problem with people who are vegetarians (or even vegans) but I do have a real problem with arguments like this one that, effectively, call all meat eaters horrible people.

Yes, most livestock in this country is poorly treated, and we should stop that, and yes the reasoning is perfectly legitimate, but the result of reading this article is, for most people: nothing.  Those who are either already vegetarians or are already engaging in cruelty minimizing practices (and, if the latter, spending way more on their meat selections) will agree.  Everyone else, well, they may not like the conditions but the argument isn't new, and the tone is not one that is going to convince them to change.

The problem comes down to: meat tastes good, and poor conditions mean cheaper meat.  We really have evolved to like meat, so giving it up is not easy. On top of that most people are going to get the less expensive option...especially for things like chicken which don't have the [wagyu]/prime/choice/select grade cachet that beef has.  Humanely raised chicken is a lot more expensive (like 3-7 times the price).  Now if humane standards were required, there is a very good chance that the price of humanely raised chicken would come down somewhat (though it would still be higher than current).  That would be fine, and those things are proceeding.

Meat should cost more than it does and we should eat less than we do.  Calling [most] meat eaters assholes (effectively) may even be true but it isn't going to get them on your side.

Point out the bad conditions and work to change them: good.  Convince higher income people to go for [expensive] humane options: good.  Write yet another "Everyone should be vegetarian (or vegan) because meat is cruel/murder" article: fuck off!

Space

This is just really neat.  Got there through a link off one of the Astronomy Pictures of the Day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Issue Is Going To Be Storage

This is the right way, in general, to think about next gen energy market.  Smaller, distributed generation points will be linked with better software to maximize efficiency.  The problem, which is not mentioned here, is storage.  We need a lot of energy storage to accommodate peak demand, and peak efficiency offsets.  Much more with renewable energy technologies since things like solar and wind can't be brought on and offline in the same way that a gas power plant can.

I was at PNNL a couple weeks back listening and talking with lots of people thinking about this problem.  Software does help a lot, but we still need some technology breakthrough that will let us get the storage we need.  Geographically limited pumped hydro is still the king.  Flow batteries seem to be the most promising new(er) technology, though they aren't quite there yet.  Other battery technologies/improvements are still mostly geared toward portability and mobility, though if they can be brought down in cost and improved in cycle life they could be used to the same end.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No Brainer for Terrorists in US: Use Guns

I'm surprised it's taken so long for them to figure it out, but thanks to the NRA it is so easy to get lots of high powered firearms, with no tracking or registering, it was really just a matter of time before lone wolf type terrorists started becoming more common in the US.

So, really, the NRA is, in fact, an enabler of terrorists.  Note: this has actually been true for some time as lots of not-brown gun nuts and gun nut groups do employ terrorist techniques in the literal sense of instilling terror in others, particularly any opposition (think open-carry activists).  Really, the NRA is guilty of this.  So I suppose the [modern] NRA is both an enabler of terrorism and itself a terrorist organization.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Maybe but...

Not really of much consequence, but while not everything is a 1977 computer there are a couple things that could be, and he mentions one (variant) in that article multiple times: Google glass.

If you could put on a pair of glasses that looked like regular eyeglasses but enabled some form of, augmented reality, then I suspect that would be very popular, and improved computing (and software) could make that real in the future.  The issue with Google Glass is that you are obviously wearing Google Glass, and unless you're a big fan of cosplaying as the Borg then it's probably not too appealing to you.

As a second aside, the author mentions that he thinks self-driving cars are going to be big, and while I agree that they could be possible in the future, it isn't the capability so much as implementation that I think will hold them back.  Getting people to give up control is more of a hindrance than making a vehicle capable of driving itself.  


Monday, June 06, 2016

In Which We Learn How Came To Be President Trump

This article could prove prophetic if the baby-fingered orange noise machine does win.  Also: why oh why can't we have better journalists.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Not Surprising, but Not Sure The Conclusion is Fully Warranted

So lots of people believing the rich are extra mobile and that they will leave if their [local] taxes are raised doesn't apparently make it so.  At some level the argument that high taxes drive rich people away is, on its face, ridiculous.  Look at really highly taxed places in this country--NYC, San Francisco, NJ--and guess what, more rich people live in those places than live in the low taxed places in this country (both in terms of raw numbers, and, more relevantly, proportionally). So clearly low taxes aren't very useful for retaining rich people.

I would argue that the very things that high taxes can provide: better education, more/cleaner parks, better security...are reasons that all people would want to live in those places, but since many people want to live there, those places become expensive to live in and, over time, more wealthy people end up living in them than poorer people.

That said, it isn't necessarily the case that places considering a millionaire's tax shouldn't worry that their millionaires will leave.  It's more complex than just what we currently see.  If wealthy people living in low tax states are living there in part because they are more inclined to go to low tax areas, then they will move if their taxes go up.  In the case of Florida, while they could probably get away with it, it may also be that Arizona, New Mexico and Texas would start to see a larger share of the rich who do move.

If you pay the same taxes in Arkansas as you do in Manhattan, well, New York has lots more cultural opportunities, more diverse food/entertainment, better access to airports that will shuttle one to the far corners of the world, nearby ocean, mountains, rivers...also, it has more rich people already, and the wealthy do love rubbing elbows with each other.  Arkansas does have Petit Jean State Park, which is gorgeous, but probably isn't enough to compete.

So while there's a pretty good argument that, in general, high taxes on wealthy people are not going to lead to an exodus of those same people, it is probably quite dependent on what taxes are already, where the increase would put them, and the particulars of a state/region and the rich that choose to live there.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

Good Advice and a Crappy Calculator

I know that all retirement savings calculators are crappy, and this one does have a slightly better feature in the advanced settings, but it's still...bad.  It assumes that you will need 80% of your pre-retirement income in retirement, but lets you move that all the way down to...60%.  The first number is just stupid and the second not really much better.

First off, if someone is already saving 15-20% of their income that is an immediate reduction off what you obviously need.  Simple enough, right?  But then it really isn't.  First off, if you are saving, say 15% now, as you get older you should have lower expenses: kids graduate and move off, house gets paid off, student loan debt paid off (or forgiven), you finally have a completely furnished home...  That may mean more leisure expenses, but it should also mean a larger amount going to savings...at least while you are still working.  I hope that by the time I retire nearly 50% of my (our) income will be into savings (even with a bit more going to things like vacation).

Now if you want your retirement to be full of [expensive] travel, that 60-80% may be right.  On the other hand, lots of people either continue to work in reduced fashion or take up hobbies that actually provide some income (winery, antique store, restaurant), and that gives another source, so, again, the calculators are not really terribly helpful for real people in real "retirement".

There is a secondary problem.  The above is really advice pertaining to upper-middle income families.  People in the top quintile or even decile of incomes.  When you look at middle income families, a different issue takes over: being able to meet the savings requirement.  It's very easy for a 6-figure income financial adviser to tell everyone to put away 10-20% of their income.  It's a lot harder for a family making the US (family) median of $62k/year to siphon 10% off and still get by, and it may be impossible for households in the bottom two quintiles.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Perpetual Disrespected and Ignored Groups Get Pissed

Perhaps that should be the title for the 2016 presidental (primaries) election.  It's happening in both parties, and neither party is dealing with it particularly well.

On the Republican side we have Trump: an ignoramus with baby fingers on full sized palms who regularly lies and self aggrandizes whose only consistent platform is hating on [women, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, blacks...].  The GOP has been stoking this resentment and hatred for decades, but the thing is that when they get into power they don't do as much about it as they brag, though they do shovel taxpayer dollars at rich people and the military very well.  Their voters have gotten fed up with them and the past few congressional elections should have been fair warning, but they kept going down that path and now they get Trump.

The Democratic side is not quite so bad, but it does suffer from a mirror image problem.  For quite some time now the more liberal people in this country have been, regularly, on the right side of many (most) issues, but have been told by the establishment that they are fanciful dreamers that don't understand how the world works and they should just let the people who know things handle the government.  The liberals are now beginning to get pissed.

I like Bernie Sanders, though not so much for president, and I'm not much of a Clinton fan (really neither Bill nor Hillary) but think she would do a fine job as president.  As such, the Democratic primary didn't do much for me.  But some people are just bonkers about it, and I think I sorta understand why.  It isn't that Bernie or Hillary is the greatest or that the other is a monster.  Sanders fans are, by and large, the most ignored group within the Democratic/Dem-leaning block.  They want higher taxes, more redistribution, less inequality, less war, and the Democrats we have elected these past 20ish years have all pretty much done the opposite.  Unlike Republicans, though, who pander to their supporters, Democrats tend to patronize theirs, there's even a term for it: hippy punching.

When people get ignored repeatedly by those who are supposed to be representing them, they tend, over time to either get pissed or just drop out.  Historically the ignored on the Democratic side have dropped out (to a greater extent than Republicans*), so Republicans typically win larger shares of the elections than they are shares of the electorate or the population at large (gerrymandering makes it worse, but the GOP is more likely to show up to vote anyway).  Whether it's just normal societal trend or something that has been pushed thanks to the internet, this year more of the ignored liberals are pissed.

I'm not sure how this is going to manifest itself over time, but the Democratic establishment/leaders should probably be careful.  There is some evidence they are, since even as people like Krugman continue a campaign to insult and isolate Sander's supporters, Clinton supporters who are also elected officials know better.  On NPR they were interviewing [don't remember...McCaskill?] and she made a point of saying the energy and the people that Sanders was bringing into the campaign were good things, and she supports Clinton.

The direction of the Democratic party is toward Bernie Sanders.  If the leaders of this party want to keep it from breaking up they need to really embrace the ideas behind it.  Clinton will get the nod at the DNC.  When she does, if she turns and runs and governs as GOP light as so many Democrats have been doing the past couple decades,then she is going to have to face a similar type of shit-storm to that which the GOP is seeing this year.  The good news is that governing like the Democratic base wants would actually be popular (though not to Wall Street types), and without the racist/chauvinist problem to go with that the GOP has.

*Frightening note: one particular group of GOP-leaning people have dropped out and Trump actually seems to be getting them to the polls: white supremacists.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

_________'s Supporters Are THE WORST!

Yes, Hillary is a weak candidate, but she's going to win.  Yes, Bernie's campaign is somewhat confusing at this point, but there are reasons to stay in it.

What really has been bugging me about the Democratic primaries is how stupid/horrible the supporters of the respective candidates are.  Yes, that shows up in comments sections the most, but even some of the higher profile "professional" supporters are pretty awful to the other side, and usually in counter-productive fashion.  Krugman is the one I have mentioned (repeatedly).  After I read any of his anti-Bernie columns/posts I just dislike Hillary more.  That is not helpful.  It isn't compelling.  It's just pissing people off because you disagree with them.  It's more likely to make them stay home in November, and you don't want that.

Stop being fucking horrible to people who you need to be on your side (or your candidate's side).

Improved Corporate Taxation

Good read on the different economies at work in the US at The American Prospect.  It seems like this could be fixed without directly changing the minimum wage (though that is probably easiest).  Since all wages are reported to the government for tax purposes it would be pretty easy to see where people work who receive aid (welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, EITC) and then send supplemental tax bills to those companies.  If Wal-Mart employees get $10 billion in tax benefits because they don't get paid enough, then Wal-Mart gets a $10 billion bill from government to cover it...after corportate taxes are paid (i.e. it does not reduce their corporate tax bill, while improved wages would).

Won't happen and would likely be a pain in the ass to implement, but a man can dream.  Really though: just raise the minimum wage.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Tiny Houses are Fun But Not That Useful

I am a fan of tiny houses, and the idea of one for a cabin in the woods is kind of compelling, but they aren't really great ideas for real living.  This article tries to "make a case against" them, but such case is not really well made.

It's true that the tiny house is particularly bad for cities, but there are some cases for which it could be more useful: mother-in-law suites or rental units (zoning issues), park "cabins".  A lot of the actual stated use for these homes, however, could be equally well made for RV's and trailer/mobile homes. So what's the real deal?

I think there is a pretty big snob factor.  RV's and actual inexpensive houses in the country (whether trailer or prefab...or small old row homes, though that last has gotten trendy in the past 15 yrs or so) tend to carry a stigma, partly from their appearance but more from the people who use them, which in the former case tend to be old and the latter case poor.  Younger to middle aged people with middle incomes don't see themselves as part of the RV group or as trailer [trash] either.  Hence: tiny houses, that look a lot like regular houses, just shrunk down.

Really, though, other than bragging rights, there isn't really much benefit to shrinking down below a certain point--say 300 sq.ft. plus 100 sq.ft. per person. In fact a larger house with more people in it is likely to be more efficient than separate smaller houses for individual people, which shouldn't be surprising, as that explains why people get roommates...and why adding family members (having children) becomes cheaper (per child) as the # increases.

Still, they are cute, and it can be fun to envision that tiny house in some expansive setting: the ocean, mountains...but really, if you can afford the land, you can build a better, more efficient home, and if you just want to move it to different places: get an RV...some of those are pretty cute too.

Also, I appreciate the push-back against the gargantuan.  3000+ square foot homes are, frankly, insane, unless you have 7 kids.  Also, most of the really large homes are so full of useless space and awkward layouts, that a 3200 sq. ft. house is functionally equivalent to an efficiently laid out 1500 sq ft house. "Here we have a 150 sq. ft. entryway, where no one will ever hang out, that has vaulted ceilings and impossible to clean nooks, which still needs to be heated and cooled..." Lots of extra volume to heat and cool (and fill with crap, and clean).  I don't get it.  If you're going to have a house that size you should at least have secret passages/hidden rooms.  The amount of dead space and oversized rooms in modern mcmansions is just stupid.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Soda/Sin Taxes

Philly's new liberal mayor wants a soda tax, the proceeds of which go to fund (pre-K) education.  Sounds nice, but there's a problem: sin taxes are regressive.  In and of itself that isn't a reason not to do them. Sin taxes do serve dual purposes: more money and discouraging "bad" behavior.  They are particularly useful when the funding received from the sin tax is directed toward treatment or other programs that are related (say rehab for alcoholism, or medical treatment for type 2 diabetic patients).   When that funding is directed to a non-related program that will then rely on the bad behavior to be funded there is a bit of a problem.

It is much better to tax people differentially with higher taxes for wealthier individuals, however, in PA there's a bit of our constitution that prevents anyone in the state from doing progressive taxation.  It seems to me like it should also prevent regressive taxation, but either it doesn't or that's harder to "prove" legally.  So all our taxes are flat: income (actually wage), sales, property...

I think Gov. Wolf had a plan to make our state taxes more progressive with a bit of a work around (everyone is taxed at a higher rate, but then everyone gets an equal dollar value refund or credit or something).  I would like to see something like that done: up the rate to 7% then give everyone a $2k credit and so the first ~$29k of income is effectively untaxed.  Considering our current state tax rate pretty much anyone making less than $60k would get a bit of a tax break and people making more than that would pay more.

Still, not sure that the city could get away with doing something like that (the state seems to be able to stop Philly from doing pretty much anything the state legislators don't like...even if it has zero effect on them or their districts).  The soda tax is not the best option out there but it may be the best option available to the city.