Search This Blog

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Gell-Mann Amnesia is ... uhh ... What was the Question?

The NYT Op-Ed page seems to have gone off its meds, but today's offering, Jets Will No Longer Get a Free Ride on Carbon Emissions has to be, flat out, no holds barred, without exception, absolutely, the most, without peer, beyond competition, ne plus ultra, the stupidest thing to shamefully see the light of day, since, well, ever.

It has been almost 50 years since the federal government began setting standards for automobile emissions. It is also about a half-century since the introduction of wide-body jets set off a runaway expansion of the aviation industry. About 3.8 billion people are expected to fly this year, 50 times as many as 50 years ago — making planes the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide emissions, although they have faced none of the limits set on cars or trucks. That is, until last week, when the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, finally proposed the first binding limits on aircraft emissions.

This is a welcome development, even if it has left many environmental groups disappointed. They have argued, not unreasonably, that the agency set the bar far too low.

Not unreasonably? From where, exactly, did they pull that unargued conclusion?

The history of pollution controls has shown that the first step, however modest, is often the most important in raising confidence and creating momentum toward greater change. In this case, the timing is important, since the clock is running out on the Obama administration.

The United States accounts for half of all carbon dioxide emissions from planes, and limiting aviation emissions has been high on President Obama’s environmental agenda. But the international agreement took more than six years to negotiate, and it still needs approval from the group’s larger council and then its full assembly, followed by laws or regulations in each of the 36 member states.

Because, as we all know, all that is required to turn wish into reality is an Obamster ocean receding, earth healing, decree.

It is nearly impossible to unpack all the stupid in this editorial. But I will start with what is glaringly apparent to anyone possessing enough curiosity to wonder if walking out in front of a bus is a good idea. It is called a fact:

fact |fakt|
a thing that is known or proved to be true: 1. the most commonly known fact about airliner design is that it does everything possible to minimize fuel usage; 2. That thing to which journalists are most allergic, and about which they are invariably disinterested.

Fuel consumption amounts to about 30% of airline costs. As the dictionary definition, perhaps somewhat improved, makes clear, engineers specify titanium instead of pig iron for a reason. Therefore, and pay attention here, NYT Editorial Board and UN tools, airliner design embodies everything practical, which is darn close to everything possible, to minimize fuel consumption:

Between 1960 and 2000 there was a 55% overall fuel efficiency gain (if one were to consider the Boeing 707 as the base case). Most of the improvements in efficiency were gained in the first decade when jet craft first came into widespread commercial use. Between 1971 and 1998 the fleet-average annual improvement per available seat-kilometre was estimated at 2.4%. ... Airbus states a fuel rate consumption of their A380 at less than 3 L/100 km per passenger (78 passenger-miles per US gallon)

The B737-900 manages 99 passenger miles per gallon.

Somehow, without government pestering, aircraft and engine manufacturers doubled fuel efficiency in twenty years. Somehow, without government pestering, since the late 1990s, jet travel routinely achieves fuel efficiencies that not even the most subsidy-coddled rare-earth gobbling hybrids can get close to.

Obviously, the designers and engineers have no idea that the only thing standing between them and frolicking herds of sparkly pastel unicorns is a UN decree.

Open question: how is it that journalists invariably make bog standard Golden Retrievers seem critical thinkers by comparison?

Okay, the preceding was, and I know this comes as a shock, a bit snarky. Still. This Op-Ed is so smug, and so devoid of even the most easily ascertained clues, that I am utterly at a loss to comprehend how journalists could put up such a pathetic performance, unless the stupid is very strong with them, indeed.

Getting Driven Crazy

It's a good thing Great Guys are pretty relaxed about deadlines. Nearing my first anniversary in the heart of European Socialism is easily way more than enough time to commit experiences to pixels.

And what could be a more mundane way to start than driving?

In Germany, and likely the rest of the EU, drivers' licenses from Many Countries (a list that includes the US, at least) are valid for six months from arrival. And cars from those Many Countries can be driven for a year before they must be registered.

What could be so hard about that?

Plenty, as it turns out.

License to Kill

I'll start with driving. Oddly, in the dual sense that there is no apparent reason, or available explanation, US licenses have varying degrees of acceptability to the Germans. Many States are completely acceptable — go to the TüV (the German version of the DMV, pronounced like a cross between "toof" and "tough"), hand them your license, and they give you a German one. Oh, by the way, the TüV is as justifiably famous for speedy customer service as almost any DMV.

Other states are treated with greater skepticism: take the theoretical test, and the license is yours.

The rest of the states get no respect whatsoever: their unfortunate license holders get treated as if they were born before 1886, and have been in comas ever since. For them, every inch of the entire nine yards (new money: 2.54 cm in 0.9144m): first aid course, written test, and driving test.

No extra points for guessing which treatment Alaskan drivers get.

My SWIPIAW (hereafter, TOSWIPIAW) never does in the afternoon what can be done in the morning. So we hit the ground running. We had the first aid course done within our first month.

Oddly — a word I will be wearing out — her being a registered nurse cut no ice. Even more oddly, sitting through an entire day of first aid training in German did. The CPR dummy was the last event of the day. When it was my turn, my first chest compression, perhaps powered by aggro, sent the dummy's head flying across the room, where it spun like footballs often do after a touchdown. Oddly, they didn't score that as a save.

But still, one block checked. Our hearts filled with resolution, we advance, in imagined solidarity with the rest of our comrades, onwards to the theoretical test.

You have no idea. None. What. So. Ever.

I've not had a license in every state, but I have had more than my share. All of them: flip through thirty or so pages printed on cheap paper, spend 10 minutes taking a multiple guess test consisting of picking the blindingly obvious from the glaringly incorrect.

Not here. Uh uh. No way. There is a 1000 question bank from which the questions are randomly chosen. The correct answer may be one, or more, of the choices. Both the questions and the answers are designed to be misleading. The only way to pass the damn thing is to memorize all the questions. Here is an example why:

Notice the question asks what you must do. But the answer includes what you may do. Knowing the sign and reading the question is a recipe for failure.

Hours upon hours, gone.

And months, too. The TüV, with a mistrustful eye on "customer service" only offers the test in English twice a month. It was five months until my planet and theirs lined up.

All that remained was passing the driving test. For which lessons, seven 45 minute sessions in my case, are required. Our car has a stick shift, so I had to get a manual transmission endorsement. At some level, although it doesn't get too deep before I go full ranting skeptic, I get driving ecomentally.

What I don't get is the insistence on short shifting the heck out of the poor thing. Third gear at 20 mph is just wrong: no torque, the motor is lugging, and desperately wants to go faster than 20, which is bad if the speed limit is 20. But when in Germany, drive the way the ecomaniacs insist, even though it doesn't have heck all to do with either safety or economy.

Throw the only English speaking instructor's schedule and mine together, and yet more months go by. I failed to fail the driving test last Friday.

Whereupon I went straight to the TüV licensing office to promptly turn my certificate into a license. No wait, the exact opposite of that. Because their pace is so murderous, they close at noon on Fridays.

Eleven months later, and I'm still not done.

But wait, there's more:

Licensing the Weapon with which to Kill

Of all the things in life that should be easy, so easy, in fact, as to not warrant doing in the first place, registering a German car in Germany should be right up there.

Or so you would think, anyway.

Oddly, the US requires symmetric and prohibits asymmetric driving light beams. Hold that sentence up the mirror, and that is the EU. Repeat with rear fog lights: US prohibits, EU requires (although in this case the US cares nowhere near enough to actually check).

With regard to headlights, symmetry means the beam spread is uniform; asymmetry means there is a pronounced notch on the left side so as to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers with your low beams.

I think it is nearly a law of nature that if two diametrically opposed concepts persist simultaneously, then the difference between them is utterly without distinction.

Just so here. Sure, it makes sense to not dazzle oncoming drivers. But given that we haven't been hit even once with a flash of the high-beams, there is considerable experiential evidence to suggest that this whole asymmetry thing doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

As for the rear foglight, that was simple. The internet assured me that replacing the US light switch with the EU version incorporating a rear foglight position, reprogramming the lighting control computer, would serve just fine.

While I was on a trip, TOSWIPIAW, for whom "wait" is a swear word, took the car to the dealer to get an estimate on what needed doing, and came back with a mountain of Euros — 4500, or about $5000 — to summit our hill of beans.

Mr. Jaw, meet Mr. Floor with loud, anvil-like clang. Followed by muttered imprecations, and a vow to set the car on fire first.

(Here is where a montage with images of internet searching, traveling and calendar pages flipping belongs).

Ahem. About those Headlights. Had we not paid extra for the dynamically adaptive xenon cosmosity, going from symmetric to not involves nothing more than a blocking patch of sticky backed tin foil placed just so.

Silly us. Since the headlights move five different ways to Sunday, cheap and fast was out of the question. Fortunately, that internet searching in the montage you didn't see coughed up a price that, while not exactly cheap, was less than half the dealer quote. And, despite their vague threats, the things went right in.

Now for the rear fog lights. Installing the new switch was a doddle, so off to the dealer we went to get the car reprogrammed.

Which they couldn't do. Not wouldn't, couldn't. Suggested we needed a new $1,000 instrument cluster.

More imprecations. Renewed resolve to set the thing on fire. More montage. In the midst of it, twig that eBay might, just might, also be a thing in Europe. (I need to get my money back on that first montage). Indeed it is, a fact probably less surprising to almost everyone than me.

Far less money — $150 — and a week later, the proper EU part shows up in perfect condition. Ten minutes to install it, Bob's your uncle, and off to the dealer.

Still can't program it. Suggest another, larger dealer. Despite making a far more thorough effort, including contacting BMW itself, their conclusion is that it would be far easier to invent time travel than to get something working which the car already has.

Whereupon I did what I should have done much sooner: research the door-stop worthy factory shop manual's electrical diagrams, buy a ten dollar switch, five dollar relay, some wire, a couple connectors, and do it myself (if you care, and you don't, the solution is at the end).


Almost worse than the money and time involved attaining the pointless, is the psychic harm this causing TOSWIPIAW. Not only is this taking forever — longer, in her world — but the police keep pulling us over.

Not, you cynics, for our driving. No, oddly, something far worse. In the US, many states, cognizant of how useless front license plates are, don't require them. Michigan, were we bought the car, is one of those states. Alaska isn't, but to demonstrate my point, three cars, seven and a half years, and not one even slightly raised eyebrow from anyone.

In the EU, and, it seems, particularly in Germany, front license plates are required. When we drive down the street, people stop, stare, point, walk into lamp posts, fall off their bikes. Some of them turn on flashing lights and chase us down. We shrug, do some pointy-talky, they miss the distinction between the Alaska and Michigan, and send us on our way.


Cue another montage, with many flipped calendar pages and travel scenes, and the damn thing will get inspected in April. Close as darnnit to a year, though far less than $5000*, just to get license plates.

Surely, you must be wondering, there is a point here somewhere.

Several, actually.

Socialism is pickayune and burdensome. Surely, you'd think, government agencies could either just pick one damn way or another — really, who cares? — and stop being such pests.

Socialism is what socialism does. Three hours waiting to do a five minute transaction (swapping a piece of paper for a plastic card) especially one that involves spending money, is unheard of in the red in tooth and claw world of heartless capitalism.

Thank goodness we live in a walkable city with plentiful public transit options, which nearly makes having a car redundant. Yes, I know.

A sure fire way to reduce the number of pre-mature deaths in the US isn't some jihad against guns, but rather to make getting a license cost more than $1000. Which makes this possible, while managing a motor vehicle fatality rate less than half that of the far more lackadaisical US.

And Germans would go absolutely spare seeing the shambolic heaps that far too often pass for our cars.

Although it isn't clear whether that is due to socialism, or being German.

In an American BMW, what would be the rear foglight is occupied by a low intensity lamp that is on when the parking or headlights are on. It is so unimportant that there is no mention of it in the owner's manual, and, unlike every other light on the car, doesn't throw a warning when it is out. That makes the solution easy: cut the common ground, run a wire from the lamp ground to a rocker switch tastefully stuck to the side of the instrument binnacle, then from the switch to a relay controlled by the power lead to the front fog lights -- that stops the rear fogs being on unless the fronts are, which is a requirement. Time: hour and a half, almost all of it routing that wire from the trunk to the instrument panel. And a heck of a lot cheaper than two dealer visits and $250 in now useless parts.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


A couple of days ago, my neighbor brought to my attention that our mail was no longer being delivered. It turns out that it hadn't been delivered for over a week, but I hadn't even noticed - almost nothing of importance ever comes through the mail anymore: bills are paid on line, taxes are filed electronically, notices come via email, etc.

To me the Post Office is just a bit player in the giant circle of junk-mail life. They deliver it, I put it in the recycling, new paper is made from it, new junk mail gets printed, and the Post Office redelivers it to keep the circle going. Other than that, they have little use from what I can tell.

So they just stopped delivering my mail - no notice, no explanation, no nothing.


The ferocious furball pictured below approached and barked at the mailman. There was no contact between them and our dog didn't even get particularly close to the mailman. The dog is well trained and my wife was present and verbally in control of the dog (for example, she told it to stop barking and it did). Nonetheless, the barking is still considered an "attack" and enough of an incident to get mail delivery to stop without notice. The Post Office claims 6,000 dog attacks on mail carriers in a year. However, given that barking is an attack, I'm surprised the number isn't far higher. What dog doesn't bark (other than the one in the Sherlock Holmes story)?

When I first learned the reason for non-delivery, I did a google search. There're a gazillion stories of non-delivery where it was really onerous to get it started again and I started to worry. For example, an 11-pound furball caused an entire condo complex to lose mail delivery forever (or until the owner agreed to put the dog to sleep). So I was wondering what hoops I would have to jump through to get my mail started again. If it was just me, I wouldn't've even bothered since mail isn't useful to me. Unfortunately, my neighbor was unpleased at his lack of delivery so I was worried the whole thing would become a giant nightmare.

But it wasn't bad. The Post Office just made me sign something that said that I agreed to keep the dog under control during mail delivery times and that the mailman would not deliver mail on days when any dogs were visible. Works for me and it was only a little bit annoying.

Don't get me wrong - I am sympathetic to being afraid of dogs. Our 25 pound furball does have a ferocious bark for something so small and fluffy. I do wonder though: if a mailman is so afraid of dogs that merely being barked at is traumatic enough to be considered an attack, perhaps he's chosen the wrong career?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Heart and Head

I'm not sure, but I think that I may have been the cause of another post at Cafe Hayek. As a result, I've written the following letter to the blogger there...

Dear Professor Boudreaux,

I'd like to explain in more detail than is plausible in the facebook commenting section on your blog about what I meant when I asked, "Can you really not see why folks like Jim thinks that a fair amount of your writing shows "contempt" for the common American people?"

But first I want to start with a brief (true) story about your ex-co-blogger Russ Roberts and my eldest daughter. Once upon a time, Russ wrote a book called "The Invisible Heart." I read it to my daughter ten years ago when she was nine years old. It's a wonderful love story where the main character just happens to be a high-school economics teacher and a few economic concepts are introduced in the book by that character. My daughter really liked the book but I had no idea whether or not she really grasped the economics concepts or not or whether she would remember them even if she did get them in the first place. But three months later, after Halloween trick-or-treating, she and a group of friends traded candy with each other - each would trade away what they didn't like for what they did. After the other kids had left, my daughter said to me completely unsolicited, "Daddy, it was just like in the book 'The Invisible Heart' - by trading our candy we all became better off!" So not only did she get at least the concept of the benefit of trade, but she remembered it and was able to apply it to a real world situation in her life many months later.

Russ Roberts reached through the heart of a nine-year-old girl to place some fundamental economic concepts in her head. Talk about the power of the pen!

What I learned (eventually) from this story and other experience is that the only way to nearly everyone's head is through their heart. Before that, I'd often encounter nonsensical arguments and think, "Oh! All I have to do is point out the mistake in their reasoning and/or facts and/or evidence and they'll see things correctly!" Of course, I'd always be disappointed because they weren't putting forward rational arguments of the head. They were putting forth arguments that they believe in their hearts, things that are "true" in their hearts. In my experience, for most people, belief and faith trumps rationality every time; the heart trumps the head every time. The most important things I've learned regarding this is that if I make statements that contradict what's true in their hearts, folks will reject it out-of-hand, the debate is instantly shut down, and I've lost, pretty much every time. And if I'm not very careful, they will feel that I have contempt for what they know in their hearts to be true.

Let's take an example. Consider the following statement that might be similar to one made by a minimum wage advocate:

We must collectively do something about burger flippers making such a low wage and since the Card and Krueger study shows no adverse effect on employment a reasonably high minimum wage is a good way to address this low wage problem.
Since you've addressed similar statements with about a hundred posts in last couple of years, we both know exactly how you would answer it. I could almost write the respnse for you out of a synthesis of other ones.

Someone who writes something like the above statement is probably not trying to write a rational statement. They are writing a statement of the heart. Responding with rational arguments without first reaching for and accessing the heart is counterproductive in my experience. For example, telling them about all the counter studies, meta studies, etc. that show the opposite of Card and Krueger is probably pointless. Telling them that economic theory is at odds with Card and Krueger is meaningless to them. As soon as you write the word "monopsony" they run for the exits. Pointing out the problems of collectivism and waxing eloquent about liberty for liberty's sake is generally going to fall on deaf ears unless you can make it felt by the heart; in other words, being anti-collective or anti-government is not usually a winning argument with most people.

The question is how to respond to such statements. I don't necessarily know, but here is a response I've given to statements like the above that actually does seem to have a positive effect and seems to open the door to rational debate (or at least not close the door): "Well, my concern about a $15/hr minimum wage is that at one point I was thinking about being a musician instead of a computer guy and I would never have been good enough at music to be worth $15/hr. But you've heard my music and it's pretty decent, right? And if I had dedicated myself to music professionally it would've been even better. And if I had chosen that path, I would've been happy enough making $5/hr and that's all I would've been able to get. And if that door was closed I would've ended up being stuck flipping burgers at $15/hr which, as I'm sure you can imagine would've been a far worse option for me even though it paid more. And how about my cousin who worked for that private charity that helps disabled kids. They were only able to pay her $5/hr because that's all the money they could raise from donors and the government. Should they have to fire her and prevent her from helping disabled kids because they didn't have enough money to pay her more?" And so forth. Lots of statements directed at the heart.

I suspect you're horrified by the above paragraph. But is it really so terrible? Is Russ's Invisible Heart really so terrible? Building a narrative that constantly pulls at heartstrings and then slipping in an occasional rational fact? Is it so bad?

Now let me give examples of why I can imagine people reading your writing might think that you have contempt for them. Note the the "your" and "you" are plural and include not only just you but also Bryan Caplan and others.

First consider the post that "Jim" commented on. Bryan self-quotes, "The median American is no Nazi, but he is a moderate national socialist..." Oh, so only a milque-toast Nazi, not a full blown one. Certainly not a complement for the typical ("median") American and the statement rather reverberates with contempt for anyone who considers themselves a typical American, in my opinion.

Caplan then goes on to say that Americans basically all have ADHD; that is, they are mentally ill or mentally deficient. He basically says thanks heavens for that, otherwise our policies would be even worse, yet at the same time writes, "I look down on the public's ADHD." The phrase "I look down on" is very close to synonymous with "contempt," no?

While you didn't explicitly endorse Caplan's post, the fact that you referred to it might seem to indicate you're at least sympathetic with it and the possible contempt that could be associated with it.

Furthermore, Caplan has written a book "The Myth of the Rational Voter" which you've referenced at least a few times. Many people believe in their hearts in democracy, believe in their hearts in the democratic process, believe in their hearts that they are good citizens, and believe in their hearts that their votes are rationally based and important. To at least some of those people, that very title drips with contempt.

Do you not have contempt for virtually all politicians? For example, you've written:
"As regular readers of this blog know, I’m allergic to almost all politicians – and my allergy is non-partisan. So on those occasions when I single out a politician for ridicule, I must not be interpreted as believing that he or she is uniquely scurrilous and contemptible."
Does this not say you have contempt for all politicians? Can you not see how if someone reading this believes in the democratic process and feels some level of responsibility for electing those politicians that they could possibly feel you have indirect contempt for them as well?

You also wrote, just yesterday:
"It’s true that I do hold in very low regard – in, indeed, contempt – the “economics” expressed by many non-economists and by the politicians and pundits who cater to economic ignorance."
Are they catering to economic ignorance? You clearly think so, but I think not. Man is a political, social, emotional, and moral-believing animal, and I think that the "economics" expressed by these "non-economists" is neither economics nor rational but is catering to the political, social, emotional, moral-believing nature of man; in other words, it's aimed at the heart. And, much to many economists' frustrations (such as yours?), the statements hit their mark.

Then you reply with rational economic analyses that miss the heart by many light years and, as a result, look to me to have little positive effect. Even worse, you do admittedly view these beliefs of the heart with contempt when held by the speaker or the listener or both, no?

So that's why I think the writings of you and others such as Bryan Caplan can be easily interpreted as "illustrating the contempt with which the American elite view the common American people" per Jim's comment.

Have you read Russ's Invisible Heart? You may not much like it, but a nine-year old girl did and it helped her form a rational understanding of economics.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Coming Soon to A Road Near You*

Here is the sort of thing for which socialism in general, and single payer health care in particular, is so justifiably famous.

No. Wait. The exact opposite of that.

*Unless you live in the United States, where these lights, thanks to the NHTSA are illegal. Yes, that is the same NHTSA that mandated sealed beam headlights at least a decade past their sell-by date.