Tag Archives: politics

Nestle pays 1/4,000 what you pay for water

When you turn on your tap or water your lawn, you are billed about 1.5¢ for every gallon of water you use. In south-east Michigan, this is water that comes from the Detroit river, chlorinated to remove bacteria, e.g. from sewage, and delivered to you by pipe. When Nestle’s Absopure division buys water, it pays about 1/4000 as much — $200/ year for 218 gallons per minute, and they get their water from a purer source, a pure glacial aquifer that has no sewage and needs no chlorine. They get a far better deal than you do, in part because they provide the pipes, but it’s mostly because they have the financial clout to negotiate the deal. They sell the Michigan water at an average price around $1/gallon, netting roughly $100,000,000 per year (gross). This allows them to buy politicians — something you and I can not afford.

Absopure advertises that I t will match case-for-case water donations to Flint. Isn't that white of them.

Absopure advertises that I t will match case-for-case water donations to Flint. That’s awfully white of them.

We in Michigan are among the better customers for the Absopure water. We like the flavor, and that it’s local. Several charities purchase it for the folks of nearby Flint because their water is near undrinkable, and because the Absopure folks have been matching the charitable purchases bottle-for bottle. It’s a good deal for Nestle, even at 50¢/gallon, but not so-much for us, and I think we should renegotiate to do better. Nestle has asked to double their pumping rate, so this might be a good time to ask to increase our payback per gallon. So far, our state legislators have neither said yes or no to the proposal to pump more, but are “researching the matter.” I take this to mean they’re asking Nestle for campaign donations — the time-honored Tammany method. Here’s a Detroit Free Press article.

I strongly suspect we should use this opportunity to raise the price by a factor of 400 to 4000, to 0.15¢ to 1.5¢ per gallon, and I would like to require Absopure to supply a free 1 million gallons per year. We’d raise $300,000 to $3,000,000 per year and the folks of Flint would have clean water (some other cities need too). And Nestle’s Absopure would still make $200,000,000 off of Michigan’s, clean, glacial water.

Robert Buxbaum, May 15, 2017. I ran for water commissioner, 2016, and have occasionally blogged about water, E.g. fluoridationhidden rivers, and how you would drain a swamp, literally.

Global warming and the president’s Resolute desk

In the summer of 2016, the Crystal Serenity, a cruse ship passed through the Northwest passage, going from the Pacific to the Atlantic above the Canadian arctic circle. It was a first for a cruise ship, but the first time any modern ship made the passage, it was 162 years ago, and the ship was wooden and unmanned. It was the British Resolute; wood from that ship was used to make the President’s main desk — one used by the last four presidents. And thereby hangs a tale of good global warming, IMHO.

President Trump meets with college presidents at the Resolute desk. Originally the front had portraits of Queen Victoria and President Hayes. Those are gone; the eagle on the front is an addition, as is the bottom stand.

President Trump meets with college presidents at the Resolute desk. Originally the front had portraits of Queen Victoria and President Hayes. Those are gone; the eagle on the front is an addition, as is the bottom stand. The desk is now 2″ taller than originally. 

The world today is warmer than it was in 1900. But, what is not generally appreciated is that, in 1900 the world was warmer than In 1800; that in 1800 it was warmer than in 1700; and that, in 1640, it was so cold there were regular fairs on the frozen river Themes. By the 1840s there were enough reports of global warming that folks in England thought the northwest passage might have opened at last. In 1845 the British sent two ships, the Erebus and the Terror into the Canadian Arctic looking for the passage. They didn’t make it. They and their crews were lost and not seen again until 2014. In hopes of finding them though, the US and Britain sent other ships, including the Resolute under the command of captain Edward Belcher.

The Resolute was specially made to withstand the pressure of ice. Like the previous ships, and the modern cruise ship, it entered the passage from the Pacific during the peak summer thaw. Like the ships before, the Resolute and a partner ship got stuck in the ice — ice that was not quite stationary, but nearly so, The ships continued to move with the ice, but at an unbearably slow pace. After a year and a half captain Belcher had moved a few hundred miles, but had had enough. He abandoned his ships and walked out of Canada to face courts martial in England (English captains were supposed to “go down with the ship”). Belcher was acquitted; the ice continued to move, and the ships moved with it. One ship sank, but the Resolute, apparently unscathed, passed through to the Atlantic. Without captain or crew, she was the first ship in recorded history to make the passage, something that would not happen again till the Nautilus nuclear submarine did it under the ice, 100 years later.


The ghost ship Resolute was found in September 1855, five years after she set sail, by captain Buddington of the American whaler, George Henry. She was floating, unmanned, 1200 miles from where captain Belcher had left her. And according to the law of the sea, she belonged to Buddington and his crew to use as they saw fit. But the US was inching to war with Britain, an outgrowth of the Crimean war and seized Russo-American property. Franklin Pierce thought it would help to return the ship as a sign of friendship — to break the ice, as it were. A proposal for funds was presented to congress and passed; the ship was bought, towed to the Brooklyn Navy yard for refitting, and returned to Britain as a gift. The gift may have worked: war with Britain was averted, and the seized property was returned. Then again, Britain went on to supply the confederacy early in the Civil War. None-the-less, it was a notable ship, and a notable gift, and when it was broken up, Parliament decided to have two “friendship desks” made of its timbers. One desk was presented to President Hayes, the other to Queen Victoria. One of these desks sits the British Naval museum at Portsmouth; its American cousin serves Donald Trump in the Oval office as it has served many president before him. It has been used by Coolidge, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama before him — a reminder that global warming can be good, in both senses. If you are interested in the other presidents’ desks, I wrote a review of them here.

As for the reason for the global warming of the mid 1800s, It seems that climate is chaotic. ON a related note, I have proposed that we make a more-permanent northwest passage by cutting thorough one of the islands in northern Canada. If you want to travel the Northwest passage in 2017, there is another cruise scheduled, but passage is sold out.

Robert Buxbaum, March 16, 2017.

bicycle helmets kill

There is rarely a silver lining that does not come with a cloud, and often the cloud is bigger than the lining. A fine example is bicycle helmets. They provide such an obvious good that, at first glance, you’d think everyone would wear one, even without a law mandating it. Why would anyone risk their skull in a bicycle accident if injury were prevented by merely wearing a particular hat? Yet half the people ride without, even when there are laws and fines. There are some down-side to helmets, but they are so small that even mentioning them seems small. Helmets are inconvenient, and this causes people to ride a little less, so what?

hospital admissions for bicycle related head injuries, red, left; and bicycle related, non-head injuries, blue, right. Victoria Australia.

Hospital admissions for bicycle-related, head injuries, red, left scale, and bicycle-related, non-head injuries, blue, right scale. The ratio is 1:2 before and after the helmet law suggesting that helmet law did nothing but reduce ridership.

As to turns out, helmets hardly stop accidental injury, yet cause people to ride a lot less, and this lack of exercise causes all sorts of problems — far more than the benefits. In virtually every city where it was studied, bicycle ridership dropped by 30-40% when helmets were required, and as often as not, those who still rode, rode unhelmeted. There was a 30-40% decrease in head-trauma injuries, but it appears that this was just the result of 30-40% less ridership. You’d expect a larger decrease if the helmet helped, as such.

Take the experience of Victoria, Australia; head and non-head bicycle injury data plotted above. Victoria required bicycle helmets in January 1990. Before then, in the peak summer months, hospital records show some 50 bicycle-related head injuries per month, and 100 bicycle-related, non-head injuries — a 1:2 proportion. Later, after the law went into effect, each summer month saw about 35 bicycle-related, head injuries, and 70 bicycle-related, non head injuries. This proportion, 1:2, remained the same suggesting the only effect of the helmet law was to reduce ridership, with no increase in safety. The same 30% decrease was seen by direct count of riders on major streets, though now a greater proportion of those still riding were flaunting the law, and not wearing helmets.

One reason that helmets don’t help much is that the skull is already a very good helmet. As things stand, the main injury in a bicycle flip does not come from your skull cracking, it comes from your brain hitting the inside of your skull, and a second helmet doesn’t help stop that. There’s no increase in safety, and perhaps a decrease as the helmet appears to decrease vision. In a study of bicycle-injury-related highway deaths, Piet de Jong found that countries with the highest helmet use had the highest highway death rates. The country with the highest helmet use (the USA, 38% helmeted) had the highest cyclist death rate, 44 deaths per 1,000,000,000 km. By comparison, the nation with the least helmet use (Holland, 1% helmeted) had among the lowest death rates, only 10.7 deaths per 1,000,000,000 km. There are many explanations for this finding, one sense is that the helmets hurt vision making all types of injury and death more likely.

An hour or three of exercise per week adds years to your life -- especially among the middle aged.

From the national cancer institute. An hour or three of exercise per week adds years to your life — especially among the middle aged. Note these are healthy weight individuals. 

Worse than the effect on visibility, may be the effect on exercise. Exercise is tremendously beneficial, especially for middle-aged people in a sedentary population like the US. The lack of exercise is a lot more deadly, it turns out, than any likelihood of flying over the handlebars. How do I know? From studies like the National Cancer institute, shown at right. To calculate the cost/benefit of a little riding, less say you ride 3 hours per week at 10 mph (slow roll). The chart at right suggests a middle-aged person will add 3.4 years to your life, or about 10% life extension. Now consider the risks. This person will ride 30 miles per week, or 2400 km per year. Over 35 years the chance of death is only 0.36%. In order to get a 10% chance of death, you’d have to ride, over 2.3 million km, or 1000 years. Clearly the life extension benefit far outweighs the risk from fatal accident.

But life extension isn’t the total benefit of exercise. Exercise is shown to improve metal health, reducing depression and ADD in children, and likely in adults. Exercise also helps with weight loss, and that is another big health benefit (the chart above was for healthy body weight riders). So my first suggestion is get rid of bicycle helmet laws. I would not go so far as to ban helmets, but see clear disadvantages to the current laws.

The other suggestion: invent a better helmet. While most helmets are vented, and reasonably cool while you ride. They become uncomfortably hot when you stop. And they look funny in a store or restaurant. You can’t easily take them off, either: Restaurants no longer have hat racks, and stores never had them. What’s needed is a lighter, cooler helmet. Without that, and with helmet laws in place, people in the US tend to drive rather than ride a bicycle — and the lack of exercise is killing them.

Robert Buxbaum, January 19, 2017. One of my favorite writing subjects is the counter-intuitiveness of health science. See, eg. on radiation, or e-cigarettes, or sunshine, or health food. Here is a general overview of how to do science; I picked all the quotes from Sherlock Holmes.

Alcohol and gasoline don’t mix in the cold

One of the worst ideas to come out of the Iowa caucuses, I thought, was Ted Cruz claiming he’d allow farmers to blend as much alcohol into their gasoline as they liked. While this may have sounded good in Iowa, and while it’s consistent with his non-regulation theme, it’s horribly bad engineering.

At low temperatures ethanol and gasoline are no longer quite miscible

Ethanol and gasoline are that miscible at temperatures below freezing, 0°C. The tendency is greater if the ethanol is wet or the gasoline contains benzenes

We add alcohol to gasoline, not to save money, mostly, but so that farmers will produce excess so we’ll have secure food for wartime or famine — or so I understand it. But the government only allows 10% alcohol in the blend because alcohol and gasoline don’t mix well when it’s cold. You may notice, even with the 10% mixture we use, that your car starts poorly on the coldest winter days. The engine turns over and almost catches, but dies. A major reason is that the alcohol separates from the rest of the gasoline. The concentrated alcohol layer screws up combustion because alcohol doesn’t burn all that well. With Cruz’s higher alcohol allowance, you’d get separation more often, at temperatures as high as 13°C (55°F) for a 65 mol percent mix, see chart at right. Things get worse yet if the gasoline gets wet, or contains benzene. Gasoline blending is complex stuff: something the average joe should not do.

Solubility of dry alcohol (ethanol) in gasoline. The solubility is worse at low temperature and if the gasoline is wet or aromatic.

Solubility of alcohol (ethanol) in gasoline; an extrapolation based on the data above.

To estimate the separation temperature of our normal, 10% alcohol-gasoline mix, I extended the data from the chart above using linear regression. From thermodynamics, I extrapolated ln-concentration vs 1/T, and found that a 10% by volume mix (5% mol fraction alcohol) will separate at about -40°F. Chances are, you won’t see that temperature this winter (and if you you do, try to find a gas mix that has no alcohol. Another thought, add hydrogen or other combustible gas to get the engine going.

Robert E. Buxbaum, February 10, 2016. Two more thoughts: 1) Thermodynamics is a beautiful subject to learn, and (2) Avoid people who stick to foolish consistency. Too much regulation is bad, as is too little: it’s a common pattern: The difference between a cure and a poison is often just the dose.

Cross of gold democrats

While it is dangerous to paint a large organization like the Democratic party with a single, broad brush, there are always patterns that appear, in this case in every presidential platform for a century. Beginning in the late 1800s when the Democratic party gave up on slavery, a stated goal of every Democratic platform has been to help the poor and downtrodden. Republicans claim to help too, but claim to target the worthy. For Democrats, by contrast, the common aim is to provide help without reference to individual worth or work — to help just because the individual needs it. All versions of this classic Democratic goal are achieved through forms of wealth redistribution: taking from the rich to give to the poor, Robin Hood style, at least temporarily. There is some inherent tension here: if the recipient can get free money without working, why would he work — a tension that some find insulting, but others accept as part of the comic nature of society. Many Americans accept that helping poor people is such a worthy goal that they knowingly accept the tension and cheating.

Mayor Quimba of Springfield (from the Simpsons). A classical Democrat, his motto: Corrupts in Extremus

Mayor Quimby of Springfield (from the Simpsons) is a classical Democrat, he has no morals beyond, ‘whatever the public wants’. Quimby is corrupt and an awful manager, but quite likable.

Extracting money from the rich always proves difficult: the rich generally object. The most direct way to extract money is taxation, but Democratic politicians, like Mayor Quimby, right try to shy from this to avoid being branded “tax and spend Democrats.” This year, Bernie Sanders has taken this line, proposing to raise the tax rate on the wealthy to 90% of income so he can do good for the poor and curb the power of rich Republicans. He has no problem with rich Democrats like Ms. Clinton, or perhaps he does, but doesn’t say so. In Britain, under Attlee, the tax rate was raised to 95%, a rate memorialized in The Beatles song “Taxman” (there one for you nineteen for me; 19/20 = 95%). Americans oscillate between accepting high tax rates and acknowledging that the worker and creative must be able to keep most of his/her earnings or he/she will stop working.

Every few years recipient Americans revolt against the way redistribution makes rich Democrats richer, and how high taxes seem to go with crony corruption. The motto of The Simpson’s Mayor Quimby is “corruptus in extremus”, a nod to the observation of how corruption in redistribution favors friends and family of those redistributing the wealth. Redistribution also tends to create poverty. This happened in England, for example. As Quimby says: “I propose that I use what’s left of the town treasury to move to a more prosperous town and run for mayor. And, er, once elected I’ll send for you.”

An alternative many Democrats favor is to print money or borrow it. This appears to be Ms Clinton’s approach, and was proposed famously in the “cross of gold” speech of William Jennings Brian in 1896.  In this speech, one of the finest in American history, Bryan (an unknown until then) proposed to monetize silver and other assets, allowing him to print money. He would spend the money on the poor by debasing the currency, that is by inflation. Bryan claimed that the rich were anyway sitting on unused money: a useless, dangerous pile that he’d inflate away. He also claimed that the poor are the ones who owe money, a burden that he would wipe out with inflation. Bryan’s final line is immortal: “you shall not press down on the people this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify the nation on a cross of gold.” The speech managed to combine God and greed and was an enormous success. Following the speech there was stunned silence, and then whoops and hollers. Bryan was carried around the convention for an hour before being chosen the Democratic candidate for president in 1896, 1900, and 1908. His speech has appeared, to a greater or lesser extent, in the platform of every Democratic candidate since with a greater or lesser reference to God depending on the conservatism of the speaker.

Donald Trump currently the front runner for GOP president reads to his grand-daughter Chloe from that Christmas classic, 'winners aren't lots.' photo by Donald Trump, jr (Chloe's Dad) aboard their car (?) plane (?).

Donald Trump currently the front-runner for GOP president reads to his grand-daughter, Chloe from ‘winners aren’t losers.’ photo by Donald Trump, jr., Chloe’s Dad. Trump seems to revel in the lovable, rich jerk persona as no Liberal or Democrat could.

Republicans have traditionally supported property rights and harder money: gold in the old days, a balanced budget today. They claim that low inflation is good for the rich and poor alike, and especially for the small businessman. Entrepreneurs are pictured as more virtuous than the idle, wastrel Democrats. Free money, the Republicans note, discourages work. Of course, distinguishing worthy from wastrel is easier said than done. Republicans are accused of being uncharitable, and of helping the idle rich once they get into office. Presidential candidate, Donald Trump claimed that until now he’d give big donations to candidates of the left and right so they would repay the favor with interest at a later date. No one knows if it will change when he gets in office, but so far he’s avoided the major rich donors. He’s doing well running as a lovable, rich, jerk who’d do things different.

Inflation is a dangerous mistress, the middle class generally doesn’t like the way it wipes out debts and savings, while supporting a class of rich wastrels, drunks and the chronically unemployed. Many of the poor and middle class save, while the rich tend to build up debts. The rich have better credit ratings than the poor, and thus borrow more. They are also better positioned to increase their borrowing if they think inflation is coming. The money they borrow is invested in hard assets: land, homes, and businesses. When inflation slows, they can sell these assets. And if they pick wrong, the government bails them out!. William Jennings Bryan lost all three of his runs at the presidency, twice to McKinley and once to William H. Taft, who stood for doing nothing.

William Jennings Bryan: for inflation and silver; against alcohol. Lost twice to McKinley and gold.

William Jennings Bryan: for inflation and silver; against alcohol. Lost twice to McKinley and gold.

I think the American people want a balance in all things. They want a balance between helping everyone, and helping only the deserving; between high taxes to help folks, and allowing folks to keep their wealth. They don’t quite know where to draw the line, and will even help the wastrels, even those who refuse to work, because they don’t want them starving in the street. They also seem to accept rich folks getting richer, especially when a big project is needed — a ship or a bridge, for example. We elect an alternating mix of Democrats and Republicans; conservatives, and liberals to avoid false paradoxes, achieve some liberty, and establish one of the richest states known.

As for me, you might as well know, I’m a liberal Republican. I favor low income taxes, but some welfare; taxing imports (tariffs), and low inflation –“bread currency,” I like Peter Cooper, and the Greenback Party, 1876. Cooper claimed that the dollar should always have the same value “for the same reason that the foot should always have 12 inches and the pound 16 ounces.” I also think enforcing morality is a job for preachers, not politicians. For 160 years students of Peter Cooper’s union were getting a free college education and I’m one of those engineering students, see my biography of Peter Cooper.

Robert E. Buxbaum, December 30, 2015. See my view of Scrooge’s economic education in the Christmas Carol.

Republicans vs conservatives

Most of the great divides of the 1800s pitted conservatives against Republicans. This was the Divide in the Mexican civil wars of the 1800s, and there were several; it is the divide in the South American wars of Independence, and in much of the US and European political debate of the 1800s as well.

Ned Flanders, cartoon conservative from "The Simpsons" He's generally well meaning and helpful, but also a bit creepy.

Ned Flanders, cartoon conservative from “The Simpsons” He’s generally well-meaning and helpful, but also a bit creepy.

In general, the difference between conservatives and republicans is that conservative governments favor religion, and religion-based leadership, while republicans favor individual liberty. In 1800s Mexico, conservatives backed two emperors (Maximilian I and Agustin I) and Santa Anna, the ruler who suspended all personal rights an ignited the war of Texan independence. Conservatives generally favor the religion of the majority: Protestantism in England, Catholicism in Central and South America, Judaism in Israel, and Islam in most of the Muslim world. This tends to annoy the irreligious and minority religious populations, who tend to become republicans. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the 1862 victory of Mexican republicans over the French-backed, conservative Maximilian I, at the battle of Puebla. The US Civil War, in essence, pitted the irreligious, industrial, republican north against the conservative, evangelical South; slavery is in the Bible so it must be good.

Conservatives usually favor government actions against sin in all it’s forms: miserliness, drunkenness, drugs, pornography, wild music, money-making, and freedom as such. Conservative-ruled countries have generally had anti-blasphemy laws and enforced “blue laws”, restrictions on business on holidays. Republican governments have few, or none of these. In pre-revolution France, the penalty for blasphemy was death, just as the Bible mandates. This changed when the republicans came into power. In England, private blasphemy was prosecuted as late as 1977. Similar penalties are still in force in Iran and other conservative Islāmic countries. Many US states still restrict the sale of alcohol on Sunday, for similar, conservative reasons. Conservatives usually favor sexual morality laws, putting strong restrictions on homosexuality, abortion, and divorce. In England, amicable divorce wasn’t legalized until 1930, and homosexuality was illegal until 1970. In the US, sexual laws are a fairly bizarre mix, in my humble opinion, the result of republicans, liberals, and conservatives making inelegant compromises.

In republican democracies like modern-day France, Holland, and Germany, sexual immorality laws are more lax than in the US. Republican governments strive to protect the rights of the individual; among these their right to property and to a fairly unbridled pursuit of pleasure. Republican countries tend to suffer from (or benefit from) significant income inequality. People can become rich due to hard work, talent, luck, or birth. And they very often become arrogant and obnoxious after they become rich — and sometimes before — to an extent that bothers conservatives and liberals alike. People can also become very poor: from laziness or bad choices, or just from bad luck or having been born to the wrong parents. Conservative and liberal elements then strive to help the very poorest, providing them with food, money and basic housing — generally achieved by taxing the rich. This is good in moderation, but taken to excess, this can lead to dependency of the poor, and redirection of the rich into less-productive fields like politics and the church. Conservatives very rarely leave a good pathway for the poor out of dependency, nor have they found a way to keep scoundrels out of the government and the church.

Scrooge McDuck. he'd likely be a Republican, if only to protect his wealth.

Scrooge McDuck, banker, railroad tycoon, steel magnate; he’d likely be republican, though not likely conservative. Motivated by money and power, he may do good, but not in any direct way, usually.

At present, the US Republican Party, the GOP, consists of approximately equal halves conservatives and republicans. That is, GOP leadership is currently an approximate balance between kindly folks like Ned Flanders who would rule by the Bible, and an equal number of rougher individuals, more like Scrooge McDuck who would rule by money.  in a sense, this is a wonderful compromise as the excesses of each group reins in the excesses of the other. In another sense though, the balance between conservatives and republicans is an ungovernable mess that leads to regular de Condorcet failures. I’m not sure how this will play out in the 2016 elections.

Fortunately, not all irreconcilable differences are as irreconcilable as one might think. Many de Condorcet problems are solvable by compromise, or by the effects of time. Compromise between charity and commerce can produce the best of all worlds, a major theme point, as I understand it, of Dickens’s Christmas Carol.

Robert E. Buxbaum, October 20, 2015. I use these essays to refine my thinking — here, more than usual. Any help you can provide will be welcome, feedback, corrections, comments. I’m trying to figure out what I, myself think. The divide between Conservatives and Liberals produces some of the most wonderful quote – exchanges, e.g. between Churchill and Attlee in 1950s England. Liberals, and I have not quite made up my understanding here, seem like a sort of like conservatives in that they believe in wealth redistribution, but without the guidance of a church, or church-based morality. At some point in the future, I’ll hope to arrange my thoughts about them, and about the difference between liberals and democrats.

Racial symbols: OK or racist

Washington Redskins logo and symbol. Shows race or racism?

Washington Redskins lost protection of their logo and indian symbol. Symbol of race or racism?

In law, one generally strives for uniformity, as in Leviticus 24:22: “You shall have one manner of law; the same for the home-born as for the stranger,”  but there are problems with putting this into effect when dealing with racism. The law seems to allow each individual group to denigrate itself with words that outsiders are not permitted. This is seen regularly in rap songs but also in advertising.

Roughly a year ago, the US Patent office revoked the copyright protection for the Washington Redskin logo and for the team name causing large financial loss to the Redskins organization. The patent office cited this symbol as the most racist-offensive in sports. I suspect this is bad law, in part because it appears non-uniform, and in part because I’m fairly sure it isn’t the most racist-offensive name or symbol. To pick to punish this team seems (to me) an arbitrary, capricious use of power. I’ll assume there are some who are bothered by the name Redskin, but suspect there are others who take pride in the name and symbol. The image is of a strong, healthy individual, as befits a sports team. If some are offended, is his (or her) opinion enough to deprive the team of its merchandise copyright, and to deprive those who approve?

More racist, in my opinion, is the fighting Irishman of Notre Dame. He looks thick-headed, unfit, and not particularly bright: more like a Leprechaun than a human being. As for offensive, he seems to fit a racial stereotype that Irishmen get drunk and get into fights. Yet the US Patent office protects him for the organization, but not the Washington Redskin. Doesn’t the 14th amendment guarantee “equal protection of the laws;” why does Notre Dame get unequal protection?

Notre Damme Fighting Irish. Is this an offensive stereotype.

Notre Dame’s Fighting Irishman is still a protected symbol. Is he a less-offensive, racist stereotype?

Perhaps what protects the Notre Dame Irishman is that he’s a white man, and we worry more about insulting brown people than white ones. But this too seems unequal: a sort of reverse discrimination. And I’m not sure the protection of the 14th was meant to extend to feelings this way. In either case, I note there are many other indian-named sports teams, e.g. the Indians, Braves, and Chiefs, and some of their mascots seem worse: the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, “Chief Wahoo,” for example.

Chief Wahoo, symbol of the Cleveland Indians. Still protected logo --looks more racist than the Redskin to me.

Chief Wahoo, Still protected symbol of the Cleveland Indians –looks more racist than the Redskin to me.

And then there’s the problem of figuring out how racist is too racist. I’m told that Canadians find the words Indian and Eskimo offensive, and have banned these words in all official forms. I imagine some Americans find them racist too, but we have not. To me it seems that an insult-based law must include a clear standard of  how insulting the racist comment has to be. If there is no standard, there should be no law. In the US, there is a hockey team called the Escanaba (Michigan) Eskimos; their name is protected. There is also an ice-cream sandwich called Eskimo Pie — with an Eskimo on the label. Are these protected because there are relatively fewer Eskimos or because eskimos are assumed to be less-easily insulted? All this seems like an arbitrary distinction, and thus a violation of the “equal protection” clause.

And is no weight given if some people take pride in the symbol: should their pride be allowed balance the offense taken by others? Yankee, originally an insulting term for a colonial New Englander became a sign of pride in the American Revolution. Similarly, Knickerbocker was once an insulting term for a Dutch New Yorker; I don’t think there are many Dutch who are still insulted, but if a few are, can we allow the non-insulted to balance them. Then there’s “The Canucks”, an offensive term for Canadian, and the Boston Celtic, a stereotypical Irishman, but also a mark of pride of how far the Irish have come in Boston society. Tar-heel and Hoosiers are regional terms for white trash, but now accepted. There must be some standard of insult here, but I see none.

The Frito Bandito, ambassador of Frito Lays corn chips.

The Frito Bandito, ambassador of Frito Lays corn chips; still protected, but looks racist to me.

Somehow, things seem to get more acceptable, not less if the racial slur is over the top. This is the case, I guess with the Frito Bandito — as insulting a Mexican as I can imagine, actually worse than Chief Wahoo. I’d think that the law should not allow for an arbitrary distinction like this. What sort of normal person objects to the handsome Redskin Indian, but not to Wahoo or the Bandito? And where does Uncle Ben fit in? The symbol of uncle Ben’s rice appears to me as a handsome, older black man dressed as a high-end waiter. This seems respectable, but I can imagine someone seeing an “uncle tom,” or being insulted that a black man is a waiter. Is this enough offense  to upend the company? Upending a company over that would seem to offend all other waiters: is their job so disgusting that no black man can ever be depicted doing it? I’m not a lawyer or a preacher, but it seems to me that promoting the higher levels of respect and civil society is the job of preachers not of the law. I imagine it’s the job of the law to protect contracts, life, and property. As such the law should be clear, uniform and simple. I can imagine the law removing a symbol to prevent a riot, or to maintain intellectual property rights (e.g. keeping the Atlanta Brave from looking too much like the Cleveland Indian). But I’d think to give people wide berth to choose their brand expression. Still, what do I know?

Robert Buxbaum, August 26, 2015. I hold 12 patents, mostly in hydrogen, and have at least one more pending. I hope they are not revoked on the basis that someone is offended. I’ve also blogged a racist joke about Canadians, and about an Italian funeral.

Loyalty, part 2: power hurts the leader

In a previous post, I made the case that one should avoid accepting loyalty requests as these are generally requests for your self-destruction. Someone who asks for loyalty is not saying he’ll provide you with good pay, a comfortable environment, empowerment, and good security. Rather that he wants your service despite little or not pay, discomfort, enslavement, and likely death or disgrace. There are some, few exceptions, but loyal service of this type rarely serves the servant.

Your chance of surviving as a minion is low; your chance as master is lower.

Your chance of surviving as a minion is low; your chance as master is lower.

I’d now like to claim that having loyal followers hurts the leader, too, costing him good service, and separating him from health, friends, and family. Most leaders are better off as half of a duopoly, without minions, and only loose control of their workers. The first reason for this is to note that minions don’t do good work relative to free men. They die for no good reason (e.g. you forgot to feed them), or they stop work and wonder what you’d like next, or they get drunk and gripe, or they beat each other up over fervor or small territorial issues. They very rarely innovate or work together, and for any complex project like taking over the world (or the tristate area) needs workers who do. Good work requires pride in achievement, and a loyal slave has none.

Having loyal followers precludes one from having a close relationship with the followers (you can’t appear weak), and also with friends (your minions must have one leader, not two). The leader gets used to being surrounded by sycophants, and begins to doubt those who behave otherwise. The boss will begin to distrust friends and allies, those he needs to stay in power, as these are the very people who could most easily assist others to take leadership from him. Over time, the king, boss, monopolist and dictator share less and less. As a result they end up secret and bitter, with many fears and none he can call close. And what pleasure is there in power, if one can’t share the rewards with friends and family, or share the burden with others.

Only support someone who could rule reasonably honestly and well. Chaos is worse than a dictator. Kanin from the New Yorker.

Only support someone who could rule reasonably honestly and well. Chaos is worse than a dictator. Kanin from the New Yorker.

A great number of kings have killed themselves in one way or another, very often because of overly large ambitions (see cartoon). King Saul, in the Bible is perhaps the first, Hitler is perhaps the most famous, and Colonel Qadhafi of Libya is perhaps the most recent. More often, maximum leaders are murdered, typically by friends and family. Famous examples include Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and Nero; Charles I, Louis XVI, Richard III, and Tzar Alexander. Both the king of rock (Elvis) and the king of pop (Michael Jackson) killed themselves with drugs. Yet others died in needless wars or were exiled. Napoleon was defeated, exiled, returned, re-exiled and then murdered by an associate.  It’s not that safe to be the infallible king. Perhaps the wisest move is that of Pope Benedict, who last year left Rome for a life of monk-like solitude. Machiavelli points out, in “The Prince”, that only two Roman Emperors died of natural causes, one because he became emperor at a very old age, and the other was Marcus Aurelius, an advanced ruler who empowered his subjects.

The great leaders create so much space for others to lead that they are almost invisible: they lead by offering encouragement.

Political bosses and monopolist businessmen, though lower in power, don’t fare much better in life. Boss Tweed died in jail, as did Capone, Boss Pendergast. Even if they avoid jail, the fact that no one likes you takes a toll. No one liked Vanderbilt or Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, or Fisk. While they lived, they could expect nothing more than senate investigations and ugly lampoons in the free press, plus an unfavorable memory after death. William Hearst and Howard Hughes died as virtual hermits, best remembered as the inspiration for “Citizen Kane” and “The Navigator.” Peter Cooper and Steve Jobs are different,  industrialists liked in life and in death; and Bill Gates may join them too. Their secret was to empower others.

He's being eaten alive by his power, money, and respect. In the end, he had none.

He’s being eaten alive by his power, money, and respect, as are all those he might love.

Woe to the wife, child or friend of the dictator. The wife and children of a king or king-pin rarely enjoy much of the power. The king-pin doesn’t trust them (often with good reason), and neither do the people. Stalin killed his wife and children as did Nero, Frederick the Great, Herod, Hitler, and quite a few others. It was said that is was preferable to be an animal in the courtyard of these greats than a son at their table. And even if the king or king-pin doesn’t kill his wife child or son, the people often do e.g. Marie Antoinette was killed shortly after Louis XVI and the Tzarina of Russia alongside Alexander III. Similarly, the wife of Hitler, the Mistress of Mussolini, and the wife of Nicolae Ceausescu all died at their husband’s side, sharing the punishment for their husband’s ambition.

The kings of Sparta fared relatively well, as did their wives, despite the militarism of Sparta. Their trick was that Sparta was a du-archy, a country with two kings. Sparta was strong and stable, and their kings (mostly) died at home. In business too, it seems the selfish leader should step back and become almost invisible. It helps him, and helps the people too. If the leader can’t share power this way, he or she should at least give people a simple choice between two things he controls and accepts (chocolate and vanilla; Democrat and Republican). Workers with a choice, even a small one, learn to act somewhat independently, and customers (or citizens) don’t complain as much either if they have some control over their fate. All will come to like the leader more, and the leader will like himself more. People stopped resenting Microsoft when there was a viable alternative, Apple, and Microsoft engineers benefitted by having a competitor to their products. I suspect that Bill Gates realized this would happen when he helped fund Apple’s return to the market. Unfortunately, most monopolists, bosses, and king-pins are too stupid, or too afraid to do this. In the end, it’s the trapped employee or follower who shoots the leader from behind.

Einstein on freedom producing good. I'd say freedom is also a good in itself

The ideal situation is a delicate balance between control and freedom. A great leader will empower those around him and support the opposition. That was the unrealized sense of Mao Tse Tung’s hundred flowers movement (let 100 flowers bloom; left 100 schools of thought contend). It’s political tensegrity. Most leaders can not let go to do this (Mao could not). Still, there IS a sanity clause, Virginia. And a leader should know that there is no benefit to the king who gains the whole world and loses his friends, family and sleep.

Robert Buxbaum. Remember, remember the 5th of November; those oppressed, and those imagining themselves oppressed rise and plot.

When is loyalty a good thing? pt. 1

Loyalty to a person or institution is generally presented as a good thing — a sign of good character. Disloyalty, by contrast, is considered one of the basest of character traits — the sign of a dastard, a poltroon. But I’d like to make the case that the loyalty that leaders demand (the most common loyalty situation) isn’t real loyalty, but stupidity or worse, toadyship disguised as loyalty. I’d further like to suggest that this attachment hurts the leaders as much as the followers in most situations — well, nearly as much. That is, a sane leader is better off where there is a viable alternative to his product, leadership, or service — a loyal opposition party, as it were.

If you give loyalty for free don't expect it in return.

If you give loyalty above your self interest, don’t expect it in return. If you don’t value yourself, no one else will.

But first, what is Loyalty? If I believe a teacher because he makes sense, or serve a boss because he pays me well, this is not loyalty, but common self-interest. Similarly, if I eat at a restaurant or buy a product regularly, it isn’t loyalty if the quality is particularly good and the prices particularly reasonable. Loyalty is when you eat at a place despite the quality being bad, or the prices high; or follow a leader who pays poorly and provides only danger and hardship. Or who’s crooked and damaging to your sense of self.

If you give a company or group loyalty for free, they are likely to take it and you for granted; if you don't value yourself, no one else will.

If you give a company or person loyal service, they are likely to take it and you for granted; Matt Johnson, 2010.

In general, there are only two reasons why any person would follow a leader like this. One is an attachment to the leader’s vision of the horrible future if you do not. Tales of grisly torture from a distant enemy are good to keep the underlings in their place. An even better reason is attachment to a brilliant future if you do suffer in the present. Tales of the glorious messianic future where you and those you love benefit from the current struggle and sacrifice. It doesn’t have to be a godly messiah; communism presents a messianic vision without a god, but it’s glorious, and the sun always shines. Generally speaking leaders who ask for loyalty ask from both perspectives: a horrible enemy at the gates, and a glorious future if you follow.

There may be a rational basis to fear a grisly enemy, or to suffer and follow in hopes of a glorious future, but if you find you are being asked to follow a single individual or a group that’s controlled by one individual, it’s worthwhile worrying that the leader may not be loyalty to you. Ask yourself: does the leader share real power and information? Does the leader make you feel worthless for the heck of it? If you have a leader like that, it might be worth considering: if the messianic vision ever does materialize (unlikely) the leader may forget to reward your part. History has quite a few examples of this.

Loyalty to country includes the imperative to try to improve the leadership.

Loyalty to country requires one try to improve the leadership. Leadership rarely agrees.

Where real loyalty shows up as a sign of a fine personality, is in marriage where both parties share power, money, and information. Or in loyalty to a country where you (or your child) has a real, rational chance of being leader. If you really trust the significant other (a good marriage) or where there is reason to think one’s home and family will benefit from one’s personal sacrifice, one might rationally give up ones comfort and life following to protect one’s significant others. Even so, the real loyalty is not to the leader, but rather to an organization that one believes will protect one’s children and community. A leads who asks you to kill innocents (Al Qaeda, Stalin, HItler, Jonestown), or who amuses himself by your suffering, e.g. (Stalin) probably has lost the connection between your loyalty and the goal. (Cue the song– we don’t get fooled again).

An honest military leader will have a soldier council or protective group above him to keep him (and others) from over-reaching. There will also be a time limit on the loyalty commitment and an explicit understanding that service does not include suicide, genocide, immolation, or personal embarrassment for the amusement of others. There is an also understanding that the follower’s life and well-being will not be sacrificed in vain, and that no one will be expected to accept suicide rather than capture. On the other hand, a soldier who runs away from all danger and thus endangers his fellows or mission should expect punishment or courts-marshal.

Church groups don't often look favorably on oversight

Church groups don’t often look favorably on oversight

Many groups don’t tolerate oversight of this type, and these groups should be viewed with suspicion. Church groups for example, are often led by those would like you to believe that suspicion of them is suspicion of God, it isn’t — it’s suspicion of a person. An honest leader gives the option of going to the police or the union representative, or the newspaper if necessary. Without redress, the worker/soldier/churchman may come to suffer needlessly or come to commit atrocities because of the power of the organization or the personal charisma of the leader. Any organization with a messianic vision of the future is dangerous; all the more so if there is no half-way point, no real sharing of power in the way to get there, and no real oversight for the grand-high pooh-bah (or whatever the grand leader’s title). Let the follower beware.

A Parable: The Donkey and the Brigands, by I don’t know who (I can’t find a source, but know this isn’t my own creation).

There once was a farmer who had a donkey — a talking donkey, as is the way with these parables. At one point, as they were traveling through the woods, they heard the approach of brigands (thieves). “Move quickly,” the farmer said to the donkey, otherwise we’ll be captured.” “Will the brigands treat me any worse than you do?” asked the donkey. “No,” said the farmer, about the same.” “Will they feed me any less than you do, or beat me any more?” “No,” said the farmer, about the same, I’d guess.” Will they load me any heavier, or make me go on longer journeys?” No, said the farmer, about the same, I’d guess.” “When I’m too old to work, will they keep me in my old age, or will they kill me, as you likely will for animal feed and for my bones and skin?” “Probably they’ll do as I would,” said the farmer. “In that case,” said the donkey, “I’ll go at my pace and what will be with the capture will be.” The moral: loyal service has to be a two-way street.

In part 2 of this essay, I’ll explain why even the leader doesn’t benefit from your complete loyalty.

Robert Buxbaum, October 20, 2014. I run my own business, and sometimes think about it, and life.

Political tensegrity: the west is best

We are regularly lectured about the lack of kindness and humility of the western countries. Eastern and communist leaders in Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia point to Western pollution, consumerism, unemployment as prof you need a strong leader and central control to do good by regulation, thought policing, and wealth redistribution.

Let me point out that the good these leaders provide is extracted from the populace, and the advantage of central control is rarely as clear to the populous as to the leadership. When leaders redistribute wealth or place limits on the internet, movies or books, the leaders are generally exempted, and the populous are not made more moral or generous either. One does not say a prisoner or slave-worker is more generous of moral than one on the outside despite the prisoner working for free. The leaders feel certain they are protecting their people from thought and greed, but it isn’t clear outside of the leadership that these dangers are as great as the danger of despotism or rule by whim.

Authors and thoughts are blocked in the East by the whim of a supreme leader who also determines who is an infidel or enemy, or friend, and which businesses should flourish, and who should be rich (his buddies). By contrast, two fundamentals of western society — things that lead to purported immorality, are citizen rights and the rule of law: that citizens can possess things and do things for their own reasons, or no reason at all, and that citizens may stand as equals before a bar of law, to be judged by spelled-out laws or freed, with equal believability and claim.

In Russia or Iran, the Commissar and Imam have special rights: they can take possessions from others at whim, shut down businesses at whim; imprison at whim  — all based on their own interpretation of God’s will, the Koran, or “the good of the state.” Only they can sense the true good, or the true God well enough to make these decisions and laws. And when they violate those laws they are protected from the consequences; the masses can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and then some, not even requiring a trial in many places (Gaza, for example) if the leader feels speed is needed. The rule of law with equal treatment is a fundamental of western civilization (republicanism). It is commanded by Moses in the Bible at least seven times: Numbers 15:15, Numbers 15:16, Numbers 15:29, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 9:14, and Leviticus 24:22, “One law and one ordinance you should have, for the home-born, and the foreigner who dwells among you.”

The equal treatment under the law: for rich and poor, king and commoner, citizen and foreigner is a revolutionary idea of the west; that justice is blind. Another idea is personal possessions and freedoms. There is no concept of equality under business law unless there is a business that you can own, and personal possessions and rights. These are not in place in eastern theocracies: they tend to treat the preachers (imams) better than non preachers because they are presumed smarter and better; similarly men are treated better than women, who have few rights, and the state religion is treated better than infidels. In communist countries and dictatorships the dictator can get away with anything. Admittedly, in capitalistic states the rich and powerful find loopholes while the poor find prison, but not always (our Detroit’s ex-mayor is in prison) and it’s not the law. A feature of Eastern theocracies and dictatorships is that they lack a free press, and thus no forum for public exposure of legal mischief.

Einstein on freedom producing good. I'd say freedom is also a good in itself

Einstein on freedom producing good. I’d say freedom is also a good in itself.

The strongest arguments for socialist dictatorship and theocracy is that this is needed to protect the weak. Clement Attlee (labor socialist British Prime Minister, 1945 -56) explained his government’s take over of almost all British business: “There was a time when employers were free to work little children for sixteen hours a day… when employers were free to employ sweated women workers on finishing trousers at a penny halfpenny a pair. There was a time when people were free to neglect sanitation so that thousands died of preventable diseases. For years every attempt to remedy these crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual. It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor. Make no mistake, it has only been through the power of the State, given to it by Parliament, that the general public has been protected against the greed of ruthless profit-makers and property owners.”  (Quotes from Spartacus.edu). it’s a brilliant speech, and it taps into the government’s role in the common defense, but it’s not at all clear that a chinless bureaucrat will be a better boss than the capitalist who built the firm. Nor is it clear that you help people by preventing them from work at a salary you decide is too low

England suffered a malaise from public ownership and the distribution of profit by those close the liberal party. Under Attlee there was lack of food and coal while the rest of Europe, and particularly Germany prospered, and passed England in productivity. Germany had no minimum wage, and  still doesn’t have one. In eastern countries, ingenuity is deadened by the knowledge that whatever a genius or worker achieves is taken by the state and redistributed. A cute joke exchange: Churchill and Attlee are supposed to have found themselves in adjoining stalls of the men’s room of Parliament. Churchill is supposed to have moved as far as possible from Attlee. “Feeling standoffish, Winston” Attlee is supposed to have said. “No. Frightened. “Whenever you see something large you try to nationalize it.” Perhaps more telling is this Margret Thatcher’s comment, and exchange. Making everyone’s outcome equal does more to penalize those with real pride in their ideas and work than it does to help the truly needy.

While there is a need for government in regards to safety, roads, and standards, and to maintain that equality of law. It seems to me the state should aid the poor only to the extent that it does not turn them into dependents. There is thus a natural tension between private good and public service similar to the tensegrity that holds cells together. Capitalists can only make money by providing desired goods and services at worthwhile rate, and paying enough to keep workers; they should be allowed to keep some of that, while some must be taken from them to get great things done. I’ve related the tensegrity of society to the balance between order and disorder in a chemical system.

Robert E. Buxbaum August 27, 2014. This essay owes special thanks to a Princeton chum, Val Martinez. Though my training is in engineering, I’ve written hobby pieces on art, governance, history, and society. Check out the links at right.