Oct. 16th, 2017 06:52 am
hudebnik: (Default)
We attended an awesome concert yesterday afternoon: the 8 men of Capella Pratensis, singing a Pierre de la Rue mass interspersed with other related Marian stuff as might have been heard by Hieronymus Bosch at the chapel of his confraternity (of which Pierre de la Rue and Petrus Alamire were also members). They perform from original notation, all standing together and reading from a single large choirbook as depicted in the 15th-century illustrations, and this practice adds an interesting edge of intensity: more camaraderie, more risk, more interaction. And the voices were absolutely spot-on.
hudebnik: (Default)
The "President" has repeatedly promised the American people that "relief is on the way from the nightmare of Obamacare". Of course, every law has winners and losers, so let's figure out exactly who is suffering from this nightmare.

The majority of Americans get comprehensive health insurance through their employers. They're scarcely affected by Obamacare at all, except that now their kids can stay on their insurance until age 26, and they don't need to worry about lifetime limits on insurance payouts. Their premiums have gone up slightly since Obamacare, at roughly the same rate they were rising before Obamacare, so that's a wash. Slight winner.

Americans who are poor enough to be on Medicaid have gotten much better access to health care than before, if they live in states that accepted Obamacare's free Federal money to expand Medicaid. Big winner.
If they live in states whose legislature and/or governor turned down billions of Federal dollars that would directly benefit their poorest citizens in order to make a political point, they're no better or worse off than before. Neutral.

Americans who are not quite poor enough to be on Medicaid, but poor enough to get substantial Federal insurance subsidies, have gotten much better access to health care than before, for a price they can afford. Big winner.

Americans with chronic, expensive, pre-existing conditions, regardless of income level, have been able to get insurance (at a substantial, but not exorbitant, price) that in many cases they couldn't buy at all before. They're required to buy insurance now, but that's no loss because before Obamacare, they desperately wanted insurance and couldn't get it. And now they don't need to worry about lifetime limits on insurance payouts. Big winner.

Americans who are not poor enough to get substantial Federal insurance subsidies, but were buying comprehensive individual insurance before, now have more guarantees about what's covered in that insurance, and they don't need to worry about lifetime limits. Their premiums have gone up since Obamacare, probably at about the same rate that they were going up before. Slight winner.

Americans who are not poor enough to get substantial Federal insurance subsidies, but are also young enough and healthy enough that they're willing to go without health insurance (or with only-catastrophic health insurance), are now required to buy health insurance, at a substantial but not exorbitant price, or face a several-hundred-dollar-per-year tax surcharge. Slight loser.

Ideological small-government Republican politicians are terrified that if a Federal government program is seen to be competently helping ordinary people, the American people might get the impression that government can (a) be competent, and (b) help them, and might ask it to do so again. That's the nightmare scenario, and these are the real losers.
hudebnik: (Default)
From an interview on Morning Edition this morning [edited now that the transcript is up]:

INSKEEP: You're arguing that economic growth is going to be so great that tax revenue will increase rather than decrease?

DAVIDSON: Absolutely. If you look at why we - why we balanced the budget in the late '90s, it was because we had a massive economic expansion. So we really have to do the things that are going to drive growth in the economy.

[Notably unsaid: That "massive economic expansion" was preceded by a an increase from 31% to 39.6% in top individual tax rates, a tax increase that Republicans said at the time would cause an economic meltdown.]

INSKEEP: Well, let's just be frank, though. A lot of economists would doubt that cutting taxes is going to grow the economy enough to bring all the revenue back in.

[Unfortunately, Davidson is never expected to answer this.]

INSKEEP: And I'm thinking that just a few years ago, when Obama was president, House Republicans were willing to default on the debt rather than borrow a - a single additional dollar. It seemed to be a really significant problem. Is it no longer that big a problem?

DAVIDSON: It's an incredibly big problem. If you look at what happened under Obama, the deficit national debt doubled. The deficit spending - now, this is a - this is the games that people play with math - deficit spending has - has actually gone down because it started at such a high point. We were overspent by $2 trillion in '09.

[And Davidson avoids the question completely: if you just blame everything on Obama, you don't have to think about whether your proposed policies are consistent with your stated aims.
Davidson's diversion statement is mostly true: the national debt roughly doubled, while the deficit shrank by a factor of about four, from an extraordinarily high level when Obama took office. Davidson is apparently outraged that anybody would "play games" and suggest that deficit spending decreased during the Obama years, just because it did.]
hudebnik: (Default)
An economics Nobelist I had actually heard of before he won the prize, having read a pre-publication copy of his book Misbehaving a few years ago (one of the benefits of being married to a collection-development librarian). I wanted to write a proper review of it at the time, but Life. Anyway, it's a delightfully accessible book, written in the first person, embedding the fascinating concepts of real-world behavioral economics in the rich context of the people and culture of academic economic research.

If you're interested in this sort of thing, Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational (which I also read in pre-publication) is about the same concepts, albeit without quite as much personal flavor, and also quite accessible to the intelligent non-economist.
hudebnik: (Default)
Actually, outlawing bump-stocks and other after-market mods that convert semiautomatic guns to automatic guns almost certainly won't hurt, and might even save a few lives. Not many -- after all, when is the last shooting you heard about that involved such a modified gun? The interesting thing -- in both good and bad ways -- is that it means the NRA supporting a legal restriction on something involving guns, for the first time in probably several decades. On the good side, it reminds the NRA of its one-time focus on gun safety. On the bad side, the NRA hasn't actually changed since last week, and this makes them look momentarily sane and moderate.

Anyway, in the same breath with supporting a possible ban on bump-stocks, they say "Restricting the ability of law-abiding Americans to buy guns will do nothing to prevent ... the criminal act of a madman."

WTF? Stephen Paddock *was* the NRA's perfect law-abiding gun-owning American until the moment that he fired on a crowd of concert-goers. Restricting his ability to buy guns would most CERTAINLY have prevented this "criminal act of a madman". Sure, he would still have been a homicidal madman, but if he had gone berserk with a butcher knife, he might have killed two or three people, and injured half a dozen. If he had been able to buy hand-guns, but not long-range semiautomatic rifles with large ammunition clips, he might have killed half a dozen people and injured dozens.

But of course we can't write a law for the guy who's going to become a mass murderer; in reality, any such law would have to apply to millions of Americans. What would be the effect of such a law? Well, the tiny fraction of gun owners who want to carry out mass shootings would have a harder time of it, saving lives. Hunters might have to stalk their prey to closer range before shooting, or they might have to take an extra second between shots, forcing them to either be better hunters or take home fewer prizes. Fewer children would shoot themselves, their friends and relatives, saving lives. A really strict gun law would even reduce the number of suicides, saving lives. Sounds like a win all around to me.

Rep. Scalise, the guy who was shot at the Congressional baseball practice, said (paraphrased from memory) "It's a shame that some people can't hear about a mass shooting without thinking 'Great: another opportunity for me to push my gun-control agenda!'" Wait: do you *really* think restricting guns is the goal? No, saving innocent lives is the goal. Preventing human suffering is the goal. Restricting guns is just one of the possible means to that end -- a really obvious means, that seems to work well in every other developed nation on earth, but only one means. For my part, I think it's a shame that some people *can* hear about a mass shooting without thinking 'How could we prevent this from happening again... and again... and again?'"
hudebnik: (Default)
A space-flight thriller adventure, in which a humanned spacecraft took off, reached another planet despite problems, landed despite problems, did its job, came back despite problems, and the crew landed safely (albeit in four separate capsules, each with its own set of parachutes). I don't remember many of the details, except that one of them was Matt Damon [presumably inspired by my watching "The Martian" a few weeks ago], and while the ship was coming home, those of us at Mission Control were also dealing with a crazy street person in the neighborhood who dressed up as a lion and climbed a tall pole over the adjacent ocean boardwalk, threatening to jump off into the sea. [Presumably inspired by our watching the "Scott of the Antarctic" Monty Python episode last night.] We knew the crazy guy, and as somebody put it "he has a guardian angel, but she's in the service and isn't here right now to talk him down." Fortunately, Matt Damon's character had previously worked with lions in Africa, and spoke the language, so as soon as we got him back from the landing site, we reluctantly asked him to go climb a tall pole and talk down the crazy guy, telling him (in lion language) "You're hurting <insert guardian angel's name>. You're hurting Africa." In particular, I talked to the Matt Damon character and said "I know you just fell thousands of feet hanging from a Kleenex, and survived, and now we're asking you to climb only about forty feet, but... it's always possible you might not survive." And I hugged him.
hudebnik: (Default)
It was Thursday of a week-long music workshop, and I'd just taken a long, fairly difficult exam. I stepped out of the second-floor exam room onto the outdoor staircase down to the ground, and immediately stepped in an inch of water. In fact, the entire staircase below was under water. I looked up and realized that the flood waters -- fortunately fairly calm, with no visible current -- stretched to the horizon. But I needed to get to my dorm room, on the second floor of a different building, so I started swimming.
hudebnik: (Default)
I was hiking through the woods with a woman about my own age -- not recognizable post-dream as anybody in particular, but with a "potential girlfriend" emotional overlay -- and reached a large stream that we needed to cross on stepping stones. She was dubious. I started across, picking the left-hand route rather than the right-hand, and getting one foot soaked when one of my chosen stones moved under my foot, but there were no major mishaps. And in the second or two as I recovered from the moving-stone incident, I saw a glint of metal under the water, reached down and pulled up a flugelhorn. A decidedly odd thing to find in a stream in the middle of the woods, I mused aloud. It didn't have a mouthpiece, but rather a flared opening where one presumed a mouthpiece would be inserted -- a "flugelhorn muto", if you will. Anyway, I put it to my lips and was surprised to find it played pretty well, once the water drained out. And, even more surprising, that I played pretty well, out of practice as I was. Maynard Ferguson echoed throughout the woods....
hudebnik: (Default)
I think the first sign I noticed was that the LIRR train schedules were all slightly different from what I remembered, and on asking around I learned that this wasn't a recent change. The obvious conclusion was that we're in a parallel universe to the one I was in yesterday. Further investigation revealed that the United States currency is backed by salt and the expected output of salt mines, and that there are under a million people living in Southern California, but somewhat more people in the Northeast commuting by ferry than I would have expected. At length I hypothesized that in this universe, some near-extinction event thousands of years ago had left the human race slightly more risk-averse and survival-oriented on average than in the world where I grew up.

We started visiting other parallel universes. In one, as we took off on a commercial flight from LaGuardia, the pilot pointed out the "famous New York lagoons", of which there were dozens or hundreds just inland from the Long Island and New Jersey shores. Some of the differences were innocuous, while others (like the world resembling The Handmaid's Tale) horrified me. I tried to explain the differences to our friendly host family, who were of course utterly bewildered, and somewhat offended, that I saw anything wrong with their society. I started plotting ways to cure some of these societies of their horrifying characteristics, and every strategy I came up with turned out to have negative unintended consequences. My cultural-relativist mind got preachy, pointing out that a parallel me in any one of these worlds, on visiting my own, could be developing similar schemes to "cure" it of what I considered good qualities, and overlooking what I considered problems in my own world.

New hound

Aug. 29th, 2017 06:40 am
hudebnik: (Default)
New dog slept in crate in bedroom (as opposed to crate in dining room, previous night), and there was minimal whistling and crying. It's a wire crate, and she seemed alarmed looking up at the ceiling fan, so I put a blanket over the top so she couldn't see the ceiling fan, and she seemed happier. She hasn't learned to climb stairs yet (beyond the three or four at the front door of the house), so I had to carry her up to the bedroom.

New hound

Aug. 28th, 2017 08:09 am
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Yesterday we went to a Greyhound Friends New Jersey adoption event and came home with... Miss Bailey, a beautiful red brindle two-year-old female. The car ride home was uneventful -- no snarling or quarreling between the two hounds in the back -- albeit longer than expected due to traffic. And by and large, Moongrrl has been remarkably patient with this new, young interloper.

When we first started adopting greyhounds, we were advised that they feel most secure in a crate or kennel, and will probably want to retreat there. After six other greyhounds, Bailey is the first one for whom that's been true: as soon as I assembled the Vari-Kennel in the dining room, she walked in and curled up inside. Haven't been able to get her to eat in the kitchen, but if I put the food dish just in front of the crate, she's willing to step outside with her front two feet to eat. At bedtime, I closed the crate door (so she didn't get out in the middle of the night and damage herself or something else), and she was fine until about a bout of crying around 4:30 AM. I came downstairs, opened the crate door, scritched her a bit, and went to sleep on the couch, and she was fine. We'll try to expand her horizons gradually, teach her to climb stairs, and eventually get the Vari-Kennel out of the dining room once she feels secure enough in the house.

Bailey seems jumpy about loud noises. Which could be a problem: we're in a fairly quiet residential neighborhood, but it is New York City, and noises happen. Lo que será, será.
hudebnik: (Default)
Like most civilized Americans, I'm outraged and saddened by the violence in Charlottesville last weekend, and by the President's bizarre insistence on treating heavily-armed, overtly and proudly racist right-wing protesters waving Nazi flags as morally equivalent to the mostly unarmed left-wing counter-protesters who were the victims of a deadly automotive assault. And today, the President doubled down on his original tone-deaf statement, saying "before I make a statement, I like to know the facts" (as though facts had ever stopped him before).

However, much as it pains me to say it, he has a point when he says "This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next?"

Let's compare Robert E. Lee with George Washington. Both lived in Virginia. Both owned slaves. Both were considered by their contemporaries to be men of great personal honor. Both were talented generals who led their poorly-trained, poorly-supplied armies to surprising victories. Both committed treason by lending their military talents to an armed rebellion by a region that wanted to declare itself an independent nation. But Robert E. Lee lost, and George Washington won. Is that, by itself, sufficient reason to put up statues of one, and tear down statues of the other?

Of course not: people want to tear down statues of Confederate generals because they fought to defend slavery.

I'm not a Civil War historian, and I have no idea how strong a part slavery played in Lee's thought process when he decided to work for the Confederacy rather than the Union (I gather both courted him at the start of the war). In the murky depths of my memory is a possibly-apocryphal quote from Lee to the effect that "a country that can't stay together without war doesn't deserve to stay together". For that matter, I don't know whether Washington was thinking about slavery when he took his job leading the Continental Army. At any rate, let's suppose hypothetically that historians were to find solid evidence that defending slavery was not a significant part of Lee's reasoning, or even that he opposed slavery but chose the Confederacy for other reasons. Would that suddenly make Robert E. Lee worthy of statues again? I doubt it: anything that memorializes the Confederacy and its leaders would still be viewed as a reminder of black slavery and white domination, and a rallying point for people who would prefer to return to that world.

But we must remember black slavery and white domination, or be condemned to repeat them. I see tearing down statues as rewriting history. The fact is, these people were important historical figures, and were at one point considered great enough to put up a statue of. If our opinions of their greatness have changed, let's discuss the new context and new information that have led us to that change of mind. Even a statue of Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler serves to remind us that they ruled their respective countries for years, during which they did despicable things (and presumably some good things); removing their statues makes it easier to forget both their rule and their despicable acts. Sure, move the statue to a site not of honor but of historical context -- in fact, I think that's what Charlottesville was trying to do with Lee -- but don't just erase it.

(For those readers in the SCA, I'm also bothered when the list of Kings of the East is read aloud omitting Angus. The historical fact is that he served as King twice, and his subsequent conviction for murder doesn't change that.)

For a contrary point of view, see Talking Points Memo.
hudebnik: (Default)
I read in the newspaper that one of the high-tech entrepreneurs (like Elon Musk) was planning a humanned mission to Callisto, within four years. I thought this was quite ambitious, and wondered why specifically Callisto and what possible business model they had in mind to make the project pay for itself. A subsequent newspaper article indicated significant competition among high-tech entrepreneurs to get to Callisto first. Yet another newspaper article informed me that they had actually gotten there, with a four-person crew, and found native life that looked remarkably like humans, right down to the clothing.
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I was grocery shopping with somebody -- either [profile] marchforth2 or [personal profile] shalmestere. The grocery store had recently renovated, changing what had been the in-and-out door to out-only and adding a separate in door that also provided a convenient default configuration file for those who came in that way. We got everything we needed, paid at the checkout counter, and headed for the car. I looked at the receipt to make sure we'd been charged for the right things, and there were things on the receipt that I didn't see in the grocery bag. So while my companion went to the car, I went back into the store to get the missing items. I had some difficulty matching up the receipt with the stuff in the shopping bag, but eventually concluded that we DID have the right number of boxes of tomato puree, and were just short a package of olives (and for some reason we had a bag of olives which was already open). Then I noticed some really bizarre things on the receipt, for which we didn't seem to have actually been charged: tens of thousands of photographs, "2 AFRICAN SLAVES" itemized at $100,000 but not actually affecting the total, etc. I concluded that the programmers had decided to throw in some random stuff to see whether anybody was actually reading their receipts, but I thought the bit about African slaves was in poor taste and would probably get them sued.

Da Weekend

Jul. 9th, 2017 09:18 pm
hudebnik: (Default)
So Friday evening we flew to Roanoke, VA, the nearest airport to the farm where my brother [profile] mankoeponymous was getting married. The wedding had a "burning" theme: part Burning Man, part fire-dancers (which has been a good deal of my brother's social circle for the past ten years or more), and since [personal profile] shalmestere and I are old fuddy-duddies who have never been to Burning Man OR (intentionally) danced while carrying or wearing anything that was on fire, we were a little dubious. But everybody was very welcoming, and it was a good chance to see a bunch of my family: my mother, two aunts, an uncle, my step-sister, a step-nephew, my half-brother, and my father. My mother and father, I gather, were halfway through introductions before they recognized one another; I guess they hadn't seen one another since my wedding, exactly 22 years before.

The bride had been in a pep band in college, so a marching band playing Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" accompanied the bride and groom to the space where the ceremony was to take place. (I played pipe-and-tabor, while [personal profile] shalmestere played sopranino recorder; I don't think anybody heard either of us. There was some confusion over what key to play the piece in: my brother sent out sheet music, but it was band score in which all the instruments are in different transpositions. Anyway, it was very spirited and peppy.) The vows were largely about recognizing that both parties are fallible human beings, that it's better to argue fairly and constructively than to not argue at all, that the only certainty in life is that things won't go exactly according to plan, etc. etc. During dinner, about a dozen twenty-and-thirty-somethings testified, passionately, in alternation about how wonderful the bride and the groom are. After dinner, we bid farewell to a bunch of relatives, watched a slide show of alternating kiddie pictures of the bride and the groom, and returned to our hotel before it got dark enough for fire-dancing (see "old fuddy-duddies", above).

Between Saturday morning and Sunday morning, we got to drink some good milkshakes, eat some good barbecue and Southern biscuits-and-gravy, and visit the Roanoke city zoo, which is on top of the mountain in the middle of the city (nice views of the other mountains that surround the city on all sides). It's a small zoo, where one can see pretty much everything in an hour, so it fit nicely between brunch with my mother, step-sister, and step-nephew and our afternoon flight home.

A bizarre but enjoyable weekend.
hudebnik: (Default)
After eight years of a President with class, tact, moderation, intellectual achievement, self control, a core of decency, and a commitment to public service, the American people decided they were tired of that, and elected the exact opposite. They knew what they were getting: Trump in the White House is pretty much the same as Trump on the campaign trail.

Indeed, as better-known bloggers have pointed out, the single most coherent thing about Trump's policies is that, right or wrong, right or left, they are the opposite of Obama's. Except when other people (e.g. the Pentagon) get to make the policies, in which case they're pretty similar to Obama's.
hudebnik: (Default)
A number of our favorite early-music recording artists (e.g. Ciaramella, Ex Umbris) have recently been slumming in the 17th century, playing ornamentation or improvisation over grounds such as Chaconne, La Folia, Passamezzo (of whatever age), etc. So after listening to some of these on CD this evening, I went to Home Depot looking for late-night cup-hooks and sand, still whistling variations on the Chaconne, and suddenly over the loudspeaker come the first notes of... "Bodyguard".
hudebnik: (Default)
Robert Reich's blog today makes several criticisms of Donald Trump's much-touted "$1 trillion infrastructure plan".

  1. It's not really $1 trillion in Federal infrastructure spending; it's $200 billion in Federal infrastructure spending and $800 billion in tax breaks to private developers.

  2. It's not really a plan; it's "a page of talking points".

  3. It's "a giant public subsidy to developers and investors".

  4. The projects to be built would charge tolls to the public.

  5. The projects to be built would be "the wrong kind of infrastructure": new construction, not maintenance, and where they're most profitable, rather than where they're most needed.

#1: I don't see the distinction. In either case, it's $1 trillion of taxpayer dollars being spent on infrastructure. There's no obvious, inherent reason (but see later points) that having the Federal government do it directly is more efficient than having private developers do it and be paid by the Federal government, and no obvious, inherent reason that paying Federal developers as "contractors" is more efficient than paying them through tax breaks. Nor (Republican ideology notwithstanding) vice versa: the fact that it's being done by private industry and paid for through tax breaks doesn't inherently make it more efficient.

#2: True: the plan is pretty vague. Which on its own doesn't mean it's a good approach or a bad approach, just that it's too early to analyze it. I think this has become Trump's strategy for policy development: announce something vague, see which parts of it draw the most applause, and those parts become the actual policy, whether they work together coherently or not.

#3: The fact that private developers and investors get rich off it doesn't inherently mean it's not in the public interest (although it increases the risk of capture and rent-seeking, as developers spend a good deal of their tax breaks bribing lobbying Federal officials for more tax breaks rather than building things).

#4: True: the actual cost to taxpayers is not only the $1 trillion mentioned above but what they spend subsequently in tolls, and if the latter cost is "hidden", the plan looks more fiscally sound than it is. There are situations in which a toll bridge or road makes good economic sense: they have to get enough traffic that the tolls more-than-cover the cost of toll collection, and they have to be sufficiently better than non-toll alternatives that the toll doesn't have the effect of diverting much of that traffic onto non-toll alternatives. If these conditions aren't met, a toll bridge or road doesn't make economic sense. Which brings us to...

#5: ... what Reich calls "worst of all". The tax break dramatically reduces the cost to developers of a project, but they still won't do it unless it generates revenue, i.e. tolls. You can't put tolls on a local residential street, so local residential streets won't see a penny of the money. You can't make much on tolls in low-traffic rural areas, so low-traffic rural areas won't see much of the money. You (probably) don't earn the right to charge tolls by fixing a few potholes, only by building something big and new, so repairs and maintenance won't see much of the money. In short, projects would be picked based almost entirely on how much revenue they generate, rather than holistic cost/benefit calculations. Which has been Trump's business strategy for decades: build things for which other people pay most of the costs and you get most of the revenues.

If you want private industry to do things voluntarily that are in the public interest, you have to align their costs and benefits with the public's costs and benefits. If there's a substantial externalized benefit (say, decreased time wasted in traffic jams, or decreased air pollution), you need to estimate that and pay private industry in proportion to it. If there's a substantial externalized cost (say, the traffic-and-parking burden of a new residential or office building, or the impact on schools of a new housing development), you need to estimate that and charge private industry in proportion to it.
hudebnik: (Default)
In today's "Your 1600 Daily", the White House's daily e-letter about all the wonderful things Donald Trump is doing for America, is a section entitled "What We're Reading" ("we" presumably doesn't include the President himself, as reading isn't his strong point). The first item is the quotation "Rural areas would get federal dollars to rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects under a plan President Donald Trump will announce..." and a link to this article, which does indeed start with that sentence. The next sentence is

After facing criticism for a budget proposal that hung his rural voters out to dry with huge cuts to crop insurance, Medicaid, rural loan programs and air services, Trump will release details of the infrastructure plan in a speech on Wednesday that White House officials say will stress his commitment to rural communities.

Three sentences later:

A bill to allocate the funds, however, still does not exist. White House officials couldn’t say when such legislation might appear, or exactly how the president proposed to pay for his investment in rural infrastructure.
hudebnik: (Default)
Well, a mommy staircase and a daddy staircase love one another very much, and...


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