Wednesday, February 14, 2018

For Every Apostate, a Facebook Group

There is a guy I've come across who every now and then
will mingle up his scripture with philosophies of men

In Sunday school we roll our eyes when he brings up his views
on politics or random crap reported by the news

He disregards the text and mostly reads between the lines
'cause that's the part that talks about the gospel's REAL designs

He thinks he's got a better read on being truly pious
while blinded by his omnipresent confirmation bias

He contradicts inspired words from more official sources
with snippets out of context from the Journal of Discourses

The chicken of philosophy has flown the gospel coop,
his nostrils flare and he declares, "I'll start a Facebook group!"

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Post-Recession Recovery Under Reagan and Obama

Reagan and Obama both started their terms with recessions; Obama in 2009 and Reagan in 1982, which makes for a useful out-of-the-trough comparison for economic growth afterward. Obama's recession was deeper, giving him an advantage at the start, but even with the handicap, Reagan outperformed Obama by two to one in GDP growth and median personal income growth.

The years following the recessions (1983-1988 and 2010-2016), Reagan's economy grew at an average of 4.55% annually while Obama's economy grew at an average of 2.14% annually.

Obama's best year for growth, 2.9% in 2015, was worse than all but two of Reagan's years (1981-1982). After the recession, Reagan spent every year between 3.5% and 7.3% GDP growth. Obama's post-recession growth ranged from 1.5% to 2.9%.

But let's suppose you don't care about GDP. Let's look at median personal income; what the guy in the middle takes home, adjusted for inflation.

Real median personal income under Reagan increased from $21,627 to $25,905 in 2016 dollars, an increase of 19.7%. If we just count the post-recession years, it grew by 16.2%.

Under Obama, real median personal income increased from $29,235 to $31,099 in 2016 dollars, an increase of 6.3%. If we just count the post-recession years, it grew by 7.9%.

Or maybe you don't care about GDP or how the middle class is doing; you'd rather just attribute Reagan's success to deficit spending, and think that Obama would have been successful if he just spent some more money. Well, Reagan increased the national debt by 19% of GDP. Obama increased the national debt by 26% of GDP.

The people who call Reagan's policies a failure never seem to mention that median personal income and the economy as a whole grew more than twice as much under Reagan's recovery as they did under Obama's recovery. Obama's most notable economic achievement is being the only president since we started tracking GDP in 1929 to never have a single year of 3% GDP growth, and he had two terms to manage not to do it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I Have Accidentally Committed Priestcraft

Night shift story time again! I'm just gonna do the long rambling version, full of fun and adventure, and also barely-connected tangents given in nigh-incomprehensible style (I LOVE PARENTHESES SO MUCH)!

So this guest came up to the front desk and said that his wife knew nothing about the Mormon faith but she was interested in the Book of Mormon. We have 'em in our rooms because Utah, along with the Bibles that the Gideons leave (by the way, I've worked at a bunch of hotels and I don't think I've ever actually seen a Gideon; I think they must be ninjas. Also, the Bible Dictionary says that "Gideon" means "hewer down of men" which is basically "man-mower" and I don't think I'd want to mess with that. So... probably ninjas) but in this case somebody had written in the one in their room and they were wondering if they could have one to keep. In my head I'm going "OH MY GOSH I COULD HAVE USED A FEW MORE PEOPLE LIKE YOU WHEN I WAS A MISSIONARY" and I scrambled around a bit at the desk to find the box of extras that we keep on hand, but they were nowhere to be found. PROBABLY Satan's doing, is what I'm saying. Either that or it was housekeeping's fault somehow. Basically all the evils in the world originate from either Satan or the Fairfield housekeeping department. Except when it's Dave, who I suspect has ties to both of those things. (Did I mention that I asked Dave to get us a mop? He got us one! And it's TINY. I'm looking this gift horse in the mouth and I can't even see if there are teeth in there, it's so small)

Anyway, I check the system and find an unoccupied room, make myself a key, and run over there to get a Book of Mormon, because somebody's eternal salvation is at stake here (but not really because they'd get a chance even if I drop the ball, but they'd have to wait who knows how long for that bus to come by again, you know? And what are the odds of some random person in Utah being willing to give them a Book of Mormon anyway? It's 55% according to a recent Pew Research survey on religiosity of adults in Utah) and when I get to the room, I check the drawer and the only thing that's in there is the Bible. "WHY IS THERE JUST THE STICK OF JUDAH IN HERE!?" I don't completely dismiss the possibility that it was taken by our housekeepers, who are basically the Mongol Horde with cleaning carts and fingers so sticky they could probably scale a sheer glass surface (like geckos, except that geckos don't have sticky fingers, they use something called van der Waals forces to take advantage of attraction between atoms which is totally sweet, but housekeeping has sticky fingers in the figurative sense in that they steal anything that isn't nailed down, and if it IS nailed down then HEY LOOK FREE NAILS) and I'm basically never above blaming housekeeping for things not being where they ought to be.

Suddenly it occurs to me that we had the big Jehovah's Witness convention a couple of weeks ago (¡En Inglés YYYYY Español!), and it wouldn't have occurred to me to blame them except we actually had a couple of them come down and ask if they could leave the Book of Mormon at the front desk because they didn't want to be in the same room with it. So maybe it was them one or maybe somebody else in the group saw a chance to strike a blow for Jesus/Jesús and took it home to burn it or something. Pretty nice guests for the most part, though.

I run back to the desk and get another room key for a different room. The guest is like "If you can't find one, it's okay" because he obviously doesn't grasp the SERIOUSNESS OF THE SITUATION. If I can't give a Book of Mormon to a guy who is literally standing there asking for one, I'll basically be the worst Mormon ever. I'm already not doing so hot on account of that whole hating my neighbor thing (seriously it's like RULE #2 so it's kind of a big deal. I don't mean my actual neighbors; in the three years since I've lived where I am now I have spoken to them all a grand total of zero times, which is awesome, and in my last apartment I only talked to my neighbors once and that was when they accidentally locked themselves out of their apartment with their baby inside and so I broke in with a butter knife in like 30 seconds LIKE A HERO).

Fortunately the second room had one, and I checked to make sure nobody had written garbage in this one, but it was cool. You can't foil me this time, housekeeping/Satan/Dave/JW Convention (¡En Inglés YYYYY Español!) I was feeling pretty good about everything when suddenly he gave me a tip. Three whole dollars. Which means I have now committed priestcraft, spreading religion for filthy lucre, and my efforts at being Not the Worst Mormon Ever were all for naught. When he asked about it being missing from the first room I told him that I suspected that the Jehovah's Witnesses took it, and he told me that every Jehovah's Witness he's ever met has been completely crazy. I told him, "They have a very... insular culture." He told me I had a lot of tact, and I told him that it's my job, which means I stop doing it when I clock out.

The front desk supervisor has been back from her mission for like a year or something, and when she came in to work this morning after all of this was over with I was like "I GAVE A GUEST A BOOK OF MORMON" and she got this look on her face that was halfway between "THAT'S AWESOME" and "My best night auditor is proselyting behind the counter at work, I am going to have to fire him and the hotel will surely fail." Then I told her that he had asked for one and that I accidentally committed priestcraft because he tipped me, and she laughed a bunch at that. I was having such a good time with my own cleverness that I forgot about the cash drawer key in my pocket and drove all the way home with it, and had to spend 20 minutes driving it back. Thanks a lot, housekeeping. Jerks.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I Don't Much Like Christmas Anymore

So with the year winding down, I decided to write a little about my thoughts on Christmas and a few other things. Specifically, Christmas as a sort of social barometer.

Christmas is both a religious and a secular holiday, but you wouldn't know it from the presentation of Christmas in the public sphere. This year I noticed that while as always Christmas music was absolutely everywhere, it was always of the lamest secular variety: Britney Spears singing a song to Santa about how good she's been this year and similar garbage. These are the depths we've sunk to in a desperate bit to not offend people by playing O Holy Night, God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen, or even something as vaguely benign as Good King Wenceslas. Whatever.

Something that has been bothering me for a lot longer is the insane consumer frenzy associated with Christmas. We have Thanksgiving to get all of the gratitude out of our system so the very next day we can launch ourselves into the most crass display of consumerism of the entire year: Black Friday. It's the sort of animalistic savagery best narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

It's not particularly surprising that Christmas feeds into this, as many companies are reliant upon Christmas spending to stay afloat. Being of a free market capitalist persuasion ideologically, I am aware that the success or failure of a business should be determined by whether it is making efficient use of resources to satisfy consumer demands. But that just brings to the fore the reality that without people spending exorbitant amounts of money on crap every year, these companies would not, and should not, exist as they currently do. This means they have a tremendous incentive to maintain the status quo of Christmas as a months-long shopping spree. This is why you start hearing Christmas music in some stores sometime around Halloween, and the day after Christmas it's basically everywhere.

I wouldn't say that businesses are solely to blame for this; consumers want to buy stuff for Christmas, so companies provide it, but they in turn fan the flames for all they're worth so people want to buy more stuff for Christmas. It's a mutually reinforcing relationship, I think. And I think it sucks, largely because the values of the people involved are garbage. More on that in a minute.

Among the capitalist free market crowd, contempt for consumerism is relatively rare. A lot of people don't even make a distinction between private ownership of capital; that is, relegating the risks and rewards of entrepreneurial activity to individuals rather than society in aggregate, with the kind of crass materialism embodied in contemporary Christmas.

The root of the problem is that people are inherently hierarchical, and there is no solution for this. Every society has means of establishing a pecking order of sorts; it could be something formalized like a caste system, it could be adherence to a dominant ideology within a group, or it could just be buying the most expensive crap you can get your hands on and showing it off so everyone knows how "successful" you are. It's the time-honored tradition of spending money you don't have on stuff you can't afford to impress people you don't like.

In the United States, in the absence of some other system of values people seem to default to the accumulation of stuff as the measure of success, so wealth and status are highly connected. This leads to things like people accumulating credit card debt to temporarily maintain a lifestyle beyond what they can afford, burying themselves in mortgage debt to get a bigger house than they really need, or competing for status with expensive clothing while relying on payday loans to make it through the week. All of this crap is devastating on both an individual and a social level.

When people signal their status with the crap they buy and savings accounts don't even beat inflation, any temporary bump in unemployment brings with it a decline in demand because nobody has any savings. It makes the economy brittle. This is a consequence of the materialistic values of our society and our system of fractional reserve banking which undermines the incentives for saving by removing the need for banks to attract deposits in order to finance lending.

So, I can see the appeal of trying to get rid of income as a barometer for success, but if it were gone people would just latch onto some other dumb thing to show how much better they are than everybody else, which is probably a lot of the impetus behind the recent rise in nutjob ideologies that tend to flourish in insular online cabals; militant feminism, "social justice" and whatever else. Replacing materialism with the other stupid signaling games these people play still wouldn't fix the problem of people not having any savings and getting wiped out the first time it rains, since I think that problem is mostly caused by the downright insulting interest rates that banks need to offer in order to cover their minimum reserve requirements. As such, I think the materialism is more of a consequence of the lack of other values by which people would construct their little hierarchies, but that the popular alternatives aren't any better. I'd much rather work with some douchebag who thinks his new car makes him a better person instead of working with a social justice warrior; the first is content to think he's better because he bought some crap, while the second wants the total ideological subjugation of everyone. It's more tolerable to work with someone who wants to talk about the stuff he bought than it is to work with a zealot.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Well Would a Gun Ban Work, Anyway?

Today I was having a debate with somebody on the Internet about gun control, and it led me to do some research that I found interesting enough to share.

I brought up the fact that Chicago had banned handguns for decades and was still swimming in them, to which he replied that making handguns illegal doesn't mean anything if people are allowed to bring them in from outside. "There are no police checkpoints where they check for handguns," and so on.

I said that it was illegal to possess an unregistered handgun and that Chicago didn't allow anyone to register handguns, so people weren't actually allowed to bring them into the city legally. I also pointed out that he had just conceded that a handgun ban is ineffective without some serious police-state apparatus, to which he replied that you could just ban them nationwide and not have to worry about police checkpoints in your cities. You could have checkpoints at the border, and pretend that we can't just make handguns with our huge stockpile of machine tools.

But how well does that approach work, really? He insists it would work, I say it wouldn't, nobody has any evidence to present against his hypothetical scenario. At least, that's how it would play out if I weren't totally freaking awesome. I finally found a productive use for the War on Drugs: providing a quantitative measure of just how much the government sucks at stopping contraband.
Here's where the research comes in. I picked 2012 as the year for grabbing my data, because it's pretty recent but no so recent that the various public agencies haven't gotten around to publishing their annual reports (which often show up halfway through the next year, or later).

The Federal government commissioned the RAND corporation, a research institute, to estimate the size of the illegal drug market in the United States. Well, part of it, since they just focused on four major drugs: marijuana, cocaine (including crack), heroin, and meth. They came up with (paraphrasing here) "About $108 billion, give or take we-don't-know-how-much, in 2010 dollars."

Unfortunately their data didn't go to 2012. Two years shouldn't make that much difference, and the tendency is for markets to grow with time rather than shrink, so this is gives the DEA two years worth of wiggle room. I couldn't find 2010 data on DEA drug seizures because the DEA website is worthless (more on that in a bit).

So now that we have a ballpark figure for the street value of the illegal drug trade in the US (part of it, anyway), we can check with the DEA and see what the street value of all the drugs they confiscated in 2012 is, thus giving us a reasonable estimate of what percentage of illegal drugs make it to market vs getting found and confiscated by various police forces reporting their statistics to the DEA.

It turns out that the answer to this question is: basically nothing. In 2012 the DEA reported to Congress that they confiscated $2.8 billion (in 2012 dollars, natch) related to drug busts, of which $750 million was cash. So, with some generous rounding (what's $50 million in government figures, anyway?), they snagged $2.1 billion worth of drugs and non-cash property in 2012. This figure includes cars, homes, ships, airplanes, pretty much anything owned by drug dealers or smugglers (they actually bagged a submarine back in 2006, one out of apparently many). But since the DEA didn't say how much of the loot was actually drugs, and how much of the drugs were the type of drugs that we were including in our estimate of the total size of the drug market, we'll have to just give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the whole non-cash take was drugs, specifically of the type that we were including before. At every step we are giving the DEA the benefit of the doubt because even with all of those unrealistically favorable estimates, they still only confiscate about 2% of the drugs. In reality, it's probably half that or less, but it really doesn't matter since we've got so much room to overestimate their effectiveness without actually making them seem like they are making a difference.

I tried pulling up the data from the DEA website, but it is a useless pit of spin and back-patting that didn't even have data on the street value of the drugs they confiscated. I suppose that the DEA providing this data alongside estimates of how large the drug trade is would show people just how ineffective the DEA is at actually reducing the illegal drug trade. Instead, they are busy doing things like trumpeting the decline in cocaine use over the last few years and ignoring the data that suggests that crackheads have just moved on to other drugs instead. Government websites are usually pretty good about disseminating useful data, but the DEA website seems less focused on dissemination and more interested on dissimulation. Specifically, trying to show that the DEA isn't ridiculously ineffective. If I could make comparisons to the street value of the drugs they seized, I would. They list some kind of vague quantities (how much is a "hallucinogenic dose" exactly?) but don't really go into detail about how much it's all worth. The difficulty in comparing data isn't entirely their fault; the RAND study should have listed quantities instead of just street value, but since their reporting doesn't reek of disingenuous attempts at obfuscation I'm willing to give them a pass on the inconvenience.

So then, now that we have established that the odds of the DEA intercepting drugs before they are consumed are, at best, about 50 to 1 against, even with their casual disregard for civil liberties (they'll send a SWAT team to kick in your door based on nothing more than an anonymous tip, which has led to the practice of Swatting people you don't like, or just for jollies) we can start making guesses about how effective they would be at intercepting smuggled weapons.

My guess is: not very. Guns are usually made of commonly used polymers and steel, so new guns tend to smell like the things you would smuggle them in. Dogs can sniff out gunpowder, allowing them to find a gun that has been fired, but new guns (and properly cleaned guns) don't smell like that. Drugs are produced in conditions that serve no other purpose; a meth lab is obviously used for producing meth, an underground hydroponics farm is obviously used for growing pot, and so on. Guns are produced with machine tools that have a huge variety of legal uses, so finding out that somebody has a machine shop in his garage isn't proof that he's a black market gunsmith. Even low-explosives like gunpowder have legal uses; fireworks and such. If 3D printing advances to the point where we can make guns that don't suck (because we can already 3D print crappy guns), the source of guns will only get harder to contain.

All of this adds up to guns, particularly handguns, being a lot harder to deal with as contraband, but even if by some miracle the government was able to increase the effectiveness of a "War on Guns" by a factor of ten compared to its War on Drugs, it'd still only be getting about one out of five. Chicago's decades-long effort to ban handguns was ineffective (until it was put out of its misery by the Supreme Court in 2010, on 2nd Amendment grounds), and expanding that policy nationwide, even if it weren't a blatant violation of the 2nd Amendment, would likely be no more effective than the War on Drugs has been.

A ban on guns would serve much the same purpose as the ban on drugs: to make a fretful populace feel like politicians are "doing something" about the situation, no matter how futile those efforts may be.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Neopolitan Libertarianism

I've noticed that libertarians come in three flavors. There is some overlap on the boundaries, but it works for a hastily kludged together metaphor.

The first kind is the Practical group. They're the ones who support a smaller government because the government doesn't do a very good job at most of the things that it tries to do, and we'd be better off if they didn't try to do so much. They criticize the government as an inefficient solution to society's problems.

The second kind is the Ethical group. They're the ones who talk about how many government programs are unconstitutional, equate taxation with theft, and generally decry the government as having far exceeded its proper role as narrowly defined in the Constitution.

The third kind is the Crazy group. They're the ones who think that the government is mind controlling people with fluoride, that the moon landings were fake, and that a secret conspiracy of The Federal Reserve/Freemasons/Illuminati/Lizardmen is running the world from behind the scenes. Some people just fixate on one conspiracy, while others go all-in and believe everything.

The first and second kind get along fine, and a lot of libertarians use arguments from both camps. They're the mainstream libertarians, as much as the term can be applied to a somewhat fringe group, anyway. The problem, and where almost all of the intralibertarian conflict comes from, is the third group. The Crazies regularly cling to the notion that a small circle of elites could effectively run the world in secret, which is strictly antithetical to the Practical notion that it's just not possible for a few politicians to micromanage a large and complex society. The Crazies make the Ethical group uncomfortable because they both agree that the government is evil and doing things that it shouldn't, but the Ethicals think that the list includes things like the income tax and covert surveillance, while the Crazies think the list includes vaccinating children and pasteurizing milk.

My deepest wish, at least so far as this topic goes, is for the Crazies to just shut up. Seriously, guys, you are not helping. Every time some other group attacks libertarians, they go after you because you're the easiest targets and you make us all look bad. Every time there is a debate between the sane libertarians and someone else, you jump in and start lobbing your Crazy softball arguments that the other side just knocks out of the park because Lizardmen aren't real, fluoride doesn't allow mind control, Obama wasn't born in Kenya, and vaccination is settled science, you idiots. You make the rest of us look like fools because we have you rabid nutjobs on our side, screwing up the signal to noise ratio with your incoherent nonsense.

Listen, Crazies; if you really want to have any chance of the libertarian movement making any progress in the political arena, you need to stop making yourselves the insane poster-children of the libertarian movement. Just take your medication—I promise they aren't trying to contaminate your precious bodily fluids—and never talk about politics again.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Hat, Piano, and Skyrim

This post contains exactly what it says on the tin.

To answer the obvious question: "Why are you wearing a crocheted Skyrim helmet? Were you burned by dragons or something like that?"

Oh no, it's just they're terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.

Since I already had my camera set up, I recorded a few other songs as well.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni - Dear You
Castlevania SotN: The Lost Painting
Legend of Grimrock: Main Theme