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Recent Shakespeare

Witch, Mami
I thought I would have mentioned it, but apparently not: earlier this month I went to this year's Shakespeare on the Common, which was Twelfth Night. The performance was decent, but when they got to the plot against Malvolio, I remember cringing through that part of last year's Theatre@First performance, and decided to bug out. I didn't want to sit through "unpleasant people being unpleasant (to each other)", as I thought of it, again. Didn't really enjoy watching the drunken revelers, either. Well done, but not fun.

Tonight, I went to the first Theatre@First production of "Henry IV", which I guess was a heavily abridged mashup of both plays, and with a couple gender changes (Lady Northumberland, Dame Joan Falstaff, couple other female castings besides Lady Percy and the hostess.) Well done, overall. Hotspur was good (and I don't say that just because I'm connected to the actor), Hal and King Henry were good. Falstaff... if the role is supposed to be *funny*, that didn't work for me.

I cringed again at the double robbery. Could call it "unpleasant people being unpleasant", but I think the more succinct version would be that I don't like watching sadism. Malvolio didn't deserve it at all -- sorry, I sympathize with the guy yelling "keep it down!". Falstaff's a rogue and a thief but still, I don't find making a fool of him funny, I just want to be far away from everyone involved.

The angry father on his deathbed was very well done, but close to trigger territory for me, I found, combining memories of "alcoholic father yelling in bed" and "sick father in deathbed".

Production values minimalistic. Modern clothing costums, simple evocative set. Lots and lots of incandescent light bulbs.

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So, recommendable if you like Shakespeare with some liberties. Me, I think I'm finding my taste is running toward fluff and heroes, or at least solidly decent people. This may help explain why I haven't rushed to watch more Game of Thrones.

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Harry Potter and the Order of Idiots

Witch, Mami
Man, this book is painful to re-read. Dumbledore's an idiot for not explaining anything, Harry's an idiot for forgetting Sirius's communication mirror, Snape's an idiot about Harry, Sirius is an idiot about Kreacher, James was a big bully... plus Fudge being an idiot and Umbridge just being so utterly horrible.

And yet dim memory makes me fear that #6 will be even worse on the smart people being dumb front.

On the upside, I remember when I read #7, at the end I kind of wondered who Ginny was and why Harry was hooking up with her. She hadn't made much impression, with books years apart by the end. Re-reading the books close together though, yeah, she's there a lot, not part of the Holy Trinity but in the penumbra, and often in the plot.

I still kind of ship Harry and Luna, though. Ginny's a nice girl and all but I don't really care about her; Luna made a much bigger impression, back in the day, and seems to have more chemistry with him on page. I'm tempted to look up Luna fanfic, except I also fear how bad it could be.

Huh, I have a Harry Potter tag already. I wonder why? *checks* Oh, Methods of Rationality.

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Israel/Palestine occupation links

Finance Minister Lapid, back in January, sounded sane, warning of the danger of a European boycott, and saying a Palestinian state would be economically beneficial to Israel.

On the dehumanizing effects of the occupation, and the daily humiliation of Palestinians. A look at the racism of Hebron settlers. And, I'd missed that the three teens were kidnapped in the West Bank. So why waging war on Gaza, again?

The falling levels of empathy across the border. Again, a focus on the Israelis.

On Palestinian nationality, going back to rebellions against the Ottomans in 1824.

Not that it really matters how old nationality is.

Palestinians have tried non-violence; it failed.

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Connect the dots

"Asma al-Ghul (also Al Ghoul, Alghoul ) is a young secular Palestinian feminist journalist who writes for the Ramallah-based newspaper Al-Ayyam, chronicling what she calls “the corruption of Fatah and the terrorism of Hamas.”[1] Al-Ayyam is sometimes banned in Gaza by Hamas"

"My father’s brother, Ismail al-Ghoul, 60, was not a member of Hamas. His wife, Khadra, 62, was not a militant of Hamas. Their sons, Wael, 35, and Mohammed, 32, were not combatants for Hamas. Their daughters, Hanadi, 28, and Asmaa, 22, were not operatives for Hamas, nor were my cousin Wael’s children, Ismail, 11, Malak, 5, and baby Mustafa, only 24 days old, members of Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or Fatah. Yet, they all died in the Israeli shelling that targeted their home at 6:20 a.m. on Sunday morning."

"The bodies of my cousin’s children were stored in an ice cream freezer. Rafah’s Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital was closed after being shelled by Israeli tanks"

"Never ask me about peace again."

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Fermi problem: driving instructors

How many driving instructors are there in the Boston area?

1 million people, 10,000 turning 16 every year and mostly learning to drive at some point, 10 hours to learn to drive, 1000 hours of instruction time, so 100 students a year and 100 instructors. If it takes less time to learn or more is available I could see the number dropping to 25; I don't see it going to 400.

But! Most families have cars, do most people learn to drive from their parents? That could cut business by 90%, leaving 10. There may also be adult in business in the form of buying off driving infractions with lessons; if 10% of the adults take such a lesson at some point in their life, then that could support another 10 instructors.

The web will show me driving schools, not individual instructors; how many instructors per school? Basic driving instruction doesn't have much economies of scale: one student behind the wheel, one car, one instructor in the passenger seat. Having a business could be as simple as putting out an ad an showing up, unless there are regulations about having a car the instructor can take control of. But there could be some team up under brand name or sharing office expensives, I'll guess 2-3 instructors per school on average.

I'm ignoring motorcycles or commercial vehicles, just looking at basic cars.

Yelp lists 10 schools in the area, missing one I know of, but including a motorcycle school.

Sonia's makes teens take 12 hours behind the wheel, 6 in observation, and 30 in the classroom. [this seems standard] $450 for all that, or $30/hour for road practice. Indicates the law does require a two-brake system. No indication of how many people are involved.
Love's has one instructor.
Brookline has "a handful" of instructors.
North Quincy review mention 4 names; the website says "Collectively, we have close to 50 years of driving experience." so can't be too many people.
Safety Auto claims to have service a wide range of immigrant communities, and taught 3000 students in the past 2 years, vs. my rough 100/year estimate for one person. So maybe 7-15 instructors.
City Auto claims 50,000 students since 1998 or about 3300/year! 15-33 instructors?
D&D totally unclear, plus reviews call it a scam that makes you fail your test.
Metro: one review about parking in a handicapped spot, dead website.
Boston DS: reviews make it sound like one guy. Website gives us director, manager, and CFO, but not instructors.

Google lists some more:
Natural: no info
Newton: father/daughter team, photo of three cars.
A-L&L: no idea, though name and photo of two cars sounds like a two-person thing
T-Guide: no idea
Success: "thousands in the past 12 years". 3 cars.

Then Google Maps has a bunch of small dots.
Friendship: one guy?
International: I remember thinking a husband-wife team, don't know why.
Arlex: family-owned.
Canto: "Our staff speak English, Portuguese, Spanish, Cambodian(Kymer) and other African languages." That would imply at least a few polyglots, except "other African languages" makes me suspicious, as none of the ones mentioned are African.
Henry's Everett is family-owned.

Okay, there's not quite 40 dots on the broader map, I won't go through them all. But 100 instructors seems pretty plausible, in the end. I realized along the way that "most people learned from their parents" may not apply to immigrants; the two schools that seem potentially big have Chinese on their website or emphasize their immigrant service.

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Fun with timelines, 1

Was at SF's Asian Art Museum today. Pretty good but this isn't about that. While looking at placards I suddenly had the idea of applying my idea of thinking "what else was happening at this time?" to try to anchor diverse events together. Partly for general anchoring, partly to see if I could actually learn Chinese dynastic history at all this time. This is still half-assed, I'm typing largely to learn by typing as much as to be interesting, but anyway.

Dates usually approximate:

Xia: 2000-1600
Shang: 1600-1000, Bronze Age
Zhou: 1000-400? Iron Age?
chaos. Confucius, Buddha, Jain (Mahavira).
Qin: 221-206, well into Hellenistic and rise of Rome
Han: 200 BC - 220 CE. From pre-civil war Roman Republic to a bit after the decline of post-Antonine Rome (death of Marcus Aurelius 180, and this already after plagues; murder of Commodus 193.) I knew Rome and Han China had traded via intermediaries a lot (cf. Gandharan Greco-Buddhist art), this helps refinorce that.
Tang, 600-900. Dark Ages + Charlemagne, paired with an extensive high point of China.
Song, late 900 to late 1200s, High Middle Ages. Like Rome/Han, this is a nice pairing -- Song was a great time.
Yuan (Mongols) 1270s to 1360s. Mongols in Europe's abysmal 14th century. Hmm, this would also be the kamikaze period for Japan, and Zheng He's treasure fleet.
Ming: 1368-1644, late medieval to early modern. 1493 told me how half the silver of Potosi went to buy good from China in lieu of decent Ming monetary policy.
Qing (Manchu) 1644-1910 or so.

Jomon, -- to 300 BC, Hellenistic
Yayoi, 300-300, Hellenistic to early late antiquity.
Kofun: 300-500. Buddhism to Japan around 550, like Christianity spreading through Dark Age Europe.

Korea: Joseon, 1392-1910.

Middle Ages: Dark Ages or whatever you want to call them, 500-1000. High Middle Ages, 1000-1300 (end of viking raids, monetization, industrialization, Ars Magica 1220, a renaissance.) Late medieval, 1300-1500 (14th-15th centuries, what Crowley was getting away from, famine, Black Death, Hundred Year's War, then Guttenberg in 1450s.)

1500+ modernity, or apparently "the classical period" if you're French. Columbus was 1492 so that makes sense, Americas make 'medieval' totally go out the window. So does printing.

Side bonus: in looking up Chinese dynasties, I was trying to skip past minor short lived dynasties. But some Liao dynasty lasted longer than either segment of the Song! Turned out to be a northern kingdom, Mongolia + northern China. Not Han, but Khitan, and highly egalitarian for women, who were taught to hunt, managed herds and households, and sometimes had government or military posts. Dowager empresses seemed to lead armies pretty often.

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Dumbing down pulp heroes

Miles, bujold
The stereotypes:

Frankenstein's monster is a shambling moron; Conan is a mighty-thewed violent barbarian in a loincloth; and Tarzan is an ape-man whose great intellectual accomplishment is "Me Tarzan, you Jane."

The realities:

The Creature is a brilliant and eloquent autodidact; I'm told Conan is a mighty-thewed barbarian who wears as much armor as he can get, is fairly smart and cunning, and becomes something of an intellectual as King of Aquilonia in his later life; and Tarzan teaches himself to read and write English solely from books (bootstrapping from children's primers and an illustrated dictionary) despite having no human spoken language at the time, his first one of which will be French, learned as an adult. He also becomes an intellectual omnivore when finally dragged off to civilization.

On the flip side, I'm not sure people remember Sherlock Holmes's physical side: he was quite athletic and a master of I think jiu-jitsu.

Seems as if up into the early 1900s heroes (or even interesting villains) were accepted or even expected to be well-rounded if not superhuman in both brains and brawn, but after that separation occurred, with rare exceptions like Khan Noonian Singh -- but his very well-roundedness is a threat, that of "eugenics". Or Batman, but he both has old roots and isn't that strong in a superhero context. Or Adrian Veidt, but he's a deliberate throwback.

If you're wondering what brought this on, the answer is that I followed A Princess of Mars with Tarzan of the Apes by the same author.

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Great Stagnation vs. Me Am Play God

One recurrent debate I see is whether technological progress is progressing ever further and faster toward Singularity or something, or whether transformative invention has slowed down or mostly stopped outside of IT. (And then, in the latter case, whether Internet and smartphones are as transformative as telegraph, electricity, home appliances, and farm automation.)

A guest blog post I just read made me wonder if there's potentially transformative stuff we're refraining from out of fear of the consequences. The post/essay is on "a new technology that has made the precise editing of genes in many different organisms much easier than ever before" -- editing via an intracellular mechanism, and the precise editing can include copying that mechanism, and operation in gamete-producing cells. So you can make an organism all of whose offspring will have some high-precision genetic change you specific, including editing out genes acquired from other parents! Not just your GMO lacks some gene, but all of its descendants can lack that gene. Potentially very powerful for altering wild populations of sexually reproducing pest species, like malaria mosquitoes, or Australian rabbits, or malaria itself. Altering them by reducing fitness traits or their numbers outright, like a higher-tech version of flooding a population with sterilized males. And low risk to domesticated species whose mate choice is constrained. Not useful for asexual species so won't help the Age of Antibiotic Resistance.

Sounds pretty neat, and superficially I think we should use it, but I expect lots of hesitation, doubt, and fear. Which led to wonder what potentially world-transforming things we might be doing but aren't. Most of these aren't nearly as high tech, just cases of "the world could look a lot different if we wanted."

Ocean fertilization: just as many deserts bloom by adding water to them, so the open oceans are nutrient deserts, and may potentially bloom by adding iron and other nutrients; one study adding iron and silicon (for diatoms) thought biomass increased 1000 tons for every ton of nutrient. Good outcome: massive more amounts of fish. Bad outcome: waves of anoxic layers falling through the oceans.

Similarly, bandaid geo-engineering for global warming via adding sulfate or other particles to the atmosphere to reflect sunlight seems cheap and doable, by all accounts, though here even the best outcome is simply slowing down warming while the oceans still acidify (from CO2) and building up a need to keep on engineering unless we use the time to reverse CO2 emissions. Also acid rain if you use sulfates and not some alternative.

Eugenics research: so, we're at the point why our ability to sequence and edit genomes far exceeds our understanding of more than the simplest edits, especially for human traits. At $5000/person (a recently reached price) you could sequence a million people for $5 billion; with detailed medical and life studies, you might build up a better idea of what genes do and how they interact. Long term, you could sequence every American born for $20 billion/year. [To be fair, this isn't something we've even been able to do for long, so not really case of refraining from it yet.] If successful, the research would then drive actual human engineering.

Free and mandatory paternity testing: this could be folded into a medical genetic assay for newborns. I'm not sure what the effects would be, but seems like there should be some, to knowing that any reproductive cheating would be caught without having to imply lack of trust by asking. If combined with a national database, perhaps from the prior idea, that'd identify most straying fathers as well as mothers.

The Beta Colony implant: there's no one-size fits all solution, but between copper and hormonal IUDs and hormonal implants, arguably we could put all women on some form of long term contraception from puberty, reducing accidental pregnancy and unwanted children to near zero.

Keynesian 'technology': I think it likely that we could sustain full employment most of the time, with economic power shifting from capital to labor, and inequality falling, just by listening to Krugman et al., and unlike more radical ideas like full basic income or Communism the social risk seems pretty low. Arguably, so's the transformation potential, but still: US GDP being 10% higher, median income being even higher than that due to income distribution changes, workers not being terrified of their bosses or of unemployment.

Similarly, carbon taxes to internalize pollution costs, and market price parking, would make a big change, though here we can say "would look a lot more like urban Europe or Japan."

Space?: No, I don't include this. We aren't choosing not to exploit space resources, it's just hideously expensive to do so. We *could* have more telescopes and orbiters and rovers, which would bring in a lot more data, but this isn't a high-certainty way of changing our lives a lot.

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two Princess books with similar titles

Entirely by accident, I just realized.


So as mentioned, I Googled Played a bunch of free books onto my phone. I've now read two. The first was A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I'd never before read a Burroughs or Barsoom novel. I wasn't sure I'd get far in this one, I was curious. But the language was engaging straight off, and I ended up reading the whole thing happily. It has a bit of Mighty Whitey trope, not to mention an uncomfortable friendliness to the Southern cause (but that doesn't last long) but then Carter is explicitly unusual. And for an action-packed planetary romance novel it has some nice twists. It also had some personal appeal due to my playing Martian Rails in Chile, which unlike Lunar Rails is quite pulping including a ton of Barsoom references. Red Martians, Green Martians, Helium, thoats, Atmosphere Plant... it was nice to see them in their original habitat.


And then I read A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden, a children's book of my childhood, which had turned out to be somewhat heavily moralistic and piety-pushing compared to my dim memories.

This one... you could call it moralistic or twee. The 'princess' is Sara who's nearly perfectly nice: rich and materially spoiled yet not conceited or arrogant, kind and understanding of others, unusually mature for her age... quite likely it was meant as a moralistic role model: "be more like her." But as a fan of Maria-Sama, Aria, and Nanoha, I find I *like* smart women being really nice. (Not that Maria-sama or Aria emphasize brains that much.) As with Maria-sama, I could see the emotional manipulation strings, but enjoyed reading it anyway, and was tearing up by the end. I don't know if I can recommend the book in general; all I can say is that I liked it, and if you like such things you might too.

I'd say the villain is a caricature, except sadly such simplistic petty evil seems all too realistic, especially where children are involved.

The big surprise, considering The Secret Garden, is that the piety content is pretty much zero. Sara, or for that matter anyone, prays exactly no times. Church is never mentioned. She does think about 'heaven' as a place where her dead mother is (making up her own more interesting version of heaven) but this is a girl who openly says she pretends things to make life more interesting. She also mentions Revelation as having some rocking stories beating even her own imagination. Otherwise, zip. Considering other children's books of the era where learning to pray was a big deal (Heidi, I think Anne of Green Gables) it's rather surprising.

Wikipedia tells me that there are two different anime adaptations, not to mention other series (one Japanese live drama), movies, and multiple musicals of this book I'd never heard of before. One of the anime involves mecha and some seriously trippy plot re-working. If I had time I'd have a new timesink in "Princess Sara", supposedly the best adaptation.


The similarity between A Princess of Mars and A Little Princess is almost entirely superficial, in their titles and the coincidence of my choosing to read them in order. Almost but not entirely: both *do* feature goodness and kindness being rewarded in the end. The Burnett, naturally, has 100% less wholesale slaughter.

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Travel log Southern California

Current location: LA

MyFriendsInChile were spending a bit of their winter/summer vacation in San Diego this year, to meet with G's family, and I figured this was actually doable for a carless nebbish, compared to their annual stay in Malibu, and flew out to meet them. My figuring was technically correct: it was indeed more doable, though still not trivially easy, with a nearby busline that runs every 30 minutes at best, and not too late. I ended up splurging on an apartment a mile away so I could walk, and that was my only walkable option out of what had looked like multiple Airbnb rooms. And then it turned out I was paying a price discounted for construction work later into my stay.

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I dunno. Hopefully I can see a few friends though nothing's arranged yet. The Getty would be nice. LA Zoo? I'd meant to explore LA more by the modern train system, though right now I'm grumpy at being not as close to it as I'd expected.

More on the awesomephone

In 2010 I got the N900 a bit before my Europe trip, and really appreciated the GPS, checking e-mail or even doing AIM chat (I IMed from a Paris restaurant), and reading ebooks. Now I've got Android and can appreciate a web browser that really works, apps, and tethering... actually that's a mixed bag; the N900 tethered fine, and Samsung Android did, but Cyanogen didn't. It can set up a wifi hotspot, though, and my host's internet is out so I'm using that wifi right now. I'm still missing the ability to easily copy files to and from the phone, though, stupid Google and MTP. But Google's "find directions" plus all the transport apps (transit, Uber, Lyft, Amtrak) are pretty awesome. I've also used Google Play to suck down a bunch of free ebooks; there's other ways of doing that, but hey. The way it can switch between "original pages" and flowing (OCRed) text is neat.

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Bicyclists make people stupid

after 15 million miles traveled, the Citibike program has still caused not a single fatality for either pedestrians or riders, and fewer than 30 serious injuries, while helping to improve the overall safety of the city’s streets.

In each of these cases, a thoughtful, intelligent observer is prodded by a mix of fear and anger to give an alarming anecdote more weight than an abundance of evidence, or even common sense. On a street carrying thousands of 3000 pound vehicles a day at 40mph or more, we focus our fears on the handful of 30 pound vehicles moving half that fast.

The CDC reports that 59,925 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles between 1999 and 2009, while bikes (which are used for about 1.6% of all trips in the US) killed 63 in that same period, or roughly 0.1% as many.

drivers do rolling stops too
A 2002 study by England's Transport Research Laboratory found that when bicyclists violated a traffic law, motorists saw it as symptomatic of reckless attitudes and incompetence among people who choose to bike. However, when they saw another driver breaking the same law, they tended to see it as somehow required by unpredictable circumstances.

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Presidential plutocracy, loser edition

Following up on the prior post on this topic, I thought of looking at the almost-presidents, the general election opponents. Generally won't look at primaries but I'll make an except for Hillary, since she came pretty close and is likely to run again. Related question: do rich background candidates tend to beat poor background ones?

I also realized that Truman, LBJ, and Ford all initially became president via the Vice Presidency, and Ford never won an election. Should I be looking at VPs? Meh, too much work.

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Conclusion: that saying about how anyone can become President? It seems to have been true that the Presidency drew from a socioeconomically diverse set of white male Christians; we have multiple elections featuring dueling obscurities, at least as late as 1984 Reagan vs. Mondale, or 1996 Clinton vs. Dole. Even the 2008 Obama vs. McCain may have lacked a candidate from a specifically rich background (compared to the Bush, Kerry, or Rodham families.)

Rich candidates basically start taking over in 1988 and 1992, with Bush I, then 2000 and 2004, with Bush II, Gore, and Kerry, then Hillary in 2008 and Romney in 2012. And it's not clear that Gore and Kerry were all that rich; Kerry's parents weren't, though he benefited from family money. Hillary's not clear either. The real background money is with the Bushes and Romney.

The last up-from-struggling candidates were Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, 1996.

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OSC, liberal Democrat?

If you're reading this, you probably know Orson Scott Card is a wee bit nuts on homosexuality, with calls for keeping it illegal so gay people are forced to be discreet, or changing the government by "any means necessary" if gay marriage passes, or talking about how only men can know what really pleases men. When it comes to the Mideast, he's not exactly any saner. He's also ranted about how Obama would abuse the Census to swing the election. He's also, I find, skeptical of global warming and blaming environmentalists for not eradicating malaria... actually he's praying for global warming so as to fight mysterious plagues. o_O Ranted about the media (and Obama) after the 2012 election.

So, kind of nutty, like a walnut orchard, and by now people tend to assume he's totally a right-wing conservative Republican who's racist and hates government and such. But they're wrong! Or at least, it's a lot more complicated than that. While most recently he sounds like a partisan Republican (though that same column criticizes the GOP for rooting out RINOs), for years he insisted he was a Democrat, just one who really cared about supporting the war on Iraq and, later, opposing gay marriage.

But hey, party identification is cheap, especially if you live in the South. Of course, he's a Mormon from Utah, so that doesn't quite work. Anyway, how about actual issues?

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So: pro-union as an ideal if not their current form, pro-immigration, pro-minimum wage, pro-gun control, soft on Obamacare, pro-public transit, likes trains Tokyo and Manhattan, pro-taxes... not exactly Sarah Palin. Or Mitt Romney. Hell, economically and on immigration he might be to the left of *Obama*. Just don't let him near gay rights or foreign policy or environmental issues.

Now, I'm not saying you should buy his books, or read them. I'm not. Or like him, or think he's sane. Nor, contra my clickbait title, that he's a liberal. Buuut... he's not your stereotypical Republican or conservative. On more individual issues he does seem to be liberal, though he cares enough about the other issues that he's rabid about Obama and increasingly wanting the GOP to win, whether or not he calls himself one. He certainly wouldn't pass muster with the Tea Party if he were a candidate and still expressing that range of views. Hell, he probably wouldn't pass muster with the 'RINOs'.

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Fermi problem: booze

CrashMouse, food
The series continues! How much money do Americans spend on alcohol?

320 million Americans, I say 3/4 of them are adults, 240 million. That probably bleeds into the 18-21 set, but hey, a bunch of them drink anyway.

How much do they drink? That's hard. People I know include teetotalers, having a beer or glass of wine every other night or 2 of 3, and dropping $20 at the bar every Sunday night, not to mention other drinking. But I note that if you drink at all regularly then it's easy to spend at least $10/week: a beer or two a night, a glass of wine a night, two $5 cocktails on the weekend, one $10 cocktail. $10/week is $500/year is $120 billion. $5/week gives $60 billion, $20/week $240 billion.

$40/week would be $6/day and is starting to feel too high to me, so $480 billion is a strong upper bound. Half of $5/week sounds like half the population not drinking at all and half drinking $5/week, which seems too low, so $30 billion is a strong lower bound.

We might try a more complex model, but e.g. if 1/3 don't drink, 1/3 drink $10, and 1/3 drink $20, that averages out to $10 for the lot and we're back at $120 billion.

Intrusion of actual data: a poll I saw a while back claimed that in fast 1/3 don't drink at all. If that's true, and if the other 2/3 drank at $10/week on average, that'd be $80 billion.

If 1/3 don't drink, 1/3 are casual at $5/week and 1/3 more serious at $15/week, that's $80 billion.

$20/week is $1000/year which is like 1/40th of the median household income though 1/20th of a two person household. Seems like people could be spending 5% of their income on booze. Check: $240 billion is less than 2% of GDP.

There's expensive wine out there, might it tilt the numbers? If 1% drink a $100 bottle of wine every night then that's $36,000/year and I don't believe this, the 1% aren't that rich. It would also be a total of $86 billion. I conclude the actual consumption of $100 wine is not going to be significant.

Okay, so we've got a wide range of $30-480 billion, a tighter one of $60-240 billion, and my gut instinct favoring upward of $120, except for that big 1/3 don't drink figure which pulls it down sharply.

That's my guesses. Care to try your own before reading further?


So, let me look stuff up. says $400 is spent... per "consumer unit" on alcohol. 2.5 people per unit, so $160/person. Well, 2 people over 18, so $200/adult. That gives about $50 billion. cites the same, and adds the money has shifted from retail to bars; this may simply reflect prices. Also "U.S. per capita consumption in 2009 was the equivalent of 2.3 gallons (8.7 liters) of pure alcohol, a lot less than the 2.76 gallons in 1981 but more than the 2.14 gallons in 1997." is a lot more alarmist than the BLS and says $90 billion/year. No source is given. says "$59.24 billion alcohol industry. The data represents sales by manufacturers and importers, not retail sales" So consumers could be spending more at the bar and store (tax) but OTOH much of that number might be exports, too. says $90 billion but again gives no source... oh wait, list of references, which grounds out in this recovery site with no other references.

So, the most reliable seeming data is the BLS; unless there's a statistical mistake somewhere, we've got $50 billion, on the order of manufacturing sales, though it feels like that should be higher at the consumer level. $90 billion floats around rehab circles but has no good source.

Conclusion: $50 billion is outside my tight range though within the wide range. Americans drink a lot less than I thought, or drink much more cheaply than I thought. One of the sources repeated that only 65% say they drank in the past year, so $50 billion/160 million who drink = $312 per drinker, or $6/week. On the order of 4 bottles of beer on the weekend, or half a bottle of wine, or one cheap bottle, or 3 two-buck Chucks from Trader Joe's...

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First, a blog post comparing Canadian and US democracy. I think he makes good points; while I hate plurality voting, given it, I think US primaries are a saving grace, while non-US political parties are closed in a way that makes sense at first ("private voluntary grouping, right of association...") but is creepy in practice ("...that gateway all access to political power.") We don't let right of free association trump anti-discrimination laws, and there's a lot more potential employers than viable parties...

Also makes me wonder if the alleged low role of money in foreign elections, due to campaign limitations and public funding, is offset by not *needing* money to influence policies when you're all buddy-buddy with the elected politicians already.


So, lots of our recent presidents have been rich when they ran for President; I think Obama was a multi-millionaire based on... his book sales? But how about being born rich? Somewhere out there might be a webpage of presidential family wealth, but I just plowed through Wikipedia biographies.

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Of the 3 rich presidents, 2 were the last two Bushes. Hard to say if that's a worrying trend or just a fluke of that family. Well, I guess it's a worrying trend; hard to say if it's an *inevitable* trend.

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thoughtful, robot
Good series, though hard to describe interestingly without spoiling part of the key fun. If you trust my taste, take my word that it's a well-deserved cult following, albeit out of paper print. Available as ebooks at the usual sources, or as DRM-free epub or PDF via
I just found the above link and bought the series.

If you're in the Boston area, both BPL and Minuteman seem to have access to every book except the first one, which is only $2.99 as an ebook, vs. $5.99 for the rest.

Non-spoiler hooks: female author, female protagonist, other female lead characters, people being smart, people applying the scientific method in a fantasy, interesting fantasy and non-human life.

Drawback: series has been dangling for a while. It is hoped she'll be able to finish with more sales and less cancer, and I think the books contain interesting stories as it is, but if you don't want to wait for the mysteries to be explained then this isn't for you. has the author blurbs. has free first chapters (online or download), as does Smashwords.

James Nicoll reviews the series, albeit with some spoilers.

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It's usually said that homicides are the trustworthy crime statistic, since it's hard to hide dead bodies. But the Chicago police department has apparently been cooking the books under Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, reclassifying homicides as "death investigations" and other tricks.

The vox entry links to a longish (not as long as the Chicago magazine one) article by Yglesias in 2003, on the cost of prison. Link and some quotes:
The trouble with prison isn't that it doesn't work; the trouble is that it doesn't work very well but does cost a fortune compared with other ways of reducing crime. Feeding, clothing, housing and guarding a convict for a year costs more than $20,000.
Post-incarceration, shorter sentences can be combined with properly supervised parole programs that replicate the crime-reduction effects of imprisonment at a fraction of the cost. In Texas (Texas!), a system of graduated sanctions for minor parole violations is credited by officials with an 8,000-person reduction in the state's prison population.
The drug business is a business like any other -- if you eliminate a salesman without eliminating the demand, the salesman's boss is just going to hire someone else. Drug treatment, by contrast, actually works because a reformed drug user isn't automatically replaced with a new addict, and treatment programs aimed at consumption reduction are seven times cheaper than prison.
laws like California's famous "three strikes and you're out" rule go "beyond the point of diminishing returns" because even "career criminals have a period of peak performance." Robbery, he explains, is "a crime of the young," with incidence dropping dramatically in the mid-20s and falling to almost nothing as people move through their 30s.
Similarly, doubling sentencing length doubles (or more) corrections expenditures without doubling the deterrent effect on potential offenders. Simply putting a larger proportion of the people who get arrested behind bars is subject to diminishing returns as well, because as long as prosecutors and judges are minimally competent, they'll have made sure that the worst criminals are already locked up. Whether you look at deterrence or incapacitation, beyond a certain point prison stops being cost-effective.
Zimring went so far as to suggest that even a "prison training program to teach robbers how to burglarize unoccupied dwellings" would work better than more prisons as a method of reducing violent crime. That's far-fetched, of course, but it illustrates a larger point: Giving muggers an alternative to mugging is the best way to get them to stop. Even Heritage's Mulhausen concedes that "there's some research that shows that vocational training helps reduce recidivism."
The notion that jobs rather than jails hold the real key to crime reduction isn't just a bleeding-heart liberal fantasy -- it's supported by sound social-science research.
RAND tried that theory out, conducting a study in which students got money as an incentive for staying in school. This, indeed, caused graduation rates to rise, and Greenwood calculates that 250 serious crimes could be averted for every $1 million spent on such incentives -- far more bang for your buck than the prison system offers. [$4000 per crime prevented]
Ten offenders could be subjected to a tough parole regime for the price of putting one man behind bars, and though testing and sanctions sounds harsh compared with freedom, it looks pretty good compared with prison.

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Big homeless progress

Apparently there's been a big yet unheralded decline in homelessness in the US, despite the economy, and both Bush and Obama can take credit: the former for a housing-first policy that aimed at providing permanent housing before treatment, the latter for the stimulus. Also, multiple studies show that between arrests and ER visits, homeless people cost $30-45,000 a year, when it'd be $10-16,000 to house them with case worker support.
Residents of Moore Place collectively visited the emergency room, an
expensive but not uncommon way homeless people access health care, 447
fewer times in the year after getting housing, the study discovered.
Similarly, they spent far less time running afoul of the law, with the
number of arrests dropping 78 percent.
An average permanent supportive housing unit in Osceola County costs
$9,602 per year, which includes $8,244 for rent and utility subsidies
and $1,358 for a case manager (with a case load of 30 clients). In other
words, each supported housing unit costs the county 40 percent less than
what they’re currently paying to put homeless residents in jail.

Power law problems when instead of a bell curve of normality, you have a
few outliers who are most of your problem -- a few really bad LAPD cops,
a few chronically homeless people who cost tens if not hundreds of
thousands of dollars, a few highly smoggy cars. managing the middle
doesn't help: most of the cops don't need mild training, and it doesn't
help the hard cases; you need to just get rid of them. It's cheaper to
simply house the hardcase homeless people and give them case workers.
Annual smog tests are mostly not needed or cheatable, vs. on-road

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Of all the political groups in the US, "steadfast conservatives" are the least willing to compromise.

GPS electronic monitoring could help house arrest replace or greatly reduce prisons. picks up Shoup's parking story, summarizes the arguments

2009 article on New England's triple-deckers being under threat.
'Modern zoning laws, Ms. Friedman said, would never allow three units on such small lots. "So it's very important to us to sustain them."' Maybe you should fix the zoning, then? See above about parking, too...

'Zillionaire' Nick Hanauer warns his fellow plutocrats about inequality and pitchforks, backs things like a higher minimum wage and investing in the middle-class, attributes his success to luck and says rich people aren't job creators.

Some people are assholes:

If this article is accurate, San Francisco has horribly inept if not corrupt government: OTOH the city is trying smart parking.

give the poor money: Mexico finds it works well, is cheaper than giving food.
2.4% overhead for cash, 20% for food.
San Francisco went the other way with "Care Not Cash", providing shelters in return for an 80% reduction in general assistance. Disaster.

Boston Globe weighs in on Uber vs. obsolete taxi regulations

Dire warnings about Obamacare: 0 for 6

If Congress doesn't legislate, bureaucrats and judges will. If you run into anyone praising gridlock while denouncing judicial activism, remind him of that.

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Damien Sullivan

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