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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Martyr 2018, s**thole version

What would you do if, in your view, your country was taken by a pseudo-communist dictatorship, rewriting the Constitution as it pleased and turning the courts, including the Supreme one, into a tool of the Executive, while expelling or jailing the opposition?

Well, if you happen to live in a s**thole country, you could try to emigrate to one with better bathrooms, as well as better rule of law.

Or, since such emigration is getting harder and harder by the day, you can just as well make a revolution!

Or die trying to make one. That's what Oscar Perez, a former cop in Venezuela (and a former actor too, with a keen sense for marketing) tried to do when, in last June, he robbed a helicopter and used it to launch explosives against the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Since then, he and his group has been hunted down by the Venezuelan security forces. After a few humiliating months, where their merry band made a fool of Maduro's forces like this...


Then in December, a video posted on Perez's YouTube account shows armed, masked men taking control of military barracks under cover of night.
They smash photos of Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, handcuff around a dozen soldiers and berate them for supporting 'dictatorship' in Venezuela. Perez says his team stole around 26 AK-103's and over 3,000 munitions for the rifles, as well as pistols.

... the security forces finally got hold of the rebels (very short video):


If you have patience, and the stomach for it, you can watch a series of short videos Mr. Perez himself sent, in his last minutes, through Instagram (the link opens up the first of 18 of those videos, you can follow the rest in that same Youtube sequence).


To which I must grudgingly concede the point, often presented in favor of the 2nd Amendment, that an armed society is indeed a drag to any autocratic ruler.



Monday, January 08, 2018

One For Erp

Teachers unions may not be the root of all evil, but they may well be counterproductive for society in aggregate. Here's an excerpt from a recent paper from Cornell University:
We find robust evidence that exposure to teacher collective bargaining laws worsens the future labor market outcomes of men: living in a state that has a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 grade-school years reduces male earnings by $1,493 (or 2.75%) per year and decreases hours worked by 0.52 hours per week.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Wow

According to a pair of reports, one from the Aviation Safety Network and the other from the Dutch consulting firm To70, zero passenger jets crashed anywhere on Earth in 2017. And this despite more airline flights than ever in history.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

I decided to sing my New Years Song (very originally and cleverly named "Happy New Year!") and record a video of it this morning.

Happy New Year! Enjoy!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Intuition, Irrationality and the End of Civilization

I have an overwhelmingly strong intuition that if Trump is removed from office for any reason, good or bad, western civilization will have a substantial risk of collapsing in my lifetime.

Why, you might ask? Actually, you probably wouldn't ask since it's extremely likely you simply flat out reject that assertion. And you might as well reject it, because I can't defend it.

I can't defend it because it's intuition. An intuition that emerges from millions upon millions of factoids and associations swirling about my brain from 59 years of observing and contemplating, a large fraction of them conflicting, inconsistent and/or incomplete, but that nonetheless result in a very strong vector pointing at danger. How could I convey to you those associations and thoughts? I simply can't as there are orders of magnitude too many of them. Humans are wonderfully good at absorbing information quickly; we are very slow at communicating such information to others.

I could throw out various facts and conjectures supporting my assertion, but you can easily find opposing facts and argue opposite hypotheses. I know this, because those same opposing facts and opposite hypotheses are swirling around in my brain as well. It's not any one thing, or any handful of things that forms the basis of my fear, but rather the sum total of way too many things.

And fear it is, a strong enough fear that it pushes me well into an "ends justifies the means" sort of mentality where I wouldn't hesitate to do irrational, unethical and immoral things if it would save Trump and I could get away with it.

I would certainly make bogus arguments if it would help. I haven't done so posting or commenting on this blog, at least not intentionally and hopefully not extensively, because y'all are smart enough and informed enough that it won't help - you'll see right through the bogus arguments.

It's often very difficult to tell the difference between a statement based on intuition and a bogus statement. An intuitive statement simply can't have sufficient data to back it up while a bogus statement simply doesn't have sufficient data to back it up. Indeed, perhaps all statements based on intuition are bogus.

As an example, I'll rush in where angels fear to tread, and consider a statement from a different post: "Flynn is guilty of nothing except a process crime..." I intuit that to be probably fundamentally correct. However, it could also be completely bogus and false. But I can turn it into an absolutely true statement fairly easily: "I believe that Flynn is fundamentally guilty of nothing except a process crime." Yet, in a discussion group like this, I believe that the two statements should be interpreted the same - in other words, unless explicitly stated, everything is a belief or opinion.

What's interesting to me in a group with smart people like this is to see what other people think and why they think it. I'm fully aware there's not a chance I'm gonna change anyone's mind on much of anything, or to the extent that can happen at all, it'll be subtle and over thousands of interactions (to slowly add to other folks' brain state vectors). But I enjoy learning from y'all so I hope you stick around and keep the debates passionate, but (hopefully) respectful.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Age of Outrage

This article by Jonathan Haidt, to me, is the most insightful of the year and perhaps the millennium. It's tough to excerpt so I'll just provide the link.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

My 1.5 Seconds of Fame

Due to a backstory that doesn't need, repeating, I end up on Youtube.

You definitely will want to have a sick sack handy.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Because he isn't, or because no one is?

The Times' Editorial makes a brief summary and rebuttal of the present mindset, among most Trump supporters, about Robert Mueller and his probe. It ends with that classical question:

But if your man is really innocent, what’s the worry?


The question, though legitimate, often is a diversion when it ignores the process itself can be a punishment, even more when reputations are on the line. It also ignores that most people assume Trump may well be guilty of something - as if any human being on Earth were capable to follow straight the hundreds of thousands of laws and regulations in the books of any modern society - but that it hardly would justify what some see as a political witch-hunt against the President.

Seeing how the Law, down here in my Third World setting, is so often used as a tool against enemies, instead of an instrument to make Justice, I am surely aware of the cynical use that question may have.

But I still would argue that, for now, Trump supporters should wait and see, instead of panicking in a frenzy of accusations against all the FBI leadership of the last 15 years. For two reasons: (i) if they truly believe the FBI is as dirty as they imply, they have a far greater problem than Russiagate. I mean, they would need to check back every single case those people ever worked on, wouldn't they? And (ii), If this is a political witch-hunt, they have little to worry, because this is going to be subjected to a political jury. For when push comes to shove, it is the two chambers -  in complete control of Republicans - who will need to decide if they want to keep Trump, or have Pence for a change. I even would change that NYT's Editorial line to:

But if your man is even guilty, what’s the worry?




Wednesday, November 22, 2017

US Culture Becomes More Absurd By The Day

This one is from the "you couldn't make this stuff up" category and is so absurd that I've been diligently waiting for Snopes to say it's a hoax but as of right now, it seem to be legitimate.

The first part of the story is straightforward - nothing unusual here:
Apple’s first-ever vice president of diversity and inclusion, Denise Young Smith, is leaving Apple at the end of this year, TechCrunch has learned. Young Smith, who has only been in the position since May of this year, previously served as Apple’s head of worldwide human resources for three years.
So why did she leave? Perhaps because Ms. Young Smith, a black woman, made an interesting comment at the One Young World Summit earlier this year:
... there can be 12 white blue-eyed blonde men in a room and they are going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.
I'm neither blue-eyed, nor blonde, but I can't say that I disagree with that, at least not strongly.

Nonetheless, Apple and Ms. Young Smith have parted ways, perhaps because a diversity and inclusion expert really ought not say such things in this day and age. Here's the funny take on it (by a black columnist, in case that matters):
I am not saying that God, the universe, RihannayoncĂ© or whoever you worship as a higher power is petty, but in one of the most hilarious twists of fate ever, Apple’s vice president of inclusion and diversity, Denise Young Smith, who once whitesplained how hiring 12 white, blond, blue-eyed men could actually be seen as promoting diversity, has been replaced.
By a blond, blue-eyed white woman.
:-)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Groping

I'm not sure how I feel about all the recent groping and sexual assault allegations, from G.H.W. Bush to Al Franken to Roy Moore to most of Hollywood and beyond.

First, I wonder if I had been a very public figure for my 58 years and constantly photographed and imaged, if due to sheer bad luck, one of my hands was caught in a possibly awkward position on camera. I don't think so, but I really don't remember where my hands have been for every second of my life. It wouldn't've been intentional, but I don't know absolutely for sure.

And during my career, I've been alone with a woman (and also a man for that matter) one-on-one more than once. They could accuse me of doing anything during those times, and while not true, it might've been thought plausible, especially by enemies (if I had enemies).

Once, I texted my wife "I love you!" (plus some heart emoticons). A not uncommon thing to do. Unfortunately, I had selected a female employee's text address instead of my wife's and the text went to the female employee. This particular female employee thought it was hilarious (especially my obvious and extreme discomfort with the whole thing). But a different female employee could potentially have made life very difficult for me, even if she eventually lost any lawsuit (which she probably would have because it was pretty obvious I was trying to text my wife).

In court in a criminal case, something has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt for the defendant to be convicted. In the court of public opinion, especially the opinion's of one's ideological opposites, the merest hint of impropriety seems to be enough to convict and destroy the life, or at least the career, of the accused.

And are women really so fragile? A hand brushing against a buttocks or breast is a life-long traumatic event? Or even a single forced kiss (like Franken is accused of)? Isn't that reason enough by itself never to hire a woman - because she's too fragile and easily traumatized?

And then there's Hollywood. As a parent, a common complement to the parent goes something like, "Your child is so beautiful - she could be an actress!" And I used to think, "Oh my god, I hope not!" And why did I hope not? Because it's always been common knowledge that an awful lot of actresses and models have had sex with an awful lot of casting directors and agents for the purpose of getting work. This is nothing even vaguely new. What seems to be new is that a woman can use sex to get herself a role and then accuse the casting director of sexual harassment after her work finishes.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think the any of the above is right or moral or ethical. But the zealous fervor that's bringing down all these people also doesn't seem quite right or moral or ethical to me. But I'll admit, I'm not quite sure why.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Leaps in Artificial Intelligence

One of the holy grails of Artificial Intelligence research has been to understand how the human brain works. The idea is that if we knew how the brain works we could simulate its processing using computers and those computers would then be intelligent. Alas, remarkably little is known about the brain.

In the last few years, AI researchers have tried a different, but related approach. They've simulated neural network topologies in a computer that are sorta based on neural connectivity in a brain. The idea is that even though nobody knows how those neurons in the brain work when connected like that, perhaps those topologies will do something useful anyway.

And much to my utter amazement, that approach has made some really jaw dropping (well, my jaw, anyway) breakthroughs in a wide range of areas from vision to self-driving cars to emerging intelligence to self-directed learning and more. There's not time and space for me to get into all of these areas, but I'll touch on a couple.

The first is image recognition. A huge goal of AI has been to be able to have a computer look at an image and tell you what's in the image (for example, a car or sword or shark or poppy or fighter-jet or ...). And since a human can distinguish between hundreds of thousands of different types of objects, wouldn't it be nice if the computer could also distinguish between that many different things as well.

As of 2010, that level of ability for image recognition by computers was a pipe dream, and nothing more. As of today, a mere 7 years later, computers are now really good at that. Not quite as good as humans, but rapidly closing in as shown by the following graph:



Some background is required for the graph above. In 2006, some researchers got the idea to create a database of 14,000,000+ images (they hope to have 100 million images eventually) of tens of thousands of different objects, each image labeled with the object(s) it contains and bounding boxes of each object. With this database, neural nets can be trained to recognize the objects. Then, when shown an arbitrary image, the neural net will identify the objects in it.

The database is called ImageNet and was first ready for use in 2010. A contest was created to see who, if anybody, could create and train neural nets to distinguish between the tens of thousands of objects in the database. In 2010, the results were dismal with most contestants guessing right less than half the time. But, by trial-and-error and building on the best successes (evolution?), each year the results got better - a lot better. To the point where if you show one of the better nets a picture (and the picture is reasonably clear and a few other minor caveats), it will correctly identify the main object(s) (again, out of tens of thousands of possible different objects) in the image the vast majority of the time. And anyone can download these trained nets and utilize them with open source software such as Google's TensorFlow. While it takes weeks and weeks of cloud computing to train these networks using 14,000,000 images, once trained, a typical desktop can recognize the objects in an image in a few tens of seconds and in less than a second if it has a sufficiently powerful GPU (it turns out that graphics cards happen to be nearly exactly optimal for processing neural nets).

These image recognition nets are called "deep learning convolutional nets" and nobody really knows how they work, only that they do. Sorta like how we don't know how the human brain works - only that it does. Some modifications of these nets has enabled a lot of different applications to be addressed. For example, a while back, an AI beat the worlds Go champion. Ho hum, chess had already fallen to computers, so not a big deal, right? But it got a little more interesting a few weeks ago:
A new paper published in Nature today describes how the artificially intelligent system that defeated Go grandmaster Lee Sedol in 2016 got its digital ass kicked by a new-and-improved version of itself. And it didn’t just lose by a little—it couldn’t even muster a single win after playing a hundred games. Incredibly, it took AlphaGo Zero (AGZ) just three days to train itself from scratch and acquire literally thousands of years of human Go knowledge simply by playing itself.
Self-learning artificial intelligence. Pretty nifty.

Many of these techniques (and many more) are used in self-driving cars. They will soon teach themselves to drive really well - "literally thousands of years of human" driving experience. Bigger nets will be able to incorporate millions of years of human driving experience. It may take years to train them, but once trained, they can be downloaded to all cars. Humans may bested by AI in wide range of applications in my children's lifetimes, not just relatively trivial things like chess and Go (which only 10 years ago were not considered at all trivial).

I'll leave you with what I think is a very interesting video. I'm sure you've all seen faces morph from one person to another, but I think you'll find that the morphing is qualitatively different starting at the 1:50 mark on the video. All of those faces are simulated by the neural net which has been trained to "know" what a face is. The morphing from one face to another, even radically different faces in different poses, tends to stay pretty realistic throughout the transition. And the scene morphing, also completely simulated, maintains a surprisingly realistic rendition even when changing between radically different scenes, for example the bedrooms just after 4:00. Enjoy!
More information on the video is here.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

More crazies, more shootings?

The only point in the gun debate that looks to be agreeable by both parts is that crazies are to blame. To the pro-guns, they are the main source. To the anti-guns, a contributing factor.

I was then surprised to read today that:
It’s a common misperception: Mass killers are mentally ill. In fact, fewer than 1 in 6 has been diagnosed as psychotic, according to a 2015 paper. Past violent behavior, a history of animal cruelty, childhood maltreatment, access to guns, or being young and male are more reliable indicators. So when President Trump portrayed last Sunday’s church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as a mental health problem – the killer had escaped from a mental health facility in 2012 – he was really pointing to an exception rather than the rule. [...]
[...] Of 88 mass shooters – those who had killed four or more people in the US – since 1966, only 14.8 percent were diagnosed as psychotic, according to 2015 paper by Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, a gun violence expert who maintains a database of indiscriminate mass shootings. 
As the article goes, it doesn't make much of a strong case, since its main point looks to be that not all mentally ill should be viewed as a source of doom. 


Yet, I wonder, are we all settling for too comfortable an answer? The Sutherland Springs shooter is an easy case of mental disorder, but it is hard to forget the Las Vegas one, whose perpetrator looked to be smarter than everyone in this blog - if we judge so only by financial achievements.



Monday, November 06, 2017

Step One

The essence of clear thinking is the ability to state the views of those who disagree with you in a way they would find accurate and fair.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Another One Bites the Dust

[Updated to correct errors even superficial proof reading would have revealed.]

Way back in the day, 13 years of days, to be brutally honest, the Post Judd Alliance took refuge at The Daily Duck and Thought Mesh. Then the crowd consisted of David Cohen, AOG, Brit, Duck, Oroborous, Peter, Harry, Ali Choudhury; erp joined not too long after.

Since then, Oroborous and AOG just up and vanished. Ali stopped stopping by, but he pops up in Facebook regularly (in Spain this week, BTW). And like Howard, we lost Duck. Brit finally got fed up with Harry's bilious hatred that he left us, never to return.

Now Harry has stomped off, in his typical spittle-flecked and truth impaired style. In putting this post together, I had been looking at some of the longer threads over the last half dozen years. It has been a very long time, indeed, since he made an enlightening or substantive comment. So, on the one hand, his going doesn't seem much of a loss. Despite that, though, his presence here did give the rest of us exposure to progressive thinking.

During my forays into progressive blogs, I was astonished to discover that Harry isn't alone in his thinking, but rather that he is emblematic of progressives: riddled with hatred and factually challenged.

Per Harry: I quit Good [sic] Guys because of your [my] and erp's racism and fascism.

Leaving aside whether his statement has any factual basis, this raises a couple issues. First is the incontinent spewing of racist/fascist/misogynist/Islamophobe/homophobe (to avoid tedious typing, I will refer to such accusations using this ugly portmanteau acronym: RAFAMIHO) et al in response to any statement that departs from progressive pieties.

Unfortunately, that goes beyond merely amounting to "Shut up, the progressive explained." Remember Damore, the Google engineer? Progressive hatred cost him his job. When challenged, progressives had absolutely no idea what the Damore actually said, yet were perfectly happy to trash the guy.

More recently, a Boise State University professor wrote an opinion piece about the goals of radical feminists. In response, the school's Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, Francisco Salinas wrote a litany of accusations unburdened by a single quote, and which would surely have cost the professor his job if he didn't already have tenure.

A couple quotes:

[Professor Yenor's] piece is easy enough to dismiss on logical grounds …" (which Salinas never actually bothers to attempt)



Not every person who agrees with Yenor’s piece is likely to become an espoused Neo-Nazi, but likely every Neo-Nazi would agree with the substance of Yenor’s piece.

In other words, shut up, the Director explained. Using words and fact free assertions that could have come straight from Harry's keyboard.

Which is what made Harry's presence here useful. Progressives, it seems, are astonishingly self-similar. So having one around provided an opportunity to attempt to understand progressive thinking. Unfortunately, I don't think that is possible, because there doesn't seem to be much actual thinking going on. No thinking person would recognize Prof Yenor's writing in Salinas's characterization of it, anymore than an objective observer would find anything even remotely racist or fascist in what erp or I have ever wrote.

Not that easily observable facts are any deterrent to what is, to the extent it is untrue, a vicious insult. Nor will Salinas, or Harry, wonder whether the incontinent spewing of RAFAMIHO renders their own characters suspect.

The other issue is this: what constitutes saying something RAFAMIHO?

Further down that Restating the Obvious thread I linked to above, Clovis said:

I don't think Erp is racist, but only because I met her in person. My interactions online with her in past, many times, gave me the impression of someone with racial prejudices on the other side.

I don't remember having similar impression about you in terms of race, but you are demonstrably prejudiced against Muslims.

Aside from the rather obvious problem that it is a nearly futile exercise to attempt an empty charge, what does it mean to be "… demonstrably prejudiced against Muslims"?

Sometimes, the answer is obvious. A statement such as "… Muslims in general and Arab Muslims in particular are incapable of popular self-government." clearly fits the bill for being not only anti-Muslim, but racist on top of it. Never mind being drenched in irony.

But Clovis takes the concept further: observations about Islam that lead to negative judgments about some muslims prove that I have a blinding prejudice that makes me attribute to an individual the properties of the collective.

Even if did such a thing, the conclusion doesn't follow.

No one would bat an eye if I suggested that, on observing a group of people walking down the street wearing Nazi regalia that I could reach some likely very accurate judgments about each member of that group. Similarly, if I see obviously pious muslims, I reach the very likely accurate conclusion that they believe in the divinity and inerrancy of the Quran, and, therefore, have beliefs that are antagonistic towards the individualistic, Enlightenment derived, beliefs I hold. Or, conversely, their seeing me wearing Levis and having dinner with a much younger woman who is not my wife or daughter (but happens to be my co-pilot on this trip) means they can safely conclude I hold beliefs deeply incongruous with their own.

The charge that someone is anti-Muslim (or, looked at the other way, anti-post Christian) is practically vacuous, in that it completely voids the capability to draw any conclusions with regard to certain groups, while simultaneously allowing such conclusions about other groups. That is post-modernism run amuck and self contradicting at the same time.

The same argument can be made against nearly all invocations of RAFAMIHO. They are nearly always wrong. Damore made an evidence based argument that Google's employment policies were doomed to expensive failure. That doesn't make him a misogynist, any more than noting that men are overwhelmingly responsible for violent crime makes me a misandrist.

If his evidence is fairly chosen and accurate, that makes him correct. If it isn't either or both, that makes him wrong, and better evidence will make that clear. The conclusions I draw about some Muslims based upon the evidence as I understand it provided by Islam doesn't mean I harbor some profound character flaw. To the degree my understanding reflects Islam's objective reality, my conclusions are correct. To the extent my understanding doesn't, then improved understanding should change my conclusions.

Only when I refuse that opportunity does it become possible to throw down the RAFAMIHO.

Remember, to call someone a RAFAMIHO is to charge that person with a grave moral defect. Doing so with all the incontinence of a goose having just consumed bad oysters, whether it is Harry or Keith Olbermann, on any of a nearly endless parade of examples from the left is to put oneself in the same league with those who denounced their neighbors to the KGB.

Recently, Peter said "I'm intrigued by the role ubiquitous social media is playing in the current American political distemper and its destabilizing influences on political dialogue."

Social media may well be contributing to American distemper, but not nearly so much as the vile accusations that emanate primarily from the left, and that almost never earn the disdain they so richly deserve.

Perhaps if progressives like Harry, Keith Olbermann, Francisco Salinas and ad infinitum started hating less, and thinking more, our political fever would go down.

Yeah, like that is going to happen.




Saturday, October 21, 2017

Yearning to Fly


Tom Petty's passing had some impact on me lately.

I know that, being the younger generation in this blog, I have not many rights to nostalgia, but that's how I have been feeling. Every music I hear from the 80's makes me go back to my infancy, and I have been feeling older than I actually am.

Petty was inspired by the first Iraq war when composing this piece. I still remember the night shots from the cockpit of the US fighters, the green letters from those old screens they had, the missiles being shot. To think Hey Skipper was actually one of those guys up there...

I once wished to learn to fly, but I ain't got wings. I feel soon I won't have the age too. I am 36 years old, and I know part of my blues comes not from missing the past, but anticipating the future. Soon the 40's will come, and any claim to youthfulness I once had will be gone. You guys who have been through that road, pray tell me, how hard is it? Petty was 40 in the video above, and now he is gone.


Tomorrow I borrow a couple of wings, I am going to America again. Taking the kids to Disney the first time, will do lots of pictures and videos, so they can look at them 40 years from now and feel, too, how time goes by.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Tale of Two Countries

"A Likely Young Negro Wench, who is a good Cook, and can 
Wash well is to be disposed of. Enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Likely young Negroe Wench, about 18 
Years of Age, speaks good English, and is fit for either Town 
or Country. Enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Likely Molatto Girl, aged about 16 Years, 
has had the Small Pox, is fit for either Town or Country, to 
be disposed of very reasonable, enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold, A Likely young Negroe Fellow, about Twenty- 
six Years of Age, suitable for any Farming or Plantation 
Business, having been long accustomed to it and has had the 
Small- Pox. Enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Negro Man Twenty-two Years of Age, of 
uncommon Strength and Activity, very fit for a Farmer, or a 
laborious Trade, he understands the best methods of managing 
Horses, and is very faithful in the Employment : Any Person 
that wants such a one may see him by enquiring of the Printer 
hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Likely Negro woman, with a man-child, fit 
for town or country business. Enquire of the Printer hereof."

"To Be Sold, A Lusty, young, Negroe Woman, fit for 
Country Business, she has had the Smallpox, and Meazles. 
Enquire of the Printers hereof.”

"To be Sold. A Prime able young Negro man, fit for labori- 
ous work, in town or country, that has had the smallpox : As 
also a middle aged Negro man, that has likewise had the 
smallpox. Enquire of the printer hereof: Or otherwise they 
will be exposed to sale by publick venue, on Saturday the 
tenth of April next, at 12 o'clock, at the Indian-king, in Mar- 
ket-street." 


The Printer of the newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette, and also the salesman of the ‘Negroes’ above advertised, is none other than Benjamin Franklin, the eldest and wisest among the Founding Fathers of the USA.

Being a printer and publisher for most of his life, Franklin was also a jack of all trades, buying and selling whatever could land him a profit, like the slaves above (the ads probably run circa 1740s).

P. Leicester Ford, one of his biographers of a century ago, tells us that:
Some of these slaves he procured from New England, where, as population grew in density, the need for them passed, leading to their sale in the colonies to the southward; and there was not always a profit, for Franklin, of one purchase of husband and wife, wrote to his mother : "We conclude to sell them both the first good opportunity, for we do not like negro ser- vants," with a result that " We got again about half what we lost." In spite of this prejudice, Franklin took with him two negro servants to England on his second visit, with slight benefit, for one, who "was of little use, and often in mischief," ran off within a year, and the other behaved only" as well as I could expect, in a country where there are many occasions of spoiling servants, if they are ever so good." "He has as few faults as most of them," the philosopher observed, “and I see with only one eye and hear only with one ear; so we rub on pretty comfortably." 

Franklin, as he grew in years, came to disapprove  heartily of the whole slave system, and he expressed  satisfaction " that a disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America, that many Pennsylvanians have set their slaves at liberty, and that even the Virginia Assembly have petitioned the king for permission to make a law for preventing the importation of more  into the colony." When the initial abolition society in 
America was formed, he became its president, and his  name was signed to the first petition for the abolition  of the slave-trade ever sent to Congress, an act which 
resulted in his being personally vituperated on the floor  of that body, less than a month before his death. The  debate on this petition drew from him the last public 
paper he ever penned, in which, with his usual "Socratic " cleverness, he took all the arguments advanced by the favorers of slavery, and by putting them into the mouth of an Algerine, as reasons for continuing the holding of Europeans in bondage, made each one become a reason for ending the system. 

Though Franklin sometimes took a loss, as described above, slaves turned out to be an excellent long term investment, as another Founding Father found out:

The critical turning point in Jefferson's thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, "I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers." His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.   […]

Jefferson's 4 percent theorem threatens the comforting notion that he had no real awareness of what he was doing, that he was "stuck" with or "trapped" in slavery, an obsolete, unprofitable, burdensome legacy. The date of Jefferson's calculation aligns with the waning of his emancipationist fervor. Jefferson began to back away from antislavery just around the time he computed the silent profit of the "peculiar institution."


And this world was crueler than we have been led to believe. A letter has recently come to light describing how Monticello's young black boys, "the small ones," age 10, 11 or 12, were whipped to get them to work in Jefferson's nail factory, whose profits paid the mansion's grocery bills. This passage about children being lashed had been suppressed--deliberately deleted from the published record in the 1953 edition of Jefferson's Farm Book, containing 500 pages of plantation papers. That edition of the Farm Book still serves as a standard reference for research into the way Monticello worked.


Not to mention his turning of Sally Hemings, a fair skinned slave who was also a younger half-sister of his first wife, into his sexual serf since she was a teenager. 



Taken together, the historical snippets above still resonate with present day America, a country which, notwithstanding its past, strives like no other to be a better place for minorities - the ‘Franklin side’ - versus the country that still elects someone like Donald Trump - the ‘Jefferson side’.

Friday, October 13, 2017

And The Disintegrating State of Brazil

Split as the US looks like these days, I still immerse myself into American news as a getaway from my own reality. When the nation of Trump still looks like a model of peace and union, you get some idea of what we've been through down here.

As I tried to point out in previous posts, my country is being run by a mafia whose members, like our own President - accused of multiple types of corruption schemes numbering hundreds of millions - are step by step 'evading' (notice I am being generous with the choice of words) the Justice system. After successfully delivering a few big shot (leftist) politicians to jail, the 'Lava Jato' operation hit the rocks, and it is by now clear it won't go much further.

A good deal of the actors behind the initial thrust against corruption are by now in retreat, either due to cold calculation (they already have someone in power aligned with their interests) or due to the stones getting too close to their glasshouses.

The results the 'Lava Jato' delivered are a double-edged sword. If it took a few big corrupt pols out, it also made the checks and balances system of the Republic even more unhinged than before. In a place where almost every player is compromised, the Judiciary may end up being not a filter to clean out the system, but a King Maker.

A recent anecdote illustrates the system we end up with. One of the key Federal Police (our 'FBI') deputies of the 'Lava Jato' operation was reassigned to another state, for reasons I can only guess. Lacking now the power to go after the big shots of yore, and the spotlights it rendered, she decided to go big against a Dean of the Federal University in the new state she was placed in.

A low level scheme, related to the misuse of a few federal scholarships in that University, was being investigated. The new Dean, having barely a year in the post (and no relation to the investigated misused funds), was accused (behind doors with talks to the feds) by a university clerk of trying to hinder the investigations. That Federal Police Deputy, losing no time, got the Dean in 'preventive prison', subjecting him to things like an 'anal search'- well, just because she could. She also convinced a judge to deliver an order keeping the Dean away from the University. He couldn't get back there even to talk to his graduate students.

As it turned out a few days later, the accusation that he hindered internal investigations was baseless, there were extensive records of him assigning probes to ascertain the facts. The clerk who accused him, who believed he was targeted because he lost a salary supplement, was among a hundred other workers who also lost it due to budgetary reasons.

The Dean, who was a lawyer from the Law Department no less, was freed from prison a day after his detention, but the headlines all over the country took a hit on his morale. Two weeks later he committed suicide, with a note on his pockets protesting the injustice.

Before the 'Lava Jato' operation, and the witch hunt atmosphere that came with it, a Fed Police Deputy would hardly be able to destroy a reputation so easily. But right now, we live in a place where the Justice system won't touch a President (and his aides) involved in millionaire scandals, but will easily trash the little people out there, and even the not so little people, if it renders newsworthy headlines.

Bad as it is, the election of someone like the man mentioned in my link above will only make this farcical police state worse. That's why I will keep posting about Trump, and the easy life my American friends have with politics.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Disunited State of America



I can't really understand half of what this guy says. To be fair, that's probably true for all his other works, though I won't know, for I rarely paid attention to them (not my kind of music).

But anyone of my generation, even the ones not much into Rap, will recognize his name as iconic.

I once remarked on this blog: "The last two weeks of the news cycle have been spinning ever so fast about Trump 'scandals', I wonder how are people of different opinions interacting. Or am I the only one being unfriended?"

Even though the divide seen since his election is pretty obvious, and Eminem doing a rap calling all sorts of names is unremarkable, I believe he still set a new bar, one I consider symbolic of our times:

- "Any fan of mine who's a supporter of his, You're either for or against. And if you can't decide who you like more and you're split, On who you should stand beside, I'll do it for you with this", followed by expletives.

So his main fury is directed not at Trump, but to any Trump voter who may also appreciate his own work. He unfriended them all.

OK, I get he hates Trump, but to risk setting a pile of money on fire to show for that?


Friday, September 15, 2017

What The Heck Is That?

Consider the gizmo in my hand below. It's called a vortex tube and is around 4 inches long and weighs maybe half a pound. I had never heard of these until recently. Had you?

There are no moving parts. You connect the inlet near my thumb to an ambient (room) temperature air supply. Really, really hot air comes out the end near my forefinger. Really, really cold air comes out the other end near the base of my palm. That little orange label says "CAUTION: Hot and cold surfaces" and it's not kidding. If the air supply is 8 cubic feet per minute at 100 psi, the hot end is over 100F hotter than the input air temperature and the cold end is over 100F colder than the input air temperature and can provide over 500 BTUs of cooling.

That's a pretty neat trick for something with no moving parts. Another neat trick is that until recently folks were still debating the physics behind how it works:
...for a long time the empirical studies made the vortex tube effect appear enigmatic and its explanation – a matter of debate.
In fact, the science wasn't totally settled until 2012:
This equation was published in 2012; it explains the fundamental operating principle of vortex tubes. The search for this explanation began in 1933 when the vortex tube was discovered and continued for more than 80 years.
So I don't feel bad that I'd never heard of it and had no idea how it worked. And I'll admit when I read the explanation that I still only have a vague notion of how it works.

Why did I discover it now? We have robotic machines that work in agricultural environments. Those machines have computers. We use computers and systems that can withstand up to about 105 (Fahrenheit). 99.8% of the time, the ambient temperature is below that. Unfortunately, 0.2% of the time, it gets hotter than that but the crops still need to be tended to and the machines fail and even die if they're run at a temperature hotter than 105. Yet for 0.2% of the time, it's expensive, bulky, and makes the system less robust due to complexity to add cooling via air conditioning to every single computer cabinet.

On the other hand, putting a vortex tube in each system isn't expensive, bulky, or complex. On those days when it's really hot, the grower can just attach an air supply from a compressor to the vortex tube and voila!, they can run our systems even when it's ridiculously hot. Most growers have compressors available, but even if they don't, it's straightforward to rent one on short notice. Problem solved!