Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Why I despair sometimes of improving things.

This is Joseph.

This is German Lopez:

Part of the issue here is that "criminal justice reform" is a huge area, ranging from "defund the police" to using research to improve police effectiveness (e.g., smart version of foot patrol). Painting it all as radical (in the spirit of defund the police) disguises some really sharp critiques. How would the foot patrol reform advocates react to a spike in crime? Hiring more officers and deploying them more efficiently to reduce crime doesn't seem to be an obviously dumb or ineffective answer. 

Do we need reform? Well, the George Floyd killing suggests that there is at least some possibility for improving police performance when dealing with minorities and suspects. When you look at the level of public outrage that it created, it is hard to argue that a status quo that enabled that to happen doesn't have at least some room for reforming police procedure. There were four officers present; the other three could have been trained to intervene in a way that George Floyd survived and was able to have his case heard by a court. 

Or what about more modest reforms? For example, should overtime count as part of one's peak earnings for determining pension benefits? There are a lot of professions (e.g., teachers, professors) where this is not the case and a lot of money could be saved by not having officers in their last few years working massive amounts of overtime. Overtime is expensive, it could be invested in having more officers serving, and tired people make mistakes. If pensions are too low than that should be addressed directly, shouldn't it? 

Police reform is a large area and a lot of these measures would reduce crime. For example, more officers instead of overtime would increase total resources and leave more capacity for a surge. Careful training in safe takedowns saves money from lawsuits, protects civilians, and enhances public trust (which can make investigations more effective). Further, reforms like instituting heavier foot patrols in high crime areas might deliver wide ranging benefits, over and above the additional costs. One thing that is often neglected is that smart reform often involves spending more money. When you reform and improve any institution, it is far harder to do it while reducing costs -- just look at military reform for some rich examples

Finally, if crime really is spiking then this is showing a limitation of the current system. We aren't investigating counterfactual cases where there is a reform -- I am not aware of any major reforms that are ongoing in places with crime spikes. Many of the reforms listed above would have more officers on the streets by trying to spend money more efficiently. Maybe this is worth trying? And surely it counts as police reform? 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Great example of sarcasm in chart form

Jamie Powell of FT Alphaville points us to this wonderful Twitter exchange between Cameron Winklevoss and Joe Weisenthal.

Here's Powell:

Literal bitcoin bros the Winklevii have made a habit over the past five years of making statements that simultaneously make you question how they got into Harvard, and yet also understand how Zuck allegedly nicked the idea for Facebook off them.

Who, for instance, can forget their assertion that bitcoin was a better store of value than gold because Elon will eventually mine an asteroid full of the shiny stuff, leading to a ruinous supply/demand imbalance?

But we’re not sure even that compares to this tweet from Cameron Winklevoss on Wednesday about yet another subject that every bitcoin bro is suddenly an expert on: inflation.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Actual engineering is cool

Great example of problem solving and iteratively modifying designs to overcoming increasingly difficult challenges. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

"As God as my witness..." is my second favorite Thanksgiving episode line [Repost]

If you watch this and you could swear you remember Johnny and Mr. Carlson discussing Pink Floyd, you're not imagining things. Hulu uses the DVD edit which cuts out almost all of the copyrighted music. [The original link has gone dead, but I was able to find the relevant clip.]

As for my favorite line, it comes from the Buffy episode "Pangs" and it requires a bit of a set up (which is a pain because it makes it next to impossible to work into a conversation).

Buffy's luckless friend Xander had accidentally violated a native American grave yard and, in addition to freeing a vengeful spirit, was been cursed with all of the diseases Europeans brought to the Americas.

Spike: I just can't take all this mamby-pamby boo-hooing about the bloody Indians.
Willow: Uh, the preferred term is...
Spike: You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That's what conquering nations do. It's what Caesar did, and he's not goin' around saying, "I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it." The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story.
Buffy: Well, I think the Spaniards actually did a lot of - Not that I don't like Spaniards.
Spike: Listen to you. How you gonna fight anyone with that attitude?
Willow: We don't wanna fight anyone.
Buffy: I just wanna have Thanksgiving.
Spike: Heh heh. Yeah... Good luck.
Willow: Well, if we could talk to him...
Spike: You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It's kill or be killed here. Take your bloody pick.
Xander: Maybe it's the syphilis talking, but, some of that made sense.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

'Spatiotemporal analysis" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but you should still read this

Earlier in our housing thread, we suggested that a site for urban densification should be largely judged based on how many potential jobs are within an hour's commute using existing public transportation. We didn't stop to think about which shift. 

A spatiotemporal analysis of transit accessibility to low-wage jobs in Miami-Dade County

by XiangYan et al.  [Emphasis added.]

From the abstract:

An essential function of public transit is to connect low-wage earners to their jobs or potential employment opportunities. Previous research has shed light on this issue by examining how transit accessibility varies across space, the temporal variations of transit accessibility, and the modal disparity between public transit and automobiles, but often in a disjointed manner. This study contributes to the literature by considering all these issues together in a unified analytical framework. Specifically, we conduct a spatiotemporal analysis of transit accessibility to low-wage jobs and of the disparities between transit accessibility and auto accessibility. Our analysis focuses on Miami-Dade County in Florida, a region defined by a low-density, auto-oriented urban form and a Hispanic-majority population. We find that residents of low-income and Black-majority neighborhoods enjoy a higher level of transit accessibility because of their concentration in high-density urban areas. Often located in suburban and rural locations, Hispanic-majority neighborhoods have a much lower level of accessibility. Not surprisingly, transit accessibility is higher in peak hours than other hours of the day. The gap between transit accessibility and auto accessibility is striking, with car users being able to access eight times more low-wage jobs than transit riders on average. The accessibility gap is smaller during peak hours and in the downtown Miami area; but still, auto accessibility is about three times that of transit accessibility. The large disparities between transit accessibility and auto accessibility provide a strong rationale for additional funding support to promote transit services, such as on-demand microtransit services, in lower-density areas and during off-peak hours.

And from the introduction:

When a temporal perspective is considered, the problem of low-income workers being poorly served by public transit systems can be more profound. To maximize efficiency, most transit agencies around the world provide reduced services during off-peak hours, in the evenings, and during weekends. But these are the periods when a significant proportion of low-wage earners commute to work, as they often take works shifts that are not on a regular nine-to-five schedule (Lambert et al., 2012). Moreover, some low-income workers may have multiple jobs, often requiring them to switch job sites in the middle of the day when transit services are reduced. However, existing research has commonly focused on investigating if residents of low-income areas have adequate spatial access to the transit network, paying much less attention to the temporal variations of transit services. Notably, some studies have shown that disadvantaged social groups often receive better transit services as they tend to live in higher-density areas (Grengs, 2012; Shin, 2020), but it is less clear if this advantage varies by time of day. A recent study has shown that while residents in socially disadvantaged areas of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, on average, had better transit accessibility to jobs than those in socially advantaged areas, this advantage is not consistent over the course of the day (El-Geneidy et al., 2016a).

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Why gun vigilantism is so problematic

This is Joseph.

Consider this tweet by Josh Marshall:

Or this one by an internet commentator:

In both cases you have an issue with demarcation between what is a lawful use of self-defense and what is an active shooter. Let us be blunt. There are definite cases of criminal mass shooters. There are also cases where actual law enforcement officers abused their positions to commit crimes. How much worse does it get when random citizens can start enforcing laws in a chaotic situation? 

The classic example is an active shooter at a movie theater. It is dark. It is crowded. It is hard to see and hear anything with the gunfire and smoke. Now imagine 20 people draw guns. Which ones are the active shooter and who is not? And do you want to be the person holding a gun when the police arrive? 

Or in the case we started with -- Ahmaud Arbery -- we have gun armed people "arresting" a jogger. How can the jogger (who was innocent of any crimes so far as we can tell) determine that these are "well intentioned" citizens making a mistaken arrest and not criminals out to rob him?

This goes to a major flaw in self defense with guns -- you can create a chain of self defense claims from one misunderstanding where a bunch of people are dead and yet there is no crime. Does this not suggest some need for introspection on gun use in public places? Now, to be clear, public places is very important. I have thoughts about private spaces, as well, but they are way less clear. If Ahmaud Arbery had been on private property and not a public street then many of the issues would have been different in important ways. There are also issues with retreating when you might be responsible for young children and the aggressor is moving quickly. These are not the cases we are thinking about. 

Instead, it is the way that you can be provocative in a public space and then be completely covered by self defense for the confrontation that you provoked. And there is no way that Ahmaud Arbery wasn't aggressively confronted before the shooting, there is even video of the encounter. But as soon as you think about citizen's arrests for actions in the past (see first tweet) in cases of dubious identification, it quickly becomes clear that this could be used by bad actors in a variety of ways. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Mainly just an excuse to run a cool video

From the Atlantic:
Today, SpaceX regularly flies astronauts into orbit on a transportation system it designed from start to finish, and is the only private company to have earned that responsibility. But the Dragon capsule doing that work is a cozy, gumdrop-shaped container, not a giant spaceship, and can carry seven people at a time, not the 100 passengers Musk imagines boarding Starship someday. If successful, Starship would be unlike any other space vehicle in history, especially on its return to Earth. America’s now-retired fleet of space shuttles landed on runways like planes, Russian Soyuz capsules parachute down to the desert, and SpaceX’s Dragon capsules splash down in open water, but Musk envisions Starship landing vertically, as upright as it stood before liftoff. It is an enormous technical challenge.
Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that the actual engineers at SpaceX are doing impressive work and making major advances, but not challenging in the sense that no one has done it before. Real rocket scientists are quick to point out that the same underlying technology put us on the moon over fifty years ago.

Nor has it been dormant in the meantime.

Of course, the Delta Clipper was far more primitive than the starship, but it also flew a quarter century ago and was built for a fraction of the budget, even adjusting for inflation. Taking this and other projects into account, SpaceX's advances clearly represent real progress, but not radical breakthroughs. Theirs is an evolutionary, not revolutionary approach, particularly compared technologies like air-breathing rockets and other single-stage-to-orbit systems which, if they pan out, will completely disrupt air and space travel. Musk's company has been as conservative from a technological standpoint as it has been bold from a business standpoint. 

There's nothing wrong with that -- it may turn out to be the best approach -- but it is almost the complete opposite of the story the press has converge on.

Friday, November 19, 2021


This is Joseph.

Pat Leahy is retiring from the Senate after 48 years of service at the end of this current term. He was 34 years old when he was first elected to be a Senator. He will be replaced as the president pro tempore by Dianne Feinstein, the 87 year old senior senator from California. The average age of senate is 63 years

But the bigger question is whether it is really a healthy process for such prestigious positions to be held by the same people for so long. Romans famously re-elected their consuls yearly (typically never the same person 2 years in a row), with a post-consul career path that was often many years as Proconsul or governor. 

Ruth Bader Ginsberg was an Associate Justice of the Supreme court for 27 years, to age 87 (dying in office). When people called for her to retire we got arguments like this one:
First, she loves her work on the Court. She rarely misses a day on the bench. Once she sat through argument with a broken rib; when her beloved husband of 56 years, Martin Ginsburg, died, she was on the bench, announcing an opinion, 24 hours later.

And her work has gotten more interesting recently. Since the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010, she has been the senior justice on the liberal side of the Court. This is an important job—when the Court’s conservatives vote together as a five-member bloc, the senior liberal justice assigns the task of preparing the liberal dissent. The purpose of such a dissent is to discredit the majority’s reasoning and offer future courts grounds to distinguish or overrule the case. Ginsburg often assigns that duty to herself; her major dissents are masterpieces of the genre

which is just odd. It is great that she enjoyed her work and being the senior justice makes it more fun. Notice how Steven Breyer is now resisting retirement because his work is so fun. But what does "the work is fun" have to do with the question of senior public service? These are not professorial posts at a university where the consequences of sticking around too long are sharply limited.  

Or this argument:

I think from her perspective she is taking a long view of history, not a case by case one, or a term by term one. She has to believe that justice will win out in the end—or that, if it doesn’t, her departure at one point or another couldn’t be the major factor. I agree with her and I think people ought to give this issue a rest and concentrate on electing Democrats to the White House and the Senate. … I think the issue is serving as kind of a displacement for the liberals’ general sense of powerlessness—they seem to feel that getting Ruth to resign would be something concrete they could accomplish when all else is failing. 

I mean having her replaced by Amy Comey Barrett has opened some fascinating doors as well.

But I don't want to make this too much about the Supreme court, an appointed body that clearly is being gamed. What is equally concerning is the idea that it is healthy for a person to have a "safe seat" for nearly 5 decades. This happens in the house as well

Now, if you think I am going to scream "term limits" then you are daft. Expertise is also important and short term limits (which are always the proposal) seem counterproductive. Instead, I would like to see people rotate out and fill other positions to spread out expertise. Imagine if one of the ways that you could leave the Supreme court was to become an appeals court judge. You'd have experience and perspective spread, while keeping the positions at the top from being permanent positions. People would have to think about their post-SCOTUS career too. 

I wonder if forcing circulation of posts would have other benefits for congress. We already ensure that the president leaves office but wouldn't it make sense to find an way to engage past-presidents? I mean not 100% of them might be great decisions, but it can't hurt to have people circulate among the top offices. Or at least it seems a worthwhile conversation. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

A literal sign of the times

Sam Dean reporting for the LA Times:

Staples Center is getting a new name for Christmas: Crypto.com Arena.

The downtown Los Angeles venue — home of the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks — will wear the new name for 20 years under a deal between the Singapore cryptocurrency exchange and AEG, the owner and operator of the arena, both parties announced Tuesday. Crypto.com paid more than $700 million for the naming rights, according to sources familiar with the terms, making it one of the biggest naming deals in sports history.

The arena’s new logo will debut Dec. 25, when the Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets, and all of Staples Center signage will be replaced with the new name by June 2022.

Crypto.com’s chief executive, Kris Marszalek, hopes that the new name will come to be seen as a sign of the times.

“In the next few years, people will look back at this moment as the moment when crypto crossed the chasm into the mainstream,” Marszalek said when reached at his home in Hong Kong.

“This is just such a brilliant move from the guys at AEG, because the next decade belongs to crypto,” he said. “And this positions L.A. and this particular venue right at the center of it.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

In their report on the carbon footprint of food choices, All Things Considered fails to consider all sorts of important things

I can't excerpt the relevant parts of this NPR piece because they left those out. 

Given a major, reoccurring question, journalists will tend to converge, often with little or no apparent thought, on one or two standard framings. Sometimes the writers and editors are manipulated into telling the story a certain way. The Republican Party has grown remarkably adept at this over the past thirty years. Other times, it seems to happen purely by chance, almost an example of symmetry breaking, the result of the powerful pull of herd mentality. 

Approaching the climate impact of our diets in terms of  animal protein vs. plant-based protein reflects both advocacy and a certain underlying logic. In many contexts (such as healthy eating), the plant v. animal distinction make a great deal of sense, but not if you're talking about greenhouse gases. The range of footprints within the animal protein category is simply too big to be treated as a single category. 

Compared to pushing vegan meals on the general public, it is relatively easy to persuade people to opt for one type of animal protein over another (marketers do it all the time). Though estimates vary, these substitutions can reduce the carbon footprint from 60% to 90%. Anything beyond switching from beef to poultry or perhaps even to pork starts getting into diminishing returns. Every shift down the scale is an improvement, but at some point not enough of an improvement to justify the additional effort.

I don't want to get sucked into the weeds debating the pros and cons of a vegan lifestyle -- it's healthier, more ethical and better for the environment -- but you cannot responsibly report on this topic and group together two more or less equally popular options  such as beef and chicken without pointing out that one is five to ten times as bad as the other. 

This NPR report literally does not have a single word on the differences between various sources of animal protein. The listener is left with the impression that one is pretty much as bad as the other. Given the seriousness of this situation, that's dangerously negligent journalism. 

For more on the issues with grouping together things of radically different magnitude, take a look at our  post on cigarettes and cocaine arguments.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

While on the subject of Lysenko

From Current Biology, December 2017.

Russia’s new Lysenkoism by Edouard I. Kolchinsky, Ulrich Kutschera, Uwe Hossfeld, and Georgy S. Levit

One of the most disturbing trends in current Russian science is the so-called ‘re-thinking’ of the historical role of Lysenkoism. There is a growing body of literature reasssessing or even fully rehabilitating the erroneous ideas of Lysenko. The phenomenon became internationally known thanks to the 2016 book Lysenko’s Ghost by the American historian of science Loren Graham. Graham claims that the popularity of modern epigenetics, as well as the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and sympathies to Stalin, significantly contributed to the revival of Lysenko’s views. However, the picture is more complex.

The first to alert the public to the new rise of Lysenkoism was a Russian embryologist, Leonid Korochkin, who published a short overview in the influential newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta. In his article, Korochkin blamed mysticism and ignorance, spreading in Russian society, for the growth of Lysenkoism and other pseudo-scientific teachings. In the second half of the 2000s, a series of seemingly scholarly publications appeared with the objective to re-habilitate Lysenko and to discredit Vavilov. Initially, pro-Lysenkoist books were published by authors that have little connection to biology or the history of science.

Subsequently, however, scientists with degrees in biology, agriculture or medicine joined the campaign. For example, Lysenko’s former PhD student, Petr Kononkov, published an edited volume entitled Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, Soviet Agronomist, Plant Breeder, Biologist. Another book by Kononkov by the title Two Worlds, Two Ideologies takes Lysenko into the general context of competing Western and Soviet/Russian ideologies. Remarkably, Kononkov’s book was sponsored by the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications, an executive organ of the government, established in 2004 by decree of the President. With respect to the interpretation of historical and biological data, the latter book is plainly Stalinist and Lysenkoist. Kononkov imagined Lysenko as a patriotic humanist with a worldview deeply rooted within the Russian Orthodox culture, though the Orthodox Church in no way supports the neo-Lysenkoist doctrine. In these and other similar books by Kononkov and his co-authors Lysenko appeared as a true patriot and great scientist who was ahead of his time. Lysenko’s concepts, such as the theory of Jarovisation and vegetative hybridization, they argue, were close to practical needs of agriculture. In one of his publications, entitled Lysenko’s Contribution to the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, the author states that Lysenko’s innovations were meant to solve the food problem in the periods of famine when the country lacked adequate academic, material, financial and human resources. Nicolai Vavilov, on the contrary, is presented by neo-Lysenkoists as an orthodox academic writer, who did not appreciate applied aspects of biological research, and accordingly wasted resources for questionable purposes. In that sense, this first wave of neo-Lysenkoism looked like the continuation of old controversies around Lysenko and Vavilov, which appeared to have been solved several decades ago.

The most recent version of neo-Lysenkoism is, however, much more inclusive. The current enmity between Russia and the West contributed to bolstering of pro-Lysenko arguments, adding ideological overtones. Thus, in Two Worlds, Two Ideologies, geneticists over the globe with an international publication record are depicted as pseudo-scientists and charlatans, performing tasks assigned to them by globalist agendas that are hostile to Russia. Opponents of Lysenko are called ‘traitors of the nation’. According to Kononkov, Lysenkoism corresponds to the current geopolitical interests of Russia. The editor of this book, German Smirnov, educated as an engineer, is known for his anti-Semitic claims. He maintains that Zionism was the main anti-Lysenkoist power not only in Russia, but all over the world.

Monday, November 15, 2021

The war on data escalates

The wages of Strauss with an undercurrent of Lysenkoism. 

Erin Banco writing for Politico

Christine Casey, one of the leaders of the CDC team that publishes weekly scientific reports, also known as Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, told the House committee that at one point in August 2020 she received instructions to delete an email reflecting political interference.

Casey said Paul Alexander, the former temporary senior policy adviser to the assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, instructed her to stop publishing the weekly reports, insinuating her team was trying to make Trump look bad in public.

After conversations with leadership at the CDC, including then-Director Robert Redfield, Michael Iademarco, one of the CDC’s leaders overseeing epidemiology and laboratory services, told Casey to delete the email.

“I believe he said that the director [Redfield] said to delete the email and that anyone else who had received it, you know, should do as well,” Casey said in her testimony.


Later that summer, in August, the CDC was in the process of renewing its testing guidance in anticipation of the new school year. Cases were surging across the country, particularly in the Southwest and West. CDC scientists were in agreement that the country needed to maintain strict testing guidelines to quickly detect community transmission to fend off future surges.

Birx, then the White House Covid-19 task force coordinator, told the House committee in her testimony that Atlas, a radiologist and White House adviser who frequently disagreed with the CDC, attempted to alter the agency’s testing guidance.

He pressed the agency to rewrite its guidelines to underscore that only symptomatic individuals needed to get tested. His argument, at the time, was that the U.S. only needed to worry about those individuals who had Covid-19 and were experiencing symptoms such as fever and coughing because those were the people who could more easily spread the virus. But scientists through the administration argued that asymptomatic individuals could still spread Covid-19 even if they did not exhibit symptoms and it was important to track both categories.

The wording in the testing guidelines was eventually tweaked to say: “You do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your healthcare provider or state or local public health officials recommend you take one.”

“This document resulted in less testing and less — less aggressive testing of those without symptoms that I believed were the primary reason for the early community spread,” Birx said, adding that the change in the guidance was not based on science.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Barry Ritholtz on the criminality of Jack Welch

Some thoughts on the fall of GE from one of its sharpest observers.

If you're up for more Welch fun and games, check out this 2012 post from Andrew Gelman. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Elon Musk's Sardonicus poll

[If you're coming in late, take a minute and read Michael Hiltzik's column to get up to speed.]

We kinda knew this going in, but it definitely feels more pumpy-dumpy as the details come in.

It has become increasingly obvious that the poll was last minute cover for a long planned sale. Musk called for a vote after he had already decided what the vote was supposed to determine. It reminds me a bit of the end of William Castle's Mr. Sardonicus. Castle claimed that the audience could vote on the final fate of the titular villain but he only filmed one ending. Like Musk, he was confident he could get the audience to do what he wanted. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Hiltzik explains the latest chapter in the Tesla story

 I don't remember if I've mentioned this recently, but Michael Hiltzik is far better at his job than anyone the NYT has working this beat.

From the LA Times:

Musk’s approach earned brickbats from people who think seriously, not whimsically, about the social and economic implications of concentrated wealth.

One is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who crafted the proposal that drew Musk’s ire. Wyden’s plan, which hasn’t survived the legislative give-and-take on Capitol Hill, would have taxed the unrealized gains in capital assets such as stock each year. Under current law, capital gains aren’t taxed until the asset is sold — providing wealthy people with convenient means to avoid the tax for years, decades and even forever.

“Whether or not the world’s richest man pays any taxes at all shouldn’t depend on the result of a Twitter poll,” Wyden tweeted. He was seconded by UC Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, who helped design a billionaires tax proposed during the last presidential campaign by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).


As of June 30, Musk was reported to own 244 million shares of Tesla, or about 23% of its stock. That includes 73.5 million shares Musk is due from exercising 2012 stock options that expire at the end of August 2022.

The common estimation of Musk’s wealth is largely dependent on the price of Tesla shares, which were trading at about $1,181 as these words were being written. That placed a value of about $288 billion on Musk’s stake.

More than 88 million of those shares are pledged as collateral on debts Musk has accumulated, according to Tesla’s 2021 proxy statement. That’s a clue to how the ultrawealthy avoid paying more than a pittance of tax on their wealth: They borrow against it to cover living expenses. Loans like those aren’t reportable as taxable income, so it’s free and clear. Rich stockholders can wait to sell until conditions are most advantageous.

Even more troubling, if they hold the assets until their death, the embedded capital gains tax is extinguished entirely; their heirs will owe tax only on the gain in value between the date of death and when they sell, if ever.

Musk, moreover, may have reason to pare down his Tesla holdings unrelated to the Twitter vote. For one thing, Tesla shares are riding at record levels just now, so it might make sense for him to cash out at least some of them while the getting is good. Further, he actually does face what looks like an inescapable tax bill next year, when Musk exercises the options on 73.5 million shares.

At current prices, Musk’s gain on the exercise would come to more than $20 billion. At the top federal and California income tax rates, or 54.1%, he would owe about $11 billion. Selling 10% of even the 170.5 million shares he has in hand now, pre-exercise, would bring him more than $20 billion, more than enough to cover the looming tax bill and perhaps even to pay down some of his existing debt.

By pretending that his stock sales were mandated by his Twitter voters, Musk forestalls any speculation that they reflect his doubts about Tesla’s future or about its stratospheric stock market valuation. Tesla shares have fallen by more than 3% as of trading Monday midday, presumably because of the poll result, but they might have fallen even further if Musk’s stock sales came out of the blue.

And in case you're wondering how Elon Musk reacts when someone tries to raise his taxes, click on the following NSFW link. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021


What we were saying in 2017. What we read in Talking Points Memo yesterday.

From Feb, 2017 -- "GOP Game Theory -- things are still different" [Emphasis added.]

However, while the relationship is simple in those terms, it is dauntingly complex in terms of the pros and cons of staying versus going. If the Republicans stand with Trump, he will probably sign any piece of legislation that comes across his desk (with this White House, "probably" is always a necessary qualifier). This comes at the cost of losing their ability to distance themselves from and increasingly unpopular and scandal-ridden administration.

Some of that distance might be clawed back by public criticism of the president and by high-profile hearings, but those steps bring even greater risks. Trump has no interest in the GOP's legislative agenda, no loyalty to the party, and no particular affection for its leaders. Worse still, as Josh Marshall has frequently noted, Trump has the bully's instinctive tendency to go after the vulnerable. There is a limit to the damage he can inflict on the Democrats, but he is in a position to literally destroy the Republican Party.

We often hear this framed in terms of Trump supporters making trouble in the primaries, but that's pre-2016 thinking. This goes far deeper. In addition to a seemingly total lack of interpersonal, temperamental, and rhetorical constraints, Trump is highly popular with a large segment of the base. In the event of an intra-party war, some of this support would undoubtedly peel away, but a substantial portion would stay.

From TPM -- "Fuming Trump Told RNC On Final Day As POTUS He Was Starting New Party, Book Says" [Emphasis added.]

According to an ABC News’ report on correspondent Jonathan Karl’s upcoming book “Betrayal,” Trump reportedly told Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel during his last Air Force One flight as president that he was leaving the GOP to start a new party.

It was a quest for revenge against a party that had failed to help Trump steal the 2020 election, Karlin wrote.

“You cannot do that,” McDaniel reportedly told Trump. “If you do, we will lose forever.

“Exactly. You lose forever without me,” he responded, according to Karl. “I don’t care.”

The inevitable damage of him potentially leaving the party was what Republicans “deserve” for “not sticking up for me,” Trump reportedly told the RNC chair.

It wasn’t an empty threat, Karl wrote. Trump was “very adamant” that he was going to do it, a source told the reporter, and he considered it a done deal at that point.

But RNC leaders were actually prepared to strike back, according to the book.

They reportedly reminded Trump and his team that there were “a lot of things they still depended on the RNC for” — specifically, money.

For starters, the RNC would stop paying the mountain of legal fees Trump had racked up with his lawsuits in his crusade to overturn the election via the courts, RNC officials reportedly warned.

The RNC would also render the Trump campaign’s coveted email address list of forty million Trump supporters “worthless,” in Karl’s words. Trump had reportedly generated what RNC officials had estimated to be about $100 million by renting out the list to other GOP candidates.


Monday, November 8, 2021

After all, London is so much closer to California than New York is

Whatever the reason, this piece from the Guardian by Dani Anguiano is better and more substantial than anything I've seen from the NYT on the California housing crisis.

Fresno is the largest city in the agricultural Central Valley, and has historically been one of the most affordable places to live in California. But during the pandemic, rents began to rise dramatically, climbing by 26% over 12 months.

Locals attribute the surge to people seeking to escape the high cost of living in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. But even as life returns to pre-pandemic norms, those who live here say the situation isn’t getting any better. Rents, which had been steadily climbing for years before the pandemic, are still rising and, coupled with a shortage of homes, that’s hitting low-income residents hardest.

“During Covid, Fresno and Central Valley rents just kept increasing,” said Jovana Morales-Tilgren, a housing policy coordinator with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “Many people were struggling and are still struggling. Landlords keep raising rents and people have nowhere to go.”

With a median cost of $1,141 for a one-bedroom and $1,421 for a two-bedroom, Fresno rents are still below those of San Francisco or Los Angeles. But Fresno is among the most diverse cities in the US, and also one of the poorest. About 50% of households make less than $50,000 a year, while a quarter of residents are in poverty, according to US Census data.

Fifty per cent of Fresno’s population is Latino, and several residents told the Guardian they immigrated here decades ago from Mexico because of Fresno’s job opportunities and affordability – a reality that is quickly disappearing.

“In places like Fresno you have really high rates of poverty and a significant share of people who have really low incomes,” said Carolina Reid, a faculty research adviser with the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. “The labor market in Fresno is not catching up to the price of housing.”

The situation has left families with few options, forcing them to stay in substandard housing, move in with other family members or even leave Fresno entirely, Morales-Tilgren said.

Friday, November 5, 2021

To Rug is now a verb (and sadly it has nothing to do with having sex on the floor)

OK, "rug" actually was a verb before (still not involving sex) but if you hear it these days it probably refers to the end of a crypto pump and dump.

Coffeezilla is a successful youtuber who specializes in exposing financial fraudsters and get-rich-quick schemes, particularly those involving crypto-currencies. In this episode on the rise and implosion of the Squid Game coin, he focuses most of his attention on the role of the mainstream media (CNBC, BBC) in helping pump the price up, then acting shocked when the obvious scam turned out to be a scam. 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Start with the fact we have something called meme coins and the rest starts to make a weird kind of sense

From Matt Novak:

The anonymous hucksters behind a Squid Game cryptocurrency have officially pulled the rug on the project, making off with an estimated $3.38 million. Remember on Friday morning when Gizmodo told you it was an obvious scam? It was only obvious because investors could purchase the crypto but couldn’t sell it. But plenty of people didn’t get the warning in time.

The SQUID cryptocurrency peaked at a price of $2,861 before plummeting to $0 around 5:40 a.m. ET., according to the website CoinMarketCap. This kind of theft, commonly called a “rug pull” by crypto investors, happens when the creators of the crypto quickly cash out their coins for real money, draining the liquidity pool from the exchange.


But the biggest red flag was that no one who purchased the coin was able to sell. That didn’t stop mainstream news outlets like the BBCYahoo NewsBusiness InsiderFortune, and CNBC from running headlines about how the new Squid Game cryptocurrency had soared by 83,000% over just a few days.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

When readers pointed out a major problem with his story, NYT's Peters graciously thanked them for their constructive criticism... I'm kidding, of course

Perhaps Hilary-Biden voter isn't the descriptive term... 

This less-than-forceful correction came only after a number of readers such as Josh Marshall did some online fact-checking.

And lots where that came from.

Peters didn't seem to appreciate the help.

Those who've been following the NYT follies for a few years will remember that the justification for eliminating the position of public editor was that they would be getting all the feedback and criticism they needed from social media, especially Twitter. To a degree it seems to be working, but the people at the paper don't seem that happy about it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Sahl for beginners

I've been going back and filling in some of the many gaps in my cultural education. One of the performers on my to-see list was the recently departed Mort Sahl, possibly the most influential political humorist of the 20th century. 

I asked my friend, Brian Phillips, to put together a playlist. Here are his recommendations and annotations. History buffs and political junkies will particularly want to check out the last clip for its 1967 view of RFK:

Start with Mort Sahl at Sunset. He disliked the LP because they sped his voice up to fit the full act on the LP, but the material is solid. It is his earliest recording, but it was issued AFTER his first for Verve:

If you don't want to hear him talk about politics and you want to see a picture of Joan Collins you haven't seen before there is "On Relationships"

His Verve stuff is all good, here is his first:

He had a show on Monitor TV, a failed cable channel of the Christian Science Monitor. All the shows are good. Look who the guest THIS week was, though!

Even though this was cut for the up-and-down in quality GNP Crescendo label, this is nice mid-period Sahl:

The, "But why was he considered funny?" clip to show neophytes:

Monday, November 1, 2021

What do disgraced turn-of-the-millennium politicians do for a second act?

[I'll admit I'm getting a little repetitive.]

Chekhov said a good ending should be surprising but, in retrospect, inevitable. The following is probably more the second than the first, but I will admit it caught me off guard.

FT's irreplaceable Jemima Kelly fills in the details:

The last time you heard of Newt Gingrich was probably when the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives was calling for the arrest of poll workers in his home state of Pennsylvania following the “corrupt, stolen election” of 2020, or when he was writing op-eds refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden as president. 

 Or maybe it was way back during his unsuccessful bid to become the Republicans’ presidential candidate in 2012. When he spent time telling supporters in Barack Obama’s home state that “we need an American president . . . with American values” and defending the Birther movement (all while his campaign was busy racking up debts of $4.6m that still, nine years later, haven’t been paid back). 

Well, guess what, Newt’s back, baby. 

 And where do unsuccessful Republican presidential hopefuls go when they’re all out of options? Well cryptoland, of course! (Remember fellow 2012 hopeful Rick Santorum’s crypto coin for Catholics? You’re welcome.) 

 But not just any crypto will do for Newt — as it turns out, he is something of a bitcoin maximalist. He has just become an adviser at the International Bitcoin Advisory Corporation (IBAC), a new Israel-based firm run by former banker and “futurist” Avi Ifergan. IBAC describes itself as “an outfit built to serve central banks and sovereign wealth funds with all their digital assets investment needs”; their “vision is to accelerate the rate of bitcoin and other digital assets adoption among governmental institutions”. What could possibly go wrong, etc. 

A short interview follows if Newt is someone you really want to hear more from.