Gun-waving citizens and their idea of “charm”

It seems that citizens have been disagreeing in public about a Confederate soldier statue in Denton. It involved open carry adherents, but this paragraph leaped out of the article at me:

“We’re out here to protest the sickening behavior of yesterday,” said Ian McDougal, Lake Dallas resident openly carrying a loaded AR-15, concealed revolver and “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. “It’s ruining the charm of this town.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I do not regard people walking around with loaded AR-15 guns, other concealed firearms and “Don’t Tread On Me” flags as “charming”. I regard them as contributing to a level of scariness that will most likely cause me to avoid Denton on my travels.

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Polygamy

A brief comment about polygamy.
I have read lots of people (some more intellectually honest than others) arguing that if SCOTUS has legalized same-sex marriages, then why not polygamous marriages?
The reality is that polygamy is already legal. You can live with as many partners of the same or opposite sex as you like, under the same roof or different roofs. What you are not allowed to do is register more than one of those concurrent relationships as a marriage. This is what the Fundamentalist LDS does today. The men have one legal wife, and many other women who function as subservient wives, and who appear to the welfare system to be single mothers. I will leave it to the readers to join the dots as to which entity is paying most of the bills for those “not allowed to call it that” wives and their children (HINT – it is not the FLDS, and it might begin with G). .
The real debate is not whether polygamy should be allowed, but under what conditions people should be allowed to register multiple concurrent marriages. The main objection, which I understand, is that polygamous arrangements like those of the FLDS are not exactly equitable or reflective of equality of partnership. I am not sure what the right solution is, but logically, nope, we cannot ban polygamy, we already have it, so we need to sit down and work out how to manage it for the good of society.

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Todays round up – 19th July 2015

1. Southern Heritage
I keep hearing rationalizations for the waving of the Confederate battle flag all of the time right now, as variations on “it celebrates my/our Southern heritage”. Was it this sort of heritage the rationalizers had in mind?
2. The suddenly awkward Donald Trump
Donald Trump appears to have said Awkward Things in the past week or so. He began with some fairly obviously racially prejudicial comments about Mexicans, which nobody in the GOP wanted to talk about. Then he jumped the shark by complaining that Sen. John McCain was not a real war hero because he got captured. At this point, a number of prospective GOP candidates felt obliged to condemn his comments. This would be OK, until you remember that some of these gentlemen were quite cheerfully supporting the 2004 SwiftBoat smearing of John Kerry. Like a certain John Ellis Bush. Quite why somebody in the media doesn’t publicly ridicule and mock him for his hypocrisy I cannot fathom. Sometimes ridiculous comments deserve only ridicule. While we are at it, we could also laugh at him for his ludicrously non self-aware comments about people needing to work harder.

3. Gene Simmons, the 1%, and millionaire conceit
Gene Simmons (yes, that Gene Simmons, he of Kiss), like many wealthy people, suffers from the conceit that the world would be a much better place if everybody thought and acted just like him. He also appears to think that the 99% should be nice to the 1% because..well, apparently, according to him, they fund just about everything.
Gene appears to have forgotten some fundamental truisms. Gene, you non-self-aware twit, let me try to educate you.
1. Nobody is indispensible
If the 1% were to disappear tonight, the next 1% would move up to take their place. Yes, Kiss would be replaced by…eegads, do I have to imagine this?
2. Respect is given, not earned
If the 1% want to be respected, they should try behaving like normal people and less like conceited, entitled, whiny jackasses.
3. It is better to keep your mouth shut…
..and be thought a fool, than you open your mouth and remove all doubt. (COUGH).
Anyway, it appears that this journalist has already pointed out a few of the flaws in Gene’s bloviations.

4. The Greece Crisis
This one will run and run. The proposed third bailout of Greece is not going to be any more succcessful than the first two bailouts. The main reason is that Greece is utterly bankrupt and has no positive creditworthiness. It therefore cannot borrow to pay its debts. The IMF knows this and has stated this publicly. That now gives the ECB a major problem, since its rules, if interpreted literally, prevent it from writing off countries’ debts.
The problem is that without a significant debt write-off, it is difficult to see how Greece can ever become solvent. In the meantime, the country will continue to exist on drip-feed loans from the ECB. This will result in further contraction of the economy, which will ultimately result in social unrest.My fear is that fascist, nativist parties will then gain control, at which point…it will only be a matter of time before Greece leaves the EU.

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End of Week Review – 17th July 2015

  1. Iran Deal

Juan Cole asks the interesting question of why the US media ignores the real allies of the USA in its recent negotiation with Iran in favor of reporting on opponents and armchair complainers.

  1. Jade Helm

I have yet to see a single armored vehicle in my neighborhood, but we are taking precautions. We gathered the cats together yesterday and told them to beware male cats with bow ties offering them cat treats.

  1. Michael Grimm

The former US Representative, who thought that threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony was an acceptable answer to a question, may be looking behind him rather a lot for a while, after he was sentenced to 8 months in jail for tax evasion. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

  1. Is Donald Trump politics or entertainment?

A mini firestorm has erupted over the decision of Huffington Post to move articles about Donald Trump from the politics section to the entertainment section on their website. Lots of people are complaining that HuffPo does not have the right to decide. Er, no. They can allocate Trump to whatever category they choose. People don’t search a lot by categories anyway, so I doubt that it will make much difference to the number of page views for the articles. But the cynic in me feels compelled to ask:  why isn’t all news about candidates for POTUS in the entertainment section?

  1. Forgetting that Facebook is a public forum

It seems that a mayor in WA has not yet learned all about this public forum thingy…he decided that it was OK to go on a rant about the POTUS and the FLOTUS on Facebook. Now that his rantings have been pointed out for their, er, lack of charity, he is doubling down and refusing to resign. He has issued a classic Notpology of course. He claims that resigning would be tantamount to admitting that he is a racist. Apart from the massive high-decibel “duh!” that would elicit, he should be resigning, if only for showing shockingly defective judgment in ranting on any topic on Facebook.

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Rebels

I remain both amazed and amused that there are so many self-proclaimed rebels in the modern USA. Everywhere I look there are individuals and groups muttering, fulminating and threatening to overthrow this that or the other.

On one level, it is kind of logical that one would find a rebel mindset in a country that is only 230 or so years old in its modern form, a country founded by rebellion against colonial subjugation.  On another level, there is no current credible existential threat to the physical survival of the USA. (As one humorist sad in Harvard Business Review many years ago, “we may be the world’s biggest debtor nation, but let’s just see them try to collect!”). There are plenty of supposed threats, but they seem in many cases to be the kind of threats that people were making dire predictions about 40+ years ago, and those fears have yet to be converted to reality.

Here are my condensed thoughts on what I term “The Rebellion Thing”. Standard disclaimers apply.

  1. It is 230+ years since the USA was created. This makes it, when compared to many countries, an adolescent. However, adolescents eventually (mostly) mature and move into a new phase in their lives. The ones that do not eventually wear out their welcome. Being a rebel is cute at 16, tired at 26, tedious at 36, puzzling at 46 and a real turn off at 56. Holden Caulfield and James Dean were only attractive because they were young and you could think “they don’t know any better”. The people that cannot quit being adolescents usually end up as figures of eye-rolling fun. You might think they are cute in small doses, but you wouldn’t want to spend much time with them. They always seem to be looking for something to rebel against.
  2. Famous rebels who obtained success via the overthrow of their opponents, in many cases, made a poor job of actually governing. The founders of the modern USA are one of the shining exceptions. Notice that they actually took time out from rebelling to think long and hard about what they wanted as an end result. The end of British rule was simply a stopping point on the journey. It was a tactic, not the whole strategy.
  3. Vague unspecified “I’m a rebel <insert bellicose snarling words>” statements don’t answer the question “what are you rebelling against”. Fine-sounding statements like “I want my country back” or “don’t tread on me” are also merely vague statements of discontent.
  4. Being a rebel doesn’t automatically make you a poster child for freedom. It is a feature of history that many rebels, when placed in positions of power, ended up rapidly becoming authoritarian despots. Behind many self-proclaimed charismatic rebels lies a dangerous mix of narcissism and conceit.
  5. Rebelling against fundamental items of reality like the federal government, taxes etc. doesn’t make you look principled and valiant. It tends to make you look like the second coming of Don Quixote. If you want to rebel against those entities or ideas, have at it, but bear in mind that everybody who tried that prior to you has, to varying degrees, failed. This probably suggests that the odds are not in your favour. Have you considered, you know, voting for different candidates? Like, candidates not belonging to the mainstream political parties that you always whine about. Just thinking out loud here…
  6. If you want to appear to be a credible rebel, it probably isn’t a great idea to use the battle flag of a defeated secessionist movement as an emblem. Defeated losers in wars generally don’t get a do-over. Who are you? The Black Knight from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”?
  7. You need to either back talk up with action or risk being seen as a keyboard warrior, a member of the 101st Chairborne. Threatening to “march on Washington” because of some perceived slight or injustice tends to make you look like the small child throwing toys out of the pram because they couldn’t get their way.
  8. Martyrdom is always a good last resort if you really want to take dramatic action. However, you have to be really ready to go through with it. See (6) above. Talking tough like Ted Nugent and then hoping that people forget about it might work for some less thoughtful individuals, but it probably won’t lead most people to take you at all seriously. It’s this little thing called credibility. Even martyrs get mixed reviews in the annals of history.
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The F1 engine token system and why it is not working

When the F1 rule-makers were formulating the current hybrid engine formula, the usual negotiation and horse-trading took place between the potential (mostly then-current) engine manufacturers. Renault, perhaps worried that a spending competition would leave it with an inferior power unit, was one of the proponents of what became known as the token system. The power unit was divided into a number of sub-assemblies, and changes to each sub-assembly were given values expressed as a number of tokens. The number of tokens allowed for development would be fixed after homologation, development would not be allowed in-season, and the number of tokens for off-season development would reduce over several seasons. The idea being that massive engine component development would be curtailed, and as engine manufacturers refined their powerplants, everybody would converge on more or less the same performance.

This looked like a good idea, and all of the engine manufacturers signed up to it. Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes all built power units for the 2014 season. But…by the second day of pre-season testing, it was clear that, relative to Rernault and Ferrari, Mercedes had built a par more powerful unit. The difference was so large as to be embarrassing. Hampered by the rule against in-season development, Mercedes powered cars enjoyed a significant horsepower advantage through 2014. Ferrari and Renault were limited to reliability changes, and improvements obtained by changes to fuel and engine electronics. That helped them some, and Renault scored 3 victories, but all came when Mercedes powered cars hit problems.

At the end of 2014, two teams, Manor/Marussia, powered by Ferrari, and Caterham, powered by Renault, ceased operations. In addition, Lotus moved from being powered by Renault to being powered by Mercedes. Renault therefore lost 2 out of 4 teams running its power units, with a commensurate loss in revenue and mileage for data collection. Ferrari lost 1 of its teams.

Honda’s entry to F1 in 2015 complicated matters. When the engine manufacturers got together to discuss how many tokens should be available for development, it became clear that the rules had not been written tightly enough to preclude in-season development from 2015 onwards. So design and construction improvements to the power units were possible in the 2015 season. After yet more negotiation, the engine manufacturers determined how many tokens were available for development in 2015, and Honda was awarded the average of the other 3 engine suppliers’ token number, since their engine, homologated in March 2015, would otherwise have been frozen.

In 2015, it has become clear that while Ferrari is a lot more competitive with its power unit, Renault is less competitive and less reliable. The more restrictive rules on power unit life have already led to Renault-powered cars accumulating grid penalties after they ran over their allocation of power unit components due to reliability issues. The Mercedes powered-cars are enjoying almost bullet-proof reliability from a more powerful power unit. The non-Mercedes powered cars, with the exception of Ferrari, are struggling to stay on the same lap in races.

By common consent, Renault needs a completely re-designed power unit to have any hope of approaching Mercedes. The challenges are (a) lack of money to develop new components, due to loss of 2 teams (who were, if reports are correct, paying around $40m per team for engine supply in 2014), and (b) lack of enough tokens to support a complete re-design.

Renault is now hamstrung by the very system that it proposed back in 2012 when the new engine formula was being finalized. They are unlikely to be able to create a competitive power unit within the current token system, and the shift to in-season development has further moved the engine development process away from their original vision, which was focussed on out of season development based on defined limits to the number of changes. Honda is also hamstrung not only by the token system, but also by the onerous engine life rules, which are also resulting in Honda-powered McLaren cars collecting massive grid penalties.

There is a real risk that Renault will leave F1 soon, especially given the appalling relationship that they currently have with Red Bull Racing (and, by extension, Toro Rosso). When a team with which you won 4 drivers and constructors championships as recently as 2013 is publicly excoriating you weekly, it is difficult to see any positive upside to remaining in F1.

No privately-funded engine development company can afford to enter F1 under the current rules. Although it is difficult to determine how much money Mercedes has spent on its F1 program, numbers upwards of $300m seem to be a starting point. Only a large-volume manufacturer could afford that size of outlay on an engine design and build process. The high cost of the power units is also distorting the power balance in F1, with the “grandee” teams now threatening to swallow up the smaller teams. To be fair, part of that is due to the teams now controlling the rules via the Strategy Group, another crazy adventure of the “fox given keys to hen house” variety.

The token system might have worked if all of the engine builders had produced power units of relatively similar performance. Then a smaller number of tokens would have been used for incremental improvements.. That is not what happened. Mercedes produced a far superior power unit, and the rivals are now unable to easily catch up due to the engine reliability rules, token limits, and, in the case of Renault, lack of money.

If F1 wants to continue with multiple competing engine suppliers under the current formula, some way has to be found of giving Renault and Honda a better chance of catching up with their power unit designs. The easiest way would be a combination of a scrapping of the token system and a relaxation of engine reliability rules. Mercedes is bound to vote against such a move (why would they vote for it? They have the best powerplant by a large margin) and their customer teams will vote the way that they are told, so it is unlikely to pass the Strategy Group.

My short summary: with the current Strategy Group process, any engine supplier not named Mercedes Benz High Performance Engines is, to a varying level, screwed.

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McKinney pool incident – control of the narrative

Some quick observations about the aftermath of what i will call The McKinney Pool Incident.

1. Partisans on both ends of the narrative spectrum are currently engaging in an attempt to control and distort the narrative to fit their pre-conceptions. I am starting to see people on Facebook, Twitter etc. posting, totally uncritically, articles posted on echo chamber websites that seek to impose a glib, judgmental narrative on the events. Be smart, folks. Don’t just promulgate this guff without asking fundamental questions about the credibility of the source, and the way in which the article is written. Also pay attention to the use of coded language in narratives written by partisans. As an example. when I read an article on an authoritarian website asserting that the party organizers “appear to be from Chicago”, I know exactly what that claim is really saying. (Translation:  Chicago – evil den of political corruption controlled by people of the wrong party, you know that one that the POTUS belongs to, hint hint). If you want to understand more, read some of the books by George Lakoff.

2. The city of McKinney has already done one thing right by suspending the officer whose conduct was captured on video. But bear in mind that a lot of the incidents were not captured on video. The evidence for those happenings is anecdotal, and it will take a while to sort out the truth from the guff and misinformation. There is a process called investigation, a skill called critical thinking, and a third important principle called Due Process. They should be allowed to happen.

3. If your community is squarely in a media firestorm, it is not a good idea to create posters that reflexively and uncritically support one side or the other in the dispute. This shows a shocking lack of self-awareness, and if the investigation shows that the people you are claiming to support erred, you are going to look mighty stupid. Also bear in mind that if you have a well-paid job in corporate America, suddenly finding your name perjoratively splashed across social media is not what your employer wants to see. One constant of corporations is that they like publicity but they hate controversy. Since Texas is a “right to work:” state, you can be fired for no reason at all. (Of course there is always a reason, but they don’t have to tell you, and they would be fools to do so).

4. Any person who begins an explanation for their position with a protestation of “I’m not being XXXX, but…” is, most of the time, being XXXX. It is a well-understood reality that people who are telling the truth never claim that they are – they instinctively expect to be believed. It is identical to the “you can trust me” meme. We know this. We know it so well that it is ingrained in humour. Think of all of the jokes based on lines such as “trust me, I’m a doctor/dentist/consultant etc. etc.”. Be wary of these kinds of exculpatory protestations.

 

 

 

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F1 – customer cars…maybe?

The four “big” teams (Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren) met prior to the Canadian Grand Prix to discuss design and regulation changes for 2017. Included in discussions was the issue of how to allow for customer cars.

Most of the regulation changes being floated about (including refuelling and a move to 13 inch rims) appear to be unpopular with the teams due to a combination of cost and workload. So it seems like the only major agreements were to “turn up the wick” on the existing power units to make them more powerful, and to look at wider tyres. There was lots of talk about making the cars look “sexier”, but form follows function, and right now, with aerodynamics being the most important factor, the car looks are not going to change.

It appears that there was little discussion of what is really needed – a total binning of the current aero rules in favour of limited front and rear wings, and a return to a level of underbody downforce generation. That, plus wider tyres, would make it easier for cars to run nose to tail, and would increase the importance of mechanical grip in car set-up at slow circuits..

The two major agreements that they reached on the topic of customer cars appear to be:

1. An entire package of cars and engines will be offered to a team for EUR 50m.

2. Each major constructor can only supply one other team with a customer car package.

As this article from James Allen makes clear, the EUR 50m figure is only a starting point. It does not include spare parts for example.

(2) is essential, as without it, Mercedes would probably supply at least 4 teams with chassis and engines in 2017, and the other major constructors would not have any customers since their power units are currently uncompetitive.

Right now, the big teams are seemingly in the driving seat. However, that unity is tenuous. Red Bull keeps making noises about leaving. Renault is not a lock to continue (yes, they are supposed to be buying a team but they still have an unreliable and poorly developed power unit, and they seem to be trying to do F1 on a budget, which is not how Mercedes approached it).

Bernie Ecclestone keeps reminding people of his alternative plan to provide smaller teams with 2013 Red Bull chassis equipped with Renault V8 engines serviced by Mecachrome, which might only cost teams around $30m a season for chassis and engines. That plan, however, would never pass a Strategy Group vote, which explains why it does not have any traction in 2017 discussions at present.

The unknown in all of this is whether F1 will find itself the subject of a complaint to the EU over the governance of the sport. If a complaint is lodged, it is unlikely that the current structure of F1 can continue. The sport’s current broken governance system will almost certainly be declared in violation of EU competition rules.

I remain skeptical that the franchise car system will ever be implemented. Right now, F1 is in such a mess strategically that anything could happen in the next 18 months, and I am sure that what everybody is publicly saying is likely to happen is nothing like what will actually happen.

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McKinney incident

In case you had not yet found out…the city of McKinney is currently in the news for all of the wrong reasons.
There are a few obvious things about how to handle this kind of crisis that i learned when reading the classroom materials from a class that a work colleague attended in 1997 called “how to deal with the media”. There are several simple (and rather obvious) rules:

1. If you screwed up, admit it
This is the most obvious, and the most ignored. The reason for the old saying “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” is that humans have a far higher forgiveness threshold for people and organizations who admit to error than they do for people and organizations who obfuscate, bullshit or lie in an attempt to deflect accountability. (Obvious note – with video in existence of at least part of the incident, it is not a good idea for the law enforcement bodies to try to impose a false narrative. Arguing against what people can see or interpret from a video is a Really Really Bad Tactic).
2. Make Good on recompense
The case study for this is Intel, who discovered an obscure (and rarely used) math processing error in their Pentium chip. Rather than sweeping it under the carpet, they admitted to its existence (tick Rule 1). But then they did something far far smarter. They announced that anybody who felt that they no longer had confidence in their Pentium CPU could send it in and get a replacement AT NO COST TO THEM. The gesture removed just about all remaining negative impact from the initial announcement. Intel had stood behind their product and their reputation, and backed it up with action. Their long term reputation was unaffected, and possibly even enhanced.
3. Hold the Right people accountable and show how you held them accountable
This is more tricky. The temptation in large organizations is to circle the wagons and diffuse accountability, via a number of rhetorical devices (prominent among them is the use of the passive “mistakes were made”, which de-personalizes and diffuses accountability). The aim is to ride out the storm. Those tactics communicate that you are not really interested in changing for the better, you just want the noise to go away. The challenge is that it erodes your credibility and trust with the public.

McKinney has a window of opportunity to Do The Right Things. Some of them may be unpalatable in the short term. However, failure to do them will result in Google searches of McKinney returning hits that are a lot more negative than positive in the months to come. (Obvious parallel – google Ferguson).
Ultimately, it is all about credibility. Failure to respond correctly will reduce and possibly eliminate the credibility of the city of McKinney.

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Custom iPods for now and the future

In order to have enough sound sources for our parties, and to accomodate my music collection, we are adhering to the cliche that Size Matters.

Since Apple stopped selling the iPod Classic last Fall, prices have been rising, so I snapped into action a few months ago and procured 2 special iPods from a custom iPod creator on Enay. They are modified customized limited edition iPod classics, part of the U2 Limited Edition series. However, the disk drive has been replaced by a 240gb flash memory array. The flash memory gives faster playback speed, but some load and organization activities are slower. The iPods are also significantly lighter, since disk drives are dense devices.

The iPods comfortably hold my 18000 tune music collection with lots of space left for additional music. I am set for life…

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