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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rock Stars

My wife sent me a school notice about a meeting regarding "The Future of Life Science Education at La Jolla High School" because she thinks it's good for us to attend such things.  I generally think such things are a waste of time and terribly boring to boot, so I started thinking up excuses about why I couldn't possibly make it that particular evening.

But then, "Guest Speaker: Craig Venter," caught my eye on the meeting notice.  To me, Venter is a rock-star of science, primarily famous for his drive and success in sequencing the Human Genome:
Frustrated with what Venter viewed as the slow pace of progress in the Human Genome project, and unable to get funds for his ideas, he sought funding from the private sector to fund Celera Genomics. The goal of the company was to sequence the entire human genome and release it into the public domain for non-commercial use in much less time and for much less cost than the public human genome project. The company planned to profit from their work by creating a value-added database of genomic data to which users could subscribe for a fee. The goal consequently put pressure on the public genome program and spurred several groups to redouble their efforts to produce the full sequence. DNA from five demographically different individuals was used by Celera to generate the sequence of the human genome; one of the individuals was Venter himself. In 2000, Venter and Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Public Genome Project jointly made the announcement of the mapping of the human genome, a full three years ahead of the expected end of the Public Genome Program. [emphasis added]
In fact, being the nerd that I am, someone like Craig Venter is more of a draw to me than, say, someone like Mick Jagger, though admittedly, Jagger might possibly be somewhat more entertaining.

So I said to my wife, "Why yes dear, there is nothing I'd like better than attending this school meeting!" She looked at me skeptically with raised eyebrows, to which I replied, "No, really. I'm serious!"  So we went. Or rather, I went.  On the night of the meeting she decided she was too tired and decided not to attend.

There were between 50 and 100 people at the meeting. I was surprised.  After all, if it was Jagger instead of Venter, I think it might've been more crowded.  I was definitely disappointed that someone that I think is so important would only draw that few people.  On the other hand, it was more intimate than if it was a big crowd.

One gentlemen there really stood out.  Or should I say stood up? And up and up. He was 6' 11" which is really, really tall and probably 8 inches taller than the next tallest person in attendance.  It turned out to be retired NBA superstar Bill Walton who happens to be on the board of directors of one of Venter's ventures. In fact, the main event was a conversation with Bill Walton asking Craig Venter various questions about his personal life, genomics, and his views on education.  Two superstars for the price of one!

Some interesting tidbits:

  • On education, the first thing Venter noted was that he had terrible grades and barely graduated from high school and that was only possible because he talked a teacher into giving him a D- instead of an F in a required class.  While I'm not sure that background gives him a lot of credibility to pontificate on how high schools should teach life science, he said that two things they should teach (but don't) are how to take risk, and how to fail (or, more accurately, how to recover from failure).
  • On competitiveness of biotech, he's confident that even though Europe and China are pumping huge amounts of money into this area, the United States will maintain a lead for a long time.  He says that in the United States, a great deal of the funding for biotech comes from an unusual intersection of individual philanthropy and investment (venture) capital which is far more creative, versatile, and nimble than the massive, but blunt and poorly directed funding by the European and Chinese governments.
  • On the direction of biotech in general and the human genome in particular, he feels that huge advances in all aspects of health care will be coming in the next ten years.  He feels that this is a fantastic time to invest in biotech companies.
  • On sequencing human genomes, he feels that the clause in Obamacare that enables everyone to get insurance without regard for pre-existing conditions is critically important because that enables everyone to get their genome sequenced without having to worry about likely genetic based diseased states (a type of pre-existing condition) which could have precluded them from getting affordable insurance. Having everybody's genome sequenced will enable optimal health therapies to be personally designed for each and every person over their entire lifetime, increasing both health and longevity.
Every bit as good as a rock concert!

Monday, November 17, 2014

"That's what I'm afraid of..."

This June, about a month or two before the original Halbig decision,  I was talking with my co-blogger and sharing some of my thoughts on healthcare policy and ACA.  I'm not big on making hard and fast predictions, but exploring various scenarios and thinking about relative probabilities is a common practice.  More about that later.  There were a handful of issues that could have been addressed with targeted pieces of legislation that could have drawn solid bipartisan support.  Instead we got a serious CF that has barely evidenced all of the related problems it will cause.  The political realities make outright repeal very unlikely, however, there is a path forward.  First, let's look at the following historical example of a really lousy piece of legislation which was eventually stripped down to something more manageable.  In an article titled  Let's Taft-Hartley Obamacare by Paul Moreno:

It is increasingly clear that the Affordable Care Act is not going to be either completed or abolished, regardless of what happens in November or in any envisionable future election. It is locked in, but in a peculiarly limited way.
...

But Obamacare will not be as locked in as, say, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, or Medicare. As critics have pointed out, those programs were enacted with bipartisan support. Obamacare has enough shortcomings and complications that it will probably track that most accidental of New Deal legislation, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which made organized labor the most powerful interest group in America for half a century.
...
Almost everyone expected the Court to strike down the Wagner Act. Indeed, many liberals wanted the Court to do so, to highlight the conflict between the New Deal and judicial conservatism. Thus the Wagner Act passed the Senate 63 to 12 and passed the House without a recorded vote. The best explanation for the lopsided majority was not consensus in favor of the bill, but the conviction held by many of its opponents that the Court would strike it down — so why incur the enmity of organized labor for nothing?

To nearly everyone’s surprise, the Court upheld the Wagner Act in April 1937, shortly after Roosevelt had threatened to pack it. Suddenly, the country was saddled with an act that might not have passed at all, and certainly not in as radical a form, without the Supreme Court wild card. However, the Democratic majorities were so overwhelming in 1935 (70 to 20 in the Senate) that the NLRA probably would have passed, albeit by smaller margins, had the assumed Supreme Court strikedown not been a factor.

The public was soon put off by the militant tactics — especially the sit-down strikes — employed by the new unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which had broken away from the more conservative AFL. Roosevelt packed the NLRB with CIO partisans, which alienated both employers and the AFL.
...

When the Republicans won control of Congress in 1946, for the first time since the beginning of the Depression, they enacted the Labor-Management Relations Act (Taft-Hartley). President Truman vetoed it, calling it a “slave-labor bill,” but Congress overrode the veto. (Many believe that Truman expected and actually wanted his veto overridden. He saw that Taft-Hartley was a much-needed correction to the Wagner Act, and this way he could get it while still keeping the support of the AFL and CIO.)  Taft-Hartley did not go so far as to repeal the Wagner Act. Instead, it maintained its fundamental principles while prohibiting some of the most abusive union practices. Most important, it allowed states to adopt “right-to-work” laws prohibiting compulsory union membership. The nation’s labor markets adjusted to the new regime, until today private-sector union membership is about where it was before the Wagner Act.

When the Roberts Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in 2012, we found ourselves again saddled with an act that probably would not have passed at all, and certainly not in so radical a form, had not the president and Democrats in Congress resorted to every trick in the book to enact it. But the Court left enough openings to significantly curtail it. House Republicans have already taken some small steps, as when they repealed an arbitrary $2,000 cap on deductibles in small-business health-insurance plans.

Some have always been there — like allowing interstate competition in health insurance. (Ironically enough, the liberal New Deal Court invited Congress to do this in 1944, and it declined.) The Court has held that Congress cannot force the states to expand Medicaid, and some Republican governors have taken a stand here. Other provisions, such as the religious-freedom exemptions, also present possibilities. More will open up if and when the Republicans take control of the Senate; outright repeal will be a possibility only if and when they take the presidency, too. But we can still have a Taft-Hartley improvement in the meantime.

So there is historical precedent...

In an article titled  Reforming the Reform Kevin Williamson has some fun which also includes some historical perspective, after which he concludes:

You guys had your shot at this, and you passed the law — but you still managed to blow it. But there are more intelligent, market-based, consumer-driven alternatives, and they are ultimately what’s going to end up getting enacted. We’re here to help — whether you like it or not.

James Capretta and Yuval Levin offer their ideas about a transition to something better.  Their article Getting there: How to transition from Obamacare to real health care reform  begins with the following observations:

Obamacare—or at least the version of it that the president and his advisers currently think they can get away with putting into place—has been upending arrangements and reshuffling the deck in the health system since the beginning of the year. That’s when the new insurance rules, subsidies, and optional state Medicaid expansions went into effect. The law’s defenders say the changes that have been set in motion are irreversible, in large part because several million people are now covered by insurance plans sold through the exchanges, and a few million more are enrolled in Medicaid as a result of Obamacare. President Obama has stated repeatedly that these developments should effectively shut the door on further debate over the matter.

Of course, the president does not get to decide when public debates begin or end, and the public seems to be in no mood to declare the Obamacare case closed. Polling has consistently shown that more Americans oppose the law than support it, and that the opposition is far more intense than the support. The law is built on a foundation of dramatically expanded government power over the nation’s health system, which strikes many voters as a dangerous step toward more bureaucracy, less choice, higher costs, and lower quality care. The beginning of the law’s implementation does not appear to have eased these fears, and in some cases has exacerbated them.


In what is one of the better articles pursuing this theme,  How to Transcend Obamacare Avik Roy begins:

It turns out that repealing Obamacare is not our only hope for reversing the triumph of the entitlement state. Indeed, there may be an even better one.
...
We can learn two things from Switzerland and Singapore. First, that there are countries out there with freer health-care systems than our own. Second, that it is possible to have one of the freest economies in the world while also ensuring that every citizen has health insurance.


The impressive results of Switzerland and Singapore drive home a powerful message: that health care works best when individuals have more control over their own health spending. The Left can’t bring itself to believe this; there, it’s an article of faith that “disinterested” government experts will make better and more cost-efficient decisions for you than you would make for yourself.

But the examples of Switzerland and Singapore also drive home the problem with focusing solely on Obamacare. If we were to spend all our capital “repealing and replacing” Obamacare, we might not have enough left to tackle the real drivers of unsustainable single-payer health care in America: Medicare and Medicaid.
...
In short, migrating future retirees and low-income Americans onto exchanges could yield substantial benefits to the quality and cost of subsidized health coverage. But there’s no reason we should accept the Obamacare exchanges as they are.

 Instead of forcing Americans to buy insurance plans that they neither need nor want — the Obamacare way — we should convert the exchanges into real marketplaces, places where people can voluntarily buy coverage that is suited to them. We can do this by repealing Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates, and by rolling back the plethora of new federal regulations and tax hikes that make insurance more costly without improving its quality.
...
 More than four-fifths of Americans receive federally subsidized health insurance; in Switzerland, only about one-fifth do. That’s the difference between an entitlement leviathan (ours) and a true safety net (theirs).
...
 The good news is that we can do this. We can solve the problem that conservatives care about more than any other — that America is broke — while actually making the health-care system work better for everyone. The poor and the sick and the elderly will benefit from higher-quality, fiscally sustainable health coverage. And average tax-paying Americans will benefit from affordable insurance, lower long-term tax liabilities, and a consumer-driven health-care system that is centered around them rather than the bureaucracy.
...
It’s time for conservatives to bring Reagan’s lesson to health reform. Instead of waiting for Obamacare to fail, we should instead devote ourselves to liberating the entire U.S. health-care system from government control. If we do that, and demonstrate the value of our economic principles with tangible results, it won’t matter whether we have formally repealed Obamacare. We will have transcended it, and solved the most important policy problem of our time: that of unsustainable government spending. If we want our children and grandchildren to inherit the country we grew up in, we have no time to waste.

Returning to the conversation mentioned at the beginning of this post -

The main point was that we should probably not be overly gloomy.  After a bunch of struggles healthcare access and affordability will probably be much better 10-20 years hence, despite the law.  More importantly, there are many things happening in the healthcare and life sciences arenas that will allow for the kind of creative destruction that will improve things dramatically.  (To be addressed in a future post.)  I think this is the high probability scenario.  The progressives in their usual clueless manner  will of course think that their law brought this all about.  Then he replied, "that is what I'm afraid of."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How Much Is Being "Better Off" Worth?

The economist Don Boudreaux notes that Jonathan Gruber admits what many would like to keep hidden:
Obamacare’s chief academic architect, Jonathan Gruber, is caught on camera admitting frankly, and without remorse, that important parts of Obamacare were sold to the public under false pretenses.  Gruber does express regret that voters are afflicted with too much “stupidity” to enable them to see that such legislation is (or so believes Gruber) in their best interest.  But given this regrettable reality of the political process, deception is in order.  Deception and lies and duplicity are proper.
So now I'm allegedly better off regarding my healthcare, but to get there, I had to be held with contempt as being stupid, lied to, and deceived.  Well, guess what?  The negative value to me of being thought stupid, lied to, and deceived by those with violence at their disposal to force me to do what they want far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far exceeds any possible benefits that might accrue from Obamacare, even if those benefits are substantial.

In other words, being made "Better Off" by folks like Gruber has made me worse off.

Boudreaux concludes his Gruber post with:
So Jonathan Gruber simply admits that the very process that people on the left romanticize and celebrate – democratic politics – isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  Of course, libertarians and public-choice scholars say the same.  The difference between the Jonathan Grubers of the world and the [libertarian scholars such as the] Russ Robertses and Bryan Caplans of the world is that the former believe that politics is still commendable as long as good, smart people (such as Gruber) are performing deceptions necessary to trick voters into supporting policies that good, smart people somehow divine are best for the masses, while the latter believe that the very need to deceive rationally ignorant (indeed, rationally irrational) voters is itself a major flaw in politics – a flaw that makes politics far less reliable and admirable than competitive, private markets.
 The arrogance of the Grubers of the world is what forces me firmly into the libertarian camp.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Narrative, the Narrative, the Narrative

Earlier this year history professor author Fred Siegel released an interesting and surprisingly good book titled,  The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class.  The introduction begins:
This short book rewrites the history of modern American liberalism. It shows that what we think of liberalism today – the top and bottom coalition we associate with President Obama - began not with Progressivism or the New Deal but rather in the wake of the post-WWI disillusionment with American society. In the twenties, the first writers and thinkers to call themselves liberals adopted the hostility to bourgeois life that had long characterized European intellectuals of both the left and the right. The aim of liberalism’s foundational writers and thinkers such as Herbert Croly, Randolph Bourne, H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis and H.L Mencken was to create an American aristocracy of sorts, to provide a sense of hierarchy and order associated with European statism.

Like communism, Fabianism, and fascism, modern liberalism, critical of both capitalism and democracy, was born of a new class of politically self-conscious intellectuals. They despised both the individual businessman's pursuit of profit and the conventional individual's pursuit of pleasure, both of which were made possible by the lineaments of the limited nineteenth-century state.
The introduction concludes:


Liberalism, as a search for status, is sufficiently adaptable that even in failure, self-satisfaction trumps self-examination. As the critic Edmund Wilson noted without irony, the liberal (or “progressive reformer,” in his term) has “evolved a psychological mechanism which enables him to turn moral judgments against himself into moral judgments against society.”  This is a book about the inner life of American liberalism over the past ninety years and its love affair with its own ambitions and emotional impulses. Liberals believe that they deserve more power because they act on behalf of people's best interests – even if the darn fools don't know it.   (emphasis mine)
Thanks for demonstrating this so well Mr. Gruber:
“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” says the MIT economist who helped write Obamacare. “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”
Mr. Driscoll concludes:  "The left have displayed enormous condescension to voters in recent years; lying is merely one manifestation of that. And they wonder why they got clobbered last week."



The concluding chapter contains the following passage:
Liberalism, argued Herbert Croly and his heirs, rested on “disinterestedness.”   Experts and intellectuals could be trusted, their theory held, because, unlike the Jeffersonian small-business owners, they weren't motivated by narrow self-interest. But with the expansions of the Great Society and onward, much of the public came to see politicians in general and liberals in particular as engaged in the self-interested business of expanding government expressly to secure policies and privileges for themselves and their supporters. The growing importance of public-sector unions has greatly increased the sense that government has gone into business for itself.

In addition to dealing with increasingly complex and burdensome tax and regulatory regimes economic actors must contend with a bureaucracy and elected officials that have become practically parasitic.  Even when this problem was less pronounced, there were still limits to how much of a positive role the state could play.  As the story is usually told, there is a statist bias with many private actors being unfairly vilified.  Many such examples are in evidence in an old post titled revisiting economic history . (If you haven't seen this post before you might want to give it some attention.) Some of the portrayals are blatantly misleading others are more subtle.  Economic history is not the only area of inquiry  where the conventional wisdom is transmitted through very questionable story-lines. 



Returning to The Revolt Against the Masses, in a chapter titled Three Trials, the author provides the following (excerpts):


No one incident or event contributed more to the self-understanding of liberals or the way they conceived of their political rivals over the past half century than the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” or more precisely the version of the trial rendered in the wake of McCarthyism by the 1955 Broadway hit Inherit the Wind.
...

Beginning in the 1950s, the play Inherit the Wind and the two film versions of the stage production suffused the liberal imagination.
...

In the dramatized version of the case, which took considerable liberties with the historical record, the trial was initiated when Scopes, a high school biology teacher, was dragged out of his classroom by a mob and thrown into jail. In reality, as historian Edward Larson showed in his scrupulous rendering of the case based on primary sources, there was no mob, nor was there a jailing. Evolution had long been part of the Tennessee high school curriculum, and there had been no attempt to enforce the symbolic law – the Butler Act – that barred its teaching. In an era when science was seen as wondrous, this law was meant more as a matter of symbolism than substance. It was a period in which eugenics, which had first been introduced by Darwin's cousin Francis Galton, won strong support from liberals who supported both family planning and economic planning. Thirty-five states had enacted laws to restrain the ability of the genetically “unfit” to reproduce themselves.

The case was a contrivance from the outset. The American Civil Liberties Union, founded in the wake of WWI's repression, had initiated the case, which it saw as an opportunity to repeal the Butler Act while also making a name for itself. The ACLU ran newspaper ads across the state looking for a teacher who would be willing to cooperate with them in challenging the state law. They needed a defendant who would agree to be tried for violating the Butler Act. The town fathers of Dayton envisioned the trial as a potential boon that could put them on the map, and they convinced Scopes, a local high school teacher, to intentionally incriminate himself so that he would quality as a defendant and the state's case could go forward. His arrest was a friendly affair arranged by local boosters as a prelude to the show, which would make history by being the first trial broadcast on radio.
...

Mencken, who wrote about the trial for the Baltimore Sun, gilded the liberal disdain for Bryan by depicting him as a buffoonish bigot and the “idol of morondom.” Mencken, a eugenicist, despised Bryan as a demagogue “animated by the ambition of a common man to get his thumb into their eyes.” He mocked the locals as “Babbits,” “morons,” “peasants,” and “yokels,” which, to be fair, was no less caustic than his usual characterizations of the immigrant masses.

Bryan saw the Scopes trial as in part a matter of self-government. The trial, he wrote, raised the question of “whether the people...have a right to control the educational system which they have created and which they tax themselves to support.” By contrast, Mencken saw the trial, and Bryan in particular, as the living proof of why democracy was a despicable form of government. Mencken's Notes on Democracy (1926) argued that democracy was both impossible and undesirable. Kaiser Wilhelm II, by then dethroned, praised the book highly, but a friend sighed that he wished Mencken hadn't written it, “because it reveals too much about him.” It was a tedious, repetitious performance by an intellectual vaudevillian whose writing never rose above his resentments.

But Bryan, Mencken's avatar of dreadful democracy, was far from a bigoted provincial man. A well-read world traveler, Bryan had read On the Origin of Species in 1905 and had engaged in an ongoing debate about the book with eugenicist Henry Fairfield Osborn, the president of the American Museum of Natural History. The Great Commoner treated his talented wife as a partner and decried the sin of religious prejudice. He roundly criticized his supporters who attributed his 1908 defeat at the hands of William Howard Taft to a Catholic conspiracy, and he would later take Henry Ford publicly to task for publishing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
...

Regardless of what happened in Dayton, the effect of the case was clear: European-like divisions, largely absent thus far in America, opened up between science and revealed religion – it was a chasm never to be closed. Absent the Scopes controversy, some of the fundamentalists might have drifted into the position already adopted by a few of their leaders that evolution was but another name for God's creation.
...

After Scopes, and the case's revival with Inherit the Wind, fundamentalists were seen by many Americans as not just wrong about evolution, which was clear enough, but so psychologically deranged that they needed to be barred from the public square.

The irony of the Scopes trial, notes historian Michael Kazin, was that it led liberals to tag Bryan, who in many ways was a proto-New Dealer, as a “right-wing authoritarian.” At the same time, it helped position Mencken – the rabidly anti-democratic and sometimes anti-Semitic supporter of eugenics who admired both the Kaiser and 1930s Germany – as “the champion of liberalism.” But this is less of an irony than it appears to Kazin. Modern liberalism, before, during, and since the New Deal, has been based in large measure on Croly's “exceptional fellow countrymen,” the professionals who feel contempt or pity for the unwashed and who are resentful that many business people are better off than they are. Bryan's humiliation became a central event in the liberal story of modern America; it linked together the post-WWI persecutions by rednecks, the execution of Saco and Vanzetti, and Sinclair Lewis's ever-popular It Can't Happen Here, the 1935 novel in which a Bryan-like leader established a dictatorship in America. It's a story whose echoes can still be heard during dinner-table conversations in America's hipper precincts.


I repeatedly hear about "the narrative" from my progressive friends.  My question is, "do you care how much in your story is fiction and how much is non-fiction?"  Even more than what is written in a history book, movies, plays and novels shape the culture.  As Breitbart observed and Lawrence Meyers explains, politics is downstream from culture.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The new Birchers

Over the last few months on several occasions I have thought about a quote or misquote commonly attributed to Eric Hoffer:

Up to now, America has not been a good milieu for the rise of a mass movement. What starts out here as a mass movement ends up as a racket, a cult, or a corporation.
  • Frequently misquoted as "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket."
 
For example: the civil rights movement, feminism and environmentalism all seem to have degenerated from what were once valid approaches to noble goals.

Ed Driscoll has his own take on the matter:

The modern left is built around a trio of laudable principles: protecting the environment is good, racism is bad, and so is demonizing a person over his or her sexual preferences. (In the chapter of his book Intellectuals titled “The Flight from Reason,” Paul Johnson wrote that “At the end of the Second World War, there was a significant change in the predominant aim of secular intellectuals, a shift of emphasis from utopianism to hedonism.” ) But just as the Bircher right began to see communists everywhere, the new Bircher left sees racism, sexism, homophobia, and Koch Brothers everywhere.

They’re lurking around more corners than Gen. Ripper imagined there were commies lurking inside Burpelson Air Force Base. They’re inside your video games! They own NFL teams! They’ll steal your condoms! Disagree with President Obama? Racist! (That goes for you too, Bill, Hillary, and your Democratic supporters.) Not onboard for gender-neutral bathrooms? Not too thrilled with abortion-obsessed candidates like Wendy Davis and “Mark Uterus”? Sexist! Disagree with using global warming as a cudgel to usher in the brave new world of bankrupt coal companies and $10 a gallon gasoline? Climate denier!

And as with the original Birchers, don’t get ‘em started on fluoride.
The original Birchers weren’t bad people, but their Cold War paranoia got the better of them. Similarly, as Charles Krauthammer famously said, “To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil,” which illustrates how a John Birch-style worldview can cause the modern leftists to take an equally cracked view of his fellow countrymen, to the point of writing off entire states and genders:

...

The John Birch left? I think it’s a phrase whose time has come...

Seems pretty apt.


Friday, November 07, 2014

Congrats to Republicans, I Guess

The Republicans emerged victorious in the midterm elections, meeting or exceeding expectations at pretty much all levels of government where there was a contest.  The map below depicts the outcome for the House of Representatives.

So, with all my criticisms of Obama and the Democrats, am I thrilled? No, not at all.  My observations of politics is that a Democrat controlled government does a miserable job and is voted out and replaced by Republicans who do a horrendous job who are then voted out and replaced by Democrats and the cycle begins again and repeats over and over.  So now we've just entered a different part of the vicious cycle. Not much reason for hope, with me leaning more towards nope.

It is striking to me, though, just how much land area is controlled by Republicans.  Except for tiny slivers of densely populated areas and a couple rare exceptions, the vast majority of the country by area is Republican dominated. The Democrats call it "fly-over country," but really, it's the country.

I have become more convinced over time that the type of government(s) needed for highly populated areas is simply different from the type of government(s) needed for less densely populated areas.  So it's not that there's something the matter with Kansas, but simply it has different cultural and political needs than New York City because of the variance in population density.  Once again, that points to federalism being potentially beneficial, enabling each area to build its political structure according to its needs.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Progressivism in a Paragraph

Without a hint of irony, progressives, fundamentalists to the core, excoriate those who believe in other religions while being completely blind to their own:

If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter. Lenin believed this after reading Das Kapital, and consistently taught that if a just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society could be created by the means he advocated, then the end justified any methods that needed to be used, literally any.
(Link)

For abundant proof: Here. And here.

Or just wade through the merde that is any comment thread on any progressive blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Probably Trending Upwards

My wife claimed that school shootings in the United States are on the rise and she's right [source]:



I was surprised because I had last looked at this in 2002, three years after the Columbine incident, and at that point there was clearly no statistical trend.  Even throwing out the outliers, there probably is one now.

But, before we freak out collectively and totally, remember that there are nearly 50 million students in the United States, making the probability of dying in a school shooting less than one-in-a-million for a student in a given year.

Now Tell Us How You Really Feel

From a Q&A about "The Bell Curve" on its 20th anniversary with author Charles Murray:
Reflecting on the legacy of “The Bell Curve,” what stands out to you? 
...The reaction to “The Bell Curve” exposed a profound corruption of the social sciences that has prevailed since the 1960s. “The Bell Curve” is a relentlessly moderate book — both in its use of evidence and in its tone — and yet it was excoriated in remarkably personal and vicious ways, sometimes by eminent academicians who knew very well they were lying. Why? Because the social sciences have been in the grip of a political orthodoxy that has had only the most tenuous connection with empirical reality, and too many social scientists think that threats to the orthodoxy should be suppressed by any means necessary. Corruption is the only word for it. 
Now that I’ve said that, I’m also thinking of all the other social scientists who have come up to me over the years and told me what a wonderful book “The Bell Curve” is. But they never said it publicly. So corruption is one thing that ails the social sciences. Cowardice is another. [emphasis added]
Well, after all, social science is not rocket science. I found the whole interview interesting.

Oh Good! Another Excuse...

...to do what I would've done anyway - eat a lot of chocolate:
Science edged closer on Sunday to showing that an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose with age.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Is It True?

Every once in a while I read some mainstream blurb that I find truly incomprehensible and because it's mainstream, shows me just how out-of-touch I am sitting here in my little bubble.  Here's the latest such blurb from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton:
Don't let anybody tell you that it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly. One of the things my husband says when people ask him what he brought to Washington, he says I brought arithmetic.
So do businesses really not create jobs when they decide to hire additional employees?  If so, what would you call the process of hiring additional employees? If there were no businesses, would there be more jobs than there are now? What does trickle-down economics have to do with that anyway? Is it even possible to "try" a theory? For example, would it make sense to "try" the theory of evolution and, if so, how would you do that? When asked what he brought to Washington, does Bill really answer, "My wife brought arithmetic...?" Is that not a nonsensical response to the question?

She's going to be the next President of the United States and leader of the world and I can't figure out what the hell she's talking about.  Help me out here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Looks that way to me

In a column earlier this year titled  Days of Future Past  Jonah Goldberg included this:
All around the world, authoritarianism of one bent or another is in vogue. From Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt to Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the Communist party’s China, statism is an idea whose time has come, again. “Over the past few months,” New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote recently, “we’ve seen the beginning of a global battle of regimes, an intellectual contest between centralized authoritarian capitalism and decentralized liberal democratic capitalism.”

Of course, the yearning for authoritarianism is ancient. I would argue that it is baked into the human condition, which is why it must be constantly fought. But even this latest outbreak did not just emerge ex nihilo over the last few months. The heavy intellectual work has been done in plain view for years (indeed, I offer something of a survey of such impulses in my 2008 book Liberal Fascism). How many columns has Thomas Friedman written extolling the superiority of the Chinese way? “There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy,” Friedman has written, “and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.”

How many times has Barack Obama, Friedman’s most influential reader, invoked China’s economic planning as something we need to emulate? How many remoras of the Leviathan have offered similar encomiums to statism? “The conservative-preferred, free-market fundamentalist, shareholder-only model — so successful in the 20th century — is being thrown onto the trash heap of history in the 21st century,” declared former SEIU president Andy Stern in the Wall Street Journal in 2011.

Again, this is nothing new. Similar sentences were written countless times in the 20th century, insisting that the free-market fundamentalism of the 19th century was being thrown onto the same trash heap. Anne Morrow Lindbergh famously coined the phrase “wave of the future” to describe the inevitability of collectivism in 1940. The lesson here is not that history proved them wrong, because history doesn’t do anything. They were proved wrong because people proved them wrong.

That is the lesson to take away: The wave of the future isn’t a wave at all, but an eternal tide that champions of freedom must fight against, constantly. For if they stop, even briefly, the tide will push them back to the shores of the natural human condition, and the state of nature is not liberal-democratic capitalism but tribal, thuggish authoritarianism. On this point Orban was absolutely right. “The point of the future is that anything can happen,” he said. “That means it could easily be that our time will come.”
 
In another column title  Freedom  he made the point: 
It’s a little bizarre how the Left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos, or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

That phrase, “the wave of the future,” became famous thanks to a 1940 essay by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She argued that the time of liberal democratic capitalism was drawing to a close and the smart money was on statism of one flavor or another — fascism, Communism, socialism, etc. What was lost on her, and millions of others, was that this wasn’t progress toward the new, but regression to the past. These “waves of the future” were simply gussied-up tribalisms, anachronisms made gaudy with the trappings of modernity, like a gibbon in a spacesuit.

The only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years is this libertarian idea, broadly understood. The revolution wrought by John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and the Founding Fathers is the only real revolution going. And it’s still unfolding. (emphasis mine)

Blogger Bird Dog at Maggie's Farm  excerpted the following from Klaven  
Whatever its pretensions, whatever its claims, statism — progressivism, leftism, socialism — is based on the idea that a small elite intelligentsia can run your life better than you can. They know how to spend your money. They know how to educate your children. They know how to run your health care. They know how to protect you from yourself.

You do not have to talk to a statist very long before he will profess an intense dislike, distrust and even fear of ordinary people. Ordinary people spend money on what they want (TV’s restaurants and cars) rather than what the elite know they ought to want (aluminum foil climate change reversers). Ordinary people teach their children that God created the world rather than a random pattern of mathematic realities that came into being through another random pattern that came…  well, the elite know: it’s random patterns all the way down! Ordinary people will give jobs and business to those who earn them rather than those the elite, in their greater understanding, know are historically deserving because of past oppression. And so on.

Now, of course, with the very elite of the elite running the country, we find that — what do you know? — this statism dodge doesn’t really work all that well. And there are two reasons for this. The first is that the statist premise is wrong. In fact, ordinary people left at liberty to do as they will are actually better at running their lives and businesses and country than the geniuses in Washington. Central planning works great in the imaginations of the elite, but in the real world…  not so much.

And the second problem is that the elite are stupid. No, really. They’re educated and sophisticated and they dress well and speak well. They may even have high IQs. But in the immortal words of Forrest Gump’s mother: “Stupid is as stupid does.” And the elite are stupid.

 Even though I have plenty of friends who would consider themselves part of the elite, the ideas expressed above nail it!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fragile knowledge

In an interesting article published last year, social psychologist Roy Baumeister addressed the question of free will.  After making a few clarifications he introduced a point made by Phillip Anderson: 
 There is no need to insist that free will is some kind of magical violation of causality. Free will is just another kind of cause. The causal process by which a person decides whether to marry is simply different from the processes that cause balls to roll downhill, ice to melt in the hot sun, a magnet to attract nails, or a stock price to rise and fall.
 
Different sciences discover different kinds of causes. Phillip Anderson, who won the Nobel Prize in physics, explained this beautifully several decades ago in a brief article titled “More is different.” Physics may be the most fundamental of the sciences, but as one moves up the ladder to chemistry, then biology, then physiology, then psychology, and on to economics and sociology—at each level, new kinds of causes enter the picture.

As Anderson explained, the things each science studies cannot be fully reduced to the lower levels, but they also cannot violate the lower levels. Our actions cannot break the laws of physics, but they can be influenced by things beyond gravity, friction, and electromagnetic charges. No number of facts about a carbon atom can explain life, let alone the meaning of your life. These causes operate at different levels of organization. Even if you could write a history of the Civil War purely in terms of muscle movements or nerve cell firings, that (very long and dull) book would completely miss the point of the war. Free will cannot violate the laws of physics or even neuroscience, but it invokes causes that go beyond them.

This reminds me of a point made in a TV interview by the late Richard Feynman back in the early 1980s.  His point was that most people have fragile knowledge. They do not know under what conditions some ideas are valid and when they are not, analogous to some mathematical techniques being applicable in limited domains.  They also don't know how ideas in general or in specific different fields relate to each other.  He also added the there were many pseudo-experts that were practising scientism rather than science.


Mr. Baumeister continues:
If culture is so successful, why don’t other species use it? They can’t—because they lack the psychological innate capabilities it requires. Our ancestors evolved the ability to act in the ways necessary for culture to succeed. Free will likely will be found right there—it’s what enables humans to control their actions in precisely the ways required to build and operate complex social systems.

What psychological capabilities are needed to make cultural systems work? To be a member of a group with culture, people must be able to understand the culture’s rules for actions, including moral principles and formal laws. They need to be able to talk about their choices with others, participate in group decisions, and carry out their assigned role. Culture can bring immense benefits, from cooked rice to the iPhone, but it only works if people cooperate and obey the rules.
Returning to the matter of free will, he concludes:
Self-control counts as a kind of freedom because it begins with not acting on every impulse. The simple brain acts whenever something triggers a response: A hungry creature sees food and eats it. The most recently evolved parts of the human brain have an extensive mechanism for overriding those impulses, which enables us to reject food when we’re hungry, whether it’s because we’re dieting, vegetarian, keeping kosher, or mistrustful of the food. Self-control furnishes the possibility of acting from rational principles rather than acting on impulse.

The use of abstract ideas such as moral principles to guide action takes us far beyond anything that you will find in a physics or chemistry textbook, and so we are free in the sense of emergence, of going beyond simpler forms of causality. Again, we cannot break the laws of physics, but we can act in ways that add new causes that go far beyond physical causation. No electron understands the Golden Rule, and indeed an exhaustive study of any given atom will furnish no clue as to whether it is part of a person who is obeying or disobeying that rule. The economic laws of supply and demand are genuine causes, but they cannot be reduced to or fully explained by chemical reactions. Understanding free will in this way allows us to reconcile the popular understanding of free will as making choices with our scientific understanding of the world.

Reiterating an earlier point:  "Physics may be the most fundamental of the sciences, but as one moves up the ladder to chemistry, then biology, then physiology, then psychology, and on to economics and sociology—at each level, new kinds of causes enter the picture."  The increasing complexity as one moves up that ladder has important implications in the policy arena.  As someone said:
It just goes to show that it's a lot easier to pull off impressive feats of rocket engineering than social engineering.  And yet the saying is "it's not rocket science" when implying something isn't all that difficult. Shouldn't it be, "It's not social science?" 
Indeed!



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Congrats to India

India now has a satellite orbiting Mars:
India put a satellite into Mars orbit early Wednesday, the only nation to have done so on a maiden voyage and the first in Asia to reach the red planet.
 And unbelievably inexpensively too!
Mangalyaan, Hindi for Mars craft, cost $74 million ... [Prime Minister] Modi boasted in June that India had spent less than Hollywood had on producing the film “Gravity” to reach the red planet.
A second cost comparison is that $74 million could buy you (or them) about 50 cruise missiles.  The per mile cost is stunningly inexpensive; as Tyler Cowen points out, the mission was cheaper per mile than a cab ride in Delhi.

It just goes to show that it's a lot easier to pull off impressive feats of rocket engineering than social engineering.  And yet the saying is "it's not rocket science" when implying something isn't all that difficult. Shouldn't it be, "It's not social science?"

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Brouhaha in a Bottle

As is not atypical for me, I'm going to rush in where angels fear to tread and write about the somewhat recent uproar over a Forbes column by Bill Frezza titled "Drunk Female Guests Are The Gravest Threat To Fraternities."  I'd love to provide a link to the article, but I can't. Why?  Because shortly after it appeared, "[t]he column was almost immediately jerked from the site, and Frezza, who has written for Forbes since 2011, was summarily fired."  So the best I can do is provide a link to a different site that has apparently kept Frezza's column's contents around in order to criticize it.

I'm writing about this because Frezza is "president of the alumni house corporation of [his] MIT fraternity" and since I went to MIT and was in a fraternity (the coolest one ever, of course!), the topic is somewhat near and dear to my heart.

Frezza's title is clearly not the most politically correct thing ever written.  It's also not quite accurate. The gravest threat to fraternities is the problem that they are comprised of young, adult(ish) males who, more than occasionally, do really, really stupid things, as they have since the emergence of our species (and probably long before).  However, that problem can only be fixed by either eliminating fraternities, which would just mean the young males would just go elsewhere to be stupid, or eliminating males entirely, which might be bad for the species.

Frezza may, however, have correctly identified drunken females as a threat to fraternities, even if not the primary threat.  For example,
A recent incident at MIT’s Lambda Chi Alpha chapter in which a drunk female student apparently danced her way out of a window has, once again, resulted in a clamp-down on all fraternity parties.
Frezza's advice is, unsurprisingly, very, very fraternity-centric. After all, that's his job.  His advice includes things like:

  • Don't let male or female drunks into a party.
  • If someone at a party seems drunk and out-of-control, ask them to leave, pay for a cab to take them home, and if they refuse to leave, call the campus police to escort them away.
  • "Never, ever take a drunk female guest to your bedroom."
  • "Do not let a drunk brother take a drunk female to his bedroom."
Sounds like sound advice to me.  In fact, when I read his piece, I didn't notice any advice that I wouldn't advise my old frat to follow as well.

However, it didn't sound like sound advice to the folks who complained to Forbes and caused Frezza to be fired. For example, Austin Hess, the editor of MIT's student newspaper, The Tech, minced no words in responding:
Frezza’s sentiments are certainly not original — thinly veiled victim blaming is pervasive from students to politicians and sadly common among both men and women. What is far more troubling, however, is that he presents almost without pretense the fact that he cares far more about preventing the dissolution of his fraternity than preventing whatever sort of accident or incident that would cause such an outcome. [...]
An actual line: “Although we were once reprimanded for turning away a drunk female student who ultimately required an ambulance when she passed out on our sidewalk, it would have gone a lot worse for us had she collapsed inside.”
Portraying it this way, it seems that Austin also doesn't much care about "preventing whatever sort of accident or incident that would cause such an outcome."  Clearly he should be calling for changing the rules to NOT screw the fraternity if a drunken woman passes out on the premises since that would likely be better than her passing out on the street.  Then she wouldn't have been turned away.
I am somewhat glad the piece was published, after all, because it provides a grotesque caricature of the entrenched proponents of sexism more poignantly than any Onion article.
To me, the sentence above provides a grotesque caricature of "right thinking" and therefore, non-thinking, people.
But the fact that Frezza ever became the alumni president of Chi Phi begs troubling questions. 
Is Frezza’s concern for preventing suspension over preventing rape or fatal accidents shared by others in the MIT fraternity system?
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. To me, Frezza's advice is very, very focused on preventing rape, sexual assault, unwanted advances, regret the morning after, and so forth. Let me repeat his advice: don't let drunks in, kick out-of-control drunk people out, don't take drunk girls to your room, don't let drunk brothers take girls to their rooms. Prevent rape, prevent suspension. Pretty straightforward.

Now let's backtrack and consider the title of The Tech article: "Can fraternities be feminist?"
Is it unreasonable to hope that fraternities adopt a strong stance — internally and externally — in favor of feminism? Not merely in platitudes and public statements, but in real, measurable actions?
Yes, it's very unreasonable, in my opinion. Organizations have primary missions and need to focus on those and leave other missions to their individual members and other organizations.  For example, the NRA doesn't take in homeless cats, the Bonsai Club doesn't host race car rallies, the Harry Potter Club doesn't maintain a fleet of yachts, etc. And none of those organizations are feminist either, though many of their individual members probably are. It is unreasonable for one of a fraternity's primary missions to be a feminist organization. Just keeping their members safe, doing well in school, and out of trouble is more than a sufficiently large agenda for fraternities.

I'm also lost as to which parts of Frezza's advice are sexist anyway? Why is worrying about possible events that may well cause suspension and dissolution of a fraternity sexist? Why is it bad or sexist to not take drunk girls to your room?  Why is it bad or sexist to not let drunks in the door (the message seems clear to me - you want to come to our party? Then don't come drunk - and that's a very positive message)? Why is it bad or sexist for an organization to make survival a top priority. Why is it the job of a fraternity to ensure that other people don't get drunk when not on its premises? Why is it the job of a fraternity to take care of people who got drunk illegally not on its premises? Why doesn't the author of The Tech article drive around in his car on weekend nights looking for drunken students in order to rescue them?  Why isn't it his job?

I have so many questions that my head is spinning (and no, I'm not drunk). I've never been so confused as I am by the reactions to Frezza and his article.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Ultimate Insurance

There have been recent breaches of White House security and the New York Times notes that:
...even opposition lawmakers who have spent the last six years fighting his every initiative have expressed deep worry for his security.
As an example of such an opposition lawmaker:
“The American people want to know: Is the president safe?” Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican committee chairman who has made it his mission to investigate all sorts of Obama administration missteps, solemnly intoned as he opened a hearing into the lapses on Tuesday.
The Times article's author seems to find it unlikely that the feelings are genuine:
...it would not be all that surprising if Mr. Obama were a little wary of all the professed sympathy.
But whether or not you think Republicans would normally secretly (or overtly) wish for the President to be assassinated, you have to remember that Obama has something no liberal president has ever had, an insurance policy so powerful and so comprehensive, that no sane person (and/or Republican) would ever consider, even for a nanosecond, intentionally killing Obama.  And that something can be summed up in one word: Biden.

Monday, September 29, 2014

There is a Great Deal of Rot in a County

That the police shooting in Ferguson sparked riots isn't news to anyone.

I use the term "sparked" advisedly. Regardless of the facts of the shooting, which no one other than Officer Wilson knows for sure, it only brought to a boil black anger that had been long simmering.

For good reasons, it seems.

The Washington Post's Radley Balko filed an extensive story in the Washington Post about how many city governments were, and largely still are, victimizing their citizens.

Some quotes:

There are 90 municipalities in St. Louis County, and more in the surrounding counties. All but a few have their own police force, mayor, city manager and town council, and 81 have their own municipal court.



Some of the towns in St. Louis County can derive 40 percent or more of their annual revenue from the petty fines and fees collected by their municipal courts.



Local officials, scholars, and activists say that whatever happened between Brown and Wilson, St. Louis County’s unique political geography, heightened class-consciousness, and the regrettable history that created both have made the St. Louis suburbs especially prone to a Ferguson-like eruption.



Sales taxes are the primary source of revenue in most St. Louis County municipalities. Wealthier areas naturally see more retail sales, so the more affluent towns tend to be less reliant on municipal courts to generate revenue. In recent years a state pool was established to distribute sales taxes more evenly, but existing towns were permitted to opt out. Most did, of course. Perversely, this means that the collection of poorer towns stacked up along the east-west byways are far more reliant on municipal court revenues. That means they face much stronger incentives to squeeze their residents with fines, despite the fact that the residents of these towns are the people who are least likely to have the money to pay those fines, the least likely to have an attorney to fight the fines on their behalf, and for whom the consequences of failing to pay the fines can be the most damaging.

Clearly, there are certain things that need government: laws and their enforcement chief among them. Yet St. Louis county seems to be laced with town governments that have gone well beyond the necessary to the parasitic.

How did this come to be?

[Note: what follows is my summary of Balko's writing]

White flight, enforced first by race-restrictive deeds, then segregation, real estate pacts, and finally zoning laws. To keep blacks out, subdivisions incorporate themselves into towns, then these towns zoned themselves as R-1, barring construction of multi-unit public and low income housing.

St Louis county became a hop-scotch of whites building new subdivisions, zoning them into towns, and blacks eventually moving in, and whites out to build new subdivisions.

Consequently, there is a proliferation of town government overhead, each one of which is supported largely, particularly in poorer towns, by property taxes. So, in order to support the metastasis of bureaucracy, the town governments became parasitic: where property and sales taxes weren't sufficient, they turned to, essentially, extortionate legal impositions.

In the towns along the interstate and east-west highways, where blacks have been a majority for a longer period of time, they have much more representation in city government. But these are the same parts of the county where … there are just too many towns, too many municipal governments, too many municipal employees, and not enough revenue to support them. It doesn’t seem to matter whether those employees are black or white, they’re a legacy of segregation and structural racism, so they’re still reliant on extracting fines and fees from their residents in order to function. If anything, they’re more reliant on those fees, since there isn’t enough wealth to generate sufficient revenue from property and sales taxes.

The municipal parasitism, particularly in poorer communities, creates self-reinforcing cycles of fines upon fines; imposition upon imposition.

“There are incidents of police brutality here, like anywhere else,” says Harvey [a lawyer representing poor defendants]. “But the anger in Ferguson was driven by something much more common and pervasive. It’s the day to day harassment and degradation that this system creates.”

Balko's story has, for my tastes, too many emotive personal stories, and rather ignores that some of the things these people were arrested for were, by any measure, crimes: there are reasons for laws prohibiting driving unlicensed, unregistered, and uninsured.

That aside, I was getting pretty angry myself by the end of the article. No doubt, these people made poor decisions. Fine. But when municipalities pile on like they have, concerned far more with their own perpetuation than worried about leeching their citizens, then hostility shouldn't come as a surprise.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Stop the Insanity

A few weeks ago I did a first rate job of lacerating one of my fingers on a broken piece of glass. Since, absent direct pressure, the thing wouldn't stop leaking at a rather dismaying rate, there was nothing for it but the ER.

Over the course of three hours, a nurse stared at it appreciatively for a few seconds. A med tech spent a few minutes setting up a tray of what was mostly clearly identifiable as medical paraphernalia; the rest like it belonged at a quilting contest. An actual doc took fifteen minutes to douse the wound with mercurochrome, which is exactly as painful as it sounds; jabbing the area with a novocaine loaded hypodermic, which made me forget about the mercurochrome; then putting in four stitches, one of which was outside the novocaine's sphere of influence, but did have the benefit of making me forget about the mercurochrome and the hypodermic.

Got the bill last week: $1,115.

YGBSM. There is no way the cost of goods and services my accidental experiment in self-mutilation got anywhere close to that. If the doc's cost of employment was $500 per hour, with the nurse and the tech coming in at $100 each, then the services cost at a half hour total time was $350. I'll round it up to $500. In any sane world, the thread, novocaine, mercurochrome, and that wrist band thing would come to approximately chump change.

Where the hel* is the rest of it going?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Long Winded Manual

I've often criticized the massively long bits of legislation like Obamacare that exceeded 2,000 pages and made it so "[w]e have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it."

But it turns out the Obamacare documents are puny relative to a reference manual I've recently had the opportunity (misfortune?) to encounter.  For one of our robot projects, we're using a small inexpensive Single Board Computer (SBC) called the BeagleBone Black, which retails for about $50.  On the BeagleBone Black, the processor is the Texas Instruments AM3358 Sitara System on a Chip (SOC) which retails for a little over $10.



The AM335x Sitara™ Processors Technical Reference Manual for this $10 chip is a whopping 4,966 pages!  I cringe to consider how long the manual for a $500 Intel chip is these days.  I do wonder, if like Obamacare, they had to build the chip to see what was in it!

The reason I was engaged in this light reading was that I was trying to figure out how to set the duty-cycle on the PWM subsystems and right there on page 2,329 was the information I needed:
The value in the active CMPA register is continuously compared to the time-base counter (TBCNT).
When the values are equal, the counter-compare module generates a "time-base counter equal to counter compare A" event.
This event is sent to the action-qualifier where it is qualified and converted it into one or more actions.
Unfortunately, I didn't realize that was what I was looking for as the term "duty-cycle" doesn't appear anywhere.  So I gave up trying to decipher the multi-thousand page manual and instead, I downloaded the source for the linux operating system and in /arm-kernel/linux-dev/KERNEL/drivers/pwm/pwm-tiehrpwm.c there appeared something much easier to understand:

 if (pwm->hwpwm == 1)
  /* Channel 1 configured with compare B register */
  cmp_reg = CMPB;
 else
  /* Channel 0 configured with compare A register */
  cmp_reg = CMPA;

 ehrpwm_write(pc->mmio_base, cmp_reg, duty_cycles);

It's so simple! Just write duty_cycles to cmp_reg, which is either CMPA or CMPB depending on which channel you want to control.  A quick search showed that CMPA has an offset of 12 (hex) and voila, I had all the information I needed!  How exciting! (The sad part is that I really do find that exciting; perhaps you now understand why I so rarely write about technical topics).

I guess that's why I consider English to be my second language, with C being my native tongue, as it's easier for me to search through many tens of thousands of lines of code than to read a handful of pages in a manual to figure something out.  C (and math) are so wonderfully precise while English is mostly gobbledygook as far as I can tell.

Back to the processor. The reason the manual is so long is that the Sitara chip has a lot of random stuff. For example, I imagine that the PWM subsystem I'm using would qualify as random stuff to most people.  The chip has 3 such subsystems to control 3 motors and in this project I'm working on, it coincidentally turns out that I need to control 3 motors.  What are the odds of that?

The chip has all this stuff, but you can only access a fraction of the stuff at any given time.  For example, you can either access the PWM stuff or you can hook up a monitor, but not both.  So most normal people can use this board as an everyday Linux computer (Linux comes pre-installed) with their monitor, keyboard and mouse connected and I can control motors but we can't do both.  No matter what, a large part of any given chip remains unused.

All those logic gates sitting idle.  I find that painful.  A logic gate is a terrible thing to waste!

Yet I can see how it makes sense.  By throwing everything but the kitchen sink onto this chip, they make it so versatile that a lot of people can use it for a lot of different things and that pushes the manufacturing volumes up which pushes the cost down. $50 for a Gigahertz Linux system is pretty good. Right?