Thursday, December 04, 2014

Infuriating and Depressing

There's really no good way to understand understand how [some] American [police] handle black citizens other than racism.  There's even less of a way to get around how the justice system treats these events other than racism.  There are two justice systems in America.  Black people who may or may not be guilty of some crime can be killed by police and nothing comes of it.  White gun nuts engaged in open carry while drunk on the other hand?  Pretty much nothing.  He loses his gun for an afternoon (because drunk) and that's it.  No citation, no wrestling, tazering, pepper spraying, and definitely no shooting because white.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Just Raise the Damn Gas Tax!

Vehicle mileage taxes are stupid on many levels.  But they keep coming up.  You can read here a good (and less emotional) overview of why the VMT idea should die.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Someone Should Remind Bill that Stalin was an Atheist

Considering that Atheists have long gotten shit from religious types about lack of moral compass one would think that a present day atheist would have enough sense to not blame religion (or lack thereof) for the horrible things people do.

Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists.  They were horrible people.  Following Bill Maher "logic" atheism makes people horrible (and yes, people have actually made that leap).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Helicopter Money

Simon Wren-Lewis has a good description of Helicopter money but I think he may be missing a couple things.

First is the perception of a "tax cut" vs. "free money".  At one level, if everyone gets $1000 it is the same either way.  If it is a tax cut, however, there is a perception that people who pay more in taxes are getting less out of the deal, and also, people who have little to no tax liability may receive nothing, and those are often the people most in need and most likely to spend.  Additionally, people seem to act differently about free money (read: they spend it) compared to earned money (which a tax cut is returning).

The second thing is the targeting/distribution aspect.  Tax cuts get money to all tax payers/filers.  Helicopter money can get money to everyone.  It could also target specific [debt] problems that may be holding back the economy (student loans, credit cards, mortgages).  True the latter is not exactly the same as helicopter money, but it isn't the same as the current QE strategy either, and everything else he said about it applies equally.

Personally the way I would like to see "helicopter money" distributed is via debt reduction to real people.  I am particularly fond of the fed buying and torching student loan debt, but I could also get behind credit card debt (which I don't really have) or mortgages, though with that last one I think I'd prefer a partial rather than complete buyout (up to maybe $50k per primary mortgage).

There is a lot of fear and uncertainty remaining in the US, and having lots of debt is a real issue for it.  People don't feel as free to spend money if they have these huge responsibilities hanging over them.  Even a fairly generous helicopter drop (via tax cut) isn't directly addressing the debt issue, and probably won't do enough to boost the economy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bill Maher is an Asshole

Sometimes he's a good asshole, but lately he's been on his anti-religion zealotry binge and he sounds every bit as bigoted, stupid and vile as the fundamentalists he is ranting against.  There are some atheists who are every bit as fundamentalist and xenophobic as the various fundamentalist religious groups around the world.  They hate religion and religious people like Fred Phelps hates gays: irrationally and with heavy doses of scorn and vitriol.

I saw a bit of the segment with Ben Affleck and I liked that Ben stood his ground against the fundamentalists at the head of the table, but Reza Aslan is right: you can't argue to convince Bill Maher: his viewpoint is not rational.  It is emotional, and he cannot be dissuaded.

Incidentally: the whole of that linked interview is really good.

"Abortion Rights Without Apologies"

Nicely put.

Monday, October 06, 2014


When I moved close to the Jenkintown train station I rode the train almost daily to Warminster for work.  It was (if I recall) $68 for a monthly (2-zone) pass.  Over the years, my travel increased a bit, that pass price kept going up and I started buying only in months I knew I was commuting to work for the whole of.  Now that pass doesn't exist and I would need to buy the $109 cross county.

I now ride SEPTA to/from the airport and occasionally to/from the city but otherwise not at all.  If the pass had been kept at the (already too-high) $75 level, I would still get a pass for months I wasn't travelling otherwise (e.g. I would have gotten one this month).  If that $75 was for the cross county I would consider buying it every month (except maybe Dec) regardless of whether or not I was travelling.  So SEPTA could be getting $600-800 a year from me, a single counter-flow rider whose ticket purchases are pure profit for you and who doesn't crowd out others (i.e. not riding peak to/from city), but instead you get $0 because your pricing for tickets is too high for non-center city commuters (especially considering your much worse scheduling for us).

SEPTA really should realize this: There is far more space on the counter-flow trains so extra commuters are pure gravy.  But it is cheaper than $75/month and MUCH more convenient for me--and for most suburban workers--to drive to work, so people with cars [who are not going to the city for work] currently have no good reason to ride SEPTA because the prices are just too damned high.

If I were in charge of their pricing I would try making the cross county pass $60/month, would market it to weekend city riders as well as suburban commuters, give it a year and see what happens.  I would buy that every month even though I wouldn't always be riding.

Commuters to the city have to deal with crappy traffic and paying for parking in the city: I don't.  I like the train because 1. the walking at both ends does me good and 2. reading on my commute is much easier.  When I drive, however, I can stop off at Costco, my Co-op, the beer store, or Target on my way home, so even months that I mostly take the train, I will likely want to drive occasionally.  If the pass price is so high that I can only justify it by riding every day...I won't buy it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Zoning Laws

At some level zoning laws make sense.  There are good reasons for me not to be allowed to pave my entire property on a whim, and there are good reasons that I can't just decide to run a bar out of my basement, and there are good reasons that I cannot build a 30' wall on my property line.  That said, a lot of zoning is parochial nonsense.

Setbacks are my current gripe (for personal reasons, and because of this mention by Atrios).  Between being able to maintain your property, not invading on a neighbor's or public space and not being a fire hazard a few feet of setback, in some cases, makes good sense.  10 - 30' (depending on zoning and structure) almost never does.

The only thing a 10' setback does is break up your property into smaller and less usable pieces.  It is particularly galling to have such in a neighborhood where lots of earlier built structures are right on the property line.

Because This Time It'll Work!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Doing Iraq Wrongish

I don't think I really disagree with Obama's (stated, apparent) policies on Iraq and ISIS (or ISIL or just IS or the evil hobgoblins of doom riding the four horsemen of the apocolypse to destroy America and make the world a terrorist paradise of...but I digress).  It's the way he talks about them, and the way that most other news outlets and media people and politicians talk about them.

Digby's put together a piece that covers how I feel about this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I'm More Optimistic But It's Gonna Take Change

David Atkins seems a little oddly pessimistic in this post.  On the one hand he is very correct about the progress of technology and what it will be able to do in the future.  On the other he seems to ignore that a future in which all jobs are performed by machines is one in which either people must either all be enjoying immense prosperity or we are hiding from the robot death machines that are keeping insurrection in check (whether they are controlled by an AI or the future's 1% is kind of irrelevant).

While there are times I feel like the doomsday scenario is where we are headed, mostly I don't.  There are a few reasons for that, some positive some negative.  Let's start with the negative...

I don't know that we will really develop machines/software that can truly replace human creativity.  It could be our limit, or that we realize it is a bad idea (more likely the former).  I mean AI's will either enslave or kill us.  It is the sensible thing to do.  Whether our history is actually one of violence and destruction interspersed with periods of peace and prosperity, or the other way around doesn't matter much because our current trend is not good.  Particularly with respect to...

...Global warming, which will vastly change how we live on this planet over the coming decades.  Peoples will move, starve, thirst, die, and wars will start.  Or we will resolve all these issues via a combination of technological development and a vast, global political force for good that sees that that development is distributed to maximize the aid to humanity. (Stop laughing!)

On a more positive note there is the fact that if you replace all people in the workforce with machines: who buys the products the machines make?  In that world either governments/corporations would need to ensure that somehow the bulk of the population had the wherewithal to consume, or the wealthy could move to enclaves where the rabble couldn't kill them.

In reality I suspect that we will not approach any of these things (except global warming which we can't stop at this point and so will have to deal with).  If machines displace enough middle class the economy will suffer so there will be less impetus for further development.  There could be an asymptotic approach, but I think we would find there are local minima/maxima that would really require some heft to get past, and in our current political state we're nowhere close to having it.

I think in the US we will mostly be not as well off as we would like--with the wealthy being increasingly distant from the others--but still sufficiently comfortable that revolution doesn't really happen.

I'm not sure that is really optimism, but it isn't the downward spiral or killer robots of doom so it's something.

Monday, August 18, 2014


We were planning on waiting on getting a new dog until after a bit of travel coming up, but a "Puppy Adoption" sign put an end to that thinking.  We adopted Ripley--nominally a border collie/lab mix, but who knows for sure (or really cares)--took him home and really pissed off the cats.

New puppy, day 1:

Day 2: ~26 hrs later he vomited everything he had eaten that day and a few hours after that at about 2:30 am he woke us up with very vile smelling bloody diarrhea.  Now we know what an intussusception is.  He had parvo, which is likely contributor to getting the intussusception, and the surgery alone was $4k.  I don't know what kind of person it takes to choose to put a puppy down (or let it die) rather than fork over the $4k for the life saving surgery, but I know I'm not that kind of person.  So he is now Ripley, as in "Believe it or not this puppy was $5000!".

He is doing quite well now--staples out and back to eating anything he can get in his mouth...and still pissing off the cats by his mere presence.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

But you don't need that much!

I find retirement calculators like this one (I know, CNN's crappy Money section again) incredibly frustrating. The single biggest issue goes to methodology where (burried) you can find:
We then assume you can live comfortably off of 85% of your pre-retirement income. So if you earn $100,000 the year you retire, we estimate you will need $85,000 during the first year of retirement. For each subsequent year, we increase your income need by 2.3% to keep up with inflation...
Here's the problem: what you need and what you earn don't scale this way.  Someone making $50k/year at 35 who has a house and kids, is someone who, may be making $100k in 30 years, but who, at that time could well have a paid off house and grown kids they are no longer paying for.  No fucking way does that person need $85k/year (plus inflation) to retire on!  What you need in retirement is only a large fraction of what you earned if you still have lots of debt.  But anyone with that level of debt probably isn't a candidate for this calculator, as they probably can't afford to put away the 15%+ of their income necessary to have a secure retirement!  The whole thing is just fucked.

No matter how much you earn, if you can actually manage to put $1-2 million into retirement, own your residence, and be otherwise debt free at retirement, then that'll be plenty.  There are people who don't believe that, but they are pretty much all delusional financial types.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Not Learning Good

I would have thought that after Hillary lost to Barack in 2008 she would have learned that the Democratic base likes their candidate to be less warmongery.  It even sounded like she had really come to see how badly flawed her judgement was on Iraq.  Guess not.  I really want to like Hillary, but it is exactly this kind of right-wing sounding militaristic crap that I find outrageous coming from anyone, much less a Democrat.  I hope that we get a better candidate on military/intelligence that can displace her.  What is more likely is that such a candidate would make her pull back and lots of people would believe she is less of a warmonger than she is.

She's probably worse than Obama...who, still dissapointingly, was not a whole lot better than Bush Jr.  Why the fuck can't we get a presidential candidate that doesn't want to arm and then bomb the hell out of the middle east?!?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

"We're F'd"

Probably.  Not a very happy read, this, mostly because no matter how scary the outlook I don't see us (US or globally) doing nearly enough to head off very bad things.  More, I'm not very confident in our being able to successfully deal with said very bad things when they arrive.

At a global level this is insane, and there is no reason we couldn't do something but at an individual level, it's just too hard and too expensive.  I would love to get off the grid and go carbon neutral, but it isn't very feasible.  For commuting: award winning SEPTA kind of sucks for me: too expensive and very inconvenient relative to driving, and the roads I would need to take are kind of dangerous for bicycling (plus riding 10 mi to work in the summer morning would leave me in such a state that no one would want to come near me for the rest of the day).  At home: solar/wind/etc plus the energy storage for load leveling is very expensive, and there isn't enough back from energy companies to offset by feeding the grid.

I think that there is basically no hope without a carbon tax--including gasoline--coupled with a massive [federal] push for renewable energy and more efficient use of that energy.  We need fully electric transportation with more mass transit.  We need more efficient heat pumps.  We need a smarter, more efficient grid.

I suspect we will have most of those things eventually, but I also suspect it will be too late.

Monday, August 04, 2014

How Anti-Torture of Him

What Digby said.

So the president called torturers patriots at a press conference yesterday.  Yea, we'll never torture anyone ever again, thanks to how well President Obama has handled things.  I mean, if you torture someone, then a future president (and Nobel peace laureate), after admitting it was torture and saying it was horribly wrong, will then call you a patriot!  How will you be able to look yourself in the mirror after that?!?  Or, really, after torturing people, but let's not ignore the way that you will be publicly ridicule-praised.  The Shame!

Why can't we have good Democrats politicians people?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

GPS Prevents You From Learning

I've had this thought about GPS (and know I've told people about it), and it's nice to see it validated by a real study.  If you use GPS navigation to get from point A to point B there's a really good chance that you will have no idea how you got there.  If, however, you look at a map (even mapped directions) and figure out where you are going.  You will then have to pay attention on the trip and will have a much better idea of where you are, how you got there, how to get back, and even how to get around problem spots that may occur.

I think GPS is great for navigation if you are someplace you are not likely to return (say on vacation, or a road trip), but it is a much better idea to get around without it as much as possible in the place you live.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Information Everyone Should Know

Considering that everyone (i.e. all the very serious people) know that high taxes hurt job should come as no surprise that they are wrong and high taxes don't hurt job growth.  They may actually help create more jobs as is now being seen in CA.  A couple paragraphs I like (in part because I've made similar points here 4 years ago):
Neumark said he asks his students, “Does raising income tax rates reduce hiring?”
“The answer is no. What firms care about when deciding how many workers to hire is the marginal product of workers and the marginal cost of those workers. So if you are an employer and your personal income tax rate is increased, that does not raise the marginal cost of your workers, but it may encourage you to work a little less hard,” Neumark noted, applying standard economic theory.
Some research into tax rates indicates that high rates have the opposite effect: People may work harder, trying to make more money to achieve a desired after-tax income and may slough off if tax rates are lowered.
Hmm...On the one hand I'd like to gloat about being right.  On the other it is so frustrating that the people who are constantly and so badly wrong have so much influence, that I can't really feel good about it.

Also in that article and following a recent discussion regarding high taxes driving people away and low taxes attracting them:
The empirical evidence also shows that the best-paying jobs tend to be clustered in states (and countries) with high taxes. The same tends to be true of wealth creators, including the most money-motivated among scientists, and existing wealth holders not actively engaged in business.
Manhattan, home to the highest taxes in America, is also home to many centimillionaires and billionaires drawn by the proximity of other dealmakers, as well as taxpayer-supported amenities such as museums and performing arts halls. [emphasis mine]
If you want to live in a really nice place that place being really nice costs something and that something is tax dollars.  So nicer places to live have to be higher taxed. Looking back on the first thing I bolded, you see this seems to be true even among people who have the freedom to live wherever they want: "those not actively engaged in business"--i.e. the retired and/or people who have inherited their wealth--should be most tax sensitive...they choose to live in high tax areas.

I understand that in government there is waste (less than people think) and abuse (ditto) and money spent on "things you don't like" (say, the military), but tough.  In the end, if you vote for and/or support tax cuts you are championing a shittier country/state/municipality than you currently live in.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Things I Wouldn't Know About If Not For the Internet

Giant Flemish Rabbit.  As tiny Elvis would say: "Woah, look at that thing.  Man that sucker's huge."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Always Good to Laugh When You're Down

Weird Al tends to provide that.  Plus, I can certainly be tacky too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Goodbye Zoé

In January 2003 a cute and playful little puppy suckered me into bringing her home.  She was 3 months old at the time, playful, gregarious, and cute as they come, and she pooped in my car in the 2 miles from the shelter to my house...seriously pooped, like she must have weighed half as much when she was done pooped, and while she was small she wasn't tiny:
In the first year she managed to be very cute while destroying the carpeting in my apartment...and my recliners...and my boots...and my wallet...and my PDA (remember those?  Mine was a Sony!)...and the moldings...and the vertical blinds...and the feed line for the toilet (flooding the bathroom)...and the bathroom wall, removing insulation behind it...and eating a pound of the 50% off chocolate I picked up after easter--it didn't seem to do anything but give her colorful foil poop for a day or two.

But still, she was cute, so she managed to get away with all was particularly cute that she did these things when I was gone because she missed me (everyone: "Awww!").  She was the devil, but that was ok.  Eventually she got through that phase, and no one who has met her since believes she was ever capable of such wanton destruction. 

In fact, pretty much everyone agreed she was the best dog in the world, including her...
She loved going for walks particularly at Wissahickon...
She managed to get herself invited onto stranger's beds...
She even put up with us when we would make her pose for silly pictures like this...
 And this...
And we couldn't just leave her sleep when she was being this cute...
She'd like you to think she was indifferent toward the cats
But we knew the truth...they were conspiring together...
At the young age of 9 she developed an animosity toward dead tree limbs that lasted through her final years...
And to anyone who doesn't think she was the best dog ever...she's got something to say to you...
In July 2013 she was diagnosed with lymphoma.  One round of chemo and a very short remission took her to January 2014, when the vets gave her 2-3 months (3 months with further treatment).  Because the chemo had been rough on her we decided to forego.  She decided that she should be around longer than that.  At least long enough to see us get married (remotely):

Zoé passed away on July 14 2014 after nearly twelve years on earth, eleven and a half with me, and a bit over four years with Debbie.  She will be missed, but really, now, it's...

Time for her to go exploring...

We love you Zoé.

Infused Water

I like cucumber water (generally with some lime juice), but most infusions don't do much for me because low temp extraction is just not very good: you use a lot of fruit for a pretty small effect.  Cucumber is an exception (watermelon works pretty well too), and cucumber seeds in particular.  In fact, splitting a cucumber (or two) and scooping the seeds out for cucumber water still leaves the rest of the cucumber for salad/salsa/whatever so you get the best of both worlds.  Maybe I should try the stringy goop around the seeds of a cantaloupe.

As for other things: muddled mint does ok but if you really want to get all the flavor out you have to cook that (hard, i.e. boil not steep), at which point you're maybe technically drinking infused water but most people would call it "tea", and other fruits certainly taste good infused, but in almost all cases, you get better flavor for less fruit by mashing and/or cooking them down and adding as a concentrate/juice/syrup.  Now if you are planning on eating the fruit out of your water, then go for it.

...also, alcohol does well for extraction so infusing a vodka or gin is useful, though its too bad cucumber infusions doesn't last long.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Are You Stupid? "Included for Free" Addition

First off, the answer is probably "yes" because we all are, and anyone who thinks they aren't is just being stupid.  Still, there are some varieties of stupid that are particularly egregious (see Justice Alito's recent opinion).  Try this fictional example...

Ferrari sells you a particular model of vehicle with every option "included for free" at $250k.

Porsche sells you a car with a base price of $130k and $120k in optional upgrades that bring it to about the same point as the Ferrari (yes, enthusiasts for one or the other will disagree but that's not the point here).

The question: Do you complain to the Porsche dealer that Ferrari includes their options for free?
The answer: Only if you are stupid.

This doesn't mean that one isn't better than the other at one thing or another, or that you wouldn't be better served by one or the other, but if you think the Ferrari options are "free" you are monumentally stupid.

"Included for free" means that the price is already factored into the base price of whatever you are getting.  Unless you are someone who needs all the included items, you are probably paying for things you don't need so that someone else who does can get them at a slight discount.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Bad Decision, Interesting Take

This sounds more hopeful than expectant, but about as good as one can do to try and feel better about the rather horrible Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby.  Essentially: the made up religious liberties of a business/corporation trump the civil liberties of its employees.

There really isn't any logical way to back the majority's decision.  One can hope that future cases will show what a horrid bit of legalese they've released upon the world and it will be overturned, but I have a hard time seeing that happening in my lifetime.  While our country and its people have become much more accepting in the last couple decades, it seems that our institutions are stuck at the turn of the [last] century.  It's no wonder people's confidence in all parts of government (and corporations) is in the toilet.

Friday, June 06, 2014

In a Better US

This is the way the police should treat drunk belligerent assholes--even ones that get a bit violent.  Not taze them, slam them into the ground, kneel on them making breathing difficult.  Just stay calm, laugh rather than getting angry.  (And yes, there's at least one racist asshole in the comments claiming cops in the US can't do this because of black people and desegregation.)

Thursday, June 05, 2014

I Hope This Conclusion is Right

This is a great tear-down of Timmy's play time at the Fed and Treasury.  It ends rather optimistically and I really hope that is correct.  It does seem that Democrats are moving away from corruption (while the GOP is ready to hop in and scoop up the leavings).  Still, one Senator Elizabeth Warren does not a movement make. The Democratic party (and, frankly, the US) needs more of her.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Could Have Gone Further

Timmy's book is out and from what I gather it's rather self-serving.  They saved the banks but ignored everyone else, and the economy continues to suffer as a result.  They could have seriously written down/off mortgages and student loans, but they didn't, and so people (even those with good jobs) are more financially constrained than they could have been and so the economy isn't not-sucky.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Game Economics

I read--years ago--an article/document/paper on the economics of the many games out there (like Candy Crush Saga or, my current addiction, Dark Galaxy).  It also dealt with the psychology of the users, and how those who do spend real money in these games do it.  The thing is that most users spend nothing, and quite a few will spend from $1 to $10, but then there are a handful that spend hundreds, and even thousands.  I am willing to purchase a game, but I won't spend anything in-game.  Still I do enjoy some of the free games, but I am occasionally mystified at why anyone would spend real money on them.  Take Dark Galaxy...

In the game you have weapons and ships that you supply allies and mercenaries.  You also have your personal stats (tactics, attributes), and when you battle and complete missions you do better or worse based on these.  If you want to be very powerful you will need to get 100 mercs, and 300 each special "LE" vehicles and weapons.  You will also need to max your tactics.  Mercs, LE items, and extra tactics points can be bought in game with artifacts (arts), and arts can be bought with real money.

But here's the thing: it takes a lot of artifacts to maximize, and artifacts aren't cheap.  $5 gets you 27 artifacts but that will only buy you 1 merc (25 arts).  LE items can cost less than 20 for weak ones on sale, but can also run to 60 arts (and those aren't the most powerful, just the best you can have to build the top ones).  There are some price breaks but not much ($10 gets you 60, $100 gets you 750).  One particular "Ultimate" LE ship requires 7 60 art ships to construct (ships which can be obtained in-game for the sufficiently dedicated and well equipped).  That would cost a minimum of $60 real dollars to obtain...1 LE ship, leaving 299 ships and 300 weapons to go.  Oh, and one really powerful ship doesn't make a huge difference.  Add to that 100 mercs which will require 2500 arts as they can't be obtained otherwise, and that would run $350.

Now there are in-game available artifacts.  A limited number from missions and extras from tournaments and bosses.  But that waters down the value of those artifacts.  If I can play the game occasionally and pick up a few hundred arts (which would cost $50 to buy) why would I purchase?  When it isn't hard to see how expensive using cash is why does anyone do it?  It's basically flushing money down the toilet.  It doesn't give much advantage unless you spend hundreds or thousands, and the game isn't nearly that entertaining.

I find most "free" games with in-game purchases to be similarly worthless.  You get so little for the $ you put in, that I feel ripped off for the people who do buy (and I know people do).  In most games the money you spend essentially buys you time: you don't have to wait for recharges or things to finish.  But for games like these, I appreciate the time.  It's a built in "you're done playing now" point; "go do something else" (like loading up another game).

Mostly, however, games like this seem to me to be further proof that we are not rational actors when it comes to how we spend money.  If we were then companies relying on in-game income like this would all be bankrupt.

Santa Barbara

Lots of horrible people who are, in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy exclaiming how we shouldn't restrict guns at all.  I don't really have anything to say except go read Echidne.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Occasional Passion: Virtual Reality Sci-Fi

I'm not a true Japan-Geek, largely because I never got into manga.  I do, however, enjoy anime (at one time daily, now occasionally).  Just finished watching Sword Art Online (SAO), which thematically fit in nicely after having read both Ready Player One and Snow Crash not too long ago.  All were quite good.

I think we are way more than the 7 years out that SAO kind of implies, but the idea of a small MRI-like device that can read directly from the brain isn't crazy far out sci-fi.  Writing to the brain, on the other hand, is--even disregarding the unsettling aspect.  It isn't very least not any time soon.  Our senses are amazing input devices and electromagnetic fields just aren't.  Yes, you could conceivably create interference patterns that would target one region or another, but the brain is immensely complex and the patterning would need to be orders of magnitude more complex, and that is ignoring the power necessary to stimulate any activity at that target site.  It is far easier to project an image and build a suit that provides haptic feedback than it would be to do a wireless Matrix.

So I find the haptic-feedback system from Ready Player One to be the most likely sense-enveloping VR of the group (yes, I know, Snow Crash is audio/visual only, but the laser drawing on the eyeball is also pretty out there).

Yes, I'm a Beer Snob

Just looking back at this post.  I am a beer snob.  It isn't that I won't drink crap beer, it's that I see little point in buying it.  If I'm going to spend money on something, it should be something I either need or enjoy, and crap beer fits neither category.  I suppose if I enjoyed getting blotto (especially if I enjoyed doing that regularly) then crap beer would be fine, but even then it would be the cheep crap beer, which Bud [Light] isn't.

All that is a prelude to a new (to me) discovery: Shiner's Ruby Redbird beer, which may be the perfect hot weather beer.  I've had Shiner's Bock, Wild Hare, and Black Lager, but I spotted this one (in cans) at my favorite beer store (Big Top, on Easton Rd.).  The ginger and red grapefruit are not overpowering (it still tastes like beer) and are perfect when consumed cold on a hot day, especially after doing yard work/gardening, maybe getting in a hike/run/ride.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bad Websites

Most political sites are based on the same general template, but I almost didn't vote for Daylin Leach in the primary because of a pet peeve of mine regarding websites: not enough text.  When you go to the various issues links at Leach's website you are treated to a video, and oftentimes nothing else.  No text, no way for me to read up on his positions.

I don't watch video's online other than for entertainment.  If the only way you are presenting your positions on various issues is through a video, I'm not going to know what your position is, because I'm not going to watch it.  If I can't find your position on an issue easily I'm going to assume you don't want me to know it and so I'm not likely to vote for you.

It's a question of time: video's are time and attention consuming.  Reading text is fast, and is easy to go back and forth on.  I care about politics but learning about a candidate should occupy as little of my time and attention as possible.  I'm not saying don't post videos: just write down whatever is in there beneath them so I can know what you want me to.

Voting in PA

So primaries yesterday.  Dem PA guv was kind of a wash.  I wasn't particularly fond of any of the candidates and I agree with Atrios that Allyson Schwartz's campaign of inevitability was odd.  I am in her district and she's been kind of a meh rep.  PA's 13th is very blue and there isn't really a good excuse for a mushy Dem but she played that part well...likely in part because of aspirations to statewide office.  Still, I did vote for her, if only because in a field of meh, I'll take the meh I know--and that she is based close to home helped my decision a bit.

More interestingly, because Allyson was running for governor, there was a rather interesting race in my congressional district.  Unfortunately we seem to have selected yet another too-conservative-for-the-district Democrat.  He may work out fine, but he was 3rd on my preference list.  Also my very corrupt state Senator lost her reelection bid, which was a bit of a worry since 2 people were taking her on.  There was some concern that they would split the rather large anti- vote and she would manage to get through.  Glad she didn't, though, in that race too my preferred candidate lost.

So a fair amount to vote on but not a whole lot of excitement for me.  On the other hand, our current polling location is ~1.6 mi from home, so the round-trip run comes in just over 5k.

WTF Swype?

I know that names (some more than others) and science words are likely to be unrecognizable, but after the gay marriage court win in PA yesterday, I was slide-typing "gay" and it was defaulting to "Gary" which, maybe, ok, except in the list of possible words it thinks I may have meant "gay" didn't show up at all.  I would guess that far more people text the word "gay" than "Gary" and I can't really imagine a non-bigoted reason that gay wouldn't even show up in the possible word list (and really should have been the default).

Another note: if I swipe "shit" or "fuck" I want to say "shit" or "fuck" not "s***" or "f***".  Maybe there's an argument for the censorship based on people (kids) misswiping something else, but f***ing stop it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Economic Bicycle

Growth, and the sustainability of said is very important to [modern] economics and economies.  But "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron.  Growth is inherently unstable, primarily due to scarcity concerns.  Now, economists, so far as I can tell, generally consider this argument irrelevant because either the time-frame over which it becomes a problem is considered too long to be of consequence or because they assume that the economy is dynamic enough to have growth move through other channels, bypassing whatever current scarcity is limiting.

I don't disagree with that--well with the latter argument--but it seems to me that if growth is required, and that growth can come through changing dynamics rather than brute force, then population growth is unnecessary. That isn't, however, how things seem to work.
To have more or less full employment, we need sufficient spending to make use of the economy’s potential. But one important component of spending, investment, is subject to the accelerator effect: the demand for new capital depends on the economy’s rate of growth, rather than the current level of output. So if growth slows due to a falloff in population growth, investment demand falls — potentially pushing the economy into a semi-permanent slump.
I recognize that Dr. Krugman is making a rather nuanced point seem much simpler than it is, but it seems to me that this is yet another indictment of our financial system and its influence and effect on the broader economy. Population growth shouldn't matter this much.  The economy should be able to grow with plenty of speed to keep upright.

If the population is the terrain over which the proverbial bicycle rides then population growth is like moving downhill, slowing growth is leveling off.  The bicycle can still run on level ground, and even uphill, it just requires more work and the titans of finance just don't want to pedal.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Yes, Republicans are Anti-Science

That is a statement that 20 years ago would have been laughed at, and that, if taken seriously, would have been pretty horrifying to most people.  Today it's nearly shrugged off as "so, what else is new" except among an ever-shrinking subset of "very serious people" and, frankly, somewhat deluded scientists...mostly people who like low taxes (or who dislike the blah people), and who very selectively ignore the evidence--these aren't very good scientists in a general sense, mind you, but they constitute a significantly non-zero fraction.

The GOP itself spends a good deal of time pretending that they are the ones being "scientific" about various issues (mostly global warming and evolution), and pointing out the crazy anti-science that is more common on the left--particularly nuclear power but also animal testing and vaccinations, though that last is actually pretty ideology neutral in terms of where the true believers lie.  Of course with respect to that first item, they are absolutely not being scientific.  They are abusing complicated scientific principles to undermine the real science being done.  On the second point they aren't necessarily wrong (except the vaccine thing, which tends to pick up rich fools more specifically than it does liberal or conservative fools), but the difference is one of influence: anti-science lefties, even when they have fairly popular positions (e.g. nuclear) that are understanable from a non-science perspective, have approaching zero influence in the party.

I would like to clarify a bit on nuclear energy.  Scientists tend to be pro- while liberals are more likely to be anti- but a lot of the anti-nuke can be justified by things like cost analysis, and risk management/containment.  Additionally, current nuclear technology is just not good enough to replace fossil fuels, while renewables like solar and wind have the potential to reach that point where they could, theoretically, provide enough power to replace fossil, and much, much more power than nuclear [fission] ever could.  So it is possible to be pro-science and anti-nuke.  The same really can't be said about evolution or the existence of anthropogenic climate change.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

How to Feel Better About Your Run

So I ran Broad Street last weekend (like a chump).  My chip time was 1:57:31 (because I'm slow and 10 miles is a long damned way...also there was a ~5 min bathroom break in there).  For those who are passably good at math that translates to an average pace of 11:45.  Not great, though better than last year despite not properly training and having sprained my ankle pretty badly ~3 months before.  Also I know the last mile was right around 9 min from the clocks at miles 9 and the finish.  Then I checked Map My Run:

10.58 miles in 1:54:13, or 10:47 pace

Now I may have missed turning it off for as many as 200 m past the finish line, and clearly my bathroom break was auto-paused away--not 5 min, but it was probably another 1-2 min before I actually stopped it after the finish.  But most of that added distance is because we didn't run a straight line down the street, cutting all the corners as short as possible, and over a 10 mile stretch little wiggles here and there (water breaks, finding shade, swinging wide to get more space) add up to nearly half a mile over the nominal race distance.  Now I don't know what the error is on those numbers but based on comparisons to my bike computer (which I trust to better than 95% confidence), it's pretty good.

10:47 is quite a bit better pace than 11:45.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Must Read

Infuriating and disturbing, but everyone should read this.

More Like Petulant Children

Yes, as Atrios says, "Libertarians is Weird" but Libertarians are a really odd group of people predominantly made up of 16-year-old boys (well, white male college stoners) and petulant man-children, and it's the latter that really hold sway.  Pretty much any Libertarian story could be replaced with "mine, gimme, you can't make me, no..." without changing it significantly.  

There are aspects of Libertarianism that seem to apply pretty broadly (civil liberties, some level of property rights, marijuana legalization), but there's a lot of greedy, racist child that goes into the actual overall Libertarian movement--anti-tax, anti-regulation (often more specifically pro-pollution), anti anti-civil rights/voting rights act(s) (yes, really).  People like Cliven Bundy are not the exception among self proclaimed Libertarians, they are the median Libertarian.

Also, as a special note: most self-proclaimed libertarians are not, in fact libertarians.  A "real Libertarian" would be more strongly pro-choice than anti-tax, and it's odd how often supposed Libertarians are anti-choice.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

We Drink Crap Beer

Lots of it.  Charts like the one below (from this link) just astound me.  Two quick points of contention.  One: most of those "domestics" are no longer American.  Two: Yuengling (which is America's largest brewer--based on ownership and production) isn't on the list at all despite being bigger than Sam Adams (and, agian, being America's largest brewer).

It doesn't surprise me that crap beer (and Bud Light in particular) dominate what we buy, it is how far ahead they are from anything of quality.  Maybe it's because I have lived in several places with very good craft brew scenes, but I am still amazed at how small a fraction of the sum total of the craft/micro brewed beers are of the total consumed--it's pretty damned close to 100% of what I, and many of my friends/family buy but it's less than 5% of the total [volume] purchased in the US.

I think what is happening is the confluence of marketing with low-income/poverty and [borderline] alcoholism--maybe I should call it "partying".  It has to be the combination, because if it was just poverty and "partying" then Natural Light, Keystone Light, PBR, and High Life would all score higher (they're all about the same quality as Bud Light, but cheaper).

Note that Sam Adams to the rest of the craft beer is similar to Bud Light to all beers.  Also, I may have mentioned, but Yuengling seems to be missing from the list.  Also, too, I wouldn't consider Yuengling craft, nor Shiner, and Sam Adams is on the edge, but they do enough experimentation for me to still consider them craft...not that they give two shakes.  Also, also, too, I'm kinda surprised that Kona and Stone are big enough to show up but Dogfish and Rogue aren't...the Yuengling thing makes me wonder a bit at the completeness of the list.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Housing for the Stupid Rich

a.k.a. McMansions...

I have a pretty visceral negative response to most McMansions that is neatly summed up near the end of the linked article:
But what I discovered is that the form doesn’t really change. Yes, the houses get bigger every year, gables and gazebos come and go, but what is really striking about the McMansion is its vapid consistency as the decades pass.
What stays the same, and what always gets me when I walk through one of these houses, are the vacuous spaces. The vast stretches of painted sheet-rock. The gaping rooms that are simply too tall to decorate. The billowing industrial roof. The windowless walls. 
There’s something else, too. Stand in the street when the sun hits the McMansion from the right angle and its glare obliterates the fake muntins in the windows and suddenly you grasp the truth about this form: It is staring at you with those blank featureless eyes, those empty holes in that vast, unadorned wall, demanding to be fed. This house doesn’t serve humans, we serve it.
I live in a neighborhood with plenty of large houses (not mine), most of which date to the late 19th, early 20th century.  Houses that were well built, functional and served to house people well.  They are, I still think, too large by half for most families, but they are not the insanity that is the McMansion.  It's the useless space in so many newer large homes that I really don't like.  Space that needs to be heated, cooled, adorned, cleaned, but that doesn't provide any functionality.  In the older houses, even the large ones, you find that most of the space is somehow useful (yes, there are true mansions that have useless space, but at least those are well made and really look great).  The McMansion equivalents around me have relatively small bedrooms, in which a queen sized bed often feels cramped.  The closets range from small to smaller, and bathrooms and kitchens are utility rooms, not designed to be living spaces themselves.  There may be too many rooms, but each room is serviceable.

Other than very large families or frequent hosting of parties there isn't much use to space beyond a certain point.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Family Leave

We should have it, and it should be very much like that in Sweden.  Oddly, it's an issue that traditional conservatives should embrace along with the liberals, except that it runs hard up against the corporate conservatism that actually owns the Republican party (and yes, it largely owns the Democratic party as well).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What is "Self-Made"

A lot of the income inequality/mobility discussion has, as part of its background the fact that most of the really wealthy are "self-made" which, as far as I can tell, means they didn't inherit their great wealth.  But there's a problem with that fact: it doesn't count leg-up wealth.  Mitt Romney is a good example.  Everyone knows he was born to wealth and opportunity, but his current wealth is "self-made".  Sure he inherited (or would have, not sure on the timing) lots of $$, but he has made quite a bit more.

Even Bill Gates, who most people see as an innovator and self made man, had pretty well off parents.  The children of wealthy people have advantages that others don't, even without looking at some big inheritance/gift.  They can afford to take more risks and chances than most people, because if they fail, they won't be destitute.  Bush Jr. failed at every enterprise he ever attempted and he was gifted the presidency thanks to daddy's little supreme court justices!

That America has lots of "self-made" extraordinarily wealthy individuals is not a testament to America as a land of extraordinary opportunity unless rich, middle class, and poor alike all have the same chance of making it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

83% Out of $1 Billion Bracket...After Game 1

So 83% of people in the billion $ bracket picked Ohio State over Dayton, and are now marred.  As one of the 16% who picked Dayton, I'd brag, but chances are very good that I will miss a game by the end of today (if not the end of this afternoon) and almost certain that I will have at least one miss before the second round finishes.

Still, it is fun to fantasize about what I'd do with the money.  As I've said before, mostly, I'd give it away.  I don't have any use for that much money, but it would be nice to be debt free and to get all the work done on my house that I want, and some new furniture.  ...Also a Tesla.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Free Money For Everyone

Sounds crazy but it would work.  Since it's really no less likely than fiscal stimulus (infrastructure spending please) pushing for it is not a bad idea.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why Bother With a Monitor?

Ok, sure, I know there are some people who require the much better resolution for work (graphical design, programming...), and for workplaces you can probably fill an office 17" monitors for a song, but for most [home] users, a dedicated computer monitor is a pretty dumb purchase.  For generally less money you can get a television, that can do the same things as a monitor, but also has built in speakers and doesn't require any extra hardware to play television/cable.  Since most computers/laptops now days have HDMI output, it's even a better proposition.

TV plus computer is a much better entertainment option than TV in one place, computer and monitor and speakers in another.  It's also a much better web entertainment option than web-enabled TVs or even Xbox/PSx--apparently these are better, but I can put a keyboard in my lap and a mouse on the sofa and use a computer online much easier. My only real complaint is Netflix: on the computer is seems more laggy and lower res, on the PS3 the interface is shit.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Minimum Wage and Jobs

It's one of those things that seems to be taken more on faith than evidence: higher minimum wage means fewer jobs.  But the evidence just doesn't seem to be there.  It seems like it should so people assume it does, but cities, states, and countries with higher minimum wages than the US just don't generally show higher unemployment (there are other social welfare issues that change and probably do lead to fewer jobs).

This article discusses states and cities in the US, referencing side by side county comparisons.  I wish I could find the link, but Austrailia has a much higher minimum wage than us, and pretty damned low unemployment.

Pure economics wouldn't get you here, but maybe a bit more thought does.  Higher minimum wage means more impetus to work, plus more income for those who do.  More workers making more money will then spend more money meaning an increase in the demand for goods and services, which must be provided by employing more people.  Moreover, if you have a business you want to succeed, you can't just fire everyone because their wages must go up.  You can't succeed with zero employees.  Maybe you can pass on some of the cost to customers, but only in a colluding society can that be guaranteed to work.  Most likely the people on top (owners, executives) will end up with less profits, which, I suspect, is the real reason that business leaders oppose raising the minimum wage.

[Note: I would actually guess* the lower profit thing to be an immediate effect in terms of total $ and long term in terms of % profit.]

*Not an economist, and not doing the maths...which in this case are hard even for economists--too many variables--which I further suspect to be one of the reasons why they all "know" that higher min wage reduces jobs: that's what their maths tell them.

Arizona GOP: Anti-Math...I'll Assume Pro-Barbie

A state senator that doesn't know algebra isn't as surprising as I'd like it to be, but that he would state his ignorance so directly...

It's Not the Brackets, It's the Breaks

First, what Atrios said:
Getting rid of tax brackets does not make the system "dramatically simpler."
Taxes are actually pretty simple for lots of people: anyone who files the 1040 EZ or just takes the standard deduction, and don't have dependents or mortgage or other deductions and credits to put in there.  Even for people with common deductions, tax filing isn't all that complex.

The main reason that taxes get complex is that we spend hours trying not to pay them, and politicians have put in hundreds of breaks that are available to different people and businesses in different cases.  Anyone who wants to simplify the tax code actually has a pretty simple job: eliminate all deductions and credits.  You would probably want to adjust rates (and brackets) along with that, but that's really it.  You made $85k?  go to table, pull up your tax number, that's what you owe.

Right now someone who makes $85k likely pays taxes as though they made $70k, and may get credit for non-tax activity toward that.  That's why taxes are complex.  Between tables and computers, no one actually calculates their taxes.  The calculations are all done on deductions and credits.  We could have 100 brackets, or even a continuum and it would not make anything more complex.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Yes, Student Loan Debt is a Problem [Part the Infinity]

Another article, and another day that nothing is going to be done about this.  I still think that a student loan forgiveness by the Fed buying up all the debt and torching it and free college going forward would be the best fix.  One quick note that was in there was about mortgage requirements:
especially under new mortgage rules that limit total debt for a would-be borrower to 43 percent of their annual income.
I did not know that.  I'll be getting married this year, and apparently we wouldn't qualify for a mortgage after that due primarily to student loans (boo debt!).  Good thing I've already got one (hooray debt!?!).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Another Must Read

Really, just about everything Matt Taibbi writes, but this one is the latest.  Depressing, but stuff that everyone needs to know if we're to have any hope of stopping the next global financial meltdown.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Actually, You Kind of Do...

In David Atkins' post "Serfdom Either Way" he references the report discussed here about the wage gap between college grads and high school grads.  He doesn't say much about it, in fact most of what he does say is:
Do I really need to comment here? The insanity speaks for itself.
I think I know what he is talking about: either go into massive debt or get a shitty job.  But you really do need to comment about it, because the implication of the price premium for college grads is that it is, in fact, worth it to go to college, even when it means incurring debt.  Now I certainly think that college should be much more affordable--in fact free to everyone--but so long as we have this capitalist fantasy about everything, it not only makes sense that college tuition has gotten high, this report clearly implies that the high cost is entirely justified.  Because the gap has been spreading it also implies that the value (and the cost) should grow faster than GDP.

If a college degree means an extra $17k/year (for life!) then it sure as hell is worth paying $30k/year for 4 years to get one.  Now this isn't the math that most students (or their parents) do, and the nature of student loans is borderline predatory, but it isn't "insanity" it's perfectly rational capitalism.

(Note: I hope this isn't a trend of him becoming increasingly irrational, because this follows a post of his from yesterday, that was mostly fine but that very oddly stated "Bill Gates isn't exactly an innovator"...I'm not sure what he would call Bill Gates, but innovator, at the least, is pretty damned appropriate.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

No More Brand Loyalty

I think the article should have made clearer that this is really only true of consumer goods, and maybe small businesses--large corporations/businesses have lots of brand loyalty on the items they buy (sometimes for good reason, other times not so much).  Still, broadly, this is a good thing for society.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What Atrios Said

I think may be scariest when it comes to gun nuts (for whom it undoubtedly holds true).

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

USPS Banking - I Like It

This is a great idea (it actually sounds familiar, but not so much that I'll admit to having heard it before).  Also, while payday lenders and the like would be the biggest losers, and while [big] banks mostly don't seem to want small depositors, I am most curious to know what the effect would be on banks.  There's a lot of inertia in banking, but the USPS has some serious advantages over the big banks even for people not in banking deserts.

People who currently have banks, but only a couple thousand $ in savings, at most, are mostly being screwed over if that money is in a bank.  Switching to credit unions broadly makes sense, but not all credit unions are equal, and many people who won't switch offer as reason credit unions' (and small banks') shortage of locations/ATMs.  USPS clearly doesn't have that issue.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's Called Social Security

What a weird proposal this is.  Mandatory 6% savings of workers going into a retirement account.  Weird because we already have this thing and it's called Social Security.  Up the percentage from 6.2 to 9.2 (and matching employer--also, too, eliminate the cap) and then adjust SS payouts accordingly.  That has the potential added benefit of immediately boosting current SS recipients' incomes.

The Harkin proposal, on the other hand, is a pretty crappy not-even-second best.

Good Analogies

I really wish more people saw things in this way.  One thing I noticed reading the article that I'm surprised wasn't mentioned explicitly was poverty reduction as a benefit to the wealthy.  It is actually hinted at when he writes:
Taxation is a legal construction in exactly the same way as personal property rights are, and they are enforced using the same legal system that protects personal property rights. It is not reasonable to refuse to pay the membership fee for the country where you choose to live, while expecting the legal system of that country to protect your property from the desire of others to take it from you.
He could have easily pointed out at this point that taking care of the needs of the poor is a service to the rich expressly because it prevents them from becoming so destitute that stealing is a rational economic choice.  This directly throws a wrench in the argument that the rich get out less than they put in, because things like poverty reduction, crime prevention, and incarceration can actually be seen to benefit wealthy people much more than poor or middle class (they have more "stuff" to take).  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Optimism vs. Pessimism: "Ready Player One"

I finally read Ready Player One and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I was and am bothered, however, by an oddness in the book.  The future it paints is far more bleak than hopeful, but there is a very real and strong optimism throughout.  The oddness is that, while the pessimistic side of the book seems real enough to be prescient: I wouldn't be surprised if a world like that exists several decades into the future (though I think/hope it is further off than in the book), the optimistic side is...well, another matter.

At one level the optimism is individual in nature and I very much share it.  In order for it to have a greater (global) presence, however, it relies on some institutional (governmental and corporate) footings that--in our real world--are already eroding, and even gone and which seem far more likely to be anachronisms in the future (in particular the absolute privacy enjoyed in OASIS).  It feels like a throwback to the 80's even more in this way: the characters are able to enjoy a level of privacy that was much closer to reality 30 years ago.

I hope I'm wrong, but as things are today, IOI is the reality we are going to face.  GSS--no matter how well intended people may be--is a fantasy.

Income Mobility

Since the news came out that income mobility in this country, while crappy, has actually been pretty bad for a while, there's been some changing to the inequality debate.  Mostly not in a good direction.  It shouldn't need to be pointed out that mobility and inequality are very different issues.  It is possible to have very high mobility with simply insane inequality.  Imagine a country where the .01% owned 99% of the wealth, and everyone else was pretty much equal.  There could be a lot of mobility (it could be very easy for someone to move from the 10th to the 85th percentile if it only took an extra 20% of income to get there), but that level of inequality is still a major problem.

So these are two different issues and should be addressed as such.  It's great if people have the same chance as ever of making it to the top tier in this country, but it is pretty disgusting for that top tier to be so far separated from normal people (even upper middle class) as they are.  Two separate issues.  Not really even linked.

Friday, January 24, 2014

What Atrios Said

I wasn't particularly enamored with the Clinton administration (though the insane behavior of Republicans toward him made me take a more favorable view of him at the time).  I thought then--and do more so now--that by shifting so far to the right they were leaving a large swath of the public behind to gain the support of people (and businesses) who were broadly at odds with Democratic ideals which are quite popular.

Obama's rhetoric was good to hear, but his politics are in many ways even worse (i.e. more conservative).  In the end Clinton was more liberal than Reagan.  Obama really isn't.  I don't have high hopes for the upcoming State of the Union or what it will mean going forward.  Even if he sounds more populist, I just don't see any evidence that his policy positions will move that way.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lab Created Organisms

Right now it's more thought than reality, and I'm not sure it's a whole lot different than extreme GMO but, like GMO's it has the potential to dramatically improve human welfare.  It also (again like GMO's) has the potential to be a huge boon to the companies that make them while doing little to help other people.

Not Doing it Right

I like coins, and keep a lazy person's collection (those I've gotten as change and think are cool), so at some level I'd be a little stoked to see a brown nickel (I'm guessing copper).  Really though, we should kill the nickel (along with the penny), up production of $1 coins and add $2 coins.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Elizabeth Warren is Awesome

I'm not really sure it's anti-government left so much as anti-establishment left, as she--and her supporters--is a very big supporter of government (to regulate, equalize, level the playing field...).  She just thinks it's currently broken.

Interesting Historical Note

England had, for a brief period of time, something much resembling a basic guaranteed income.  It seems like it worked quite well, though it had some issues--mostly to do with how it was implemented, though other marginal ones as well.  It was then and is now the moralistic argument against this that seems to resonate strongest and it is one that isn't easy to push back against rhetorically--experience, on the other hand pushes back nicely, but people like anecdotes over data and you can always find the anecdote that proves your side right.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Hate CNN Money

Their personal finance is slanted so heavily to advice for people in much better shape than the general populace that I get pissed every time I read anything on it (which is very rarely).  This article on advice to a couple wanting to retire early is a fair example.  The couple sounds like a normal couple--early 40s, middle class jobs, couple kids--but they have $50k cash (seems like ~$150k in other investment), a $2000 monthly surplus and pensions (pensions!).  These are people who don't need advice.  They are so far ahead of the curve that most people should be asking them.  They don't have financial problems.

Most of the advice is fine, so far as it goes, though I'm a bit disgusted with the idea that anyone would think that $300k set aside to send kids to college was reasonable (actually, there's at least a fair chance the adviser doesn't find it reasonable, just necessary, but since they thought publishing advice to people who don't need it was a good idea, I'm not so generous here).

So few people in this country have pensions, that giving this couple advice in the personal finance section of Money is kind of like giving a millionaire advice: even if it's good, it doesn't really help real people.  If they really wanted to help out people then they would advise people in their mid-to-late 50s without pensions, with $80k in 401k's, and with $200k+ left on a mortgage, or people in their 20's and 30's with $60k of student loan debt, no assets, and income of $30k/year.  There's a lot more of them, and they need a lot of help.

...I suppose that, if I'm going to be fair, a fair chunk of readers of that site have a level of financial security more like the one in the article.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Real News, Now More Than Ever

It's pretty depressing that you can be better informed by watching the Daily Show and Colbert, and by reading The Onion, than you can from most mainstream media.