Sunday, October 6, 2019

Riqui — May 15, 2006 to October 4, 2019

Norene and I both expected to be emotional basket cases when the day came, and I'm not saying we were not sad, but...

Riqui (Suncatcher's Periquita, officially) had a bout of congestive heart failure on January 3rd and the vet told us then "3 months... maybe 4" so this wasn't exactly "a surprise".  With excellent care, she lasted through October, but in recent days she started huffing more, not exactly a cough, but respiratory.  She also started getting foggy.  She'd go outside on the lawn and seem not to know exactly why she was there.  She was becoming incontinent, but... knew where the Puppy Pads were and what they were for.  Friday when we took her to see the vet again, her tongue was purple.  She was visibly struggling to breathe.

You always wonder "Am I doing this for my convenience?" but there's a flip-side to that coin: "Am I keeping her alive so that I, myself, won't feel pain?"  In the end, we opted to take the pain to save her from it.

I suspect it's going to hurt a long time.  Memories are like that, damn it.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Dave Boyd and the STSS

When I worked at IBM's Field Engineering headquarters Information Systems Department (FEIS) in the late 70s, I had the good fortune to collaborate on several projects with David P. Boyd, a truly gifted systems analyst with an impressive résumé of accomplishments, including writing the curriculum for the first Autocoder class.  (I don't know what 'Autocoder' is, by the way.)  Dave was the analyst and the brains behind the Suggestions Tracking and Statistical System (STSS), FE's first IMS DB/DC application.  For reasons that were not initially clear, I, a very junior programmer, was tasked with doing the core programming for this quite-elaborate application.

Management at FEHQ was very averse to slipping a date once the client had signed off on it.  That meant that on occasion programmers (and sometimes the analysts) would work through the night and sometimes through the weekend.

On one such overnight effort, Dave and I were returning from FE's Sterling Forest Data Center in the wee hours of the morning.  I don't recall the project or whether it was a one-day or a multi-day work-through, but I do recall that Dave had driven us there in his Porsche 914.  As soon as we were sure the project would make its deadline, we wrapped up and headed for the parking lot.  It was around 2 AM when we set off for Yorktown Heights where Dave and I both lived.  The only plausible route was Seven Lakes Parkway winding through Harriman State Park, one lane in each direction, heavily forested, and unlit save for the occasional traffic circle.  As we approached Tiorati Circle, Dave casually mentioned that Tiorati was the highest elevation on Seven Lakes Parkway.  "You know what that means, right?" he asked me.  I admitted that I did not know what he was asking.  "It means that we could coast from Tiorati all the way to the Bear Mountain Bridge.  Are you in a hurry to get home?"  I shook my head.  A minute later, Dave negotiated Tiorati Circle at 45mph and as he rejoined the main road, slipped the 914's stick into neutral.  For the next 20-something miles, gravity provided all the motive power to the car, and Dave only put it back into gear when we could see the bridge at the end of a long downslope.  It was the weirdest sensation: racing down a darkened country road at highway speed, with the road ahead illuminated only by the car's headlights, and the Porsche engine purring contentedly.

STSS had been mandated to FEIS by Corporate because the Suggestion Department in Endicott (NY) was nominally run by the Field Engineering Division even though it served all non-plant locations in the United States and thus served several different divisions' employees.  The nature of the project involved a great deal of data entry, so much that it stretched over several years.  Since it was to be a 'flagship application' and involved technologies FEIS was largely unfamiliar with, the project time line was allowed to extend far longer than would otherwise be permitted.  While I did most of the design and coding, several other programmers would now and then be pressed into service to produce parts of the system as well.

When it was complete, the software was cut over to run in parallel test mode.  That is: Endicott considered it to be "running in production" even if everyone in 'production' considered it to be not-yet-installed.  Getting it documented and installed was my job alone since everyone including Dave had been shifted onto other projects leaving me as the last man standing.  After several abortive attempts to get 'the package' accepted by the production side of the house, it became clear that some sort of animus was at work to prevent STSS from becoming 'official', and the animus extended to my own management who steadfastly refused to intervene to get an otherwise perfectly-working software system past a gamut of ever-changing rules.  In August, 1979, with STSS still officially uninstalled, I left IBM for greener pastures.  Within six months, Endicott's management began complaining to Corporate management about the situation, and Corporate told FEHQ to 'get that installed or find a new job'.  Presto!  Installed!

Each of the plant locations also maintained their own Suggestions Departments and each therefore had the same problems associated with tracking and counting submitted suggestions.  Before too long, plants here and there started whining that they didn't have an STSS of their own.  Dave Boyd — as the most knowledgeable person regarding STSS — was pulled back from whatever he was then doing and assigned the task of visiting each plant and installing a copy of STSS for each of them.  Well, plants aren't only in the United States.  There are plants in Milan Italy, Corbeille-Essonnes France, Boeblingen Germany, and several other places.  Dave got The Grand Tour of Europe.

Years later, I would learn that FE was resentful at Corporate HQ 'ramming STSS down their throats' and assigned the newest, greenest programmer they could find to screw up that project to a fare-thee-well, but they never told me about their nefarious plans.  Thinking they meant the project to be a success, I did everything I could to get it to work.  They were very, very upset that I succeeded, and I think they were more surprised than I that it turned out as well as it did.

IBM, I hear, no longer has a Suggestions Program, so FEHQ got their wish after all.

Monday, July 22, 2019

A response to 16 liberal talking points

A friend posted these 16 theses on Facebook with the proviso: "(Got another opinion? Put it on your page, not mine)".  Each of these 'liberal talking points' deserves an individual reply, but since I have been disinvited to post anywhere but my own page...  so let it be written; so let it be done.


1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members.  A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected.  Period.

Resp:  It is the essence of 'civilization' that the old, the weak, the infirm, and children are cared for and protected when they cannot do so for themselves.  On this count, there cannot be any argument without first abandoning any pretense of civilization oneself.

2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that's interpreted as "I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all."  This is not the case.  I'm fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it's impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes "let people die because they can't afford healthcare" a better alternative.  I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it.  And no, I'm not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen.

Resp:  To say that healthcare is a right reveals a gross misunderstanding of the nature of 'rights'.  One cannot have a right without a corresponding responsibility.  My right to own a gun, for instance, carries with it a responsibility not to use it for evil.  What responsibility is associated with a right to healthcare?  It can only be that someone is charged with the responsibility of providing healthcare.  Who would that be?  Here is a case where, again, the productive sector is being asked — no that's not right — is being ordered to provide for someone who can't or won't provide for themselves.  If it were only the old, the weak, and the infirm, our innate moral sense would urge us to do this without coercion, but that's not what's at stake here, is it?

3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone.  It doesn't necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I'm mystified as to why it can't work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt.

Resp:  What we see as 'the education crisis' is largely manufactured by bad public policy.  Suppose the government decided that teachers must be able to get to work teaching and offered a $10,000 tax rebate for any teacher who bought a new car.  What do you think would happen to the price of new cars?  If you guessed that the price of cars would suddenly jump by several thousand dollars, you can see why the price of a college education has quintupled in just a few decades.  (The same analysis, by the way, applies to that 'housing bubble' of a few years back.)  Market forces must be allowed to 'price' the value of a degree in Medieval French Literature or we will soon find ourselves with scholars who can quote verbatim 13th-century love poems but can't be employed anywhere but McDonald's.

4. I don't believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don't want to work.  I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this.  Ever.  I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can't afford to go to the doctor.  Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this.  Somehow believing that makes me a communist.

Resp:  Jack is not rich because Jill is poor.  There is not a causal relationship between those two things.  There is a causal relationship between 'Jack is rich' and 'Jack runs a government-sanctioned monopoly'.  If you're serious about solving the problem of wealth inequality, you're not going to do so with simple-minded redistributionist schemes.  Plus, recognize that there will always be some inequality; some people are more talented than others, and some don't see money as the be-all and end-all of life.

5. I don't throw around "I'm willing to pay higher taxes" lightly.  If I'm suggesting something that involves paying more, well, it's because I'm fine with paying my share as long as it's actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare.

Resp:  Well, you just pinned two things that can't happen without government intervention, and you think the answer is 'more government intervention'.  I don't know how to counter that.  Checkmate.

6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage.  Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes.  What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water.  Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multi-billion-dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn't have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live.

Resp:  Should companies have to pay 'x' dollars for work that isn't worth 'x' dollars?  What do you do with employees who don't/can't/won't contribute to your bottom line at least the equivalent of the minimum wage?  Answer: you fire them and replace them with machines.  What happens to your business if ALL your employees produce less than you are forced to pay them?  Your business is now 'your former business'.  Good idea?  Then, too, 'minimum wage jobs' aren't meant to provide a living wage.  They're meant to provide the kind of experience one needs to get a better job.  If you can only make minimum wage, you shouldn't be starting a family.

7. I am not anti-Christian.  I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc.  (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; *compulsory* prayer in school is - and should be - illegal).  All I ask is that Christians recognize *my* right to live according to *my* beliefs.  When I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law, I'm not "offended by Christianity" — I'm offended that you're trying to force me to live by your religion's rules.  You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia law on you?  That's how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me.  Be a Christian.  Do your thing.  Just don't force it on me or mine.

Resp:  THAT is a true 'liberal' position, one that all the founding fathers would have applauded.  It boils down to 'leave me alone', a sentiment we find all through the revolutionary writings, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.  Where did we go wrong?  We said "Hmm.. clean food and untainted meat: good idea; let's have an FDA..." and we were off and running.

8. I don't believe LGBT people should have more rights than you.  I just believe they should have the *same* rights as you.

Resp:  Another true liberal position, but who says they have fewer rights?  Would that be... umm... Congress?

9. I don't believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN'T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they're supposed to be abusing, and if they're "stealing" your job it's because your employer is hiring illegally).  I'm not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc).

Resp:  While Republicans (and occasionally Democrats) might dispute this, the Constitution nowhere grants authority to anyone, Congress or the President, to control immigration (you could look it up).  Congress is granted power 'to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization', and that's as far as it goes.  Surprised?  Whether you acknowledge it or not, the root of the current malaise is not 'immigration' per se, but rather the welfare state we have allowed this country to become, that and the fact that Congress has bobbled the ball on that 'uniform Rule of Naturalization' thingy.

10. I don't believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc.  It's not that I want the government's hands in everything — I just don't trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc. are actually SAFE.  Is the government devoid of shadiness?  Of course not.  But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they're harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc.  Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation.

Resp:  I would much rather have Consumer Union inspecting my food than FDA and USDA.  CU has a vested interest in maintaining their reputation for honesty and fair-dealing.  FDA and USDA?  Not so much.  Every drug ever recalled by the FDA was first determined to be safe and effective by the FDA.  As to 'consumers have recourse', I refer you to the vaunted 'tobacco settlement'.  Was any of that monster fine used to recompense anyone actually harmed by smoking?  Nope, and the terms of the settlement immunized the tobacco companies against lawsuits.  Nice people you're hangin' with...

11. I believe our current administration is fascist.  Not because I dislike them or because I can’t get over an election, but because I've spent too many years reading and learning about the Third Reich to miss the similarities.  Not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past.

Resp:  If by 'fascist' you mean 'controlling the means of production', then we've been fascist for about 170 years.  I think what you mean is 'totalitarian', and we've been that for about 120 years.  Only the fact that 120 million Americans own 400 million guns and 300 billion rounds of ammunition has kept the government from lining people up against the wall.

12. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed.  Which means those with privilege — white, straight, male, economic, etc. — need to start listening, even if you don't like what you're hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that's causing people to be marginalized.

Resp:  Does that mean you want to forbid facial tattoos and eyebrow piercings?  Because if anything 'marginalizes' people, it's that.  Most marginalization of people results from the decisions of the marginalized rather than their skin color or gender.  Efforts to coerce an end to that marginalization results in bakers being sued for turning away profitable business.  Coercion is bad no matter what the reason.

13. I am not interested in coming after your blessed guns, nor is anyone serving in government.  What I am interested in is sensible policies, including background checks, that just MIGHT save one person’s, perhaps a toddler’s, life by the hand of someone who should not have a gun.  (Got another opinion?  Put it on your page, not mine).

Resp:  There is not a single 'sensible gun control policy' in the liberal catechism that would have saved even one life — ever.  If anyone has proof that that's incorrect, I'd like to see it.  120 million Americans own 400 million guns and 300 billion rounds of ammunition.  If any appreciable fraction of those were as dangerous and unstable as they are made out to be, there wouldn't be 30,000 fatal gunshots each year; there would be 30,000 fatal gunshots each month.

14. I believe in so-called political correctness.  I prefer to think it’s social politeness.  If I call you Chuck and you say you prefer to be called Charles I’ll call you Charles.  It’s the polite thing to do.  Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better.  When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you're using, you now know better.  So why not do better?  How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person?

Resp:  I will happily call someone 'Theo' rather than Theodore, Ted, or Eddie, and I may even — if they ask politely — refer to them as 'Your Serene Boffness', but I'll laugh when I do.  Force me to do that?  That's really what this is all about, isn't it?

15. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs.  There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil.  Sorry, billionaires.  Maybe try investing in something else.

Resp:  The laws of physics are immutable.  No amount of wishing will change the fact that wind, solar, hydroelectric, and thermal energy together cannot — that's an important word: cannot — sustain the world's current lifestyle, but it can destroy entire national economies trying prove that they can.

16. I believe that women should not be treated as a separate class of human.  They should be paid the same as men who do the same work, should have the same rights as men and should be free from abuse.  Why on earth shouldn’t they be?

Resp:  The laws of nature are as immutable as the laws of physics.  Men cannot bear children and parthenogenesis doesn't work for our species.  That means that men and women are biologically different, and no one with even half a brain disputes that.  That women must bear the children and are in a relatively fragile state while doing so means that they cannot — there's that word again — work the same as men.  At some point, they are forced (!) to attend to the birthing process and not attend to 'their job'.  Men provide muscle mass and DNA; women create civilization; let's not screw that up.

I think that about covers it.  Bottom line is that I'm a liberal because I think we should take care of each other.  That doesn't mean you should work 80 hours a week so your lazy neighbor can get all your money.  It just means I don't believe there is any scenario in which preventable suffering is an acceptable outcome as long as money is saved.

Resp:  That must mean you're anti-war.  What are you doing voting Democrat (or Republican)?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Kindly General Lee

While surfing the internet today, I was directed to a 'recommended link' from The Atlantic debunking the 'canard' of Robert E. Lee as a gentlemanly soldier and talented tactician.  Of course there was not an opportunity to comment on the article, and I always suspect foul play when a publication thus shies away from adverse opinions.  The author of the piece, Adam Serwer, suggests that Lee was a poor tactician, else why would he fight a conventional war against an industrial behemoth?  And 'gentleman'?  What sort of gentleman would own slaves?  According to The Atlantic, the war was all about slavery and Lee was responsible for hundreds of thousands dead or maimed.  No wonder they don't allow comments!

I warrant the vast majority of Americans today actually do believe the Civil War was 'all about slavery'.  Why wouldn't they?  It's what they've been taught in every American History class since they were six.  It's not true that slavery had nothing to do with the war, but to say it was the entire, or even the primary, cause of the war is provable nonsense.  The easiest proof of that can be found in the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Civil War started, we're told, on April 12th, 1861 when South Carolinian troops shelled federal troops occupying Fort Sumter.  The Emancipation Proclamation was issued January 1st, 1863.  Now, that's odd, isn't it?  The war was 'all about slavery' but Lincoln waited over 20 months after the war started before making the empty gesture of declaring free those slaves then in territory the Union had no control over.  Further, slaves in Pennsylvania and New York weren't covered by that proclamation because Pennsylvania and New York were not 'in rebellion'.  How strange that those slaves would continue as slaves when the whole conflict was 'all about slavery'!

At the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union was getting its clock cleaned by someone who was, according to The Atlantic, not very good at warfare.  Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a sop to the abolitionists who, up until that time, didn't see much reason to enlist.  Afterwards, the war was 'a war to free the slaves' and abolitionists signed up in droves, filling the Union ranks.  That's where we get the idea that it was 'all about slavery'.

Lee could have fought a guerrilla war, and it would have been ghastly.  It also would have ended the United States as it was then seen.  Lincoln had already shown himself ready to trash the Constitution in the name of increasing federal power.  Federal troops occupied and shut down Northern newspapers whose editorial position opposed the war.  First amendment?  What First amendment are you talking about?

Lincoln couldn't, of course, shut down foreign newspapers, and the view from across the pond is enlightening.  Virtually every European newspaper of the day thought the cause of the U.S. Civil War was 'tariff and trade policy', not 'slavery'.  The U.S. heavily tariffed manufactured imported cotton goods.  The South produced cotton as its major crop, sold it to whomever would pay the going price, and that cotton would become shirts and other white goods in the mills of England, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, but the products arriving from Europe were exorbitantly priced due to the added tax.  Eventually, Europe stopped buying cotton from America because they weren't selling any product there, switched to Egyptian cotton, and left the South with only one place to sell their output: the North.  The North, now with no competition for the South's cotton, could squeeze the South on price.  It wasn't slavery that caused the Civil War, it was economics.  The South was getting screwed by the North, and everyone (especially in Europe) knew it.

So, why would Lee prosecute a conventional war with the North?  The South's attitude and expectations were likely a major factor.  Lee felt that if the South resisted assimilation, the North would eventually tire of it and just go away.  The South, it should be noted, didn't want to conquer the North; they just wanted to be left alone.  It was the North that wanted to conquer the South.  The U.S. Civil War thus isn't really 'a civil war' because there were not two factions fighting for control of the whole.  The South just wanted its independence and would have been content to leave the North in peace — and not have to fund a federal government that was already bloating.

At one point, a reporter is said to have asked Lincoln directly: "Why not just let them go?", and Lincoln's reply was: "Then who would pay for the government?"  Lincoln surely knew the 'civil war' was not about slavery.  It was about control, and he meant to have it no matter how many Americans had to die to get it for him.

After the war, Lee and Lord Acton (J. E. E. Dalberg, "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely") kept up a lively correspondence over the course of several years.  The letters back-and-forth are currently available in print.  Acton expressed his belief that the South had the better moral position(!!) in the conflict.  In one letter, Lee casually, almost off-handedly, remarks that had he known how Reconstruction was going to be implemented, he would have dispersed his army into the wilderness to fight on as best they could ('guerrilla warfare') and he would have surrendered only himself to Grant at Appomattox.

We should all be grateful that Lee was such a poor tactician that he did not do that, for had he done so, we would today be seeing roughly what we see with our troops in the Middle East: 4-to-6 deaths a day.

Every day.

For 155 years.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Attack of the Robocallers

Robocallers are a modern plague.  It wouldn't have moved Pharaoh to let my people go, it's true, but he sure would have sent Egypt's Secret Police out to teach the scammers a lesson — if he could have found them.

Everyone, it seems, is now concerned, and everyone, it seems, is offering free advice on how to deal with them.  Why shouldn't I?

First, put an announcement message on your voicemail to let people know that their call may have been deliberately ignored:

Hello, you've reached the voicemail of [your name].  Either I'm unable to immediately answer your call, or I didn't recognize your number.  Please leave your name, a short message, and a call-back number and I will return the call when I am able.  Thank you and have a nice day.  If this is a sales solicitation call, you will never get a return call.  Have a nice day someplace else.

Second, adopt this policy:  if a call comes through with a name or number you do not recognize, let it roll to voice-mail.  Most cell phones will silence the ringer if you change the volume, so volume-up or volume-down and the ringer turns off.  The call goes to voicemail after ringing (silently) for x times.

Third, do not block the caller.  Many robocallers 'spoof' the incoming number;  the number you're blocking isn't the number the call is really coming from.  That means you will be blocking the wrong number.  Worse, the number you block is probably a real, active, in-use phone for somebody, and you could be blocking a number that, sometime in the future, you actually want to be able to call you.  And, because you're blocking the wrong number, it's a waste of your time and effort.

Some robocalls are really made by (software) robots.  These programs only know that the call has been answered, not that it has been answered by voicemail.  As a result, they begin their pre-recorded spiel as soon as the phone stops ringing.  Since you let it roll to voicemail, the first 10-15 seconds of that spiel doesn't get onto your voicemail.  When you finally listen to the message it says "...ether.  If you haven't taken care of this...".  The missing front end tells you immediately that it wasn't a real person, and you can safely purge the message.

Technology may provide some relief.  T-Mobile, for instance, has an internal list of probable spammers and marks many incoming calls as "Scam Likely".  Definitely let those roll to voicemail.  Most of them do not leave messages, but some...  The very best one I've ever encountered was an intelligent robocaller.  It could hear and recognize voice responses and respond appropriately.  It went something like this:
Me: "Hello... hello..."
Robocaller: (nervous giggle) "Oh, sorry, I was having a little trouble with my headset.  Can you hear me?"
Me: "Yes, I can hear you."
RC: "This is Julie from ... and I'm calling to see if you..."

At that point I hung up, but did you notice how the conversation went?  It waited for a second 'hello' before starting.  Then, it gave a reason for not answering immediately, so you believe this is a real person.  You respond with a 'yes', and the RC now knows it has a real person to 'talk' to, so it starts the spiel.  If you let it go on, it will ask questions, collect the answers, and maybe later route you over to the real caller having established that you do have storm windows and still have a mortgage and have a decent credit rating.  Insidious...

Legislation is unlikely to put a stop to this.  When has legislation ever solved a problem without creating two more to replace it?  When the law goes into effect, the spammers and scammers will alter their procedures or move offshore or... and the annoying calls will continue unabated.

Let them roll to voicemail.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Rx: government, 5mcg, bid, PRN

Government is best in small doses.  The stereotypical New England Town Meeting may be the best example of efficiently-run government.  A Congress with 100 Senators and 435 Representatives, flanked by a thousand federal agencies, may be the best example of how bad it can get.

A nation the size of the U.S. may simply be impossible to run efficiently, but our national tendency to make every issue "a federal project" puts us on a path to costly, unjust, and overly-complicated government.  It may be that the best solution to this problem is 'secession'.

Perhaps the next amendment to the Constitution ought to be

"The prerogative of the States to separate from the United States of America and 'to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them' shall not be abrogated."

Some will object that we fought a civil war over this issue and resolved it in the negative.  That is categorically untrue.  What the civil war resolved was the truth that an industrialized society has a military advantage over an agricultural society.  Absolutely nothing else was decided.

Allowing discretionary secession would, in fact, have an immediate salubrious effect on the efficiency of our federal behemoth.  When states acquire the power to defund the federal government, that federal government would necessarily become much more attentive to the needs and desires of the individual states — or lose their funding.  Many problems that are now addressed with one-size-fits-all national programs would have to be handled at the level of the individual states, as was the original plan in the 18th century.  We would again, after a hiatus of 155 years, resume true Constitutional governance.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Ounces and Pounds

There's an old riddle that goes "Which weighs more, an ounce of feathers or an ounce of gold?" and the accepted answer is that they both weigh the same.

Except that they don't.

An ounce of feathers weighs the same as an ounce of bread or an ounce of balsa wood, but an ounce of gold is heavier.  The reason is that feathers and bread and balsa wood are weighed using the Avoirdupois scale, and gold is measured on the Troy scale.

An Avoirdupois ounce is 437.5 grains (28.35g), but a Troy ounce is 480 grains (31.10g).  An ounce of any precious metal is 42.5 grains heavier than any non-metal because the two things are measured on different scales.

Pounds are something else.  An Avoirdupois pound is 16 Avoirdupois ounces, 7,000 grains, 453.6 grams, but a Troy pound is only 12 Troy ounces, 5,760 grains, 373.24 grams.

Oddly, while an ounce of gold may be heavier than an ounce of feathers, a pound of feathers is heavier (by 80g) than a pound of gold.



Update:   Thanks to Jim Pruitt for the correction.  This originally said 'lead', but Jim points out that the Troy scale is used only for precious metals and like substances such as gems, so I changed 'lead' into 'gold'.  Hot dog, I'm an alchemist!