Sunday, December 29, 2013

Photography Color and Texture Series

I've been posting some personal photos on Facebook that people have been enjoying. They focus on texture and color over shape and perspective. When context and scale are removed, you're forced to pay a lot more attention to the patterns you're seeing to make sense of it. It's enforced mindfulness. (I don't always tell you where they're from; see if you can figure it out.) This is the opposite of the clear planist functionalism of Haida art. Here are a few of my own favorites; if you'd like to see more, send a friend request to me here.

Sunlight through lake ice and fishing hole, Mille Lacs, Minnesota

Original 1700s wall decoration, Mission San Miguel, California

Lake Louise, Alberta

Halfway up the butte, Monument Valley, Arizona

Summer sunset, San Diego, California

Mud and ice, Goblin Valley, Utah

Early summer snow on woodpile, Tahoe Rim Trail, California

Maximus the stupid cat

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ways That True Conservatives Will Cut Spending

Conservatives in Congress in the past few years have claimed to be deficit-driven, and have been elected on such platforms. And this is excellent. If we have to put our nickel down on possible reasons the United States wouldn't be around in a century, near the top of the list is our inability to control our spending or match it to our revenues. This can't go on forever. China will only loan us so much money. The inability of smaller municipalities to control themselves highlights this problem, but at least the poor bastards in San Bernardino (and many other cities) can move, and still be in their home country.

We need some grown-ups to make some cuts, and hurt some people. Conservatives, we need you to recognize that when you make these cuts, you will hurt some people, and some of them will be in your district. Otherwise you will never really make any cuts, and we will either find other grown-ups, or the country will fail.

We voters can be forgiven for thinking that conservatives aren't serious about this, because even when they're given the chance to do it, they don't. (As a voter, I very much want them to.) Sure, they're good at stunts, but somehow that doesn't translate into the serious work of cutting individual programs piecemeal, if that's the only option open.

Put another way: we hear a lot from supposed fiscal conservatives about government pork, until it's in their district; and when we try to cut those, well, that's hurting America. (Or whatever you have to say to conceal that you're never really going to cut anything.) Yes, we all know this happens, conservatives, because all those pork dollars go to the big donors who, in turn, are the source of your campaign contributions. But we voters are sick of hearing "conservatives" repeat "cut spending" and then doing nothing, and this basic fact is getting harder to hide from. You're either going to have to actually do something, or admit that you're just a spender who pretends to be a fiscal conservative for votes.

What are some things that grown-up non-hypocrite fiscal conservatives can cut?

- Make the military budget cost less by auditing the DoD. The savings here make non-medical entitlement reform look like the drop in a bucket it is. In some cases even after the Army said it didn't want tanks, it was forced to take them by Congress. Way to go conservatives!

- End the drug war, and tax the proceeds. You're paying to keep a lot of people in prison and out of productive jobs. You're paying cops with big pensions. You're paying for border security, that has to be there as long as drug money is flowing south into Mexico, along with the weapons that money buys down there. Don't wait for the drug/police complex to ask you to spend less money on them. It's the police and the cartels that benefit from our tax dollars. If you refuse to do this, you're again showing us you're not serious about cutting spending.

- Stop farm subsidies. This is the most egregious, and the one that there's no good reason for, other than you have friends back home. Any legislator who renews farm subsidies does not believe in the free market.

- Add expiration dates to regulations. Regulations cost business money and become obsolete, but industries spring up around these regulations and fight to avoid having them changed or removed. Unless what you're really doing is supporting your friends back home, you should support this proposal, which has been around for awhile now with a lot of conservative intellectual firepower behind it.

- Measure legislator effectiveness. Unless conservatives think the other guys are more accountable than you, conservatives should ask for projections to be put on bills - how much will this cost? How much will it save? How long will it take? - and then have there be some effect if the actual result is way out of bounds. We penalize contractors who screw up (I hope), why not stupid lawmakers? Don't you expect that they're on the other side of the aisle anyway?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Convergence of State-Level Gas Prices Over Time: Pennsylvania and California

I've noticed since I've lived in California that as gas prices have risen, the absolute difference in gas prices between California and much of the rest of the country has remained relatively constant. This means that the percent difference between California and other states' prices has shrunk. In other words, if you're paying a dollar a gallon in California and 75 cents elsewhere, that's something. If you're paying $4.75 in California and $4.50 elsewhere, who cares. Assuming that cost of living differences remain constant over this time, other states will fill gasoline taking a bigger bite of their budgets. And that's more or less what has happened since the late 90s, using Pennsylvania as an example:

Data is from the Energy Information Administration website and doesn't extend past February 2011 for some reason.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Statement On Running for President.

Such an idea never entered my head, nor is it likely to enter the head of any sane person.

- Zachary Taylor, during the Mexican-American War

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pancho Villa's Death: Or, Parallel Histories in Different Languages

If you're here for the alternate history part, skip to the last two paragraphs. If you want "legitimate" alternate histories, here's the most recent one.

History often seems to have gone differently, when you read accounts of the same events in different languages, especially (obviously) when the people who speak these languages are on opposite sides of the events in question. Even on Wikipedia the differences between articles are often striking. A shining example is the article about Pancho Villa, and in particular the section about his death, in Spanish and English. In particular, the less a detail supports national identity, the more likely it is to be glossed over (how many Japanese can talk in detail about Pearl Harbor; how many Americans can talk about the causal events of the War of 1812 or the Mexican War?) Do note in the English version (later) Villa's self-conscious and self-referential last words, among the best in history. But first, the Spanish version:
Álvaro Obregón became president of Mexico and when he had consolidated his position, he promoted and openly tolerated some plans to rid himself of Pancho Villa. During Huerta's rebellion that sought to prevent the imposition of General Calles, fearing that Pancho Villa again took up arms, he decided to kill Villa.

Villa was assassinated in an ambush on the afternoon of July 20, 1923 on his way to a family party in Parral. Calles asked Col. Lara to carry out the killings, and as a result, he was promoted to general and received fifty thousand dollars. No doubt American elements intervened in the elimination of Villa.

Neither did they let Pancho Villa rest at death. They beheaded his desecrated corpse and local helpers intervened with necrophilia, and the American Handal was paid five thousand dollars by the king of the American press Hearst for Villa's head, changed into a gruesome trophy.


Somehow the necrophilia and Hearst head-collecting are missing from the English version, which is a lot heavier on the type of mundane and sordid details that often turn out to explain much of history:
On Friday, 20 July 1923, Villa was killed while visiting Parral. Usually accompanied by his entourage of Dorados (his bodyguards) Pancho Villa frequently made trips from his ranch to Parral for banking and other errands. This day, however, Villa had gone into the town without them, taking only a few associates with him. He went to pick up a consignment of gold from the local bank with which to pay his Canutillo ranch staff. While driving back through the city in his black 1919 Dodge roadster, Villa passed by a school and a pumpkinseed vendor ran toward Villa's car and shouted "Viva Villa!" - a signal for a group of seven riflemen who then appeared in the middle of the road and fired over 40 shots into the automobile. In the fusillade of shots, nine Dumdum bullets hit Villa in the head and upper chest, killing him instantly.

One of Villa's bodyguards, Ramon Contreras, was also badly wounded but managed to kill at least one of the assassins before he escaped; he would be the only person who accompanied Villa during this assassination who survived. Two other bodyguards, Claro Huertado and Villa's main personal bodyguard Rafael Madreno, who were with him also died, as did his personal secretary Daniel Tamayo and his high-ranking Colonel Miguel Trillo, who served as his chauffeur. Villa is sometimes reported to have died saying: "Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something." However, there is no contemporary evidence he survived his shooting even momentarily, and his biographer, Katz, confirms that Villa died instantly; Time Magazine also reported in 1951 that both Villa and his aide (Tamayo) were killed instantly. The next day, Villa's funeral was held and thousands of his grieving supporters in Parral followed his casket to his burial site while Villa's men and his closest friends remained at the hacienda in the Canitullo armed and ready for an attack by the government troops. The six surviving assassins hid out in the desert and were soon captured, but only two of them served a few months in jail, and the rest were commissioned into the military.


While it has never been completely proven who was responsible for the assassination, most historians attribute Villa's death to a well planned conspiracy, most likely initiated by Plutarco Elías Calles and Joaquin Amaro with at least tacit approval of the then president of Mexico, Obregon. At the time, a state legislator from Durango, Jesus Salas Barraza, whom Villa once whipped during a quarrel over a woman, claimed sole responsibility for the plot. Barraza admitted that he told his friend Gabriel Chavez, who worked as a dealer for General Motors, that he would kill Villa if he were paid 50,000 pesos. Chavez, who wasn't wealthy and didn't have 50,000 pesos on hand, then collected money from enemies of Villa and managed to collect a total of 100,000 pesos for Barraza and his other co-conspirators. Barraza also admitted that he and his co-conspirators watched Villa's daily car-rides and paid the pumpkinseed vendor at the scene of Villa's assassination to shout "Viva Villa!" either once if Villa was sitting in the front part of the car or twice if he was sitting in the back.

Despite the fact that he did not want to have a sitting politician arrested, Obregon gave into the people's demands and had Barraza arrested. Barraza was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison, The following month, however, Barraza's sentence was commuted to three months by the Governor of Chihuahua; Barraza eventually became a colonel in the Mexican Army. In a letter to the governor of Durango, Jesus Castro, Barraza agreed to be the "fall guy" and the same arrangement is mentioned in letters exchanged between Castro and Amaro. Others involved in the conspiracy were Felix Lara, the commander of federal troops in Parral, who was paid 50,000 pesos by Calles to remove his soldiers and policemen from the town on the day of the assassination, and Meliton Lozoya, the former owner of Villa's hacienda whom Villa was demanding pay back funds he had embezzled. It was Lozoya who planned the details of the assassination and found the men who carried it out. It was reported that before Barraza died of a stroke in his Mexico City home in 1951, his last words were "I'm not a murderer. I rid humanity of a monster."
Here's something you might not have known: that at the time he died, Villa had intentions of running for president of Mexico, or attaining the office by other means. Just imagine how just and peaceful a Villa administration would have been! And think also of all the people who said that with a time machine they would go back and kill Hitler (a unique take on that here). Maybe Barraza was a time traveler, but instead wiped out someone who was even worse than Hitler - that is to say, in the future Barraza came from, he wiped out someone who had been even worse, but in the future we're now living in, was eliminated. The question is, once you go back in time and successfully kill the genocidal dictator before they ever do their thing, and you survive - then what? Try to convince everyone that actually, you're from the future and this guy you murdered was going to turn out to be absolute evil? Or just keep things down to a dull roar and enjoy your life in an increasingly divergent alternate history, and maybe mention it in passing later in life? In any event I recommend we check Barraza's later bets and stock picks for uncanny accuracy.

Is It Acceptable for American States to Oppress People?

"Volunteers" - "free" men - for a Confederate Army in the War of Northern Aggression...or was it Southern Oppression? Somehow the volunteers didn't feel more free than before.

Libertarianism in the U.S. has taken a strange turn. For one thing, people who call themselves libertarian in a rural area versus a metropolitan area are likely to have very different sets of opinions. Rural libertarians quite often are very much against allowing gay people to marry, allowing people to worship as they choose or not worship at all, or allow individual discretion in the consumption of mind-altering substances. But somehow, somewhere, these people claim they're the ones really in favor of freedom. Many an urban libertarian has told a rural resident that no no no, libertarians are in favor of gay rights, religious freedom, and drug decriminalization, and then been asked, "So how are you a libertarian then?"

The Civil War still looms large in rural libertarians' often provincial minds as well, which is why they appear to favor state government oppression instead of Federal oppression - that's what "States' Rights" really means. Another translation of States' Rights is, "Decisions should be made in a forum where the people with whom I culturally identify are the majority. At the national level, urban blue-staters outnumber people who think like me, so I shouldn't have to agree with them. However, in my state, people who think like me are the majority. So people in my state should have to agree with me."

The Federal government's limitation of rights remains their bete noir, and that's not a bad place to start. But it's the inter-level hypocrisy that's so glaring. What's confusing is that apparently, state-level oppression is okay. Washington D.C. tells the country what religion they have to be? Or passes a law demanding service of some kind? A distaster. (And in this, they're correct.) But if Utah or Texas forced Mormonism or Baptism on their people - well, that's okay. Why this reverse state worship, as Reason magazine labeled it? If socialists were Christians, these rural libertarians would be Satanists.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

No Relationship Between Population Size and Per Capita Income

I had always been curious about this, thinking that perhaps there would be a positive correlation; being part of a big country opens up a big market to you, and (one might reason) if a population can function as a large unified country, that means that somehow, culture and institutions are functioning well and this will affect economics. But this is not the case. There was no relationship between population and per capita income, which also implies that over time there is no relationship between population and growth rate.

Of course there are population outliers, but even after I took out all the countries with populations of over 100 million (there are 12) no relationship appeared. In any event, from a policy-making standpoint, it's not clear what this would've meant anyway. (Quick! Join together with bigger countries so we'll get higher GDP!)

There has been work done on population growth rate (below, source), showing a negative relationship; interesting but not surprising, likely relating to demographic transition. Additionally, one of the effects of being in a country is that of the same currency across the population, so a separate question would be whether monetary union regions grow faster than non-union regions, but there are far fewer data points there.