Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dear Diary, today the government changed for the better

Not "my" government.* The Chinese government. They relaxed their draconian and suicidal One-Child Policy in favor of a two-child limit. It makes sense considering the demographic implications of a steeper or even upside down population pyramid.

On the day I wrote an earlier post about my doubts regarding the rise of China, a debate was taking place at the Intelligence Squared US forum on that topic. It's not synchronicity because the clock for every Asian reads "Time for China". Or maybe that was Made in China.

As is usual, the wrong side "won" the IQ Squared debate. The side arguing that China is going to be a long term enemy gave far better arguments that China and the US are going to be long term enemies. Ultimately I think they are wrong, but the arguments the other side provided ran along the lines of "is fate unchangeable?"

Nostalgia compels a 10/10 rating

In other news, the ever myopic US defense establishment has selected Northrup to build the next stealth bomber. Back during the days when the B2 was the most expensive aircraft ever built (it still is), no one would have thought "well, let's just go with these guys again". But then, who could have foreseen the rise of two defense companies inept enough and wasteful enough to make Northrup look good.

Part of me wishes that my beloved YF-23, the star of Jetfighter II, could have survived into a stealth strike platform. What a beautiful plane that was. 

* I didn't vote for any of these people to rule over me.

How Chinese sellers can sell a mini tripod and air mail it to anyone in the US for less than a buck.

If you've browsed eBay within the past few years, you've undoubtedly seen a listing like this:

There are thousands and thousands of listings on eBay for goods that you can get from China for unimaginably low prices. How is it possible? It isn't because of slave labor.*

A lot of American eBay businesses put the blame on eBay and they are partially right. Here are three ways American sellers are at a disadvantage versus Chinese sellers
  1. ePacket. ePacket was setup by eBay to give free tracking and delivery confirmation to packages coming from China. The US Postal Service usually charges a couple bucks for this. For a place like eBay whose bread and butter is cheap trinkets, this is pretty big.
  2. eBay charges no Final Value Fees for most Asian countries, whereas it's a whopping 10% in the US. 
  3. Universal Postal Union regulations. They state that international mail, once at the country of destination, must be delivered domestically for free. So once a product from China (or anywhere) arrives at a US port, the USPS will deliver it for no charge. It works both ways, so if you mail something to someone in China, you pay USPS to deliver it to a Chinese port, and China Post will deliver it anywhere in China for free.

Although the Chinese middle class is now larger than the American middle class, and although consumption in China has risen dramatically, trade still largely flows from China to the US. Hence the chorus of complaints from American sellers and the bewilderment of American buyers at such low prices. 

But those three reasons still don't explain how someone can ship a package from Hong Kong thousands of miles to the United States for less than a dollar. Near zero shipping costs for sea freight is believable but that takes 17-20 days. Those Chinese eBay sellers are shipping via air mail which is the most expensive transport mode.

How expensive? The EMS (a subsidiary of the state-run China Post) cost to ship a 50 gram package is 180 Yuan- as of writing $28.31.

By comparison it's around $26.50 based on a flat rate envelope to ship air-mail from the US to China via our own state-run USPS.

These air mail prices are in line with what you'd expect.

However, when you look at buying a tripod direct from the factory in China, we see this shipping table. This is from AliExpress, which is sort of like China's eBay.

Again, state-run EMS is cheaper than the private carriers but look at China Post Air Mail and ePacket. Both are air mail services that cost under $2.00 to ship. The private carriers are well over 2,000% higher! A dummy might conclude that they are all collaborating to price themselves out of one of the largest and fastest growing air freight markets on the planet and can't compete with the lean, efficient Chinese government. Or, maybe, just maybe, the government shipping options are being subsidized.

Why? I believe it is to drive export growth. Exports were an important factor in the rise of Japan and South Korea so the Chinese Communist Party probably thinks export subsidies can juice growth. Indeed, if you use EMS's "International E-commerce Express" (emphasis mine) service which currently only covers shipments to the United States, the cost is 6 Yuan or only $0.94 compared to nearly $30 if you use the regular EMS service. That's right, if you are in China selling stuff online to people in the United States, you get a 97% off shipping.

The cost, in the sense of the expense portion of gross profit, is probably a bit over $4 based on the fact that Amazon, which has optimized shipping charges like no other entity on this planet and still operates its shipping at a large loss, charges a $4 minimum to air mail Hong Kong.** 

Who is picking up the difference? As with all subsidies, it's the taxpayer. In this case, the Chinese taxpayer chips in at least $3, likely quite a bit more, every time an American buys a small trinket off a Chinese eBay seller/AliExpress/DealExtreme (and increasingly Amazon). 

But wait, a $0.99 tripod after $0.94 in shipping, that's 5 cents. These tripods are around $0.33 in bulk so that is a $0.28 loss. What I think some of these sellers are doing is taking a small loss in order to build their feedback ratings. But they probably need it considering the negative feedback they get when customers' only option is to keep a bad item or fork over $25 to return.

* Though if you consider taxation to be a kind of slavery, then yes. It's slave labor.

** Not including the Kindle which is a loss leader.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Knowledge is not understanding, unless it is

"Knowledge is not understanding"

Sounds profound, dunnit? Or, like Chesterton's quip that the problem with capitalism is that there are too few capitalists, is it an aphorism that doesn't stand up to scrutiny?*

SPOILER:  it's meaningless

Knowledge and understanding are synonymous but not identical. For instance, saying:

I know John (as in "do you know John?") is different from I understand John (as in "do you know why John does what he does?"). The implication is that knowledge is superficial whereas understanding is deeper.

But the roles can be reversed.

I know John, (as in "How do you know he will be late?"). The knowledge here is greater than mere recognition. Similarly I understand him as in "Can anyone make out what John is saying?" is very superficial.

Ultimately the difference between knowledge and understanding is contextual and inconsistent which makes the phrase "knowledge is not understanding" rather particular. Depending on emphasis, knowledge and understanding in the context of bike riding can be the same contra Destin Sandlin. They can be different and saying I know how to ride a bike implies a deeper - experiential - knowledge than I understand how to ride a bike.

So knowledge can be understanding, unless it isn't. The phrase is meaningless. It's something Jack Handey might say, but it isn't even entertaining. "Knowledge is not understanding" is wrong, but does not redeem, as Chesterton and Voltaire do, in wit. "Knowledge is not understanding" is worse than trivial because trivial information is at least true.

I guess what I'm getting at is that pothead philosophy is bad, mmkay? 

* I've had a number of arguments with distributists on this matter. They abhor the concentration of capital and are for decentralization of authority (subsidiarity) but don't realize that increasing the number of capitalists requires strongly authoritarian practices and greater centralization. The societal ideal for distributists is one where workers own the means of production. A typical contrast might be the capitalist system where a worker goes to work at a furniture factory. They don't own any of the equipment whereas in the distributist system, the worker would own the tools needed for their livelihood. The advantage, presumably, is that the worker's livelihood is no longer dependent on a factory owner.

The disadvantage is that there is less choice and more risk for a worker. So you bought all this woodworking equipment but the rage is plastic or metal furniture? Too bad. Maybe you want to switch to metalworking but would rather rent the equipment rather than buy. Or maybe you would even want to just do the work but not rent or own the equipment. But that's the scenario distributism is meant to avoid. How would a distributist society avoid that? Ban people from doing that the same way people who are want to work for under $15/hour won't be allowed to in Seattle because it's for their own good.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

They don't make 'em like they used to

My Anova One sous-vide ist Kaput.

I felt pretty good a couple weeks ago having successfully troubleshot my sous-vide machine. Went to cook another leg of lamb and cringed at another "Low Liquid" error stoppage. Figured it might be an issue with the ionic sensor again and started up the machine in a mug of hot vinegar.

That did the trick so I just added the vinegar to the water bath and the machine worked for a couple hours. Beep. "Low Liquid". Attempted to resuscitate but got "Low Liquid" again preceded by frenetic clicking.

Signed up to the Anova forums and am hoping someone has an answer or will allow a return/exchange. Having only done about 5 meals with the machine, it's a very poor return on investment if they decline.

It's a simple machine; far simpler than a washing machine. Yet the washing machine is more reliable despite having to do a lot more. Motors have to handle heavy unbalanced loads, water temperature also has to be regulated, there's a timer, multiple hoses and gaskets, dealing with dirt and debris, etc. Intuitively, the Anova should be significantly more reliable. The average Amazon rating of 4.7 stars is higher than its successor. 4.7 stars with at least a dozen reviews is my personal threshold for buying things off Amazon. Anything lower is junk tbh, sort of like how any seller below 99.8% feedback on eBay isn't worth the risk if the difference is a couple bucks.

This isn't me being elitist either. The nominal rating difference might be small but those seem to be magic numbers between a mediocre experience and a good one. Maybe everyone is handing out A's because that's how they were treated in school. Grade - and apparently rating - inflation is real.

Maybe that's how I've fooled myself into thinking things were better made in the past. Back when a 60% was a D, 70% was a C etc., a 90%+ was outstanding; something achieved by very few. It's hard to find a product on Amazon or a seller on eBay with a low rating, but that's a feature. Poor products and sellers get hounded out of the gene pool and the population improves. Along with those increased improvements are greater consumer expectations.

You would have needed all these devices in the 90s to do what a smartphone can do now.

It isn't a completely fair comparison. A smartphone can take and play back far better video. The calculating ability completely outclasses the pocket calculator. However, a smartphone can't fill a room with music the same way a boombox can and extended typing is a nightmare on a little phone. A cheap pocket calculator is going to survive a lot more abuse that most smartphones and with months of battery life compared to hours. And even if the calculator breaks, the guy pictured could still watch movies, listen to music, type stuff up, record video etc whereas you are hopelessly lost if your smartphone breaks.

The technologist in me thinks the solution is a tougher cell phone. And I do have a Sonim cell phone, the sort that you can put in a cement mixer, pour into a form, break the block, and have it emerge scathed but functioning. And yet, it's failed on me just like a similarly super rugged Panasonic Toughbook had failed on me before. Rugged products are usually underwhelming when it comes to features as well.

Maybe it's better to just get a whole bunch of cheap phones and computers. At some point having multiple things that work 90% of the time is better than having one thing that works 99% of the time - that's the principle behind RAID and a product I'm working on.

The issue with going for a cheap-lower reliability strategy is that things breaking is so inconvenient that it isn't worth it. Quality only hurts once. Measure twice cut once. How much is your life worth?*

Not sure where I'm going with this, except that I need to move Antifragile to the top of my reading list.

* The dumbest guideline for buying things.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

What's the deal with tea pulling?

A number of Michael Palin's travelogues show indigenous people pouring tea from some height into cups. This was common in North Africa in his Sahara series, on a dhow in the Indian Ocean in Around the World In 80 Days, and maybe in Full Circle in Malaysia.

From what I found online, foaminess is meant to improve the quality. The Japanese do this in the tea ceremony with their powdered tea. So, from West Africa to the Middle East and throughout Asia, this is done, but why not in Western countries?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I love anomalies because they aren't really anomalous. Everything is the way it is for a reason but when we don't have an explanation for some odd behavior, a lot of people just paper over the cognitive dissonance and dismiss it as an anomaly. Back when Galileo pushed the theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun, people asked "If the Earth's moving, how come when I throw a ball up, it comes straight down?" and it wasn't until many years later thanks to Isaac Newton, the father of classical physics and calculus, that this objection was answered.

The "huh, that's funny" moment is where real progress takes place.

Like the case of a mathematics graduate with an above average IQ who did not have 90% of his brain. This has some implications for the assumptions behind General AI and the Singularity but I have to admit I'm somewhat partial to the explanation made by Youtuber InspiringPhilosophy. He uses this example to support his theory of an eternal soul via the mechanism of quantum entanglement.

There's a lot of woo-woo in the quantum sciences, mostly toward Eastern philosophies and religion; Oppenheimer and Schroedinger studied Hinduism for example. Bohr and Heisenberg, Wikipedia tells me, were Christians but a Christian understanding of quantum sciences hasn't really developed, unlike Monsignor Lemaitre's work which led to the Big Bang Theory.*

Something I like about "InspiringPhilosophy" is that he more or less approaches things from a traditional (classical) framework and can provide one answer to the question "How would the Greeks or Scholastics view quantum mechanics?" He could be way off base, but looking at Greek and Scholastic philosophers, that's a feature, not a bug.


A blogger explains why historians like Dale Schlundt falsely believe slavery was the cause for the Civil War

War apologists, particularly progressives and neoconservatives, like to talk about war as if it is a fight for a cause. A fight for (or against) democracy. Or communism. Or slavery. Or national honor. States rights. Terrorism. etc.

But this is only true for violent ideologues who form a tiny minority of combatants. The others are either territorial aggressors or people fighting those aggressors.

War happens because people fight back*

In all cases, initiating aggression is evil. This is true even if the defenders are ruled by evil men. Why? Because self-defense is a universal right. Anyone who brings war upon peaceful people (the majority of a society even during wartime) should not assume people are fighting back on account of ideology. If people largely fought on the basis of "causes", as progressives and neocons believe, you would not expect to see people in oppressive regimes defend themselves.

Uncle Joe's government perpetrated some of the worst crimes in all of history against its people; it is telling that when the Nazis invaded, few greeted them as liberators. The Russians fought ferociously. Why? Because the Nazis had initiated the aggression.

But don't the people living in a nation owe responsibility for the aggression promoted by their government? No. At least not as a collective. That's one of the fatal conceits of the nation state, that southerners had it coming because of Jeff Davis, that Iraqis deserved it because of Saddam, that Dresden was okay because of Hitler, My Lai because of Ho Chi Minh. Because the conflation of a nation with the nation-state is so pervasive, people tend to accept it by default.

The best way to undo this conditioning is conduct a thought experiment reversing "Us" and "Them". That is, always think in terms of the Golden Rule.

Does the average American deserve death because the US Military killed a lot of innocent people during an airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital?

There can be no escaping the fact that it was mass murder and would be a good pretext for an international coalition to bring regime change to the US through an invasion. Wars have been declared on far less noble grounds.

I suspect that most Americans would defend themselves against such an invasion, not because we support the bombing of hospitals, but because most of us had nothing to do with it.

Most southerners did not own slaves, most Germans weren't Nazis, most Vietnamese weren't Communists. This isn't to say that slaveowners, Nazis, and communists (and supporters of American foreign policy over the past decades whether the Commander In Chief had a D or R after their name) weren't perpetrators of aggression because they absolutely were. Those are ideologies based on aggression and violence.** But no one should delude themselves into thinking that the people fighting the Union armies in the South, Nazi armies in Russia, Allied armies in Germany, or the American army in Afghanistan are doing so out of some ideological struggle.

When you stop thinking of people living in an area in terms of their government's policy, it's easier to understand that most are living peaceful lives who are being forced, via taxes, to support their government right or wrong.

While it is admirable to want to liberate others, it is hypocritical to push for or idealize war as the means to accomplish it. Freeing others through increasing state violence against foreigners, i.e. war, not only perpetrates violence against peaceful people in other countries, it also perpetrates increasing violence domestically through suppression of civil liberties and higher taxes.

War is the health of the state.

* Otherwise it would be simple annexation

** Yes, if you voted for Obama or any of the politicians who supported continuing the American presence in Afghanistan, then you share responsibility for those deaths.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Five surefire ways to be more amazing!

Someone thought I'd enjoy the profanity laced video at the bottom and it got me thinking about annoying idioms.
  1. Method vs "methodology". If the sentence still makes sense using "method" instead of "methodology", method is the correct term. Here's an example by Ian Cutress of Anandtech who confuses the two. Here's an illustration of the difference: if you've been reviewing cars by measuring 0-60mph times and have decided to now review them by measuring miles per gallon instead, that's a new testing method. But if you are comparing the two methods, e.g. asking the question "Which of the two methods is better for reviewing cars?", that's methodology. You wouldn't say "my methodology" unless you were actually talking about your way of examining methods.

    It especially doesn't make sense to talk about a new testing methodology.
  2. Problem vs "problematic". For example "the death penalty is a problem" and is "the death penalty is problematic" There's no meaningful difference except problematic sounds uglier.
  3. Use or case vs "use case". This is common in IT writing. The writing style in IT is generally beyond redemption but hopefully this use doesn't spread. I hate to pick on Anandtech again, but here's Joshua Ho in his iPhone 6 review

    "As long as the overall average bandwidth demand doesn’t exceed the speed of the TLC, short-run bandwidth is solely limited by the speed of the SLC cache, which turns out to be the case for almost every normal use case."
  4. Using instead of "rocking". "I'm rocking a Razer Deathadder mouse"

    Guy Fieri tier.
  5. Just about anything instead of "nice". A perennial favorite among language critics, I don't know why "nice" bothers me in particular. Maybe it's because I can't say anything nice.
  6. Bonus 27 Oct:  "You do know that X, right? You do know that, right?" More passive aggressive than a Whole Foods clerk.

"Really?" and its cousin "Seriously?" have to go

* I use weasel words all the time because it is much more difficult to say what something is as opposed to merely describing it. Often, the simplest declarative requires an arsenal of qualifiers to make it completely true.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Anova Sous Vide "Low Liquid" warning

I have the Anova One Sous Vide immersion unit. In theory and in marketing, you can just "set it and forget it". Compared to fiddling with stovetop dials and periodic temperature measurements, it is super easy.

However, the last time I used it, the unit would disable itself within a few minutes and throw a "low liquid" warning despite a liquid level near the max line. That really hurts the utility of this thing since I still have to babysit what I'm cooking or else the food could dip into unsafe temperature territory for hours without me knowing about it.

Halting the device because of low liquid is a good fail-safe on top of the other safeties e.g. fuse, temperature probe which would shut down the heating element anyway at high temperatures, metal casing ... but it should never activate if the liquid level isn't actually low.

What could it be?

At first I thought that maybe there was some debris in the unit blocking the water level sensor so I removed the metal housing and rinsed it with a produce sprayer. No luck. Then I used a Waterpik because there's one crimped part that could trap material. Still nothing. The manual says not to use de-ionized water so I added a pinch of salt to ensure conductivity. That fixed it for about an hour and I was pretty happy.

Then it failed again.

The water level probe looked corroded so I scrubbed it with a pipe brush but it still failed. Next step? Disassemble, continuity testing, voltmeter etc. Checked out the Anova forums for return information but one person in the Anova forums had luck with their malfunctioning unit by raising the unit off the pot bottom. Not sure why that would affect anything since I've used it plenty of times before but maybe there's some odd shorting issue. Placed it on a plastic cap in the pot and it ran again.

Then it failed again.

The forum had one guy with a generic Error message on one of the beta units find a solution through descaling.

So I soaked the unit in vinegar and ran it until it stopped. Had to do this a couple times but it seems to be working now. Lamb leg had since been cooking in the oven so it's not a real test but it ran for a good amount of time.

I don't think the descaling cleaned the sensor since I had scrubbed it and the unit still failed almost immediately.* What I think happened was that the scale build up caused the heating element to run too long and it overheated. I noticed some clicking noises prior to each failure so maybe the fuse needs to be replaced. It's probably not a failing fan since that runs fine.

Maybe the programming runs something like IF internal temperature > thermal limit THEN display "Low Liquid"

Although I plan on descaling the unit more frequently, the engineering could definitely use some work! Aquarium heaters work constantly and for orders of magnitude longer time than I've used this sous-vide machine. Electric kettles can be absolutely covered in scale and still perform. My Keurig gets used frequently and only requires descaling if the coffee output volume is noticeably lower than normal. But it still works. While the Anova immersion sous vide machine is a propeller, thermocouple, water level sensor, and heater all digitally controlled, it really is a simple design that ought to be more reliable. Maybe I got a lemon, given the large number of five star reviews on Amazon, but at the very least, descaling should be specified as necessary and routine maintenance.

* One of the Anova engineers states that discoloration on the water level sensor is normal. If it really is the case that the sensor malfunctions because of scaling issues, a bob type system would be better.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What would HAL think of politics?

Both the leftist New York Times and the gradually right trending Washington Post both thought Hillary dominated the Democratic debate. I'd really like to know their scoring methods because it was very clear to me that Bernie Sanders and even Webb (though he seemed awfully out of place) ran rings around her.

Maybe they were going by the rapturous applause she received in answering how her presidency would differ from Obama's:

Anderson Cooper's priceless follow up: "Is there any policy difference?"

To be fair, she was Obama's Secretary of State for a number of years and was largely uncritical of the administration during that time so highlighting major policy differences would be inappropriate.

Anyway I was thinking about Freeman Dyson's likening of the pre-WWI early 20th century our current early 21st century. Does he believe there will be another world war? Total war seems inconceivable among nuclear armed nations. Only the Swiss, and maybe the Finns are prepared for that. It's a little ironic that those nations are probably among the least likely to need the huge blast shelters they've built. Makes a bit more sense for the Israelis and Singaporeans though.

A popular theme among historians is that a resurgent China is going to vie with the US for hegemony or whatever. Doubtful. China's population is rapidly aging; there aren't enough children to both support the elders and sacrifice to war. Maybe there'll be a showdown in the Spratly's. The US might lose a carrier group (and despite official policy to the contrary, wouldn't go nuclear in response) but China is literally surrounded by wary rivals. Russia, India, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, the Koreas, Taiwan, and Australia all have China as a top national defense priority. When China increases its military, so do its nervous neighbors. When the US increases its military, there isn't any incentive for Canada and Mexico to do the same.

Hans Rosling believes that if China and India can avoid going to war, they will reach parity with the US in terms of GDP per capita on the 27th of July 2048.* Of course if Ray Kurzweil's prediction comes true, i.e., that the Singularity will occur in 2045, all bets are off.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Mono no Aware

Freeman Dyson, October 2015
Interviewer: You were being invited to help solve problems in an era when things looked pretty grim ... now we've conquered a lot of these, but there seems to be an unquenchable thirst for apocalypse. 
Dyson: Yes. I don't know why, it's a mood of the times. I don't understand that better than anyone else. It is true that there's a large community of people who make their money by scaring the public, so money is certainly involved to some extent, but I don't think that's the full explanation.
It's like a hundred years ago, before World War I, there was this insane craving for doom, which in a way, helped cause World War I. People like the poet Rupert Brooke were glorifying war as an escape from the dullness of modern life. [There was] the feeling we'd gone soft and degenerate, and war would be good for us all. That was in the air leading up to World War I, and in some ways it's in the air today.
The years before 1914 were a tremendously promising time. Russia was getting richer, [but then] the whole thing fell apart. It's comparable today – we've done a much better job with feeding the world and if you look at the number of desperately poor people, it has been decreasing quite steadily.
The most important thing at the moment is China getting richer. What the rest of the world is doing doesn't really matter. 
Have we abstracted our lives to the extent that we aren't living? Will it take mass slaughter to man to search for meaning again? It's not a surprise that as globalization has improved things materially, it only spreads the sameness and dullness of McWorld. Maybe on a long enough timeline, becoming Tyler Durden is inevitable.

Elon Musk is similarly pessimistic.
Interviewer: What kind of cars will we be driving 20 years from now? 
Musk: Huh, man. I hope civilization is still around in 20 years


Maybe the end of civilization won't happen in 20 years. After all, humankind is moving toward ever decreasing birthrates; Italy and Japan can't even replace their populations. The Japanese twilight is quiet; you can get a feel for how life will increasingly look like from this documentary about its remote islands.

But what meaning and purpose can you find in your civilization if it is only going to end?

The Asian Advantage

My mom knows how to make a three stone fire. If you don't know what that is, don't worry, neither did I. Apparently it's how people made fire to cook before microwaves and stoves. It's how her family did things until "Esso" became available which was the shorthand for propane. Her family got electricity and telephone service in the 60s, the first in her town.

By most material measures, at that time, the Philippines was very poor compared to the US, even compared to the US poor.* Anyway, they came here, worked very hard, sacrificed tons, put me and my sister through college, and are now relatively well-off. Most Filipinos in the US are doing okay. Maybe not as high flying as the Chinese and Koreans, but compared to what they came from just fifty years ago, it's a Cinderella story.**

Nicholas Kristof, trying to defend his thesis that African Americans are doing poorly relative to whites on account of racism, tries to suggest that the reason Asian Americans do even better than whites despite being a minority is because Asian immigrants are well-to-do highly educated professionals.


Most Chinese immigration to the US was in the form of laborers driven by poverty and famine to seek a better life. They were mostly laborers and faced enormous discrimination. The Chinese Exclusion Act and anti-Chinese lynchings and mobs drastically reduced their population - in Seattle at least. Japanese people were sought after to replace them as cheap labor. Similar to Koreans today, the Japanese setup small shops and gradually became successful. Eventually the Japanese were barred from immigrating and Filipinos ended up replacing them.

The Chinese Exclusion act was only repealed during World War II, a period that saw the rise of Japanese internment camps. Although Japan became an important ally in the postwar period, the rise of Communist China, the Korean and Vietnam "wars" have provided plenty of fodder for Hollywood to stoke negative stereotypes. Maybe the post Civil War experience for African Americans has been one of greater oppression. Maybe not, the podium standings at the Oppression Olympics aren't important. What is important is the fact that discrimination does not explain the dismal situation faced by African Americans relative to other groups, especially Asian Americans have also faced systemic discrimination but have thrived.

There are many possible explanations for this: Confucian cultural emphasis on study, high savings rates (i.e. low time preference), strong families, optimal selection (migrants tend to have the risk taking qualities that favor entrepreneurship), and yes, even a racial component. Some of these things we can't change - at least until genetic modification becomes more available - but things like keeping a family together, studying hard, and saving money are things "black" and "white" America could learn from the so-called model minority.*** But all those things require quiet and long term sacrifice, something that does not fit with the news cycle and clickbait proclivities of mainstream media like the New York Times and writers like Nicholas Kristof.


*  Although, interestingly, the Philippines punched well above its weight in health outcomes when compared to income as the following talk shows. It's a long talk and if you had to pick between reading the rest of this post or watching the talk, I suggest you watch the talk. It's the only "Everything You Know About X is Wrong!" piece on the Internet that lives up to the hype.

Hans Rosling, back when TED was good

** Better than Cinderella in many ways because modern civilizations have better health and dental care, access to more varieties of food and entertainment, cheaper and faster travel, near instant communications world wide, hot water on tap, air conditioning, the Internet, etc. And that's for average people, not just royalty.

*** The reasons for the decline in all these things are complex and some of them are external to the immediate actors. There's far less incentive to save, for example, if the government lowers interest rates and erodes the value of savings through inflation as is the case today. The trend over time has been for people to form relationships on the basis of enjoyment rather than to create a stable environment to raise children. Both can exist in a relationship but the outcomes are radically different if the former has priority over the latter. Etc, etc.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Initiative 1366

Politics is mostly a waste of time unless you are unimaginably wealthy. If you are lucky enough to be one of those people, you can invest in politicians to help make you even more wealthy. It's how companies like Halliburton - if you lean left and want to pick on the right - can charge $45 for a box of soda* or - if you lean right and want to pick on the left - how hospitals can charge $9,000 to bandage a finger.**

Contractors routinely "overcharge" the government and the government doesn't care because the taxpayer pays for it. Sure, the government has all kinds of auditors meant to stop this sort of thing but that three trillion dollars the Federal government collected last year has to go somewhere. And that's on top of the hundreds of billions the government borrows because that's not enough. And it will never be enough because voters have a hard time saying no to government initiatives and programs designed to support our troops or provide better access to health care.

On the ballot this November for Washington State is Initiative 1366 which will reduce the sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5% unless the legislature amends the state constitution to require a 2/3rds majority to raise taxes (as opposed to the simple majority required now).

As Washington does not have a state income tax, sales tax is a main source of revenue so this implies a 15.4% reduction. This would bring taxes per person, inflation adjusted, to 1997 levels.

State and Local Government Revenues Per Capita

Source: Washington State Office of Financial Management

In reality, because local jurisdictions have their own sales taxes, the reduction is even smaller. But that doesn't stop the CEO of Neighborcare Health from writing the Seattle Times to say how this will negatively affect health care. Neither does it stop the newspaper editors from complaining about how this I-1366 will hurt education even though spending has been skyrocketing in the US and results are stagnant***

Even though the graph below from a Huffington Post article attempts to color in states with high spending and high rankings and states with low spending and low rankings to bias the reader, you can see there is an extremely weak correlation between spending and ranking overall. If anything, it's the states like Iowa, Kansas, and Texas which should be the model.

Huffington Post Graph of Spending versus Ranking in State School Systems

The second part, the 2/3rds majority requirement is apparently a common thing among states, not that it matters. A state income tax is also very common and I would not want one introduced to Washington! Interestingly, that's how Tim Eyman is pitching I-1366 which makes sense since the voters have approved multiple initiatives previously that would have restricted the imposition of an income tax only to have their vote overturned by the courts. So there's a good chance this will happen despite the ever more careful wording of these things.

Even so, if I decide to vote this coming November, it will only be to select YES on I-1366. After all, I voted to end the state-run liquor monopoly and to decriminalize marijuana use and both measures passed. I don't smoke or drink and neither was ideal from a libertarian standpoint since both initiatives came with the introduction of or an increase in product related taxes. But I-1366, if it actually survives the courts, will be a strict win-win.

A Word About I-1183

Costco was behind ending the liquor monopoly and actually did a bit if jiu-jitsu against opponents on the I-1183 try. A similar attempt to end the state monopoly was defeated previously because of concerns that hard liquor would be sold at convenience stores and so the new initiative included language restricting the sale to only very large stores e.g. Costco.

However, contrary to what you would expect with privatization, Washington liquor prices have largely stayed the same with increased prices in smaller stores. This is a direct artifact of the introduction of the highest tax rate for liquor in the country. Costco advertises its liquor prices as a base price + the additional tax just so people know why they aren't saving all that much. Perhaps this is a kind of conditioning prelude to another initiative to lower liquor taxes although Costco could easily just sell top grade liquors under its Kirkland house brand for less.

The huge taxes that came with the initiative were placed there in order to make it palatable for voters concerned about so-called funding shortfalls. An appeal to a funding shortfall is even lazier than the appeal to childrenthe troops, or the sick and/or elderly because it could refer to any of the things for which a voter wants taxes used. In the case of Federal budget talks, this means closing down things that people like and that aren't used by the ultra wealthy to make more money, things like the National Park system but not things like billion dollar bombers and $9,000 bandages. And so the debt every American must pay back continues to grow.



*** and