Category: Politics

On Five Dollar Gas

This is the third or fourth time in the last decade that I’ve been seeing news reports about “5 dollar gas” or, more generally, astronomical rise in petroleum prices. How much it costs to fill a tank, how much a gallon costs, how this impacts family budgets.

Oddly, I’ve never seen any reporting discuss ways to minimize the impact that higher gasoline prices have. Any help at all, from the trivial (make sure your tires are well inflated, drive at less congested times to avoid idling in traffic, plan excursions so you’re not making a trip “into town” for different errands three days in a row) to the expensive (buy a more fuel efficient car). There’s nothing.

This is how the free market works — something becomes expensive, you need to consider other options. Buying an electric car isn’t cheap — expensive enough that it’s not an option for some people. But driving an electric car is a way to minimize the direct impact fuel prices have on you. At an enterprise level, electric trucks can reduce the indirect impact of fuel prices.

On The Coup

We have reached a point where Dick Cheney is making an appearance on the House floor to support his daughter in her belief that attempting a coup is, well, not the pinnacle of American democracy?!?

For a long time, I absolutely believed both parties in the United States thought they were trying to do the right thing for the country. I remember going to a rally against privatizing social security — one of Bush 2’s early initiatives. The local NPR station had a reporter meandering around looking for younger people to interview — looking, specifically, for people who were worried that their retirement wouldn’t include social security. I, on the other hand, knew the history of the social security system. It was started after people lost huge sums of money — some more money than they had (thanks, leveraged buying) in a stock market downturn. The basis of social security is, essentially, that you can realize greater returns in riskier investments. But you can also lose everything in riskier investments, and this program is the backstop against “losing everything”. In that context, how is it reasonable to consider allowing individuals to direct social security funds into riskier investments because they might be able to outperform government bonds?!? But … I got it. We were decades away from the great depression, and years before the crash of 2008/2009. Most people had only experienced upward movement in the market. And the question at hand was really “is this form of insurance against stock market crashes still worth it?”. I could look at pretty much any political debate and understand how both sides had a coherent argument and viewed their position as The Right Thing To Do.

Maybe that’s still true today — but it seems like conservatives have become more adamant about forcing their will on the nation to retain power. To make money. We watched a dude on MSNBC basically admit to participating in a coup attempt not because he was ashamed of his actions. Not because he wanted to make sure everyone understood what exactly happened. But because he wanted to sell his new book. Well, mission accomplished (I guess). He’s managed to get his name out there & we all know he’s got a book. Liberals can buy it to prove there was a coup and conservatives can buy it to see “the receipts” on stealing an election. (Receipts which have been promised on multiple occasions but which have never been produced).

I’m still hopeful that the end result of this mess is a viable third (fourth, or even fifth) party. Maybe some actual fiscal conservatives (not deficit spending dumped into the military industrial complex v/s tax for domestic spending). Some democratic socialist party that makes Bernie seem pretty middle-of-the-road.

Keepin It Rural

There’s a movement in my community to “save” it — save it from developers who see hundreds of rural acres as the perfect place to make a load of money building and selling homes on small lots. And probably save it from people who move into a development surrounded by hundreds of rural acres and want to complain that cow poo smells bad — not something I’ve heard of here yet (which could just be that no one’s said it to me), but a friend of mine lived in a development that overlooked a scenic dairy farm. People bought into what almost amounts to agrotourism in my head — look at that pretty chuck of Americana over there. And you get to live right next to it! Aaaand then some people from the development tried to get local regulations changed to stop dairy farming because, well, animal poo does stink. Luckily Ohio has right-to-farm laws that protect farmers in these types of situations — unless you’re really outside industry practices and have an especially stinky farm, you don’t get shut down just because the development that moved in next door doesn’t want to smell cows.

It’s one thing to buy a couple hundred acres of your own and not develop it. Easy enough — don’t develop it! It’s another think altogether to buy two or three acres and not want any of the surrounding land to be developed. Not impossible if you are lucky enough to pick up property next to a park or something. But a tough ask when surrounded by other residential homeowners. Which is why I think a bigger part of the movement is an attempt to protect rural areas from mass agro. I don’t think many farmers approaching retirement actively want to sell their couple hundred acres to a developer. What they want is to cash out millions of dollars from their land to fund their retirement. An understandable desire. Many farmers I know would love to have kids that are interested in taking over the farm after they retire. But the reality that I see within small-scale farming is having a second job to pay for the farm. Maybe my experience if skewed because I work in IT — it’s a field that’s great for contract work, so people can work a few contracts during less busy farming seasons and focus on the farm in spring and autumn. But I don’t know anyone who literally makes their entire income from farming. Retired people who make extra money farming. IT folks who subsidize the farm. There’s a chap we follow on YouTube who left an architectural firm — they seem to live on their farm proceeds, but I don’t actually know him.

My point being? I think a big part of sustaining rural communities has got to be changing how we shop for food. Changing how restaurants source food. If some mass agriculture company grows corn on ten thousand acres and sells it at four bucks a bushel … we’ve got to value the small rural farmer enough to be willing to pay maybe six or seven bucks a bushel that provides a sustainable income for the farmer. That would also create an environment in which farmers who want to retire would have people who look at purchasing the farm as a viable small business opportunity. Instead of a developer being the only realistic option — seriously, who wants to be destitute in retirement so someone else can enjoy a couple hundred acres of undeveloped property!?


The Plural of Anecdote

This article on the American failure to listen to the will of Afghanistan falls into the category “the plural of anecdote is not data” — which basically means that what you and your circle see/believe/experience is not absolutely going to be representative of a wide population. I am sure some people in Afghanistan were happy with the US occupation. Some were probably happy with the Russian occupation a few decades back too. Does that mean the majority of Afghan citizens want US troops there? No way for us to know. And, even if there were accurate public opinion surveys available … would it matter?

Since the second George Bush, I’ve thought it’s a bad idea to start saying “well, a simple majority of the population doesn’t like the government, that means it’s a-OK for us to invade and depose that government”. Because I’m pretty sure GW2’s approval ratings were well under fifty percent at many points in his presidency. That mean any other “well meaning” country could invade and liberate us from our unwanted government?

I don’t even think the intel community was seriously surprised by the post-withdrawal results. There’s a meta component to publicized intel analysis — what we say about a situation can influence the situation. Could we realistically publish a document saying “OK, we blew a trillion or two over here and spent a decade or two training their military … it’s all gonna fall apart within two weeks of us leaving”?! Of course not — that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’ve got to communicate confidence in that government and military. A week later? We have to act surprised. I’m sure there were position papers that included the not unlikely scenario of a complete collapse.

On Questioning Science

While science is based on questioning, “questioning” means “questioning, then developing a plan to test your new hypothesis, carrying out your test, documenting and publishing your results, then discussing those results with the scientific community”.
Questioning cannot just stop with a gut feeling, some one-off event you witnessed, or something you’re neighbor’s dog-walker’s friend overheard whilst riding the bus. You cannot just believe that the acceleration of gravity on Earth is -1.5 m/s^2. You believe it, design an experiment to measure the acceleration of gravity, measure it, and … well, find out that you’re wrong.
I have a quip that I use with Anya — she knows you’re not supposed to break laws. And she knows there are “laws of physics”. So she put it together and announced proudly that we may not break the laws of physics. (And, I expect, that meant that there were some physics police wandering around ready to fine you). I tell her she’s welcome to break the laws of physics, but then she needs to publish her proposed ‘new laws of physics’ that explain what she was able to do in a peer-reviewed journal. Because they’re not laws like a group of random politicians decided something is illegal. They’re laws like the scientific community believes it is impossible. And most of us are thrilled to learn we’re wrong and gain a better understanding of the world around us.

Minimum wage profit sharing experiment

A pizza joint shared its profits with its employees and that meant the employees made $78 an hour. I’m curious if the pizzeria used a realistic calculation for profit. If so? This makes the “I cannot afford to increase my starting pay rate to attract employees, the problem is the gov’t is making people all lazy and stuff” argument clearly disingenuous.

Profits are what you make after paying for the business’s expenses — so the ingredients, power, water, advertising, insurance, employee benefits, real estate, business loans, taxes, and such are all taken out before you call it a profit. Good accounting includes future predictable expenses as well — the facility is going to require occasional sprucing up, maintenance expenses pop up, at some point they’ll need to replace the pizza oven or refrigeration units. Just like a personal budget should include “replacement car, every 10 years, that means I need to accrue $5 a day to fund that replacement” … these expenses should be estimated out and included in the net/profit calculations. It’s possible they used a far simpler algorithm for computing profits — net proceeds minus food cost (which is something most restaurants track very well) … which would render my calculations here meaningless. But I’m going to assume “profits” actually means profits in the accounting sense.

In a lot of businesses, the owner takes a salary too — no idea if owner, well, takes a salary in the first place but if they took their salary out before calculating the daily profit. I am going to assume the owner’s salary was not already deducted. Then $78 an hour isn’t sustainable because the owner needs to eat too, but the owner could take $50 an hour per employee and still pay everyone $28 an hour.

Not that the owner gets $50 an hour for being open, but $50 a man-hour worked by any employee. Think about that for a minute — say they’ve got three people doing prep from 1P-3P and five people working when open from 3p-10p, then thee people staying on for close from 10-11P … that’s 44 man-hours worked that the owner’s keeping at $50 a man-hour. Owner keeps $2,200 each day, plus has his business has all of its expenses covered. For each of the 300 days a year they are open (since they’re open 7 days a week, this is a low estimate too), that’s $660,000.

Say I’m overestimating the owner’s share a lot — let’s cut that in half. Maybe they did the profit sharing on an unusually profitable day. Maybe they did it on a weekend day where they’re open a few more hours. Let’s say the owner can keep $1,000 a day . That means the owner pays the staff $28 an hour, pays for all of the business expenses, *and* has absolute minimum $300,000 in profit.


About a year ago, my boss observed that this entire pandemic sitch is just a nightmare for those with analytical thought processes.. Engineering, science, analytic types. Mathematically? The country was basically in a worse place when the health orders were lifted than it was when the orders were put in place last year. That was astonishing to me. And kind of like the anti-environmentalists who don’t seem to realize they need to drink the water and breath the air … even if you’re vaccinated and have a very good probability of avoiding hospitalization? Getting sick for a week sucks. It sucked ten years ago, it’ll suck ten years from now. But, if you can mitigate your risk of feeling like an elephant is roosting on your chest for a week … what’s the reasonable thought process that leads to someone saying “I’m going to show how very free I am by getting painfully ill”?!

I mean, there are plenty of ways to partake in your American Freedoms that aren’t painful illness. Head out to the range, rent a gun for a few hours, and fire off a couple dozen 50 caliber rounds. Publish a rant against whatever part of government irked you this week. Spend the weekend attending church services for ten different religions. Hell, marvel at the fact there’s not an uninvited soldier camped out in your spare bedroom and that the cops aren’t rifling through your belongings. And that just covers the first five articles in the bill of rights.

In fact …

Article Way to enjoy it
I Spend a weekend attending services for a dozen different churches (synagogs, mosques, etc)
II Hire a gun at a range and spend the afternoon popping off 50-cal rounds
III Marvel at how your spare bedroom is not occupied by an uninvited soldier
IV Notice how the police are not rifling through your personal belongings just because they can
V, VI, VII, VIII Don’t know that I’d commit a crime just to enjoy my right not to provide evidence against myself, be subjected to cruel or unusual pubishment, or experience a speedy, public trial … but you do you.
IX Go to work?
X Oooh, experience all of the things your state does control — maybe hang at the DMV and renew your license
XI Umm … well Michigan hasn’t sued Ohio today. Does that count?
XII Well, you cannot be part of the electoral college … but you CAN vote
XII No more slaves
XIV The state isn’t depriving me of life, liberty and such.
XV My rights aren’t being abridged because of my race
XVI Taxes were withheld from my paycheque this week. Yeah!???
XVII My state has tw senators
XVIII Grab a pint!
XIX I’m a woman, and I can vote!
XX Watch the certification of the election
XXI Grab another pint!

Proof of Concept

Reading about the meat processing that’s been attacked by ransomware, and thinking about the petrol pipeline … this really seems like proof of concept stuff to me. I’m sure there’s some ‘making money’ and more than a little ego stroking involved. Before we purchase and implement some major system at work (or spend a lot of time developing code), we run a proof of concept test. A quick, slimmed down implementation that runs on some virtual system that lets people see how it’ll work without sinking the time and money into a full-scale implementation. If the thing seems useful, then we buy it and have a capital budget for implementation. If it wasn’t useful … well, we lost some time, but not much.

Attacking small players in various industries to see what kind of impact you have have … seems a lot like a proof of concept series of attacks. How well secured was the company? What kind of incident response were they able to mount? How much access did you manage? What came offline? What was the public impact?

Socialized Medicine

What really gets me is that the US has socialized health care. Your insurance company isn’t logging all of the excess income they make from you to a large medical expense you incur in the future. The whole point of insurance is that the million (or whatever) ‘customers’ all pay in their their, say, thirteen grand a year. Many people get their annual checkup, and that’s it. Insurance company pays out a couple hundred bucks from that thirteen grand. Someone gets heart surgery – the excess all those only-checkup people paid covers it, and the insurance company pays out fifty grand for that stranger’s medical care.

The American insurance system is just socialized in small, less efficient islands. Those islands are making money off of us all. And you get voted off the island when you lose your job.

Oh, and people still go bankrupt from medical expenses. Or resort to airing their sad story on GoFundMe hoping for donations. I guess we all get to feel benevolent when we donate to their fundraiser, and just paying taxes doesn’t get to make you feel like you’re personally helping someone. But do we really need a profit-driven and inefficient solution just so we can feel good about ourselves? Maybe we could switch to a more efficient system where everyone is the customer pool and the insurance company is looking to more or less break even. And you can donate the money you save on heath care to some other charity — homeless people, bail projects, food kitchens, abused animals, etc.